When Billy Met Johnny…
Following on the heels of our two-part interview with A’s GM Billy Beane earlier this week, and in honor of Moneyball’s recognition at the Oscars on Sunday night, I thought it’d be interesting to re-run this old interview that I did with Billy Beane and punk rock legend Johnny Ramone back during the Moneyball season of 2002. The interview was actually conducted during the early stages of the A’s record-setting winning streak and first appeared in the late, great, Bay Area magazine ChinMusic! Johnny Ramone died just two years later from prostate cancer, and Billy Beane is now the longest-tenured general manager in the American League.
It’s interesting to see what was being said about steroids, budgets, the importance of on-base percentage, and the necessity of the A’s having to re-invent themselves ten years ago. The genesis of the interview is also kind of interesting. I always knew that Johnny Ramone was a big baseball fan. He’d told me in an interview many years earlier that he spent much of his free time on the road writing letters to baseball players requesting signed 8×10 photos of them for his collection. At first, I thought he was joking, but it turned out he was dead serious. And he eventually ended up with one of the largest collections in the country!
I’d also heard that Billy Beane, growing up as a teenager in San Diego in the ’70s, was a big punk rock fan. So with that in mind, I approached Billy at a spring training game in Arizona in 2002 and suggested the idea of doing a joint interview with both him and Johnny. His reply was: “Just say when!” With their mutual love of baseball and punk rock, it was natural that the two of them would immediately hit it off. And Johnny would later even end up helping out Billy’s daughter, Casey, with her school paper on the origins of punk rock.
After the interview, I had a baseball conversation with Johnny almost every week until he died. In the last conversation, just shortly before be passed, he was very concerned with Jason Giambi‘s struggles early in his multi-year contract with Johnny’s beloved Yankees. He asked me how many years were left on Giambi’s guaranteed contract, and when I told him, Johnny was distraught: “Oh my God, what are the Yankees gonna do?!” He knew the end was near–not for the Yankees, but for himself–yet all he could think about was the Yankees being saddled with a struggling Giambi’s contract. It was later that year that the Red Sox mounted their startling comeback against the Yankees, taking four straight to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs. And I couldn’t help but think that it was a good thing Johnny had already died by that time, because that surely would have killed him!
Excerpts from the interview appeared online at the time, but this is the first time the complete interview has ever appeared online. When you see that photo of Joe Strummer in Billy Beane’s office in the Moneyball film, don’t be surprised. As you can see in the interview, his enthusiasm for the Clash is almost as great as his enthusiasm for the Ramones!
(JR = Johnny Ramone / BB = Billy Beane / CM = yours truly on behalf of ChinMusic!)
BEANE ON THE BRAT
(from ChinMusic! #5)
Some people might think the worlds of baseball and punk rock don’t have an awful lot in common. But just try telling that to punk rock legend and baseball freak Johnny Ramone and Oakland A’s general manager and punk rock freak Billy Beane! You’ll have a mighty hard time finding a punk rock icon more devoted to our national pastime, and an even harder time finding a baseball executive who was buying Ramones and Sex Pistols 8-tracks and rushing out to catch the Clash way back in ’78. And who else but we here at ChinMusic! would have the sense to bring this dynamic duo together for an enlightening little chit-chat on our two favorite subjects…good music, and good old-fashioned hardball. The two talked a month before the end of the 2002 season, with Rhino Records having just issued a fresh batch of remastered Ramones releases, with the A’s in the midst of their record-breaking 20-game winning streak, and with the threat of a possible baseball strike looming just a day away. Thankfully, the games went on…and so did the first meeting of the Billy & Johnny mutual admiration society…
CM: Johnny, meet Billy…Billy, meet Johnny…
BB: Johnny, they might have given you a heads up that I might turn into a crazy fan here and just gush for a few minutes. But I went out and got the “Rocket To Russia” 8-track when I was 16. And I got into the Ramones, the Dead Boys and everybody else for the same reason that you started playing it. I got so sick of hearing “Kashmir,” and “Roundabout” by Yes, and all these synthesizers on the radio. So when I first heard you I went, “Oh my God!” It was like I was enlightened! So I said, “Johnny’s just gonna have to put up with me for a few minutes because I’m gonna turn into like some crazy Trekkie guy here.”
JR: Hey, and I wanted to be a baseball player…I just fell into this!
CM: That’s why we knew it was a great idea to bring you guys together!
BB: You know how I found out that you were a baseball fan, Johnny? I had read somewhere that you knew John Wetteland.
JR: I met Wetteland when Peter Gammons came over one day. He wanted to do a piece on baseball and rock & roll. He brought me over to Dodger Stadium and I got to meet Wetteland. And I was always a big fan.
BB: Yeah, I actually played with John in Detroit briefly when he got drafted over there in spring training. And at that point we were exchanging Roxy Music CDs.
JR: Boy, at this point he’s into Christian rock. So I guess he must have gone through some problems in his life!
BB: Yeah, he had a tough upbringing. But he’s a real nice and very enlightened guy. And that’s how we started talking because I read somewhere that you two had hooked up. By the way, you know what I just did, Johnny? I went and saw Siouxsie & the Banshees.
JR: Oh God!
BB: Well, I had to go see them just because everyone’s going on these old tours again. So I went…and they were terrible! I was so disappointed. Siouxsie’s not in her salad days anymore!
JR: Have you seen Marilyn Manson?
BB: No, I haven’t. I was reading up on them. I guess the biggest thing for me is I first really gotta love the music.
JR: I didn’t even know their music at all. But I ended up going to see them three times last year because I’m friendly with them, and their show is terrific. And last year, I went to see Green Day too and they were terrific.
BB: Yeah, I really like Green Day.
JR: I went to see them at the Forum a few months ago and I couldn’t believe how entertaining they were.
CM: They have a good drummer, and I think a good punk band needs a really good drummer.
BB: Well, we were just talking about Clem Burke, the great drummer from Blondie…
JR: He was actually in our band for about a week!
BB: Yeah, and I still think Debbie Harry was really cute back then!
JR: Debbie was beautiful back in the ’70s and early ’80s…she was beautiful!
BB: When we were in the playoffs two years ago in New York, Johnny, I made the cab driver take me to CBGB’s in my suit and tie and take a picture out in front of the awning there.
JR: I went and did that when we went into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, this past March when we got inducted. I probably took my first picture there since about 1974. I went inside for the first time in about 20 years too. And Hilly, who runs the place, was actually nice to me. He was never nice to me before. He gave me a t-shirt…he wouldn’t even give me a free soda before!
BB: Well I’ve read all the biographies. You were actually a construction worker at first, right?
JR: Yeah, I was a construction worker. I was a steam-fitter for five years. I bought a guitar when I was 26 years old.
BB: That’s amazing!
CM: Did you read “Please Kill Me,” the Legs McNeil book?
JR: I don’t read any of them because…well, I just don’t read them.
CM: Well, you were there!
JR: I read baseball books all the time. Baseball’s my life…and watching old movies.
BB: I actually just gave “Please Kill Me” to Scott Hatteberg, our first baseman.
JR: Billy, we have a Ramones tribute record coming out in November. And we’ve got Rob Zombie, the Chili Peppers, Metallica, U2, Green Day, Rancid, the Pretenders, KISS, Tom Waits, a really good lineup.
BB: Now is Tom Waits gonna sing a Ramones song?
JR: Yeah, Tom Waits did a Ramones song. Eddie Vedder did two Ramones songs on it. U2 did “Beat On The Brat.” Metallica did “53rd & 3rd.”
BB: Well I read Dee Dee’s autobiography, so I remember what that song was about!
JR: Nobody sang about this kind of stuff. I mean, here’s Dee Dee writing about some Vietnam veteran coming back and becoming a male prostitute…and a Green Beret on top of it!
BB: Do you know Lars Frederiksen, the guitar player for Rancid?
JR: Yeah. Wow, you really know your punk rock!
BB: Yeah, he’s a huge A’s fan. He lives in San Francisco. In fact, his mother’s a season-ticket holder and we talk on occasion. He’ll call me when we make a trade. You know, “Why’d you trade Ben Grieve, what’s going on here?”
JR: Oh yeah? Lars calls me up like once a year and we usually talk about old movies or horror films. I’ll have to run some baseball by him next time.
BB: Given where you’re from, are you originally a Mets fan, Johnny?
JR: I’m a Yankee fan! I’ve been a Yankee fan since I first saw Mickey Mantle play probably in like 1955.
BB: Oh, well you and probably a few million other people! That’s how Jason Giambi’s dad became a fan too. That’s why Jason’s in New York now.
CM: Well I’d say that had a fateful impact, didn’t it?
BB: It did…there’s no question it did!
JR: By the way, you’re doing a tremendous job with this team, Billy.
BB: I appreciate it, thank you.
JR: What’s your payroll?
BB: We’re at about $40 million.
JR: $40 million…unbelievable! I see teams always getting these over-priced veterans who don’t produce when you can bring up young guys that’ll probably give you the same type of production. And you guys seem to be doing that.
BB: When Sandy Alderson, who’s now in the commissioner’s office, was here, Sandy sort of saw the dichotomy in payroll starting to exist. And we just started the process a lot earlier than a lot of other clubs. But the biggest challenge for us isn’t so much one year. The challenge is to keep reinventing yourself, after losing guys like Giambi, Damon, Isringhausen, and still stay at that payroll and still be good.
BB: Three years ago, before we were actually good, I said, “Someday, someone’s gonna look at this group of young players that’s on the A’s club and say, ‘I can’t believe they were all on one team.’” That’s how good I think these guys are. Chavez is just 24 years old. Tejada’s 26. Zito, Mulder, Hudson…these guys are so young it’s just remarkable!
JR: Well, you see teams all the time that will sign guys who are average players, they might even be below average, but they’ve been veterans and they’re signing them for too much money. I remember last year, with the Yankees having to deal with the Tino Martinez issue, and Tino leaving. Yankee fans were complaining. And I’m going, “Tino’s a below average first baseman at this point!”
CM: I know a lot of people were harping on you Billy that the A’s ought to be signing Tino Martinez to solve your first base problem, and that probably would have cost you about $10 million more than you ended up spending.
BB: You’re exactly right!
JR: And the Yankees were smart, they got Giambi. I think he’s fourth in the American League in runs scored. He gets on base so much that he’s scoring all these runs, and he’s slow as can be.
BB: That’s sort of our big thing, on-base percentage. And when it comes to that, Jason was really the poster-child for the A’s.
JR: Exactly. And the Yankees were smart…they spent their money wisely!
BB: Yeah, they did. And Jason’s such a remarkable player for all those reasons. In my opinion, he’s the best offensive player in the American League, and he has been for the past number of years.
JR: When he hit that grand slam in that extra inning game, when they were three runs down, he just won over everyone. I’m making my wife sit there and watch this, and I’m going, “You’ll see, if the guy before him can just get on base, I think he’s gonna do it this time.”
BB: Well, that was actually when Jason really started turning it around too.
JR: Yeah, that’s when he won over all the Yankee fans. I kept saying, “How could they be booing this guy? Just leave him alone. He’s gonna have his numbers at the end of the season.”
CM: Well, that’s the New York way!
JR: I mean, forget Tino, you know?
BB: Well, the good thing up in Oakland sometimes is that there are certain players you just can’t sign. So it sort of gives you the ability not to make decisions that maybe the public may want you to make.
CM: You don’t have worry about whether or not to spend that $10 million…because you just can’t!
BB: Yeah, exactly! And the one thing now, as well as we’ve been playing, can you imagine if we had Giambi back? You know, it’s sort of scary! That’s why I keep going back to just how talented this group of players we have right now is. And then the way the pitching staff just keeps getting better and better…
JR: Hey, how come Ben Grieve didn’t develop like it seemed he was going to when he first came up?
BB: He had a solid rookie year, he went on to hit 28 home runs his next year, then he just seemed to plateau and it’s just hard to explain. But with young players, the first hump you have is that you get up here and you’re just happy to be here. I guess it’s probably like an album. You come out with a hit album, and that first hit album wasn’t so hard. It’s the second one. You know, the ability to recreate that.
JR: Everyone puts out their best stuff on the first one.
BB: Yeah, exactly. And the ability to stay up and discover what’s going to work, based on making those adjustments, is really what makes the great ones. You look at a guy like Chavez, it scares me to think about what Eric’s gonna do. This is a kid who’s hit 30 home runs, driven in 100 runs, I think two years now, and won a Gold Glove…and he’s seven years younger than Jason!
JR: I hope Soriano’s able to make the adjustments. He swings at a lot of stuff and he’s gonna have to get a little more plate-discipline.
BB: Oh yeah, Soriano will be fine. The kid who’s gonna be good over there too is Nick Johnson. If you look at it, the best hitters always start out with that great plate-discipline.
JR: Yeah, he’s got great plate-discipline.
BB: The Yankee teams of the ’90s always sort of exemplified that. I’m pretty good friends with the Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman. And when they signed Jason, I know one of the things they really wanted to focus back on was on-base percentage, which they’d lost a little bit.
CM: Well isn’t that also a key part of your philosophy with the A’s too Billy, getting your hitters to take as many pitches as possible and trying to get opposing pitchers to throw as many pitches as you can?
BB: Yes, because ultimately, if you go into a game and you’ve got to face Clemens for seven or eight innings, and then Mariano Rivera for one, you’re not gonna get many runs. What you try to shoot for is trying to get the middle relievers in there, get as many at-bats as you can against them, because if you have to make your living off Clemens and Rivera, you’re not gonna win too many games.
JR: I saw once where they said that Nolan Ryan in one of his peak years with the Angels was averaging like 160 pitches per game, okay? That’s hardly believable! I once watched a game with Sam McDowell pitching. He had gone 11 innings and had struck out 12 or 13 guys, walked 10, and he was up to like 230 pitches!
CM: Guys hardly throw that many pitches in three starts now!
BB: Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine…
JR: And Ryan, back then, would never lose a game once he had a lead after like the seventh inning. He got stronger and more dominant as the game would go along.
CM: You know, that’s an interesting point that Johnny brings up. I’d be curious to hear you address how things have changed. I remember when I was a kid following baseball back in the ’70s, you had four-man rotations as opposed to five-man rotations and you had guys throwing nine innings quite a bit…
JR: Ferguson Jenkins throwing 30 complete games a year…
BB: Mickey Lolich throwing I think close to 400 innings one year…
CM: But what do you think about this sort of change in pitching philosophy over the years?
BB: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s funny because we’re kind of taking a look at that ourselves. I believe that the five-man rotation came into play when Earl Weaver actually had five great starters.
JR: The Yankees always had a five-man rotation with Casey Stengel. But Whitey Ford had never won 20 games. And in the ’61 season when Ralph Houk became manager, he went to the four-man rotation and Whitey Ford won 24 games that year. But Stengel was always doing it.
BB: Well, I think no one really knows the reason why it came into play. But I think the reason it stays in play is because pitchers’ health is at such a premium, and teams are so protective of those great young starters. And a lot of these guys now, this generation of pitchers, have been raised on the five-man rotation.
CM: It seems like something that just kind of crept in without really any conscious thought. And now that it’s in, everybody’s kind of used to it, so nobody wants to vary from it.
JR: I remember a time before when the Dodgers had the four-man rotation in the ’60s, with Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen and Johnny Podres. They had a four-man rotation. And then Billy Martin would go to the four-man rotation…
CM: Yeah, Billy Martin used to like to throw the starters out there as long as possible.
BB: Yeah, unfortunately that group of pitchers he had here, I think it was ’81 in Oakland, a lot of them after that had arm injuries.
JR: But I think that could have just happened. I don’t know if Billy’s to blame.
CM: He did that elsewhere and it didn’t necessarily happen.
JR: Yeah, he did it with Lolich and he had a big year the following year. For throwing 370 innings, he still had a good year the following year.
BB: Yeah, you know what’s interesting too is the Japanese have much different theories on it.
JR: Right, pitch more!
BB: Yeah. And I’ll tell you what, it’s something that in our organization we just want to take a look at it and sort of examine the history, as we’re sort of doing here orally.
JR: I guess all those breaking pitches take a toll, right?
BB: Yeah. And for us, our bread and butter is those big three young guys…Zito, Hudson and Mulder. And we just want to make sure we don’t do anything that could lead to an injury. So we actually keep track of every pitch they throw, even in between starts.
JR: Oh, I saw Zito throw a curveball to a lefty last night…it started out behind him and went back over for a strike!
CM: One of those knee-buckling curves!
BB: Barry’s pretty special. He’s also a fledgling rock star, as you may or may not know.
JR: Everybody wants to get into the act!
BB: In fact, remember game three of the playoffs that he started last year, the 1-0 game?
CM: The one with the Jeter play.
BB: Exactly! Who could forget?! Well before the game, I was in the workout room running on the treadmill. And then Barry walks in and puts in a CD, plays it as loud as he can, and gets on the warm-up bike, and doesn’t say a word to me the whole time. And he has this whole routine when he’s pitching, different songs and stuff. People call him quirky, but he’s incredibly disciplined with his routine.
CM: He’s just really locked in, that’s really what it is! But I know when I talked to Barry, he did say that you had turned him on to the Strokes, Billy.
JR: So I guess Billy’s the coolest guy in the organization!
CM: Exactly, it’s up to you to pass this stuff on to the next generation of players, Billy!
BB: Well, I was passing out Ramones CDs to Spiezio. And now with Scott Hatteberg, who’s a huge music fan, I actually gave him the DVD of “The Filth & The Fury,” and I had to explain it to him. I gave him a whole history of how Malcom McLaren had come over to New York and had sort of managed the Dolls…
CM: Yeah, he was the last of the Dolls’ bad managers.
BB: Kind of ruined them too, didn’t he?
CM: Well, I know Sylvain and Arthur Kane, so I’ve heard plenty of Malcolm stories.
JR: Have you heard the one about when I hit him in the dressing room up at the Whiskey?
CM: No, I don’t think I’ve heard that one…let’s hear it, Johnny!
JR: Well he was in the dressing room, and I’m already offended that this guy was in my dressing room, and he says to some girl I was seeing at the time, “Hey, what’s his problem?” And I go, “What’s my problem?” And I punched him. Then I pick up Dee Dee’s bass and I go to hit him over the head with it, and they drag him out.
CM: Just in the nick of time!
JR: I don’t need this guy asking, “What’s my problem?”
CM: Well, you know, after the Dolls broke up, Malcolm took Sylvain’s guitar back to England with him. And in some of the early Sex Pistols stuff, you see Steve Jones playing this white guitar…
JR: The white Falcon…
CM: Yeah, Syl’s white Falcon, exactly!
JR: He had the Dolls dressing up in the red patent leather with the communist hammer & sickle backdrop behind them. And I’m going, “What is this?” You know?
BB: Well, when I gave Hatteberg “The Filth & the Fury,” I explained to him the differences between the New York scene and the English scene. He actually went home and watched it and he was just blown away. He couldn’t believe how great it was!
JR: Oh, he was liking it then?
BB: Oh, he loved it! A couple of years ago when the Pistols did their reunion tour, I figured I had to go, right? So I went out, and there was a whole group of young guys. And then there were guys like me wearing, you know, middle-aged man clothes, who had actually bought the first 8-track! Anyway, on the last song, a young guy behind me decides the best thing to do was to push the guy in front of him. So I’m sitting there with my brother and his friend and coming this close to getting into a fistfight at a concert. I was the assistant GM at the time, so my brother grabs me and goes, “You’re the assistant GM with the A’s, you don’t need to be getting into fights at punk rock concerts!”
JR: That would have been terrific, yeah!
BB: The purists would say, “Oh, you can’t go see the Pistols now, it’s not the same thing.” But I’ll tell you what, it was great!
JR: The best band I’ve seen since I got started in like ’74 were the Clash at a certain point…like around ’77-’78.
BB: I saw them when they came over to the States on their first tour.
JR: Yeah, with the “Give ‘Em Enough Rope,” the second album tour. They were just tremendous on that tour.
BB: When I saw them, Johnny, they had just come over, and they had not yet come out with “London Calling.” “London Calling” was due out in about six months.
JR: So it was still after “Give ‘Em Enough Rope.”
BB: Yeah, exactly.
JR: They were probably at a peak there, because I saw them a year or so later, and they weren’t as good as they were the previous year. So they peaked. I guess this must have been in ’78, right?
BB: Yeah, it was probably the Fall of ’78.
JR: The first concert I went to see was the Rolling Stones in 1964. It was at Carnegie Hall in New York. I remember the date, June 20th, 1964.
BB: My first one was KISS.
JR: I see Paul Stanley around here. I’ve got him on the Ramones tribute record and he’s a really nice guy.
BB: You guys played out here, Johnny, I think it ended up being your last tour. It was an outdoor amphitheater up in Concord, and I want to say it was ’93.
JR: Well, the last tour would be ’96 when I did Lollapalooza. That was the last thing that I did. I retired then, and the only time I’ve ever played again was one song with Pearl Jam. They did a Ramones song and they wanted me to play one song with them.
BB: Well, Dee Dee was actually up here about a year ago.
JR: Yeah, Dee Dee died, you know?
BB: Yeah, I remember the day it happened in fact.
JR: You know, from watching athletes play beyond their prime, I wanted to retire and stay retired. I did not want to get up there and perform, and be past my prime. I was already, but I had to continue on to reach a certain amount where I could comfortably retire. So I had planned out my retirement probably five years before I retired. And I’m definitely sticking to it. I don’t even touch the guitar.
BB: Well in terms of your guitar-playing, as you got older, did you find yourself more interested in doing more with the guitar, or did you just love the style that you…
JR: No! I never even touched the guitar. When I’d walk on the stage, that’s when I touched the guitar!
BB: Just had a callous on that index finger, right?
JR: Yeah, we’d keep touring and playing all the time. I just loved playing for the fans, otherwise to me it was like I hated being on the road. I loved getting on the stage and playing the hour-and-fifteen-minute show for the fans.
CM: Everything else was just work, huh?
JR: Yeah, everything else was just work! But I loved meeting the fans, talking to the fans. I signed autographs for every fan. It was such a good feeling knowing that if I talked to them for one minute, they seemed to be so excited and it would make their day. And I thought, “Wow, this is just great that I’m able to make their day just by being nice to them!”
BB: By the way, I actually liked “End Of The Century” that came out in ’79-’80, the one that Spector did with you guys. In fact, that was the first year I signed. I was in the instructional league and wearing that out. That’s when “Rock & Roll High School” came out too, the movie. And I remember all those problems that supposedly you guys had with Phil Spector doing that album. And you know, it was supposed to have been a nightmare recording it.
BB: But I actually like the album. I think the sound is great!
JR: Rhino just put out the next four albums starting with “End of the Century,” “Pleasant Dreams,” “Subterranean Jungle,” and “Too Tough To Die.” They came up with bonus tracks and demos and everything else. I’ll send you a bunch of stuff.
BB: I was just saying…I never get tired of it! I go into a ballpark now, and some of the riffs that you guys had I hear in ballparks, and commercials…
JR: Oh yeah, it’s so funny. Actually, I sit there, and when it comes on, if I’m at the ballpark, I feel embarrassed and I’ll look down. I try to hide.
BB: Well, you know, I was in Berkeley about 11 years ago and I was gonna buy a guitar. So there was a young guy who was working at the guitar store. And he goes, “Well what do you like?” And I said to him, “Well, do you like the Ramones?” And he looked at me straight as can be and goes, “Doesn’t everyone?”
JR: I wish!
BB: …as if that was a ridiculous question to even ask! But I remember, even in the ’80s in Milwaukee, they used to play the intro to “Blitzkrieg Bop!”
JR: Yeah, a lot of the ballparks put it on.
BB: Well Milwaukee was one of the first to do it in the ’80s. And with “Blitzkrieg Bop,” they never played the words, they just played the intro.
JR: Yeah. “Hey, ho, let’s go!” They play it at Yankee Stadium all the time.
BB: Well it must be flattering, especially when you think about the first time you guys put that riff together, and you’re thinking “Hey, this works!” And then…
JR: Well, we had written that song because we had heard the Bay City Rollers doing “Saturday Night.” And we thought that was our competition, the Bay City Rollers. So we had to come up with a song that had a chant ’cause they had one too.
CM: That was gonna be your big pop hit!
BB: Well, I think you outlasted them!
JR: So what are they going to do about steroid use, Billy? How do we go 37 years with Roger Maris’s record there, and then have it broken six times or something in this recent period? They’ve made a joke of these records that stood…it’s not adding up.
BB: Well, obviously when things happen people are always going to start to wonder. But it sounds like they’re working on something that I think, if anything, would lend itself to at least putting away some of the questions about some of the things that are going on.
JR: Well if I was hitting 50 homers and I was not on steroids, I would come forward and say, “I volunteer to be tested.”
BB: Yeah, if I was hitting 50 homers…well if I was hitting 50 homers, I wouldn’t be the GM of the A’s right now! But you know, all through the ’80s, weightlifting was totally taboo in baseball. And guys now lift weights in baseball like they do in football, so there’s no question that the players are stronger because they are working harder. When I first got in the game, the only thing guys did was they hit and they threw. The conditioning they did was very minimal compared to now.
JR: Yeah, that part is all true. But no one’s hitting home runs any farther than Mickey Mantle.
BB: Well there are certain guys, Mantle being one of them, that transcend time anyway. And I always believe that even in the game now, there’s a group of players that is so much better. They’re at such a level beyond everybody else that it’s like Jordan in basketball. Bonds is one of those guys, and so was Mantle, and guys like McGwire. Put him in any era, 20 years from now, and he’s just gonna be exactly what he was, a tremendous player!
JR: Right, the great players would be great in any era.
JR: Well, it looks like it’s gonna be the A’s and the Yankees again this year!
BB: Well, we’ll cross our fingers. I hope we get a chance at them. We’ve got a tough division.
CM: Do you watch all the Yankee games on cable, Johnny?
JR: Oh yeah. You know, occasionally I’m cheated out of a couple though. They don’t have them all on.
CM: Do you get out to many games since you’ve moved to southern California?
JR: No, not that many because my wife doesn’t want to go. And I’m sort of at home with my wife now. But retirement’s great though…I love it! This is what I’ve looked forward to all my life. It was a little weird the first year, sitting around and missing playing. But I knew that’s how it was gonna be. That’s why boxers don’t get out; that’s why ballplayers don’t get out. But I tried to prepare myself for that mentally. Look, I did it for 22 years…time to move on with my life. You know, I’ve been married for 20 years and I’m just happy being home with my wife.
CM: Well, it’s time to start spending more time focusing on baseball now, Johnny!
JR: Yeah, trust me, I do plenty of that!
BB: You’re a collector too, right Johnny?
JR: Yeah, I’m a collector. I don’t have it anymore, but I had probably the largest autographed 8×10 collection in the country. I had about 5,500 different players’ autographed 8x10s…pretty much from 1950 on, probably 75% of the players. But I’m also a movie poster collector. So I decided to liquidate that collection a few months ago and put the money towards movie posters. I just wanted to make it easier on my wife in case anything ever happened to me. So I just took the money and put it into some 1930s horror movie posters that I collect. My friend Kirk Hammett from Metallica, he’s a huge collector too. He lives in San Francisco…but unfortunately, he’s not a baseball fan!
BB: Well if there’s any baseball stuff I could get you…
JR: Well I do collect team-autographed balls!
BB: Well I’ll get you one of those!
JR: I have mostly ’50s stuff…’55 Senators, ’55 White Sox, ’55 Cardinals. But guys now don’t write as neat as they used to…every signature was so perfect! But I’d love to be able to add something…
BB: Well why don’t we be optimistic and say that you’ll be getting the 2002 World Champion team ball?!
JR: Well if I had an Oakland A’s team ball, I might have to start rooting for them!
BB: That’s what I’m banking on! Well like I said, I tried to stop from gushing, but I’m like a Star Trek fan when it comes to the Ramones. Thanks for taking the time out, Johnny. I really appreciate it. I’m a huge fan, as big as they come!
JR: Yeah, it was great talking to you too!
You can also check out my original review of Moneyball from back in 2003 here… ChinMusic! – Moneyball Book Review