Archive for Interviews
Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with former Yankee backstop, John Ellis. Mr. Ellis played for the Bombers from 1969-1972. He would go on to spend the rest of his career playing for both Cleveland and Texas. Ellis played side-by-side with Yankee legend, Thurman Munson, was part of the trade that brought fan favorite Graig Nettles to New York, and was also listed as the first official designated hitter in Cleveland Indian history.
Matthew Warden: A lot of us here at RAB were disappointed to see Russell Martin relocate to Pittsburgh. He seemed to be generally regarded as a quality defensive catcher with some pop in his bat. What are your thoughts on his skillset and did the Yankees make a mistake in letting him go?
John Ellis: Russell Martin was a tough, good catcher. But no, I don’t think [they made a mistake]. Based on the start of the season, Martin’s replacements are doing very well. Most importantly, the pitching staff is responding.
MW: When you watch the Francisco Cervelli/Chris Stewart tandem, what do you see?
JE: This tandem is as good as Martin, maybe not for homeruns, but as defensive catchers, who will [hopefully] hit for a higher average.
MW: Now that Cervelli is injured, what about Austin Romine? How hard is it for a kid to come up and immediately build that rapport with the pitchers?
JE: I do not think it is that hard to learn the pitcher’s breaks [movement on pitches]. What is hard is learning the AL batters and how to set them up and get them out.
MW: Pretend you’re the starting catcher on the Yankees roster today. What advice would you have for Ivan Nova? It seems like his control is simply not there. Do you see any mechanical flaws, or is he simply not the pitcher we saw in the second half of 2011?
JE: I have to believe that his arm must still be bothering him. As far as being an effective sinker-slider pitcher, he will just not have the consistency [while experiencing injuries].
*Note: this question was posed prior to Nova being sent to the DL for triceps inflammation. Turns out, Mr. Ellis was right on the money with his reply about a potential lingering injury.
MW: Can Nova be a viable starting pitcher for the Yankees once healthy? Do you see enough potential there?
JE: Of course. Definitely.
MW: On the other hand, how impressive have Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda generally been thus far?
JE: As far as Andy and Hiroki, they are healthy. They are pitching great and using all their pitches.
MW: How concerned are you about CC Sabathia’s declining velocity?
JE: As many have said, “he just gets it done.”
MW: So we can tell folks to take a step back from the ledge? The big guy will be fine?
JE: Absolutely. He is great.
MW: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson are all on the DL. Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, and Raul Ibanez are no longer with the team. That’s a lot of talent (and power) that’s no longer present. What are your expectations for this team offensively?
JE: Presently, [the offense] is doing more than anyone expected. Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis and Lyle Overbay have all done a great job. All of these guys have had a great start in NY and I expect them to get better.
MW: Chicks love the long ball though. Are homeruns as necessary as we make them out to be? Are you okay with a more National League style of play?
JE: I like the AL’s designated hitter and I like the homeruns. But the Yankees will still have to find ways to get it done with or without them. They have to.
MW: One of the big narratives of the offseason was the new austerity budget that could take effect in 2014. What are your thoughts on the possibility of a new financially leaner Yankee squad?
JE: I am not sure about the austerity budget but the Yankees continue to find talent and I expect that to continue.
MW: Do you foresee some “rebuilding years” in New York’s near future — a few seasons where they simply aren’t competitive?
JE: No, they have a chance to rebuild the team right now [as they go] … and they are. If they rebuild anything, it will be replacing some of the great pitchers they have now [who may not return next season].
MW: Speaking of finances, how about the looming Robinson Cano contract? The man is going to be paid, and paid handsomely. What do you expect his next contract will look like? Will it be with the Yankees? Does Robbie belong in pinstripes for the foreseeable future?
JE: Cano is a great player and I expect the Yankees to sign him to a mega deal and be with the team for the remainder of his career.
MW: Are you in favor of teams making these mega deals? Does it matter that they can cripple roster flexibility down the road? Any idea what that mega deal might look like (in terms of dollars and years)?
JE: Firstly, I believe they insure their mega deals and I expect teams to continue making them [regardless of whether they hinder the team or not down the road] … especially for starting pitchers. As for Robbie, [his contract] could go as high as 10 years $20M a season. That said, I’m in favor of retaining the talent.
MW: The AL East is a gauntlet this year. It’s probably about as balanced as it’s ever been in terms of competitiveness. Who’s going to pose the most threat to the Yankees?
JE: Boston and Tampa.
MW: What do these teams have that Baltimore and Toronto don’t?
JE: Better starting pitching.
MW: Who wins the division?
JE: The Yankees.
MW: Does Toronto end up living up to the preseason hype?
JE: Yes, but one game still separates everybody.
MW: So you envision this year’s race to come down to the very end then?
JE: To the last day.
MW: Who’s the best player in the AL these days in your eyes?
JE: Mike Trout from the Angels.
MW: Do you see him ever topping his numbers from last season?
JE: It’s certainly possible.
MW: Just for some perspective here, what former ball player would you compare Trout too?
JE: Fred Lynn.
MW: How about in the NL?
JE: John Buck from the Mets.
MW: Wow! Really? You’re okay with putting him before guys like Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, or Bryce Harper? What are you seeing in Buck that I am not?
JE: Homeruns. Just having a better season so far!
MW: I’m sensing a little catcher bias here … maybe.
MW: What were your thoughts on the Zack Greinke altercation? Don Mattingly suggested that Carlos Quentin should be punished as long as Greinke is injured. Agree?
JE: Nice thought, but I do not recall the incident (who threw or charged who?).
MW: All indications were that Greinke accidentally hit Quentin. However, those guys had a “history” prior. Apparently, before the charge, Greinke did verbally provoke Quentin though. Does this change anything?
JE: Not really. It happens.
MW: Did you have a “history” with any players during your days in The Show?
JE: No, I was a gentleman.
MW: Be Honest now! There wasn’t anyone that got your blood boiling?
JE: [Laughs] Nope.
MW: [Laughs] Let me ask you this then. Are you obligated to join the brawl if the benches start clearing?
MW: What’s the expectation there for players?
JE: Hold each other back and protect your own players.
MW: You knew this question was coming. How far do the Yanks go assuming they win the division?
JE: All the way!
MW: Thank you so much for your time Mr. Ellis.
JE: You’re welcome! Thanks for having me.
For more baseball banter with John, be sure to check out the first time I interviewed Mr. Ellis back in 2011.
Aside from being a former Big Leaguer, current entrepreneur, and a gentleman, Mr. Ellis is also a philanthropist. Be sure to check out Mr. Ellis’ charity, the Connecticut Sports Foundation Against Cancer (CSFAC) for additional information or if you’re interested in becoming a donor.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with author Christopher Frankie about his new book, NAILED! The Improbable Rise and Spectacular Fall of Lenny Dykstra. You may remember Lenny Dykstra from his time in the Majors (he played with both the Mets and the Phillies). You may remember him for his $55M car wash empire, or his affiliation with Mad Money’s Jim Cramer. Or you may remember him for his increasingly baffling behavior that was so publicly scrutinized.
So without further ado, let me present Christopher Frankie.
Matt Warden: You were obviously motivated to write this book. What prompted that?
Christopher Frankie: First and foremost was the realization that this is an absolutely astonishing story and that my front row seat in 2008 allowed me to tell this insider’s tale with the texture and context that was severely lacking in the mainstream narrative. Many people had heard some of Dykstra’s story from TV and the newspapers, but I guarantee they haven’t heard it like this.
On a personal note, I also wanted to show how and why so many smart, talented, hard-working and well-intentioned people got caught in Dykstra’s web and had such a hard time walking away. It’s a story of abuse, leverage, coercion and manipulation that I think will shock many people.
MW: What made working with Lenny so difficult to cope with?
CF: The manic and self-destructive behavior that wreaked havoc on everyone in Dykstra’s life. The chaos he introduced into nearly every situation masked a lot of his misdeeds.
What also made working for Dykstra so difficult in 2008, when I worked for him, was the contrast between his public image and what I saw behind the scenes. The positive press, such as the HBO Real Sports feature, as well as Jim Cramer’s endorsement, his $18 million mansion and private jet, all gave Dykstra added credibility and helped him explain away the “red flags” that would surface during the beginning of his financial downfall. It made it very difficult to discern fact from fiction at the time.
Last Friday I was invited down to the MLB Network studios in Secaucus to look at their operation, and while I was there I had a chance to speak one-on-one with two-time former Yankee and current YES Network/MLB Network broadcaster Al Leiter. We talked for nearly 20 minutes and mostly discussed his career, but we also touched on Andy Pettitte‘s comeback, Michael Pineda‘s missing velocity*, and the 2012 Yankees in general.
* The interview took place before Pineda’s shoulder tendinitis was diagnosed.
Leiter is every bit as entertaining in real life as he appears on television, so needless to say it was a pretty awesome experience. Here’s the full interview, beginning with a question straight out of left field…
Mike Axisa: In Game Seven of the 1997 World Series, you threw a first pitch curveball to Omar Vizquel (to start the game). What was the thinking behind that?
Al Leiter: “Because I got peppered in Game Three, in Cleveland, I knew I had to throw a curveball. I went back and looked at two left-handers, and it was the Yankees series against Cleveland. David Wells did well — Boomer was fastball-curve — and I watched every pitch. And then I looked at Andy Pettitte’s game; Andy Pettitte got peppered a little bit. Andy was more fastball, curve, cutter, slider, and I said forget it. You know what? It’s gonna be a [bad] game if I don’t use [my curve].
Mike Pagliarulo was selected by the Yankees out of the University of Miami in the sixth round of the 1981 Amateur Draft. Recalled in July of 1984, Pags served as the Yankee third baseman for the next five years before being traded to the San Diego Padres. He won a World Series with the Minnesota Twins in 1991, and played for the Baltimore Orioles, Seibu Lions in Japan, and the Texas Rangers before retiring at the conclusion of the 1995 season. A fan favorite during his time with the Yanks, Pags has been a frequent guest at Old Timers’ Day since his retirement.
Since retiring, Pags has worked in scouting and consulting. He founded the Baseline Group which seeks to provide business solutions for baseball and recently started the non-profit start-up Baseball Institute of Development.. He agreed to answer some questions from Matt Bouffard of Fack Youk. What follows are some highlights of the conversation. The full interview will run at Fack Youk in the near future.
Matt Bouffard: What’s it like being a former Yankee living outside Boston these days? Do you get any flack for that? Didn’t you grow up as a Yankee fan, and if so, how did that come about, and what was it like to be a Yankee fan in Medford during the 1970s?
Mike Pagliarulo: My dad was the biggest Billy Martin fan ever. We grew up in Boston and everyone was a Red Sox fan except him. When I was a kid I always thought my father was right except when it came to the Yankees. Well, after my first big league spring training where I met the big league guys for the first time; I said, “Dad you were right again!” The Yankee organization was built on class and respect and everyone I met there was the same way. Back in Boston I still caught heat, but nobody gives out that much crap without being scared!
MB: After coming up in mid-1984, you’re first full season with the Yanks was 1985. That was a tumultuous year: Yogi Berra was fired just 16 games into the season and Billy Martin returned for his fourth stint as Yankee manager. You guys spent all summer chasing Toronto, clawed back into the race, and went north of the border for the season’s final weekend needing a three game sweep to force a playoff. What was that pennant race like for you and what was the let down like getting eliminated that Saturday?
MP: Tumultuous is a word associated with New York. And it’s not a bad word. I’d like to refer to playing under certain scrutiny and pressure as the way it is supposed to be! We aren’t babies and people pay lots of money to see you play. I hate it when tabloids side with the poor player who’s under so much pressure while making 10 million dollars. That doesn’t appear to match.
1985 was the year in which I learned more about Mr. Steinbrenner than any other. I never realized how much he wanted to win until the last month of the season. One example was during September when we returned from a night game in Milwaukee. The game was late and the flight was delayed. We’d got into Newark airport about 6 AM and the Boss has limos waiting for everyone to take them home. We had a game that night. I couldn’t believe that such a cool and generous thing could be done without being in the press.
I usually don’t spend too much time covering July 2nd signing period, because there are so many false reports and so much sketchy information out there about international amateur players that it’s hard to know what’s reliable and what’s not. One place that always has reliable info is Baseball America, and I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk exchange emails Ben Badler, BA’s international free agent guru.
In case you don’t know, July 2nd is when teams can begin to sign international players who aren’t draft eligible as free agents. Most players come from Latin America, but in recent years we’ve seen teams scour Australia, Asia and even parts of Europe for talent. The players must be at least 16-yrs old to sign but, as always, there are some loopholes that could be exploited. Jesus Montero is the Yanks best international signing of late, and big leaguers Melky Cabrera, Robbie Cano, Chien-Ming Wang and Mariano Rivera were all acquired this way in the past.
You can read Ben’s stuff at BA’s site, and you could also follow him on Twitter for more prospect info than you can handle. I think I speak for all of the RABiverse when I say that I greatly appreciate Ben taking time from his hectic schedule to drop some knowledge on us. Here we go…
Mike: The worst kept secret on the international market this year is the Yankees’ interest in catcher Gary Sanchez, and in fact it seems like he’s all but signed on the dotted line. What can you tell us about him, and what kind of bonus is he looking at?
Ben: Sanchez is the top catching prospect this year from Latin America. Anyone I talked to about Sanchez leading up to July 2 figured he would sign with the Yankees, and now it looks like he’s going to sign with them for a bonus of around $3 million (the exact number isn’t clear), which will probably be the third-highest bonus for a Latin American player this year after Miguel Sano and Wagner Mateo. There is another Dominican catcher who is looking at a considerable bonus by the name of Jacob Beltre, but most scouts with whom I have spoken think Sanchez is the better all-around prospect. Some scouts I have talked to aren’t quite as impressed as the Yankees apparently are; he’s got the arm strength, the quick release and he can crush the ball in BP, but some of them aren’t sold on him hitting in games. But the Yankees have seen him more than anyone, and if they’re going to give him approximately $3 million, I’m sure they’re comfortable with his ability to hit in games, either presently or in the future.
Mo talks about the all-time saves record, which closers he thinks are better than he is, when he’ll retire, and lots more. Check it out in case you missed it last night.
The fine folks at Talking Chop were kind enough to engage in a Q&A with us leading into the Yanks-Braves series this week. What follows is our exchange. You can check out Talking Chop’s questions and our answers here.
1) Is the Nate McLouth acquisition enough, or the Braves have to swing a move for another outfielder? Any chance Jordan Schafer makes a return appearance later on?
The McLouth trade was a great start, and a surprising one in which we didn’t give up anything that we needed from our minor league system for at least the next two years. But no, it doesn’t seem to be enough. The question we keep asking ourselves is, “do we wait for the guys currently on the team to start hitting, or do we jettison some of them for more of a sure thing.” Just about everyone in Atlanta has had enough of Jeff Francoeur, and just about any mediocre replacement player would be better than him. I don’t think Frenchy is in an Atlanta uniform next season, one way or another.
Another problem with adding another bat, is that we can’t really add that much more salary. This is why the McLouth deal was a good move (he’s signed affordably), and this is also why we will probably see Schafer again (he’s currently out with a hand injury that he actually suffered pretty early in the season),
2) What’s the general feel for Kelly Johnson? His OPS is down over 100 points from last year and 150 points from 2007. Is he just suffering from some bad luck (.250 BABIP way down from the past two years)? It seems like his Iso-D and Iso-P are right in line with 08 and 07…
Like I said in the previous answer, he’s one of the guys we keep waiting on to start hitting. If Omar Infante were not on the DL right now, there’s little doubt that Johnson would not be starting, and that might happen when Omar returns next month. So Kelly’s got a few weeks to put it together, but he seems to have gotten the Jeff Francoeur disease. I’m not sure advanced stats can measure what’s wrong with KJ, it’s more about watching him every day and seeing him pop up or ground out when last year he would have hit a line drive somewhere. Kelly’s a guy who, once he figures it out (if he does), can go on an absolute tear and carry the team for a week or two (and again, we’re still waiting on that to happen).
3) As the Braves blog of record, what is your recommended course of action regarding Jeff Francoeur?
But seriously, I offered the Red Sox blogger last week to trade him Francoeur for a pair of Monster seats. I guess I should offer you guys the same deal, Francoeur for a pair of reasonably priced Yankees tickets (do reasonably priced Yankees tickets exist?).
But seriously, seriously, the Braves are trying everything they can to trade him and the sooner the better. In the end, I think we’ll end up releasing him this off-season, and every team knows that so they’re not going to give us anything for him.
With the injury problems we’ve had the last few years in our starting rotation, I’ll take Lowe and his streak of 7-straight years making 32 starts over Burnett and his streak of only performing well in contract years.
5) To follow up one of your questions, what do you think a fair price, from the Braves’ standpoint, would be for Xavier Nady?
How about Jeff Francoeur? I kid, I kid. If Nady proves he’s healthy and can hit, I would say a guy like Jo-Jo Reyes straight-up or Brandon Jones straight-up — sort of a B prospect who’s major league ready or almost there. Nady’s a free agent at the end of the year, so he’d be purely a rental, and I wouldn’t think you’d get too much for him, unless a team was just desperate.
Over the weekend, we witnessed a mini-viral baseball phenomenon. Late on Friday night, David Pinto at Baseball Musings tossed up a post with a link to a site called Flip Flop Fly Ball. The site, run by a baseball fan/graphic designer, features some fascinating infographics about America’s Pastime. The one on the right, for example, is a quiz of any fan’s baseball field acumen. It’s nigh impossible.
As I poked around the site on Saturday, I dropped a link to it on Twitter via both the River Ave. Blues account and my personal feed. It was re-Tweeted all over the place, and one RAB reader wanted to know if prints of the graphics were available.
I inhaled the site. The combination of interesting graphics and baseball made for a good amount of high-quality wasted time over the weekend. Take a look, for example, at the height of the Green Monster as compared to some well-known landmarks, the directional orientation of home plate at every stadium and the amount of travel the Royals have to do this season. The rest are equally as entertaining.
After looking at a few graphics and poking around the site, I realized that Craig Robinson, the man behind Flip Flop Fly Ball was a Yankee fan and a River Ave. Blues reader. In fact, he sent us the ticket prices infographic a few months ago. I e-mailed Craig yesterday, and he answered a few questions about himself and the infographics. The interview follows. Be sure to visit the site as well.
What inspired you to develop the infographics at Flip Flop Fly Ball?
The main reason is that I’m relatively new to the game (I’ve never known a World Series-winning Yankees team), and I was finding it difficult to retain so much information about the Yankees and the sport in general. For whatever reason, I found it easier to remember team relocations and stuff if I made charts and graphs. It spiraled out of that.
I saw you recently added an amusing new one on the felonious side of stolen bases. How often do you plan to produce new sports infographics? From where do you derive ideas for the new graphics?
Hopefully, I’ll be doing a new one every week. That may not be the case in the next month or so, unfortunately, as my wife and I just split up and, without a green card, I’ll be leaving the country soon. Ideas tend to pop up just from little things I see watching games. Just seeing Chief Wahoo; one day it just seemed an obvious question: How many native Americans live in the Cleveland area?
As a big fan of Bruce Springsteen, I loved the one entitled Really Fantasy Baseball in which the Wu Tang Clan, behind a complete game by RZA, tops the E Street Band for Eastern Division champions. What’s your personal favorite? Which ones were the most fun to make?
I’d agree that the Wu vs. E Street one is definitely one of my favourites. Mostly because I enjoyed spending a day working out how each half-inning was played out. The Cleveland Indians one is probably my favourite, though; it just seems to sum up the ridiculousness of their name quite nicely.
Tell me a little about your background. I understand from your website that you are a UK native who spent some time in Bellingham, Washington but you are a Yankee fan. How did you find your way to both baseball and the Yanks?
Yeh, I was born in the UK, lived most of the last decade in Berlin, Germany. Until last weekend, I lived in Bellingham and went to see Mariners games. I’m returning to Berlin shortly, but hopefully, I’ll be breaking the piggy bank to try to get a ticket to see my first game at the new Yankee Stadium, ironically, against the Mariners. I’d always been primarily a soccer fan, but I was on a business trip, and one of the people I was working with was an NY-based lifelong Yankees fan. His colleague was a Mets fan. When I expressed an interest in going to see a baseball game, I left it up to them to fight it out whether I’d be going to the Bronx or Shea. The Yankees fan was on it right away, and I went to a fairly pedestrian defeat at the hands of the Twins, but, I know it’s a cliche, I fell in love straight away. The sport just seems so perfectly beautiful. The next day, I watched a Yankeeography of Mickey Mantle on YES in my hotel room, and, well, the rest is a history of very late nights watching live streaming games on MLB.com, and more recently, having people in Washington continually reminding me that the “Yankees suck!”
Can you preview any upcoming FFFB infographics? And at the request of some readers, do you plan to offer prints of the infographics for sale?
Once I get my life sorted out again, I’d love to do some prints. I’m working on a few new ones at the moment. Once this current round of Interleague play is done with, I’ve got one about how each league’s teams fared in the history of Interleague play; a Venn diagram about the origins of team nicknames; a history of Japanese teams in a style like the history of the NL and AL teams; and a more research-intensive one, looking at how much of each team’s opening day roster were homegrown/traded/free agents.
* * *
I’m looking forward to the new graphics. In the meantime, the current ones provide enough of a distraction. A big RAB thanks to Craig as he gets everything straightened out.
Although the first weekend of Interleague Play was once reserved for geographic rivalries, this year will be different as the Yankees will host the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Now, you might be asking, “Who are they? What should we know about them?” Stay tuned.
As sports fans in New York, we pretend not to know much about Philadelphia and their teams. There is, of course, a bitter rivalry between Eagles and Giants fans, between Northern Jersey residents and Philadelphians, between Santa Claus and batteries. We know that cheese steaks are delicious — provolone is the way to go — and Philadelphia could become a surrogate sixth borough if this whole high-speed rail thing happens. But what about the Phillies?
To prepare for the weekend, Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley e-mailed me about doing previews on each other’s sites. My Yankees preview went live on his site last night, and you can find it here. Below are Bill’s answers to my questions. Bring on the Phillies, I say. We can handle ‘em.
1. I know that New York and Philadelphia sports fans have a rather uneasy relationship. There’s no love lost between fans of the Giants and fans of the Eagles. But considering the esteem in which Yankee fans generally hold the Mets, shouldn’t Yankee fans also root for the Phillies?
If anyone is missing Jason Giambi this spring, you can head over to Athletics Nation where Tyler Bleszinski has conducted an interview with the former Yanks first baseman. It’s quite the long one — and it’s only the first part. Jason talks about the difference between playing in Oakland and playing in New York, how he views himself on each team, and the adjustments he made to his swing upon coming to the Yanks.
Head over to read the whole thing — I can’t possibly do it justice without completely reprinting it. However, there were a couple of parts I found particularly interesting. The first of which is Giambi’s reply to the question of how he views himself as a defensive first baseman. I didn’t know what to expect after reading the question, but it certainly wasn’t this: “I view myself as great.” Yeah, right. Tyler’s talking about playing first base, Jason, not about chugging Jack. Jay at Fack Youk takes a closer look at this statement.
Most interesting, though, is the revelation that Giambi very well might not have been a Yankee had ownership not intervened. The A’s and Giambi apparently had a place in deal before the 2001 season which would have paid Big G around $90 million over six years.
Trust me, I wanted to stay in Oakland. We had a deal done. You can ask Billy Beane. It was my free agent year before the season started. And ownership at the time pulled the deal off the table. I had flown my parents out, my agent, everybody. A lot of people don’t know that.
That creates one massive what-if scenario. Looking at the list of free agents that year, there was really only one superstar bat available: Barry Bonds. Would the Yanks have pursued him to fill their left field void? He was, after all, fresh off a record-breaking season. The Giants ended up signing him for four years and $72 million with a $18 million club option, but without another blue-chip slugger on the market perhaps the Yankees would have put their resources towards Bonds.
Barring that, they could have gone forward with a Johnny Damon signing, putting him in left field. Considering the money they would have saved on Giambi, they could have as easily signed Rondell White, too, to play right field.
I love how one little interview sparks so many questions. We’ll never know how Yankee history would have unfolded had Giambi re-upped with the A’s in 2001. But it’s fun to think about for sure.