Results tagged ‘ Jason Giambi ’
Exclusive: A’s Super Scout (and Moneyball Bad Guy) Grady Fuson Gives the Lowdown on Life in Baseball and A’s Prospects to Watch
Grady Fuson is one of the baseball world’s most respected talent evaluators. He’s spent the past 30 years in pro ball, scouting talent at every level. As the A’s scouting director from 1995-2001, Fuson was responsible for drafting the A’s big three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito over three consecutive years (1997-1999), and then drafted Rich Harden the following year (2000). Prior to that, as the A’s national cross-checker, he was involved in the drafting of Jason Giambi and Ben Grieve, as well as the signing of Miguel Tejada. Many of these players formed the core of some very successful A’s teams, and some went on to contribute to other winning teams as well.
In his final draft as the A’s scouting director, Fuson drafted high school pitcher Jeremy Bonderman in the first round, causing a certain degree of controversy which was touched upon in the best-selling book, Moneyball. While well known and well respected within the baseball fraternity, Grady Fuson probably became best known to the general public when he was portrayed in the film version of Moneyball as the obstinate scout fired by general manager Billy Beane (as played by Brad Pitt) after a dramatic and heated confrontation.
What your average filmgoer doesn’t know is that there was no such firing. Fuson actually left the organization for another opportunity with the Texas Rangers. And he has been back working with the A’s as a special assistant to general manager Billy Beane for the past two years now. It turns out that, sometimes, real-life really is more interesting than fiction. And wanting to get a real-life look at a life in baseball, we took the opportunity to talk with Fuson about his journey in baseball as well as to get his take on some of the A’s most intriguing prospects.
After coaching baseball at the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington in the late-‘70s and early-‘80s, Grady Fuson got his first opportunity to join the scouting fraternity in 1982 when an old friend (and likely drinking buddy) of Billy Martin’s who had been scouting the northwest area for the A’s retired, and the team asked Fuson if he’d like to take over the territory. He thought the opportunity sounded intriguing and signed on, agreeing to work as an area scout in the northwest. During the spring, he’d keep tabs on all the promising young amateur prospects throughout the region. And during the summer, he’d coach short-season rookie clubs for the organization in such exotic locales as Medford and Idaho Falls.
By 1985, he was given responsibility for the northern California area as well and relocated to the Bay Area for the first time. In 1991, after nearly ten years of beating the bushes for prospects, the team made him their national cross-checker, basically the right-hand man to the scouting director. The position involved personally checking on all the top prospects recommended by the team’s area scouts and getting some perspective on all of them so that the organization could accurately gauge how they all stacked up.
After a few years in that position, a period which included the drafting of future MVP Jason Giambi and future Rookie of the Year Ben Grieve as well as the signing of future MVP Miguel Tejada, Fuson was promoted to the position of scouting director by A’s general manager Sandy Alderson. And thus began what he calls “one of the proudest times of my life” – a time during which the A’s drafted future Cy Young winner Barry Zito as well as future All-Stars Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Rich Harden and Eric Chavez.
But his first draft as the A’s new scouting director involved a very difficult decision – the decision whether or not to draft the promising Cuban exile pitcher, Ariel Prieto (who’s now back with the A’s acting as the interpreter for new Cuban prospect Yoenis Cespedes).
“Todd Helton was my guy the whole time. This guy Ariel Prieto comes out of nowhere in the last month. So I fly in to see him and, boy, he’s really good. So I say, ‘Sandy, there’s a guy here who’s much different than the rest of these amateurs. He’s older, he’s more polished. This guy might be big league ready real fast.’ So we had many pow-wows about which way to go – Helton, Prieto, Helton, Prieto, Helton, Prieto. And when it all came down to it, he wanted to go that way, and that’s the way we went.”
Needless to say, Ariel Prieto didn’t exactly set the world on fire, and Todd Helton is still playing today. The previous year had seen the A’s draft a sweet-swinging slugger out of Texas in the first round – a strapping young lad by the name of Ben Grieve. The outfielder would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award in 1998, also winning the hearts of A’s fans in the process. But somewhere along the line, his progress seemed to hit a wall, he was traded away by the A’s and, by the time he was 29, he was out of the game altogether. And ever since, A’s fans have been left asking, “What went wrong with Ben Grieve?”
“The passion for the game just left him completely. Something was just missing. But this guy was just born to hit. But what happened? It’s a mind-boggler. He just lost his passion, his energy, his work ethic – to get bigger, to get stronger, to get better. He just took it all for granted. And his body started to slow up at a young age, and things just stopped firing. It’s a very unique story. Still, to this day, his was one of the best swings I’ve ever scouted.”
But after that, the A’s used their top picks wisely, having perhaps as much success in the draft as any team in the game and, in the process, forming the foundation of the winning A’s teams to come.
“One of the things I’ll always be proudest of is, in my years as scouting director, we nailed it on number ones – Chavez in ‘96, Mulder in ‘98, Zito in ‘99, even my last year in ’01 with Bonderman and Crosby. Collectively speaking, we drafted well.”
During that time, current A’s GM Billy Beane moved up from his position as assistant general manager to take over for long-time general manager Sandy Alderson in a transition that Fuson called “seamless.” The two worked together as general manager and scouting director for four years, acquiring players like Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Rich Harden during that time. There were clearly some differences of opinion on the drafting of a high school pitcher – Jeremy Bonderman – in the first round of the draft in 2001 (more on that later). But it wasn’t philosophical differences – or any sort of dramatic confrontation – that caused Fuson to part ways with the A’s. It was simply an offer too good to refuse from the rival Texas Rangers following the 2001 season.
“The Rangers called Billy and asked for permission to interview me for GM after Doug Melvin was let go. They invited three guys to come back for a second interview – Dave Dombrowski, John Hart and myself. Tom Hicks ended up choosing John Hart, but he wanted me to come in too. They throw in this assistant GM thing. And they want John Hart as the GM for three years. They want me to come in and overhaul and redo scouting and player development and oversee all that.”
But the A’s front office wasn’t too thrilled with the fact that they had allowed the Rangers to interview Fuson for one position but now he was being offered another.
“Billy made it very, very hard for me to say ‘yes.’ We talked a lot that night before I decided, and he offered me a great deal to stay. His loyalty and belief in me really came out at a different level. But after being with Oakland for twenty years, the opportunity to go somewhere new, oversee player development and scouting and take that next step, was an opportunity in my life that I thought I had to take.”
It wasn’t that easy though. Always looking for an opportunity to improve themselves, the A’s insisted on being compensated for the loss of Fuson. They hoped to wrangle a player like Hank Blalock out of the Rangers but, in the end, settled for a financial compensation package determined by the commissioner. Fuson was reluctant to disclose the level of compensation the A’s received in return for losing his services but did admit, “You could sign a real good player with it.”
Implicit in Fuson’s deal with the Rangers was the understanding that he would be viewed as a sort of GM-in-waiting when the time came for John Hart to step aside. And that time seemed to come in the summer of 2004 when, despite upping the payroll by $40 million to a whopping $110 million, the Rangers were still struggling to win and the pressure on the team to do something was mounting. It was at this time, shortly before the All-Star break, that Fuson claims Rangers owner Tom Hicks came to him and said it was time to make a change.
“He said, ‘I’ve talked to John. At the end of the year, he’s going to step aside. You’re stepping in.’ We agreed on a contract. We agreed on a lot of things. We weren’t going to announce it till after the All-Star break. But during the All-Star break, whether it was John, whether it was Buck Showalter, whether it was some other people, they got Tom to change his mind. And the way they did it really bothered me from a moral and ethical standpoint. And so I said, ‘Well, if John’s going to continue to go forward, then I want to step out.’ So I resigned.”
Fuson says A’s GM Billy Beane was one of the first people to call and offered the opportunity to talk about returning to the A’s. But Fuson ultimately accepted an offer from Padres general manager Kevin Towers to return to his hometown of San Diego. Before long, Fuson’s former boss Sandy Alderson joined the Padres front office, followed shortly thereafter by former A’s assistant GM Paul DePodesta – forming something of an A’s brain trust reunion in San Diego.
But after a few years with the Padres, Jeff Moorad took control of the team and hired new general manager Jed Hoyer. The new GM wanted to bring in his own people and decided to let Fuson go. But after being asked to take his leave, it didn’t take long for another job offer to come. He got a call from Billy Beane that night. And before long, he was back on board as a special assistant to the general manager of the Oakland A’s.
“It’s been great. I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I’m in big league camp. I’m watching all the games, helping evaluate, giving them my opinions on everything. Once the big league club gets set, then my focus is in the minor league camp. Once we break camp, then it’s all amateur draft – all of April, May and part of June – I’m cross-checking. And then in the summer, I hit all of our clubs once or twice, and Oakland. I’ll go in there and sit there for four or five days and get my eyes on the big league club and see what’s going on there. And at the deadline, if he’s got some trades and wants me out seeing some guys prior to some trades before the deadline, then I’ll do that.”
But what about all that Moneyball drama? All those debates over scouts vs. stats? The dinosaurs vs. the young turks? All those heated confrontations? Fuson claims there were no great philosophical debates, only differences of opinions over players. He says he certainly wasn’t anti-statistics and that those fault lines were over-dramatized by the book and the film.
“When I was a national cross-checker, I raised my hand numerous times and said, ‘Have you looked at these numbers?’ I had always used numbers. Granted, as the years go on, we’ve got so many more ways of getting numbers. It’s called ‘metrics’ now. And metrics lead to saber-math. Now we have formulas. We have it all now. But historically, I always used numbers. If there’s anything that people perceived right or wrong, it’s that me and Billy are very passionate about what we do. And so when we do speak, the conversation is filled with passion. He even told me when he brought me back, ‘Despite what some people think, I always thought we had healthy, energetic baseball conversations.’”
Fuson admits that he was initially caught off guard by some of the characterizations in the book.
“After the book came out, I’d already left, and I was a little stunned by some of the things said in there. And I had my time where me and Billy aired it out a little bit. And he was a very gracious listener when I aired it out. Guys were sticking microphones in my face left and right and I was kind of taking the fifth. But I told Billy, ‘It’s time for me to fire a shot across the bough, man.’ The good thing is most people know none of that really ever happened.”
As for the reported draft room tensions, Fuson says that’s par for the course.
“Was there tension at times in the draft room? Of course, that’s what a draft room is. The draft is so important to so many of us that there is tension. But in baseball, there’s always tension, anxiety and questions asked. Your boss asks you a question and you give your opinion and he disagrees, and how do you get to this common ground? Me, I’ve always respected who my boss is. If you tell me I can’t take that player, that player isn’t going to get taken.”
But surely it can’t feel great to find yourself portrayed as a bad guy on the big screen.
“The great thing about me and Billy is, back then, we used to have a lot of baseball discussions. In some of them we disagreed, and some of them we agreed. But the bottom line is they were always good baseball discussions. How that got twisted into me being a bad guy I think just got overblown in one scenario with the Jeremy Bonderman pick. There was some anxiety over the ownership, with them being caught off guard that we took a high school pitcher – that we hadn’t taken one in ten years. And that thing got kind of ugly. Billy certainly put up a big fight the night before the draft as to why we shouldn’t take him. But I was never told not to take the guy, and that’s who we as a group at the time wanted to take. And that got a little overblown, so all of a sudden I became the resistor – I was never a resistor.”
Fuson concludes by saying, “I’m glad I’m back – especially with where the state of the club is!” Fuson’s passion for player development is obvious as he offers his take on the A’s current crop of promising young prospects. And when it comes to the A’s newest acquisition, Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes, Fuson is clearly impressed.
“He’s physical. He’s explosive. There’s no doubt this guy can crush a fastball. So now we’ve got to watch, when guys start changing speeds on him, is he going to be able to hold up? But so far, this is a good sign. I joked with Billy and said, ‘You might have underpaid!’”
Fans of Double-A Midland will be glad to know that they can look forward to seeing the A’s last two first-round draft picks, power-hitting outfielder Michael Choice and hard-throwing right-hander Sonny Gray, donning Rockhounds uniforms this year. Besides Cespedes, Fuson thinks Choice may be the best pure power hitter in the organization.
“He’s just a very explosive hitter, probably one of the most explosive hitters in the minor leagues right now. This guy has learned a few things and he’s made adjustments. We shoved him right into the California League. We had some expectations and he achieved them. He cut his strikeouts down and shortened up his stride. He’s probably one of the biggest potential power hitters we’ve signed here in a long time. And he’s not just power-oriented. This guy has speed, defensive ability, arm strength – he’s got the package. And it’s just all about us grooming this guy and developing that package.”
As for Gray, he thinks the gritty right-hander’s repertoire needs a few refinements but, other than that, he seems to think he’s got what it takes.
“We’re looking at him really developing this changeup that we’ve shoved down his throat since we signed him. And he wants it as bad as we want to give it to him – because everything he throws is hard and snaps. And he’s gotten away in college without really developing this off-speed something to slow hitters down with. We made him throw it almost every other pitch in the instructional league. And he’s digging it – he wants to throw it. He’s a bright kid. And when it comes to all the other attributes, he’s just a tremendous kid – he’s a competitor. His athleticism, his competitiveness, his will to win, those things go a long way.”
Another particularly intriguing prospect is former 2007 first-round draft pick Sean Doolittle, originally drafted as a first baseman but now, due to injuries, trying to make it as a pitcher. He’s likely to start the year working on his repertoire at Single-A. But, so far, he’s been throwing well and, if he continues to do so, he could move his way up through the ranks quickly.
“His transition has been so fast. He just picked up a ball at the end of the summer. And then basically his first official training back on the mound since college was in instructional league. And now he’s got a couple scoreless innings in big league camp. But the transition’s been great. It’s been easy. He’s taken to it real quick. He’s got a couple of very instinctual knacks in his pitching. The breaking ball needs to be developed, but he’s going to be a nice addition.”
And when it comes to assessing the current state of the A’s organization, Fuson’s love of player development shows through: “We are, to some degree, in a rebuild mode. Look, I always want to put a ring on my finger, but I like building – I like getting better!”
We asked Grady Fuson to tip us off to three guys in the A’s system that we ought to keep an eye on, and here’s what we got:
-GRADY’S GUYS TO WATCH-
Right-handed Starting Pitcher
Age: 22 / Drafted: 8th Round – 2010
Expected To Start 2012 With: Stockton Ports
There’s a lot of upside to him. He’s got power in his arm. He’s got a hard breaking ball. The changeup is a developing pitch for him. He’s got good angles. He’s got good planes. It’s just about him learning the touch and feel part of being a starter. He was fairly dominant at Single-A Burlington last year. He was drafted in the 8th round in 2010. If you get a chance to see him, you’re going to like what you see.
Right-handed Hitting Shortstop
Age: 21 / Drafted: 2nd Round – 2010
Expected To Start 2012 With: Stockton Ports
He’s a big key to our system. He was an older high school guy when we took him last year in the draft. He was held back when he was younger so that he could have an extra year of learning English. He was born and raised in the Dominican and his family had moved to the States. He’s physical, he’s big, he’s strong, he runs and he throws. It’s all about learning the nuances. He didn’t have the kind of year we expected, or even he expected, last year in Burlington. But he’s going to be given an opportunity to go to the California League at the age of 21 and see what this young man can do. But there’s impact to his whole game.
Left-handed Hitting Outfielder
Age: 27 / Drafted: 5th Round – 2006
Expected To Start 2012 With: Sacramento Rivercats
I think the next step for him determines a lot of what we do in the future here in Oakland. Jermaine was a kid they’d signed years ago who was gifted and had raw tools. It’s taken a long time for these tools to apply themselves to performance. When I first came back here in 2010, Jermaine was almost on the verge of release. But you just can’t release players like this. They’re just too talented. You can’t replace them, so you might as well keep playing them. And things have really turned for this kid. He started to put it together in 2010, and everyone saw what he did last year. He’s a dynamic, gifted athlete who has a chance to do everything in the game. Those type of players are so difficult to acquire – a dynamic speed guy in center, somebody you can trust is going to do something offensively. There’s no doubt that he’s going to make some decisions possible if, in fact, he continues to back up what he’s done at the Triple-A level. He’s that dynamic of an athlete.
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