Welcome to The Quazcast - a weekly podcast that brings listeners in on a frank conversation between myself and a random person from the world of sports.
I might speak with a 90-year-old NFL kicker one week, the manager of a Major League Baseball team the next, and a bull fighter the week after that. The Quazcast is about digging deep and avoiding the cliché question and answers that too often plague sports interviews.
This week, we start our first podcast with someone I've covered for many years, and someone I've known for a long time: Former two-time MLB All-Star, Shawn Green.
Before retiring after the 2007 season, Green was one of four active players (along with Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Gary Sheffield) with 300 homers, 1000 RBIs, 400 doubles, a .280 average, and 150 stolen bases. After stops in Toronto, Los Angeles, and Arizona, Green finished his career with the New York Mets. Two years ago, the Golden Glove and Silver Slugger winner wrote his first book, titled The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH.
Below is an excerpt of our conversation, and a recording of our complete interview. To get future podcasts downloaded straight to your listening device, you can subscribe to The Quazcast on iTunes.
Jeff Pearlman: I saw you recently do an interview, and someone was asking you like “What do you think the Dodgers have to do in this upcoming series?” and I sort of got the impression, a little bit, that you were kinda the wrong person to ask. Yeah, you played for the Dodgers, and yeah, you played Major League Baseball but like “I know I’m supposed to know this stuff because I played in the major leagues, but I don’t really care like I used to.” Am I way off on that?
Shawn Green: No, you’re right! Even friends ask me who I think is going to win the series. They think I have some sort of magic crystal ball, which… I’m probably wrong more than other people. I’m looking at different little intricacies, which in the playoffs is a crapshoot, and you never know. People think that because I played, I know. But I really don’t.
JP: So we just finished, obviously, another major league season. Totally honest question here. How many full games would you say you watched this year?
SG: I don’t think I watched one start to finish. I know I’ve watched. I was at a Dodger game, I had to do something for a charity thing and, this is kind of a funny story. I brought my nephews, nine years old, and super in the baseball. So I got to show him the clubhouse, and you always feel awkward… like going back to high school after you graduate. And you don’t feel totally welcome. But you do. It’s kinda weird. Anyway, I took him around, and the game is going on. And Juan Uribe...we’re up in a box, and Juan Uribe hits a homerun in his first three at bats. I was gonna leave leave, and they came up, and say, “Will you stay, because Vin Scully wants to talk about your four-homer day, and it’s kind of ironic that you’re here. And he’s going for his fourth home run,” and all this stuff. I ended up staying longer, but I managed to get out of there in, I think, the eighth inning. So I have been to one game… err… watched one whole game on TV yet.
JP: Well, let me throw this at you Shawn. You’re an upstanding guy. You said something interesting. I kinda wonder, here you are, and you’ve gone through an injury, why not turn to PEDs at that point? You’ve got warning track power, when you used to hit them out of the park. Why not do it?
SG: For me, it wasn’t cheating and not cheating. I didn’t realize such a high percentage of guys were doing it. I thought maybe it was like, 20 percent or whatever. And looking now, we’re surprised to see all the guys falling under the Mitchell report, it was really surprising. For me, it was just an issue of not wanting to put that into my body. I never tried chewing tobacco, no one cares about that because it doesn’t affect your stats, but people would be shocked to hear that a baseball player never tried dipping. I never tried an amphetamine, which as you know, covering teams in the 80s and before that.
SG: It was the most prevalent substance used to increase players performances. And I never tried any of that either. A large part of that was not wanting to do that to my body. And another large part of it was I just felt like it was - I wanted to challenge myself. It drove me to try to be better than these other players that were cheating, or that were after a 15-inning game, and playing a day game the next day, and doing it without getting any help… that drove me.
JP: I would say so. Would you? Bonds - Hall of Fame? Or not Hall of Fame?
SG: The Hall of Fame stuff is tough. Because I’m sure there are guys in the Hall of Fame who were on steroids. I’d be really surprised if there weren’t, because of the way everything came out in the late 90s, or early 2000s. And I think the steroids were probably getting pretty popular in the early-90s, mid-90s… and if they were getting pretty popular at that time, then there were probably the outliers you were starting in the late 70s or early 80s. I’m sure there are guys who are already in there. It’s tough to say that a guy got caught, so he’s not going in. This other guy is very obviously a former steroid guy, but never got caught, so he’s gonna go in. I think that’s why it’s such a good debate, because there is no good answer.
JP: I want to ask you about someone who fascinates me. You play for the Blue Jays in 1998, and you guys have a great year, 88 and 74, four games out. A success. And after the season, your manager Tim Johnson admits that he never actually served in Vietnam and he was using Vietnam battle stories to motivate players. I remember the media at the time said he couldn’t survive, and that he’d “lost the clubhouse.” And I always wondered, does “lost the clubhouse” exist? Is there such a thing as “losing the clubhouse” and in this particular case, did it apply?
SG: Losing the clubhouse is kind of a strange concept. Guys are going out to play. You know as well as anybody, baseball players, other than the stretch and post season, everybody’s number one priority is themselves. Sure, there are some big series in April and June, like if the Yankees are playing the Red Sox and they’re both doing well, there are some series that mean a little bit more but I think at the end of the day, if a guy is pitching, he wants to go out and do well for himself and his team is a close second. And I always thought in the playoff, everything kind flip-flops. When the games are going on, guys are going to go out and do their jobs. But I will say, there were a lot of guys that spring. It was getting pretty chaotic. There was a lot of talking and gossiping among players. I was actually one of the big supporters of TJ because he gave me a shot, That was the first year I got a chance to play every day after struggling through three years under Cito Gaston, who was much more a veteran manager than a young guy manager. And Tim Johnson came in and gave me a chance to play, and I broke out. That was the year I hit 35 home runs and stole 35 bases and all of a sudden was an every day guy in the top of the lineup. He was good to me, and as far as managing a game, he did as well as anyone I played for. But as far as that other stuff, it had a big impact on a lot of guys on the team. Of the 25 guys, there might have been five guys who were up in arms about the whole situation. And sometimes that situation is more related to the issues they had with him in their own role on the team, you know player-manager kinda conflicts. And of course, they’re just going to grab on to that, the lying and all that. The problem, as much as the players, was the media became an incredible circus. I remember at the end of the year, they had a new years, a year in review thing in one of the Toronto papers. And every single thing had Tim earning this, or he won that. It was pretty bad. I think its tough for the organization to have someone leading the team who’s not being taken seriously.
JP: Give me baseball’s most meaningless statistic.
SG: Hmm that’s a tough one.
JP: We ask the tough questions.
SG: Can we go multiple choice here?
JP: Sure, how about Saves, RBIs, Homeruns, Batting Average.
SG: I’d say more Wins/Losses.
JP: Oh yeah, good one. We take the Stanford University baseball team. We put throw them in the Major Leagues for a 162 game season. How many wins do they get?
SG: They probably get 25.
JP: Final question… give me the coolest name of a baseball player you’ve ever heard.
SG: I loved Oddibe McDowell.
To hear the entire interview - including Green's feelings on Gary Sheffield, his most embarrassing moment and what it's like going back into the clubhouse as a retired player - you can download the podcast here, or listen below:
Jeff Pearlman is a former senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He is the author of six books including Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, The Bad Guys Won (a biography of the 1986 New York Mets) and Boys Will Be Boys (an account of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty from the 1990s). His newest book - Showtime (due to be released on February 11, 2014) - explores another famous sports dynasty: the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s.