Originally created 06/03/01

Insults, lessons and other tales



PITTSBURGH -- A starter is in trouble, so the pitching coach makeshis way to the mound.

A hitter reaches first base and huddles with the first baseman. Between warmup throws, the third baseman stands on the foul line,chatting with the third base coach.

Ever wonder what's being said during baseball's confabs?

Unless you're a lip reader or an FBI agent with a directionalmicrophone, the conversations are private. The only way to discoverwhat's being said, is to ask. So we did.

"One time Greg Maddux said, `Hey, you haven't been out to themound in two months, come on out in the sixth inning today,' " Bravespitching coach Leo Mazzone said. "So I did, and when I got there Isaid, `How you doing?' He said, `I'm fine, you can go now.' "

Most mound conferences are serious business. The pitching coach isthere to talk about how to get a hitter out, whether to pitch to ahitter or whether the starter is tiring. The humorous aspect of thevisit doesn't come out until much later.

"Another time Steve Avery was in trouble in Colorado," Mazzoneremembered. "He'd just hit Andres Galarraga or Larry Walker,or maybe both, and he kind of looked into the dugout with a look thatsaid, don't come out here.

"So, I went out to the mound and Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser hadcome over, and Avery says, `What the hell are you doing out here?' Isaid, 'now that you've asked, I came out to say go to hell. How do youlike that?'

"Avery said, `Now that you've said it, are you going to leave?' Wehad some fun with it afterward with (Tom) Glavine, Maddux and (John)Smoltz."

Glavine remembers a visit Mazzone paid to the mound at San Diego'sQualcomm Stadium in 1992.

"It was during my notorious first-inning problems, maybe six orseven games in a row I'd given up runs in the first inning, and I had acouple of guys on and a run in, and Leo came out," he said. "He askedif my arm hurt and I said, no. `Well, start pitching like it doesn't,Leo said, or we'll get someone in here who will.'

"I don't think I gave up another run, so it was effective."

Burt Hooten, who spent 14 years in the big leagues with the Cubs,Dodgers and Rangers, remembers a visit Dodgers pitching coach Red Adamsonce paid to the mound.

There were two runners on base, and thoughHooten can't recall the conversation, he remembers Adams had not yetreturned to his perch on the top step of the dugout when his next pitchwas hit into the outfield seats.

Hooten finished the inning and stormed back to the dugout, where hesat, steaming, alongside Adams. Soon enough, the opposing pitcher gotinto trouble, two runners on, and his pitching coach visited the mound.

Still livid, Hooten straightened up and, with enough lung power tobe heard in downtown Los Angeles, he shouted, "Tell him the same thingRed told me!"

Following his trade to the Milwaukee Brewers, Hall of Famer DonSutton remembers trailing 4-0 in his second start, with a runner onsecond base and two outs in the second inning, when manager HarveyKuenn limped to the mound.

"He comes out, folds his arms and says, `Son, what's the score?"Sutton said. "I looked out at the scoreboard and, gave him a puzzledgalnce, and said 4-0. Harvey nodded and said, `The way I figure it,these guys are down by six. Save that run.' Then he turned around andleft.

"We won that game 14-4 and I went eight innings."

There's less tension at first base, where runners and first basemenhave time to chat between pitches. One of baseball's best talkers isCincinnati Reds first baseman Sean Casey, who could hold a conversationwith a mannequin.

"I enjoy talking to (Diamondbacks first baseman) Mark Grace,"Casey said. "He's really a good conversationalist, because he likes totalk too. Anytime you get a guy who likes to talk, it's usually apretty cool conversation. We just talk about different things -- `How'severything going?' Then it leads into something else, maybe some partof the game. You talk about that, or you talk about family, or wherethey're going on a road trip, how they like it. I was talking to Graciethe other day about how he was going to Chicago for the first time andhe was saying he was excited to go there.

"It's funny that you're having conversations with these guysleading off (base). You just don't want anybody to get picked off. Youdon't want them to think you're having a conversation so you can pickhim off."

Has it ever happened?

"It happened in '99. I was talking to Henry Rodriguez. We threwover and picked him off. I don't think he even moved. I was like,`Sorry about that, Henry.' "

Grace, who played 13 years in Chicago, remembers the impact Cubspitcher Kerry Wood had on hitters in 1998.

"Sometimes guys will come to first and say, `This guy isunbelievable," or `Where did he come from?" I got that a lot withKerry Wood," Grace said. "Sometimes the pitcher will ask for yourinput. That was the case when Curt Schilling was pitching against SanDiego. Ryan Klesko was up and Curt asked me, `What should I throw?' Itold him, `Throw him hard early,' and he hit it to the wall for an out.I told Schill, `See, hard early works every time."

The conversations between Grace and Maddux, former Cubs teammates,are usually the insulting banter of long-time friends.

"Usually we talk about each other's moms, usually in the mostvulgar, disgusting way we can think of," Maddux said. "I usually gethim. It's like you've got to spend some extra time before the gamethinking about it, so you're prepared and can say the right thing whenthe time comes."

Braves first baseman Rico Brogna says he enjoys talking to thegame's superstars because it gives him an opportunity to discover whatmakes them tick.

"A few years ago, while Cal Ripken was chasing Lou Gehrig'srecord, he got on first and I asked him if all of this is overwhelming,if he had any time to get away for some peace and quiet," Brogna said."He started telling me stories about how fanatical the fans were andhow they followed him to his house and wouldn't leave him alone."

During Brogna's first season in the majors with the Tigers, he wasstar-struck when Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly, whom he hadworshipped for years, reached first base.

"It was my second series in the big leagues, there were runners onfirst and third, and a ground ball was hit to me," Brogna recalled."I stepped on first, and Mattingly let me get him in a rundown, andthe run scored.

"When he got on first again later, he explained to me what Ishould have done. My jaw dropped. Here I was, getting advice from a guywho I had idolized, who I had a life-size poster of in my bedroomduring high school. That's why playing first is neat. You get a chanceto meet everybody."

It's not as easy to strike up a conversation across the diamond,but Braves third baseman Chipper Jones has a trio of coaches he listsamong his favorites.

"There are guys who are chummy and guys who aren't," he said."Rich Donnelly (Rockies), John Vukovich (Phillies) and Fredi Gonzalez(Marlins) are good to talk with. Usually we talk about game stuff orthe city or the weather, but most of it is game-related.

"I've had Cal Ripken on third base talking to me about where Ishould take cutoffs and relay throws. He was really helpful, and thiswas coming from a guy who'd only been playing third for a year or so."

The best anecdotes come from pitchers and pitching coaches, forit's their conversations on the mound that pique our interest. Is thepitcher being chastised or encouraged? Is it a strategy session or isthe pitching coach stalling to get a reliever ready?

"One time I went out to talk to Smoltz," Mazzone said. "I wasgoing to tell him to get his head out of his butt, and he says, `Leo,don't holler at me, the catcher just did.' I said, oh, OK, I'm sorry, Ididn't know that, and I went back to the dugout."

Mazzone chuckled. "There was another game that Glavine waspitching. The bases were loaded with no outs and (Florida's) MikeRedmond was up. I went out and told Tom, `There's no trouble here. Theseventh, eighth and ninth hitters are up. They can't hit.'

"So, Glavine gets a grounder back to the mound, gets out ofthe jam, and later in the dugout, Chipper Jones says to me, `You failedto mention Redmond was hitting about .700 against him. I said, `Yeah, Iwanted to leave that part out.' "