Monday, February 1, 2010

An Interview With Ross Baumgarten

Q: You went to New Trier High School. That's in my neck of the woods. Did you grow up a Cubs fan or a Sox fan? And who was your favorite player?

A: Actually grew up a Cubs fan, quite frankly. Still am a Cubs fan. And my favorite player was Kenny Holtzman. He was a left-handed pitcher. And I was. And that's who I modeled myself after.

Q: Was there ever a moment before you turned pro where you thought: "Hey, I'm good enough to be a Big Leaguer. I can hang with those guys."

A: Well, you know I always felt I would be good enough, eventually. It was always my dream. I had no confirmation that that dream would come true, just a feeling. When I was at the University of Florida, George Steinbrenner donated the lights to our field. To play the first night game, he brought the Yankees in to play us in March of 1977. It was an exhibition game. I started that game for Florida, and Reggie Jackson was asked if he saw any Big League talent. He was quoted in the paper the next day that the first pitcher he saw had a Major League arm.

Q: What was in your arsenal as a pitcher? And what was your best pitch?

A: I didn't really have great pitches. I think I had four good pitches. I threw the basic fastball, which I cut a little. I threw the curve and straight change. I didn't have all the raw ability in the world, so I tried to use my head. I tried to outsmart hitters.

Q: You were briefly teammates with Steve Stone and Ron Blomberg in 1978 with the White Sox. Three members of the tribe on one team doesn't happen very often. Did you feel any sort of special connection to either of them?

A: I became good friends with Stoney. To this day, we'll talk once or twice a year. And Bloomy, I haven't seen as much over the years. We became friends. We sat on the bench together. He tried to be a good veteran to a young rookie and I appreciated it.

Q: Ryan Braun became the 1st Jewish Major Leaguer to win Rookie of the Year in 2007. You finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting in 1979. Let me throw some numbers at you. As a rookie, you ranked 9th in the AL in ERA (3.54) and ERA+ (121), 5th in H/9 (8.3), and 6th in shutouts (3). You were 13-8 in 190 2/3 innings. With the exception of Mark Clear (112 ERA+), who was a relief pitcher, the other two players who finished ahead of you in the voting actually performed under league average (89 and 93 OPS+). I can't help but notice that the numbers seem to back you up here. Do you think you should have won Rookie of the Year?

A: I thank you for those comments. I think I should have, and I'll tell you my reasoning. I was 13-8 on a team that finished 18 or 20 games under .500, and I think I had 3 or 4 wins that were knocked out after I left the game. So with a little bit of luck I could have had 15 or 16 wins. And I think I was pretty consistent all year. I didn't have too many bad games. I kept my team in the games. We didn't have quality starts back in those days. It would interesting to see how many quality starts I had by today's standards.

Q: By some strange coincidence, one of the men who ultimately won Co-Rookie of the Year in 1979 was none other than John Castino, who also went to New Trier High School with you. How bizarre is that?

A: We were teammates together in high school and even classmates. And we still talk every once in a while these days. It was a friendly competition when we got there, and it just added to the fun of the whole experience.

Q: Speaking of 1979, I assume you were at Comiskey Park for Disco Demolition Night? How surreal was that for you?

A: It was a crazy night. It got dangerous with people flinging 30 rpm records around, which I guess could slice you. It was complete lawlessness and chaos. We actually had to board up the door in the clubhouse. It seems funny now, and I know that they make light of it whenever they talk about it, but it was kind of a dangerous night.

Q: You pitched very well in 1980, but your record did not reflect that. You were 2-12 in 136 innings with a 3.44 ERA, which was well above league average (117 ERA+). You had 10 no decisions where your ERA was 2.22 and your WHIP was 1.177. A record of 2-12 hardly seems fair. But there's a good explanation for this. The White Sox were dead last in runs scored. How frustrating was it for you to not get that run support?

A: I think I made 23 starts. And in those 23 starts, they scored 24 runs while I was in the game. So, when you hear pitchers today complain about getting 3 runs a game, I only got about 1 run a game, so it made it virtually impossible to win those games. It made it difficult to win, but I pitched pretty well.

Q: The unbefitting record was certainly a downer, but you did have at least one bright spot in 1980. On July 2, you tossed a 1-hitter against the California Angels. You must have been in the zone that day. Can you describe how you felt that game?

A: I don't know. Everything just clicked. I don't know how to explain it. I have a tape of the game, and I've watched it. I was throwing the ball wherever I wanted to, and they were hitting it to the right people.

Q: In 1981, the White Sox picked up Carlton Fisk. And you had a lot of success with him as your battery mate, holding opposing hitters to .691 OPS. What was it like having Fisk as your catcher?

A: Carlton obviously was one of the best players in the league, not only the best catchers. We worked well together. He obviously knew the league real well, so it was just a factor of his input and my input. It was a crazy year because we had that strike in the middle of it.

Q: You had quite a few managers in your MLB career: Larry Doby, Don Kessinger, Tony LaRussa, and Chuck Tanner. Who was your favorite manager and why?

A: I think my favorite manager was Donny Kessinger. He was very positive with us. We were a young staff, and I thought he handled us very well. If we had a bad game, he wasn't overly critical. He seeemed to care about development, so I really enjoyed playing for him.

Q: I can't bring up Tony LaRussa and not mention Mark McGwire. What is your opinion of McGwire and other steroid users? Should they be allowed in the Hall of Fame?

A: I don't think they should be. They cheated. It's plain and simple. I think the records that they have should be knocked out. I think the money that they made should be given back. They made it under false pretenses. His assertion that steroids had nothing to do with his power is totally absurd. I echo what Carlton Fisk said. Anybody can admit to something ten years after the fact. What would have shown guts and character is if he had admitted it right away.

Q: Do you still keep up with any of your old teammates?

A: A couple of buddies that I played with. Kenny Kravec, Dewey Robinson, who was the pitching coach for Houston last year. A few others.

Q: What have you done since retiring from baseball?

A: I am a Financial Advisor for individuals and family offices. I work for R.W. Baird in Chicago, and I've been in the business for 26 years.

Q: Fans like me tend to romanticize the game. Was playing Major League Baseball everything you thought it was going to be?

A: It was. There are positives and negatives in everything. Reaching your dream and being considered among the best in the world in a specific profession is always a great accomplishment. However, if you're not winning that puts a damper on it to a certain extent. When I was in winning situations, it was great. If you're losing, it's not much fun. But the experience of it I'll never forget and I'm glad it happened.


William said...

Oh man, Josh! Awesome interview. Way to go. And he seemed like a really nice guy.

Josh Borenstein said...

I loved the story about Reggie Jackson and the Yankees. And I almost left that question out. Good thing I didn't.

Max Brusky said...

Hi Josh - great interview! I had your Dad as an arbitrator earlier in the week and he told me about your blog and the Baumgarten interview. This happened after he immediately asked me if I was Cubs or Sox fan - I answered neither, Brewers, being the WI expat that I am. We of course started talking Ryan Braun, Prince and the pitching staff. All this was actually before the arbitration started! I told him about a lawyer I knew in California who had several high school records broken by Braun (same high school) and how my friend was bugging Braun's folks to get Braun to speak at a function (the families attend the same temple out there).

If you scored Baumgarten for this interview, you're well on your way to your goals. Have any of the local radio guys picked up on your blog - Bruce Levine, the Grobber (who I'm listening to right now) or even Coppock, also New Trier guy who probably knows Baumgarten pretty well I would gather, would come to mind. There's a few Hall of Fames out there that might appreciate what you have to offer as well. I'd also bet there's something out there already, but a book of the greatest of all-time (I haven't gone through all your blog entries, but I'll you have that already!) would get some traction I would think. I know lots of guys that would buy/read something like that. Great job - I'll come back to this one a few times for sure.

Max Brusky said...

Halls of Fame, rather, for those who pay attention to the writing!

tullist said...

I know I am coming in 5 years after the fact but for some reason I was thinking about Ross today, from the whatever happened to perspective. Had a vague recollection that he was from around here and roughly my age. I too was in that business in options for about 30 years. Gratified to hear of the kind words about Don Kessinger. Was a fan of both teams in those days but what I perceive of the politic, or behaviors of White Sox fans in recent years has made me solely a Cub fan, with a little Yankees on the side. Thanks for the Ross update, good to hear he's rollin along.