The truth about a Hall of Fame career is that there’s no single magic moment that makes it happen. There’s no way you can put together the sort of resume that ends in Cooperstown unless you make many changes along the way. Baseball is that demanding.
When it’s all over, though, there’s time for looking back and for giving thanks. Because in order to make all those adjustments, the players had to receive advice from truth-peddling coaches and players along the way. For every adjustment, there was a trusted source that helped at just the right time.
On Power: “I think my hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo and I – you know, when I was in the minor leagues and all that kind of stuff, I used to hit a lot of balls with back, excuse me, topspin. And then I kind of learned how to change my hands a little bit and get a little bit of backspin and all that kind of stuff, and that carried the ball…
“Learning how to hit is very, very difficult. And it takes a while sometimes. And I was excited about that. And nothing – I mean I didn’t do it right all the time but, you know, I did the best I could.”
On his stance: “You know, my basic thing at the end of the day is I watched Tony Gwynn and he would spread out. And I thought well, his head never moved. And I — you know, when I was a kid, I tried to emulate Carl Yastrzemski. Then I started to emulate Don Mattingly.”
“And then at the end of the day, I was sitting there going no, my head is all over the place. And once I spread out and kept it there — Tony Gwynn told me he said, ‘Man, keep your stance the same way it is all the time. Don’t mess with it.’ And, you know, that’s what ended up and I still mess with it and it’s terrible and don’t ever teach your kids to be like that.
“I was told something a long time ago, when I was playing in Cape Cod, I was always messing with my stance. They said ‘Man, it’s not broke. So why would you fix it? You’re still hitting like you the way you do.’ I continued to tinker with it, but apparently I kept hitting, so it worked.
“I think In ’94 is when I got to somewhere where I ended up, if I was really, really wide — I told Pudge this, too — I couldn’t see the ball. I was terrible. I was probably going to strike out at some point. There was some certain time during that evolution of that stance that it worked, so I just stuck with it. That’s all I got. It worked out.”
On defense: “At third base, most of your players are to your glove hand. And, at first base, most of your players are to your backhand side, if you’re right handed. So, you know, it was a challenge. To be honest with you, the good news is I played on turf so that made it a little bit easier. But I did… have a challenge.
“But, you know, it wasn’t that bad. And Ozzie did help me. You know, I talk about it every day. Ozzie [is going to have] to get me to talk about my backhand at first base on a pitching change… That was pretty cool. You can’t get a better instructional thing with Ozzie Smith at first base. That was cool.”
On baserunning: “I had a coach, Steve Burris, that kind of taught me everything I know. He taught me all about pitcher’s moves, what to look for, you know, looking at catchers, seeing the way they set up — and reaction time was really the most important thing, you know. Definitely speed played a big role, but my reaction time to what I saw from the pitchers gave me – made it a lot easier because, you know, as soon as I realized the guy was going to the plate, the quicker you get going, the faster you get down to [second] base. We worked on that a lot early in my career, and it all worked out.”
Minimum 400 stolen bases
On switching positions: “Joe [Morgan] was my idol. He was the reason I chose to be a professional baseball player. Seeing the things he did on the field was phenomenal. Second baseman, hit home runs, stole bases, Gold Glove second basemen. But that was the one thing I couldn’t do that well, play second base. So if you took away my defensive [worries about] not being good enough to play second, it made it so much easier for me to go to the outfield. Not so much that I didn’t think I couldn’t play second, but I felt like, as a lead-off guy, playing the outfield could be a lot [less] stress.
“That I didn’t have to be so much concerned with my defense, that I could focus more on my offense — I took a lot of pride in my defense, but my offense was what got me to the big leagues, the things that I did on the base path, the things that I did with the bat. I never won a Gold Glove, but I don’t know if people ever saw me play the outfield; I was a pretty decent outfielder. I think there were a couple of years I had a chance to win a Gold Glove, but back in those days, if you didn’t play center field, you weren’t going to win a Gold Glove. But that did not bother me. I mean, I didn’t care, as long as I felt like I did what I needed to do for my teammates and our organization and our fans, and it really didn’t matter.”
On his attitude: “Well, I was young. I was 20 years old, not that that is an excuse. But you know, when you come from a small town, you go to the city life, it’s certainly different from what you are accustomed to. I got off to a good start as a young player. Sometimes when you do some things that you weren’t sure you could do and all of a sudden you’re a name at a young age, a lot of times you don’t know which direction to go.
“And, unfortunately for myself, I kind of stepped in the wrong direction. Not that I didn’t know what I was doing, but it was my first year, full season as a rookie, we were a game away from going to the World Series. After we were out of it, I think it kind of took something out of me a little bit. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. We made the All-Star Team, we got a chance to go to the World Series, but we lose, and then a lot of times you don’t know how to react to a lot of that stuff.
“And all of a sudden all kind of people are coming at you in so many different ways, and as a young kid, a lot of times you don’t know how to handle that. And I felt like I was very immature at that time, and something happened, and once I realized what I was doing and knew that it was wrong, I took care of it. I had guys on my team that helped me a lot– Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Ellis Valentine. I had those guys in my corner, and that’s all it took for me to go in the right direction.”
On defense: “It’s a great question because that was my number-one game that I have in my career, you know. I just want to keep my defensive part of my game solid and you know, be able to… kill the other team’s rally. I think that is, you know, one of the things that I feel more proud about… I know that offensively I have a great career, but… my main game was defense and that’s why, you know, I take a lot of pride to be a defensive catcher.”
SB% = stolen base percentage
Minimum 1000 innings caught.
Handling a staff: “When you have good coaching staff, when you have a good pitching coach, they sit down with you in the everyday basis and talk about… all the reports and watch videos and go through every single hitter. You know, you made the catcher’s job a lot easier. But I, you know, I grew up… in the era that I catch a lot of veteran pitchers in my career, and they helped me a lot to learn how to call great games with, you know, with each other pitcher’s help.
“I learned that… since a very early age in my career and I took it all the way, you know, until I finished my career. But I think, you know, combined with the veteran pitchers that I grew up, when I came up in ’91, all the way to have a great relationship and good conversation with the pitching coach and a great relationship with the pitching staff. But I think that is a big part of [it], having a good game plan every day, to go out there and call a good game.”
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.