I've met Victor in person once at the Pujols press conference and had a few interactions with him through social media prior to this interview. Victor is a great combination of professional and personable. He's very down to earth, has a lifelong wealth of baseball stories, and a solid sense of humor. In short, he would be the ultimate guest for a barbecue.
Our talk started off with familiar subjects, baseball and Mike Trout. Here it is:
Q: How often do you look at Mike Trout and think "they actually pay me to watch him"?
"I think we're all very fortunate to get the opportunity to watch a once-in-a-generation type player like Mike. Regardless of what the team is doing, we get the opportunity to witness 4-5 at-bats nightly plus get to watch him do magical things defensively. Just look back at last year. As difficult a season as it was for Angels fans, we still saw yet another historic season by Trout. The kid's in his 6th season and his' already won 2 MVP's and finished 2nd on the other ballots.... ridiculous.
As good of a player as he is, he's just as phenomenal as a person. He's genuine, sincere, humble and a lot of fun to be around and he absolutely loves playing the game. So I guess over the lean years, there have been moments where I've reflected upon the season and been thankful Mike Trout was penciled in nightly to see what he would do next."
Q: You've seen some great defensive shortstops, how does Andrelton Simmons rank in your book?
"He's fun to watch because you never know what he's going to do next on the defensive side of the ball. As for where he ranks, it's only been one season for me getting to watch him daily but he's definitely up there with the best in the game. I think Francisco Lindor is magical with the glove and put Andrelton next, based on defense.
There are guys who are more offensively-weighed in that position, like Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa, but speaking specifically about the glove and arm, I like Andrelton near the top."
Q: There's so much young talent in the game, which players in the league do you most enjoy watching?
"All of them. It's crazy to think I was at MLB Network in 2009 and back then we were talking about how exciting a player Andrew McCutchen is going to be and while there were other young players with him at the time, there wasn't an influx like we seem to enjoy on a yearly basis.
It's tough to put just one guy down, but aside from Trout, I'd go with Manny Machado, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Lindor, Kris Bryant, etc. It's no longer about being amazed at how young they are when they get to the big leagues. It's astonishing to see how comfortable and how easy they make it look when they get here.
It's a great time to be a fan of MLB. Too bad they don't market the players nationally, the way they should, so everyone knows about them."
Q: So far this year we've seen Mike Scioscia get away from his usual bullpen roles. Is Eppler really getting through to Mike and how would you characterize their relationship?
"Tough to characterize their relationship when I'm not with them. I think it's a relationship that allows the discussion to go in any direction. Billy's an open book. You ask him a question and he'll answer it honestly. There's no spin, bs, or GM-speak and for that we should all be grateful.
As to the bullpen roles, it appears with all of the new guys Eppler's brought in, it has given Mike the ability to just use guys based on their past experiences. You have veterans in Norris and Petit that can give you multiple innings, along with JC Ramirez, who was stretched out in the Spring.
In the past, perhaps Mike didn't necessarily trust the guys he had to handle the soaking up of innings, and unfortunately, the 'pen has had to soak up innings through the first couple of weeks, so he pieced it together one inning at a time. I'm of the opinion that you'll never know if your don't try. Force the issue with guys and get them to think about performing for multiple innings instead of just the traditional one. It opens the door to more options."
Q: The pace of play is a hot topic right now. You watch 162 games plus per year. Do you see it as a barrier to fans enjoying the game?
"Honestly, all of this talk is tired. The game has been played this way for over 100 years and fans still watch the games. It's only now becoming a 'barrier' because of all the media play and the changing of rules MLB instituted. If you keep hammering the point, people will start to think 'you know, baseball does take a long time to play.' You're doing a disservice to your fan base when you're constantly harping on it.
We're watching a generation of players like no other...they're faster, throw harder, hit the ball further than previous generations and it's not just one or two guys doing it, there are a lot of them, as I mentioned previously. So why not focus on the actual play and the talent that's on the field rather than the length of the game?
Would I love a two hour and fifteen minute, 1-0 game on occasion? Sure, because you've probably witnessed a pretty damn good pitching match up. But I would imagine the focus of tweets and articles during and after the game would talk about how wonderful the pace of the game was rather than the actual performance.
It is tough to bitch about the pace/length of games when revenues in the industry continue to rise and regional networks continue to shell out big bucks for rights deals."
Q: Do you have any ideas on how to speed up the game?
"I have two that come to mind. The first, have the umpires actually enforce the rule book as it relates to getting guys in the batter's box and pitchers on the mound.
The other is very simple and probably the one that bothers me the most. Everyone knows there's a clock when there's a pitching change. The clock doesn't start until the reliever gets to the warning track. Why? To me, the minute the umpire signals to the 'pen, start the clock. The guy's been warming up for at least 2-5 minutes and will get another 8 pitches on the mound.
This is why the game comes to an absolute halt with the bullpen. Nowadays, the umpire signals for the reliever, the guy will throw one or two more pitches in the 'pen, get his towel and wipe down, walk to the warning track, then start running in. We've had circumstances where we've already returned from our commercial break and the reliever hasn't thrown a pitch yet.
With so many pitching changes nowadays, moving these guys along would help cut down the wasted time.
The worst is when there's already been one visit to the mound with a pitcher and the manager starts walking out slowly a second time but doesn't signal to the 'pen until he gets to the mound or close by. What? Hello? Its the SECOND visit for that pitcher. He automatically has to be removed from the game so what are we waiting for? The pomp and circumstance of watching the manager walk out? If its not injury related, the minute the manager walks out, start the clock and get guys moving.
I know others have talked about cutting commercial time for all games and that's one fix, but if those get cut out, regional networks will have to find some sort of way of recouping those lost dollars with more in-game reads, billboards, etc."
I have to agree with everything Victor said in this interview and we have another interview with him, covering the aspects of broadcasting, set up for the near future. Stay tuned.
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