One final Fred David post: My interview with him in 2001

I just got an email from a fellow named Matt, regarding my stories on former Sacramento Solons owner Fred David, who died in October at 100 and whose estate was just liquidated.  Matt wanted to know if he could see the interview I did with David in 2001 for my high school senior project.

David gave me a tour of his warehouse, where he stored memorabilia he recovered after the Solons’ ballpark, Edmonds Field, was torn down in 1964.  Prior to the tour, I provided David a list of written questions, which I still have (Editor’s note: It’s not for sale, though I will happily provide photocopies to anyone who sends me a stamped, addressed envelope.)

Thus, here is the interview:

1. For approximately how long were you an owner of the Sacramento Solons?

1944 Stockholder- 1954- President of Sacramento Baseball assn.  1964 Sold Edmonds Field

2. How much did it cost to buy the team?

Started with $1,000.00 to keep baseball in Sacramento.

3. Why did you buy the Solons?

To keep baseball in Sacramento, of course with the help of the directors, associates and fans.

4. You obviously had to sell a lot of players to the major leagues to stay afloat financially.  At the same time, the amount of fans you drew depended on how good your players were (David wrote “Right. Right,” next to both of these lines.)  How did you deal with your financial dilemnas?

Borrow and Sell.  We had good players, good baseball, too much Major League.

5. I understand the Solons have been affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers.  Did you maintain any formal “parental” agreement with any team during your tenure?

No.  We had to sell many good players to the Major Leagues to stay afloat.

6. Describe the working relationship you had with your general manager Dave Kelley.

Very good.

7. How well did you pay your players in comparison to other Coast League owners?

Fairly well, considering the attendance.

8. What was your total payroll for 1954?


9. How did you get along with other Coast League owners?

Very good.

10. Was there any kind of stigma attached to Sacramento as a baseball town, since it was so small?

Oakland and San Francisco was new Major League out west.  Sacto was too small.

11. Were you apart of any effort to help get the PCL recognized as part of the Major League?

Yes, we were Open Classification shooting for the Majors.  When the Majors came west, we dropped to AAA

12. What were the fans like?  Were attendance figures consistently good, consistently bad or sporadic?

Bad.  We let another group call Solons Inc to operate the team for two years, we rented them the stadium for $15,000.00 per year.  They went bankrupt.

13. How big was the level of public interest in the Solons?

At first fair, then, they wanted Major League.

14. What kind of perks did you enjoy as an owner?

A lot of work– no pay.  But, we kept baseball going & some fun, with good times.

15. Were you friends with any players during your tenure?

Yes managers and players.  Some came to work for me.  Besides other athletes.

16. Was Edmonds Field a fitting place for baseball in Sacramento?

Very much so.  Lots of players were developed here.

17. Did you support or root for the Solons before the time that you owned them?

Yes, also at times I worked in the concession in the lobby when I was fifteen years old.

18. What’s your favorite memory from the time you owned the Solons?

We kept baseball going for 20 years.  1944-1964, good times and bad.

19. When you bought the Solons in 1954, did you think that Major League baseball would make it to the West Coast? (David wrote “Yes” next to this)  On the other hand, did you feel that the Pacific Coast League was a major league in its own right?

Yes, the weak ones were Sacramento & Portland.  As you can see all other 6 teams are Major L. now.

20. Did the Korean War affect the Solons at all?

Yes, it took some of our best players.

21. What drove you out of being an owner?  When did you officially sell?

Poor attendance.  The team in 1960-61.  Stadium 1964.

22. How did you feel in the spring of 1961, when the Solons finally departed for Hawaii, after two years of rumors that they’d leave?  Did you personally try to stop the move?

They sold the team to Hawaii, before we knew it.  Left us an empty stadium.

23. Why do you still have so much memorabilia from Edmonds Field?

After we sold the stadium, I salvaged what I could.  It was a great memory.

24. Why do think it took so long for baseball to return to Sacramento?

Major Leagues out west.  Then after 1965– no stadium.  It took 30 years for someone to decide it was time– including the growth of Sacto.

25. How different is the candy industry from the baseball industry?

Business is business– work.  But I loved baseball.  I guess I was a good fan.

26. Are you a Rivercats fan?


Port-mortem on McGwire: Five more questions with Dale Tafoya

Faithful readers of this site will know that in December I reviewed a book about Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, Bash Brothers: A Legacy Subpoenaed. The book’s author, Dale Tafoya subsequently contacted me, and I interviewed him.  A few weeks after that, McGwire finally admitted to using steroids during his career.  Thereafter, his former trainer, Curt Wenzlaff made his own disclosures about the slugger.

Tafoya had interviewed Wenzlaff for his book, and I was curious about his take on everything that’s happened this month.  Thus, I followed up with Tafoya.

Baseball Past and Present: In writing Bash Brothers, did you foresee these last few weeks?  Was this what you were expecting?

Dale Tafoya: I wasn’t sure if McGwire was ever going to talk about the past and admit his steroid use, so I didn’t think his confession was inevitable. But I did know he wanted to return to the game and that his younger brother, Jay, is releasing a book, Mark AND Me, next month. Like Canseco, Jay is also supposedly going to describe how he injected steroids into Mark. So McGwire had many reasons to confess when he did. Personally, I was disappointed.  He may have been sincere, but it was a watered down confession that insulted our intelligence.

Firstly, he wants us to believe he turned to steroids to be healthy enough to play and that he could’ve hit 70 bomb in 1998 without them. Secondly, he wants us to believe that when players talked about steroids around the batting cage, he innocently walked away. So even though he confessed his steroids use, he never admitted they helped him perform better on the field.  He would have come across much better if he would have just exposed himself and stated the obvious: That they not only helped him recover from injury, but also helped him hit the ball further and break records. We, as fans, would’ve had more closure. Instead, his lukewarm confession left many of us disgusted.

BP&P: Will you be writing a postscript to your book?

DT: My publisher is talking about releasing a paperback version of Bash Brothers, and that’s when I’ll write a postscript. Stay tuned.

BP&P: One of your interview sources, Mark McGwire’s former trainer Curt Wenzlaff detailed the slugger’s steroid use for Outside the Lines.  In your book, he stopped short of saying he supplied McGwire with steroids.  What were the circumstances surrounding your interview with Wenzlaff a few years ago?  Do you regret not getting full disclosure at that time?

DT: I had two or three hour-long sessions with Wenzlaff. From the start, he always made it clear he wasn’t going confirm that he provided steroids to Canseco and McGwire unless they came clean.  So when Canseco described his own steroid use in his first book, Juiced, Wenzlaff went on record to confirm it. But when I contacted him in 2007, McGwire still hadn’t admitted it, so all he could tell me was he trained with him at a Southern California gym. But I respected his stance and was grateful he agreed to participate in my book. 

Interestingly, it was Reggie Jackson, when he played for the A’s in 1987, who introduced Wenzlaff to the Bash Brothers.  So I probed him about Jackson, but Wenzlaff  insisted Jackson never knew about his connection with steroids, claiming he only trained him at a gym in Walnut Creek, Calif.

I spent a lot of time trying to locate Wenzlaff, who was no stranger to media exposure. He had already been featured on ESPN and in the New York Times about his associations with Canseco and McGwire, so I realized he wasn’t going to give me any new, earth-shattering revelations into the Bash Brothers. But he did provide some interesting stuff on McGwire.  He described how much McGwire changed and how steroids could affect someone’s behavior and personality.  Based on my time with him, Wenzlaff was by no means an attention whore seeking to capitalize on this ongoing saga. In fact, I found him very private, humble and intelligent. If he were infatuated with the limelight, he would have wrote a tell-all book about the Bash Brothers years ago. He stuck to his guns and didn’t come out until each of them admitted it.

BP&P: Do you think McGwire told the whole truth?

DT: Well, I give him credit for disclosing his use, but I also believe Canseco injected him with the stuff; a claim he denies.  If there’s one thing clear about McGwire’s confession, it’s that he still refuses to dignify Canseco’s claims or make him look credible at all. He’s definitely not going to paint Canseco as a savior in this mess. But my question for McGwire is, “If Jose didn’t inject you with steroids, how did he know you used them?”

BP&P: Does McGwire have a better or worse case for the Hall of Fame now?

DT: I don’t think his admission swayed voters one way or the other. Personally, I don’t think he’ll garner of enough votes to enter the Hall of Fame and I don’t think he cares. The Veterans Committee, however, could end up getting him in.

An interview with Matt Walbeck

I have found work recently as a painter and was in a town here in Northern California called Danville last week, doing interior work on a house.  I got to talking with one of the homeowners, and it turns out she is from Sacramento, like me and went to high school with Matt Walbeck, a future Major League Baseball player. Walbeck broke in with the Chicago Cubs in 1993, as a catcher, played with four other teams in an eleven-year career and is now a minor league coach.

The homeowner said she still knew Walbeck, and after I explained about this site and inquired about interviewing him, she gave me his email address.  I sent Walbeck questions on Thursday, and he got back to me today.

The interview is as follows:

Baseball: Past and Present: You’ve been coaching for six years now.  Do you hope to make it to the majors as a manager?

Matt Walbeck:  I think if I continue to improve as a manager and at developing players I will manage in the majors.

BP&P: Do you think being a catcher prepared you better for coaching than if you’d been, say, a third baseman?

MW:  Having not played any other positions, I can’t compare.  There are a lot of solid managers that have played different positions.  Catchers are closely connected with the pitching coach, manager, umpires, position players and the pitchers.  Understanding pitchers is a big part of managing a baseball team because they make up almost half of the team.  Also seeing the whole field from behind the plate helps too.

BP&P: Have any of the managers that you played for influenced your coaching style?

MW:  They all have, and so did my Dad who coached my little league teams growing up.  My high school coaches Don and Jim Graf were very helpful also.  I gleaned a little bit from each of them, which is how any coach creates his or her own style.

BP&P: What kind of advice do you give young players?

MW:  Take care of yourself, love what you do, play the game one pitch at a time. And do something every day to become a better player.

BP&P: You were an eighth round draft pick out of Sacramento High School in 1987 for the Chicago Cubs.  If you could do it over, would you have gone to play baseball in college and entered the draft later or would you still have signed out of high school?

MW:  I wouldn’t change anything.  I feel that I learned a lot about life when I signed as a 17 year old and learned how to live on my own.  Wytheville, Virginia, the city where I played my first pro season was a small town of about 10,000 people and was like whole new world.  Being away from home made me realize how great the Sacramento area is, and how important family is.

BP&P: says you earned over $4 million in your career.  How far does that sort of money go?

MW:  It will go as far as you let it.  If you spend a lot and don’t save you go broke.  It boils down to your spending habits and investing wisely.

BP&P: Do you think you reached your potential as a player?

MW:  No.  Nobody is perfect and it seems everyone can always improve.

BP&P: How prevalent was the steroid culture in baseball?  Was it rampant or has the media made it out to be something bigger than it was?

MW:  I guess it was pretty prevalent throughout the years that I played.  Fortunately, I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t try it.  The side effects scared me.  So, since I wasn’t interested in it, it wasn’t available.

BP&P: Do you still consider Sacramento home?  Are you still friends with a lot of people you grew up with?

MW:  I grew up in East Sac on 42nd and H and used to hang out at McKinley Park, Sutter Lawn, River Park, etc.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  My wife, three children and I now live in Old Fair Oaks which is near the American River.  There’s lots of outdoor activity and I love to Steelhead fish.  I still have lots of friends in the area, some who I went to high school with and others that I have met in Fair Oaks.

BP&P: Last question: Who is your all-time favorite baseball player from Sacramento?

MW:  Probably Derek Lee.  He’s a true  professional and is a tremendous talent both offensively and at first base.

Interview with Dale Tafoya

I got an email last Saturday from Dale Tafoya, the author of Bash Brothers, which I reviewed here on December 23. I got a little nervous when I first saw Tafoya’s name in my email inbox, as my review of his work was, at times, less than flattering.  Tafoya was cool, though, saying that he thought I was objective.  He also said some of the writing and editing of his book got compromised because his publisher, Potomac Books rushed it out after the Mitchell Report.  This struck my interest, and I offered to append his email to my review.  He said that wasn’t necessary but offered instead to do an email interview.

I got some questions off to Tafoya on Sunday evening, and he emailed me back today.  The interview is as follows:

Baseball Past and Present: You’ve mentioned about pouring your heart and soul into this book.  A year and a half past your book’s publication, have you fully detoxed off of all things Bash Brothers?

Dale Tafoya: Yes. When you invest almost four years on a project and finish promoting it, you kind of want to take a breather from it.  When I completed my book, it felt good to return to my daily routine. But when you’re in the thick of writing a book and immersed in your subject, it sucks you in. You’re having an affair with it. People always ask me for advice on starting a book, and I tell them they must have an unwavering passion for their subject; a romance that’s going to push them through the many obstacles of finding a literary agent, a publisher and staying focused enough to finish a book. The challenges are worth it.  What made this journey so worth it for me was that so many of my interviews––former teammates, coaches, broadcasters, and executives––loved talking about Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. They rambled on and on. Even so, the book still had obstacles. I first pitched the book back in 2004, and many book agents said a story on the Bash Brothers was only an article-–not book worthy. One, in fact, said a publisher would only acquire it if Canseco and McGwire participated. But I pressed on and googled my ass off to locate people who knew them. After interviewing about 50 of them, the book began taking shape. I ended up interviewing over 100. On my desk are hundreds of cassette tapes of my interviews that remind me of my hard work. But to answer your question, Graham, I’m not writing a Bash Brothers II; I’ve had enough with everything Canseco and McGwire.

BPAP: You interviewed a lot of people for your book, but not Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Tony LaRussa or Reggie Jackson.  Did you attempt to contact them?

DT: Of course. I contacted reps for everyone you mentioned and they all declined. Well, actually, Canseco wanted to be paid, but we weren’t going pay him because the book would lose its objectivity. And we didn’t want the book to be a spin-off of his first book, Juiced. Predictably, McGwire didn’t bother to respond. But surprisingly, Dave Mckay, one of La Russa’s guys and the A’s former weightlifting coach, cooperated and was very helpful. He gave me the direct number to the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse and really showed interest in the book. Even though he was clearly biased toward McGwire, I was shocked he participated.

BPAP: Who was your favorite interview?

DT: This has to be Eck, Dennis Eckersley. This guy is daring, bold, funny, and isn’t afraid to speak the truth. I was surprised how much he opened up to me about Tony La Russa, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Canseco and McGwire. He wasn’t afraid to make some less than flattering comments about either of my subjects. He was real.

BPAP: Are you proud of your work?

DT: Definitely. I mean, as a first-time author, I’m proud of how it generated a buzz and garnered some media coverage across the country.
I didn’t hit a home run sales-wise, but it was a labor of love. I’m also pleased with how it drew participants. Hell, I interviewed Sandy Alderson for over an hour. He was a hard interview to land. On a side note, I did feel sort of rushed with the project. At the time, the Mitchell Report had just come out and my publisher, Potomac Books, wanted to capitalize on the buzz and rush it to stores, which, of course, will compromise some things (not accuracy, though). That’s just the politics of the publishing business. Overall, though, I’m excited for the lingering impact that Bash Brothers will have decades down the line because when fans reflect on the history of baseball, they’ll always point toward Canseco and McGwire as two sluggers who helped trigger Baseball’s Steroid Era. So I have a long-term vision for the book, too. I’m also proud of how none of my interviews emailed or phoned me to cuss me out for misquoting or misrepresented them. It proves my book wasn’t a witch hunt, but an honest glimpse inside the Bash Brothers. Having former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent write the foreword for the book was also a boost for me.

BPAP: What’s one thing you wish could be different about it?

DT: Personally, I wish I would’ve been more prepared for the critics.  As an author, you could have ten reviewers praise your work, but also have ten reviewers bash it. It’s just the nature of the business. When you write a book, you really put yourself out there and expose yourself to criticism. That’s why you need thick skin in this business. Not many, after all, have your best interest in mind.

BPAP: Do you feel you’ve written the definitive book on the Bash Brothers?

DT: I think so. With all of my research and interviews, It’s hard to imagine another author would chase everyone down again. I also doubt they would get the same cooperation. The only other idea is for Canseco and McGwire to join forces on a book, but that won’t happen.

BPAP: Overall, do you feel the publication of the Mitchell Report helped or hurt your book?

DT: If anything, it hurt it. When the Mitchell Report came out, I believe fans started growing tired of the steroid issue. If my book would have been released around 2005, there would have definitely been more interest, but so many top-tier players were being exposed, it lost its shock value.
By 2008, fans accepted that steroids were a part of the game.

BPAP: Got any new projects?

DT: Yes, and it’s not even about sports. I’m collaborating with Hip-Hop legend Too Short for his upcoming memoir. Since my first book was about baseball, many consider me a sportswriter, but I’m free and write about whatever the hell I want to write about.

BPAP: For the record, do you personally think Canseco or McGwire used steroids?

DT: Absolutely. No doubt. Lots of them. But so did everyone else.

Transcript: My interview with Jose Canseco

I put batteries into an old recorder today and discovered I still have my interview with Jose Canseco from April 2008.

I interviewed Canseco in Oakland on his promotional tour for Vindicated, the follow-up to his bestseller, Juiced. I snapped the following picture that night:
Canseco Book Signing

Being that the former Bash Brother starred for the Oakland Athletics 20 years ago, my freelance assignment from a local publication, the East Bay Express, was to describe the fan reception. I wound up with a decent, if narrow story and lots of good material from the interview that wasn’t usable and has lain fallow on my recorder.

Until today.

As I constantly need fresh and interesting content for this site, I am posting the interview. The following was recorded in a Barnes & Noble back office, about an hour before Canseco’s appearance:

Graham Womack: Alright, my name’s Graham Womack, I’m doing a story for the East Bay Express. My story basically is about, um, your recept-

Barnes & Noble staff: I’m sorry to interrupt. Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee?

Jose Canseco: (to his publicist) Coke? Pepsi? You want anything?

Publicist: Water.

BNS: Water?

JC: I want coffee. Heavy, heavy cream and sugar.

BNS: Absolutely. Iced or hot?

JC: Hot.

BNS: Hot? Okay, I’ll be right back. (Editor’s note: I include all of this because earlier on the tour, Canseco accused another coffee server of trying to poison him.)

GW: Okay, so anyway, my story is on basically the reception you’ll be getting from the fans here in Oakland. I know 20 years ago with the Bash Brothers and everything, you know, you were probably one of the most popular people in America. I guess what I’m wondering now, is, um, I’m just curious to see how it compares 20 years later now, with having two books out and whatnot. I guess my first question would be, you know, how does it feel being back in Oakland?

JC: Well, it feels great. The last time I played here was in ’97. And then prior to that, obviously, I was traded, and I had a long career here with the minor leagues and then with the Oakland A’s, I think ’til ’91.

GW: Right, right.

JC: So I had a great time here. I think we won one World Series, won two, I think three or four championship divisions–

GW: ’88, ’89 and ’90.

JC: I don’t know what’s going to happen today. I hope the fans accept me in a very positive way and light and, uh, you know I just, I just hope they just realized everything that baseball has gone through, everything I’ve gone through and, you know, the way the game has changed.

GW: Do you maintain any ties to the A’s organization? Do you make promotional appearances for the team? Or do you come out and do any camps or anything?

JC: None whatsoever. No.

GW: Would you like to?

JC: Well, I think as of my first book, well as of before my first book when I was blackballed from the game, no organization or team wanted any ties with me whatsoever, so I could not do any type of promotions for them or speak on their behalf or any, or get involved in any minor league camps and so forth.

GW: Do you maintain friendships with any players from your A’s days?

JC: Um, no. Don’t know anyone, haven’t heard from anyone for many years.

GW: Have you been, actually, in the city of Oakland since ’97? Like, have you visited since then? Were you here for Juiced a few years back?

JC: I was here for Juiced, I think a few years back. But that was the last time.

GW: Lemme see, um, so how does the level of fan attention how does it compare to 20 years ago? I know I was doing some research for this article and I think it was Walt Weiss said in a Sports Illustrated article that like going out with you is like going out with Elvis. Is it still like that these days at all?

JC: No, it’s quieted down quite a bit. Back then, I was, one point in ’88 when I accomplished 40-40, you know the best baseball player in the world and the team was winning and winning World Series and championships, so forth. So, I think we were said to be the most exciting team in baseball to watch. So, yeah, I mean, we were like rock stars, [so many] people followed us around. And we sold out every stadium and sure, when we get in our buses, and go to fly out and go to different hotels, there were people all over the place waiting for us.

GW: What’s it like these days? Do you still get a lot of autograph requests in the mail and stuff?

JC: Um, no, not really. Maybe one here and there. Few here and there. And then very quiet, and I think the book Juiced and Vindicated has been kind of like the highlight of what ties I have with Major League Baseball.

GW: Do you think people still remember the Bash Brothers?

JC: I think so. I think if you’re from the Bay Area here, they definitely remember that cause this is where it started, between Mark McGwire and myself. So.. yeah, you know, people, I’ve done some autograph sessions here and there and they bring up the Bash Brothers or the big poster–

GW: Right, right.

JC: –that they had and so forth.

GW: Do you think fans in the East Bay and the Bay Area altogether, do you think they hold positive memories from the late Eighties? Do you think they have any bitterness or anything? I mean, what do you think fans’ emotions are like?

JC: I’m hoping and I’m thinking it’s more positive image of the big Oakland A’s back then, the biggest team in baseball, you know, the home run, the power, the pitching, you know long ball, McGwire, myself, and Dave Stewart with the pitching and Eckersely coming in and shutting them down, Carney Lansford, Walt Weiss and so forth. I hope it’s a positive thing.

GW: Do you miss the game at all?

JC: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I miss the game, love the game, wish I were still playing. Probably physically enough, to play the game, in shape. But things didn’t turn out that way.

GW: I should say that I believe, a dude I knew, I went to Cal Poly, a guy from there played with you on the Long Beach Armada, Dennis LeDuc.

JC: Yep, ‘mhm.

GW: No kidding, yeah, I think you guys were on the same pitching staff, actually.

JC: Yeah, yeah. He was there and it was a very short stint for me. It was a great time and ended quickly.

GW: I know back when you played for the A’s in the Eighties, you lived around San Ramon. Do you have fond memories just from your time of living in this area? Did you enjoy just actually living here and stuff?

JC: Yeah, I lived in San Ramon, so everyday I would take, I think, that Crow Canyon Road back, and I would have my Porsche and I’d kind of accelerate a little through those canyons. So it was a fun time going back and forth. So, they were great memories, coming into Oakland, playing here, you know those winning days, great ball club we had, just a very exciting team that we had.

GW: Lemme see… um, do you have any regrets from your first stint in Oakland from, I guess that’d be ’85 to ’91? Any regrets from that time?

JC: No. I think it was, everything was very positive. I mean, they built the team around McGwire and myself, and like I said, we went to a couple World Series, won a couple championships and World Series and so forth. And, you know in ’91, it kind of ended abruptly where I was traded to the Texas Rangers.

GW: Do you think fans in area now, do you believe they accept you for who you are?

JC: That’s probably a good question for them. I think they would have to get to know me personally to find out who I really am. I would say maybe I’m the kind of guy who’s multi-dimensional, not just a baseball player. I always consider myself entertainer in the game. I think the fans, as much money as they pay for, you know they got parking, they have tickets, they have concessions, they have everything. Before you know it, they’re spending 200-300 dollars. I think the fans deserve to be entertained. So I always consider myself an entertainer.

GW: Lemme see… um, just going back to the question I was on earlier. If say, say um– I know you said you were blackballed from baseball– say Billy Beane were to call you tomorrow and say, “Jose, hey we want you to come out and help us run a special camp next month.” Would you say yes?

JC: Well, first of all, I’d think it’d be April Fool’s. I’d think it was a joke. Cause I’ve actually had that happen to me.

GW: Oh, no kidding.

JC: I’ve had kids messing around, on the phone, cause I don’t even know where they get my cell phone from and say, “You know what Jose, this is from Kansas City Royals and we’d like for you to come and try out for our–” and I’m like, “Oh come on guys, this is a joke,” and they start laughing in the background. So, um, that’s probably an impossibility, if not an improbability because of what’s developed and happened between Major League Baseball and myself with this Steroid Era.

GW: Definitely. Also, I know you have a daughter. Do you keep a pretty low profile these days because of her?

JC: Oh, I definitely try… I’ve always tried to keep a low profile no matter what. But I guess, the kind of player I was or the way I did things and you know, you’re wearing a uniform, you’re 6’4,” 250 pounds, like a football player, and you’ve got world-class speed and hit 500-foot home runs, that’s kind of hard to keep under wraps.

GW: Definitely. Lemme see… I don’t have too many more questions… Just a couple more questions. What are your hopes for tonight? I mean, how would a perfect signing go for you? I know already you’ve been accosted by Major League Baseball investigators on this junket. So, what are your hopes for tonight?

JC: Well actually, um, accosted I don’t think is the correct word. It was very positive when they showed up in, I think it was New York and basically, they’ve finally come to the conclusion and admit that everything I’m saying is the absolute truth and finally want to join forces and try to clean the game up. So I thought it was a very positive thing that happened that night.

GW: Okay.

JC: Well, for today or tonight, just people come out, want to get to know me, they want to read the book. Maybe a lot of positive energy. And you know, I know I have a lot of fans out there. I think the image, my image has changed in the fact that people now believe what I’m saying is the truth and that everyone now is on my side. They’re definitely changing their attitudes and are very positive.

GW: I remember watching “The Surreal Life” a few years ago when you were on and I remember, they did an episode–

JC: Great, I’m sure all the girls watched it.

BNS: (motioning to another woman in the room) She used to tell me about it (the women laugh.)

GW: Well, what I was going to bring up–

JC: Was it the thong I was wearing?

GW: Uh… No, no, what I was going to bring up was I remember there was an episode that was about one of the signings you did for Juiced, and I remember they showed a segment at one point where there was a fan who was actually pretty rude to you and he was saying, he was saying, “Ah, can you sign it, From the guy who killed baseball?” Is that a common thing on your signings?

JC: No. Actually, it’s happened once or twice. But that was something that was set up for that show–

GW: Oh, okay.

JC: –specifically just to see if they can piss me off. But when my first book came out, you know I had a couple guys like that. But since then, I think everybody’s changed their tune a little bit.

GW: Okay, alright I think I’ve got all my–

JC: Boy, you were easy.

GW: Oh, what’s up? (I laugh nervously)

BNS: Hey, I just want to add to that, the phone’s been ringing off the hook all day today.

JC: They’re all assassins, and ninja warriors. “Is Jose there?”

BNS: I mean, it’s off the hook.

GW: Is it mostly fans? Or is it press?

BNS: Yeah, fans. Yeah, you’re the only press person here right now. (Editor’s Note: And save for a local television appearance, I was the only coverage Canseco got about his trip to Oakland. The signing itself was completely non-eventful.)

GW: Yeah, no, I actually I happened on to this just randomly. I was in the book store one day and I saw a sign up…. Probably, I would bet 90 percent of the people who’ve been interviewing you are more like “60 Minutes” types, but I guess I’m more of the local flavor.

JC: I get all types, believe me. I get the strangest, weirdest, out of this world, not-related-to questions. I mean people just want to know everything and anything.

GW: People ever ask you for steroid advice?

JC: Yeah, sure.

GW: No kidding.

JC: Mike Wallace did.

GW: Isn’t he like 90 now?

JC: He’s about 200. (laughter in the room) Everyone kind of has curiosity about it, questions about it and there’s not too much information about that in the market today.

GW: Alright. Well thank you so much for your time.


Postscript: It was a big thrill interviewing Canseco — he was it when I was six-years-old — and I got a nice story out of the experience, plus a photo credit. It’s worth mentioning that before I turned my recorder on, I’m pretty sure Canseco said I could take a bullet for him. He was joking. I think. I know I came into the interview nervous and starstruck, and in the days and months that followed, I learned from various other outlets how much I’d missed: Canseco was writing a book on cloning; his house got foreclosed; he got his ass kicked in a Mixed Martial Arts bout and got busted coming over the Mexican border with a performance-enhancing drug. Perhaps most notably, Canseco told A&E he regretted writing Juiced and that he thought he was addicted to steroids. Like a couple other celebrities I’ve interviewed that are seen as controversial, Canseco came off in person as polite, self-effacing and more insecure than arrogant. If I had to guess, I’d say history will remember him as a tragic figure as much as anything.

Ballplayers I have interviewed

I majored in journalism in college at Cal Poly, with an unofficial focus on sportswriting, and between my time on the campus paper and freelancing and interning for various publications, I got to talk to some pretty cool people. The following are baseball players I have interviewed:

Ozzie Smith: My first big interview, done my sophomore year at Cal Poly. Smith gave the morning and afternoon commencement speeches at graduation that year, as an alum of the university. I met Smith the day before graduation, when a statue of him was unveiled at the baseball field. I had researched Smith in the preceding weeks and learned he had mentioned his Cal Poly coach, Berdy Harr, in his Hall of Fame induction speech. As Harr died in 1987, I rhetorically asked Smith who he would have if he could have anyone at the statue ceremony. He almost teared up answering Harr. The following day, he gave two lovely commencement addresses and the outgoing student body president did a back flip in his honor.

Dom DiMaggio: I’ve recounted the story of this interview before, but to recap, I got to interview the Boston Red Sox great at the start of my senior year of college.

Nick Swisher: I interned for the Davis Enterprise in the summer of 2004 and part of my duties included covering the Triple A team for the Oakland Athletics, the Sacramento River Cats. Their best player that year was a jovial outfielder from West Virginia on the fast track to the majors, Swisher. I don’t know if I ever actually used a Swisher quote in print but I talked to him at least once or twice and the guy was pretty funny, always quick with a lighthearted quip.

Hideo Nomo: Another guy I interviewed for the Enterprise, Nomo came to Sacramento toward the end of his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers for an injury rehab start. Nomo only went a couple innings and needed an interpreter afterward to talk to reporters. He didn’t have much to say even in Japanese and the most interesting thing about this interview was the gaggle of Japanese media that was on-hand exclusively for Nomo and departed right after he was done.

Rollie Fingers: I also freelanced for the Enterprise in 2005 and got to interview the former A’s closer that summer, after he made a promotional appearance. I appreciate him giving me time and his handlebar moustache was cool, but Fingers seemed somewhat aloof, saying he had never heard of Huston Street who had just broken one of his records.

Jose Canseco: My most recent professional clip, I interviewed Canseco in April 2008, when he came to Oakland for a booksigning. I was worried I’d get blown off by the former Bash Brother, who has come across as something of a jerk over the years, but Canseco was surprisingly polite to me, answering all my questions (though he did mention in jest that I could take a bullet for him.) With that said, I asked a bunch of softball questions and wrote a pedestrian story. Thereafter, I kept reading shit about Canseco elsewhere that I’d missed: He was writing a book on cloning; his house was getting foreclosed; he was going to take part in a mixed martial arts fight; he thought he was addicted to steroids; he regretted writing his tell-all bestseller, Juiced. This was a good learning experience, I suppose. On a side note, Canseco is freaking huge in person.

(UPDATE: I remembered a couple more of these.)

Willie McGee: Technically, I didn’t interview McGee, but it’s worth a mention anyway.  The uncle, by marriage, of a former Cal Poly point guard named Kameron Gray, the St. Louis Cardinal great showed up at a Cal Poly game my junior year of college.  McGee didn’t agree to my interview request, saying something to the effect that he was just there for his nephew.  He had the droopiest eyes.

Carney Lansford/Robin Ventura: I group these guys together because I interviewed them at the same Cal Poly-Cal State Fullerton baseball game my senior year of college.  Lansford was at the game because his son Josh was playing third base for Cal Poly at the time.  In Ventura’s case, he grew up in the area, attending Righetti High in Arroyo Grande.  Both players graciously let me interview them during the game, though I had to fight back the urge not to ask Ventura about his infamous 1993 fight with Nolan Ryan.

My interview with Dom DiMaggio

A few days ago, I alluded on here to an interview I did with Dom DiMaggio, calling it a story for another time. As fate would have it, the former Boston Red Sox center fielder and seven-time All Star died early yesterday morning at 92. Thus, I will now tell of the time I sought him out.

As I mentioned before, I did a research paper my junior year of college on the significant number of Italian-American baseball players from the San Francisco Bay Area. After turning my paper in, I spent several months trying to expand it into a magazine piece. Though I never ultimately submitted it for publication, I did a lot of research, making trips to the city and interviewing former major leaguers like Gino Cimoli, who had the first at-bat on the West Coast in 1958. Eventually, my research brought me to a place called Dom’s Dugout.

I had read in The Hero’s Life, by Richard Ben Cramer, that Joe DiMaggio once had a restaurant on the Embarcadero. On one of my trips to the city, in 2004, I ventured in search of it, near Pier 39, and found that the restaurant no longer existed. The top floor of its building had been converted into a different restaurant, and on the bottom, there now sat a memorabilla store– Dom’s Dugout. I learned it was owned by the former player– a savvy businessman in his own right– and that he occasionally made trips from the East Coast to check on his investment. At some point, I learned he would likely be visiting in September of that year.

Thus, I eventually found myself back in the store on a fall day, with a living legend sitting at a card table in front of me. At first, he was hesitant to give me any time, which made sense. His older brother Joe was famously reclusive, almost suing Simon & Garfunkel after they referenced him in their song “Mrs. Robinson,” and neither DiMaggio agreed to be interviewed for The Hero’s Life. Nevertheless, Dom acquiesced for me and allowed my request for ten minutes.

Somehow ten minutes became two hours of sitting with him while he signed autographs for customers and chatted with them. I’ve interviewed a number of ballplayers and I must say that next to Ozzie Smith, DiMaggio may have been the kindest. He autographed tirelessly, talked with fans about his life experiences and even called one guy’s son up via cell phone, after the man said it would make his day. DiMaggio also was nice to me. Diminutive and bespectacled and still lucid, he graciously answered my questions.

It’s been almost five years now, and I’ve always felt guilty for never writing of my experience, though it’s nice to relate it now.

On a final note, decades before, when the building was the DiMaggio family restaurant, it had a famous patron. Detroit Tigers great Ty Cobb helped Joe DiMaggio negotiate one of his early contracts with the New York Yankees, advising him on how to successfully hold out for more money, and as a thank you for this service, Cobb got to eat free for life at the restaurant. For all I know, Dom DiMaggio and I sat in the same spot where Cobb once dined.

(Postscript: For anyone who’d like to read more about Dom DiMaggio, Sports Illustrated published this nice story on him in 2001.)