Friday, August 28, 2009

Fighting Words Q&A: Kevin Millar (2004)

Kevin Millar spent a lot more time on the other side of the microphone during his three years with the Red Sox. Photo from this site.

Below is the first of a couple Q&As I’d like to post with Kevin Millar, the loquacious former Red Sox first baseman who arrives in town tonight with the Blue Jays for a three-game series. Millar, who was kind enough to pen the foreword for Fighting Words, was incredibly cooperative and always willing to answer another question or two for this book both during and following his three seasons with the Sox.

This was conducted July 22, 2004, before a doubleheader against the Orioles, and my inability to use a lot of this in a book that wasn't finished for another four years doesn't diminish the insight Millar offered on the relationship between the media and the Red Sox and the dynamic therein.

Five years later, though, the most interesting thing to me is the pretty impressive sense of prescience Millar displayed in asking for patience with both himself and the struggling Sox. Millar, who had been coming under heavy criticism for his quiet production at the plate, was less than 12 hours removed from hitting a homer and going 3-for-3 in a performance that raised his average eight points to .277. He hit four homers in the next two games, including three against the Yankees July 23, and hit .336 with 13 homers, 49 RBI and 17 doubles in 211 at-bats beginning July 21. He hit .269 with five homers, 25 RBI and 19 doubles in his first 297 at-bats of the season.

Millar also implored fans (and media) not to worry about the Yankees and to think of October and how the Sox stacked up to the Yankees in a short series. Suffice to say he was proven correct three months later. Hope you enjoy:

What had you heard about the media in Boston before joining the Red Sox?

Just you’ve got to be careful. It’s known around baseball and around sports [as] probably the toughest media you’re going to deal with. The thing about here is you’ve got one paper or two papers that have six writers that write for the same paper, so you’re going to have six different stories every day. You’ve got three or four people writing for the Herald, three or four people that write for the Globe. Where in different cities—other than New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago—you’re going to find one page, one writer.

Was it a culture shock for you going from Florida to here?

You deal with about four or five reporters there in Florida. Here, you’re going to deal with 25 to 30. It’s just one of those things that you deal with. I think, if you’re accessible every night when you’re doing good or doing bad, I think they’re going to respect you. I’ve never had a problem with the media. Just be accountable for your actions each and every night. There’s going to be good articles, there’s going to be bad articles. But that’s their job.

Do you read the papers or pay attention to the coverage?

No. One thing I don’t do. I’ve never got caught up in that. I read the USA Today, but you don’t want to get caught up in stuff because your feelings will get hurt. First of all, because you’re a human being. And second of all, you’re never as good as the good articles are about you or as bad as they are. You’ve just got to kind of find a happy medium. I get up and read the USA Today and look through box scores from other guys. I don’t get caught up in the local press. Obviously, someone says there’s an article about you, I hear about it.

Can you describe what happened last summer when you asked everyone to “Cowboy Up?”

I was upset at the negativity that everybody wants to put around this club or the past and 1918. That’s when I originally wanted the to ‘cowboy up’ and say to enjoy these guys, enjoy the team, don’t worry about all the negative. There’s 20 bright spots and maybe five black spots. They want to dwell on the black spots. And I don’t fall for that bad press sells papers. Good press sells papers also. There’s always going to be a negative and that’s what’s wrong with society at times. But there’s also good stories that [will get] people [to] sit and watch and listen and read.

It doesn’t always have to be a negative, gloomy day. But that’s the difference between people. You have good reporters and you’re going to have [crappy] reporters. Just like players—you have good guys and some of the guys [aren’t].

Is it tough for players to forget an organization’s past?

Well, historical stuff doesn’t really faze me at all, because I wasn’t alive. The big thing is you have to have a short-term memory as a player. It’s day-to-day each day, so it’s not hard to forget about anything. I’m struggling, I’m not going to hit 12 homers in one night to turn those numbers around. It takes time to turn numbers around. As soon as you start swinging the bat well, the numbers just aren’t going to fly out there. It takes a month to get those numbers back to healthy. So as a player, no, it’s not hard.

When you catch some criticism, as you did for last year’s "Cowboy Up" statement, do you ever think it’d be easier just to give clichés to reporters?

Yeah. No reason to express your true feelings, because it always comes out wrong and then you’re the bad guy. So most of the time, yeah, they’re all clichés anyway. What goes on in here is our business and you do the best you can. But I happen to be a guy who wears my heart on my sleeve and I’ve come out looking like the bad guy. Sometimes it’s easier just to answer the right question the right way. It doesn’t benefit you either way. Let someone else be the bad guy.

Like for instance, last year when they were on Derek [Lowe]. I called them over here and went [off] on them and a couple day later I went off on the media and it was all ‘Millar can’t handle the media, Millar’s starting to tell the fans they’re too negative’ and all of a sudden I was turning into this big bad guy. [He’s] like wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. All I was basically saying was ‘Lay off Derek, we need him.’ He came up with a blister, we ended up losing [a game] and they were all over him. I was basically saying ‘We need Derek.’ Sure enough, we did get him in the fifth game of the playoffs and all of a sudden everything was all right.

But the media, it’s 162 playoff games. We lose last night, it’s the end of the world. We win tonight, we’re getting better. Baseball’s a long year, man. I can’t tell you if we’re going to go 50-10, I can’t tell you that the Yankees aren’t going to go 25-25. I don’t know, it could happen, you know? [All] anyone wants to talk about is ‘Is the season over?’ It’s [expletive] 70 games left. Baseball’s crazy [stuff]. We could go on a rampage [or] just keep plugging away. Obviously, second week of September, you’re right around the corner. Right now we’re just in July. This team just got healthy a week-and-a-half ago.

Do you sense more pressure in the short-term from media here than in Florida?

This is definitely different. The media here thinks they’re general managers. Everyone wants to be a GM instead of a fan or a writer. Everyone’s got all the answers. When I was in Florida, we were young and we were losing, we were a .500 team, but we were so young and talented pitching-wise. [The] potential [was a theme of] a lot of the articles, and obviously it worked out because they’re champions last year. But I was there when Beckett was 20 and Brad Penny’s 21 and A.J. Burnett was 20.

Like I said, all these talk radio guys, they’re all GMs, they all know everything. Derek Lowe throws seven innings, now all of a sudden he’s great. Derek Lowe gets knocked out in the third, get him out of here. It’s just [Millar whistles]. Pedro last night—you’re gonna start hearing about ‘Well, what’s wrong with Pedro?’ [Expletive], the guy’s 10-4. Everybody’s a GM. Well, who are you going to bring in [that’s] better than Derek Lowe out there right now? Kip Wells? That’s my point. Hey, this guy’s won 21, this guy’s won 17. He’ll be fine. He’ll have a good second half for us.

But they want to get rid of everybody. And who are we bringing in? They want to get rid of Nomar, they want to get rid of me, they want to get rid of Derek Lowe. It’s like, OK, who do you want? Everybody’s [a] GM. And something about this you’ve got to understand: This is the same group that made a lot of people happy last year. No one’s changed. Minor disappointment, not a major catastrophe. Minor disappointment, that first half. It’s a couple months [the Sox have] been in a little bit of a minor slump. But we’re OK. That’s what you try to get over.

The sky is not falling, you know? We could be six out in the wild card. But you’re compared to the Yankees so much. It’s like ‘Oh, God, the Yankees.’ [Screw] the Yankees. They’re gonna win 100 games. You put us in a five-game series with them, I guarantee you I’m taking us. That’s my feeling. I don’t care if the Yankees won 170 games this year. Go for it. Put us in a five-game series, go get Pedro and Schilling. Good luck. Put our offense and their offense and they’ll go head-to-head. But their pitching and our pitching?

Were you surprised at all by the attention when Manny Ramirez didn’t start the final game of the first half due to tight hamstrings, started the All-Star Game and then missed a handful of starts after the All-Star Break?

I don’t know who made the nickname ‘Mannyisms.’ Maybe those are ‘Mannyisms.’ I don’t know what that means and what it is. But you deal with certain things. Everybody in this locker room’s got 25 different personalities—different people, different backgrounds. We don’t know what people go through. People want to get on Pedro for going home early for the All-Star Break. Well, you know what, I don’t think anyone else lives away from their family like he does in the Dominican Republic. I don’t think a lot of people [don’t] get to see your family for nine months. And if you get a chance to go home for a couple days, go for it. He ain’t pitching. See ya later. You’re a pain in the ass anyway [grins].

But for him, before we jump to conclusions when the radio guy’s sitting at home with his wife and kids, sometimes you’ve got to sit back and [say] ‘OK.’ But all we want to see is dollar signs and athletes and spoiled athletes. So that’s what people see is dollar signs and spoiled athletes other than you know, hey, we’re people, we’re human beings. We have moms and dads and kids.

Did you think people were less willing to give Ramirez a break because he’s got a track record of missing games right before the All-Star Break with minor injuries?

No one has any right to question any injuries from athletes. Who’s to say how bad Nomar’s Achilles [is]? Who’s to say how bad Manny Ramirez’ hamstrings are sore? Who’s to say how bad someone’s lower back is? You can’t question anything, because this is a major league level game we’re playing. One sprint down to first base and it smashes his hamstring, now he’s out six-to-eight weeks. If a guy needs two or three days off because he’s got tight [hamstrings], go for it. Now we want to talk about why he played in the All-Star Game. Who gives a [crap], you know? Maybe he did it in his third at-bat in the All-Star Game, maybe he did it the second. Who knows? The point being is Manny had a bad hamstring.

But I like I said, it’s 160 playoff games. Oh God, oh God, oh God. No, it’s not like that. Guess what? Gabe Kapler gets to get some at-bats. Guess what? Gabe Kapler goes deep two times that series. It’s OK. It’s why you have a 25-man roster. Nomar isn’t playing last night, why isn’t he playing? It’s OK. Gives him a day so he doesn’t snap his Achilles and we lose him for two more months. That’s why you put a 25-man roster together on a big league team.

Do you sense reporters carry the team’s championship burden here?

We’ve got some guys who make a lot of money on ‘The Curse,’ so they’re going to keep that going as long as it’s going to make them money, basically promoting themselves and keeping ‘The Curse’ alive and keeping the fans intrigued. Curse, there’s no such thing as a curse. We haven’t ha the better team in that time. You tip your hat to the Yankees last year. They got some big-time hits in some big-time situations. Nothing to do with the ghosts flying around, you know? Matsui hit an 0-2 fastball down the line. Derek Jeter hits. That’s just baseball, you know? Bucky Dent’s home run.

Do you have any reporters whom you trust more than others?

Yeah. You’ve got a few reporters you trust, you know. You have your few reporters you don’t, you know what I’m saying? But that’s life. Some guys you trust, some guys you don’t, [whether] it’s media or players. I like [Tony] Mazz, Bob Hohler. I don’t know, there’s probably [more], all that I deal with. Honest to God, that’s the thing: I don’t know a lot [of reporters personally]. Bob Hohler, I deal with a lot. Ian [Browne of], we deal with. We get The Boston Globe at home.  Some guys, I don’t know if they write on me or not. It’s unfair to say if I trust them or not.

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