Mychael Urban shares a story from Aces in Part 2 of his interview with AN.
Good morning Athletics Nation!
Today I am posting the second part of my interview with Mychael Urban. If you missed the first part, you can find it here. Part 2 focuses on Mychael's colleagues, the 2012 Oakland A's, and questions from A's fans.
So, without further ado, here it is and have a great week everyone!
Martin Vincent Rodriguez
mrod- Mychael, you have said for many years that Bruce Jenkins, columnist for the SF Chronicle, is your personal sports writing hero. I also really enjoy his work, along with John Shea. Who are some of your favorite contemporaries in the sports media business?
murban- There are several. I've never left the bay area, which I'm very proud of, because as part of my senior thesis at USF, I had to go on an informational interview. Someone told me, "First thing you're going to have to do is leave the bay area if you ever want to make it in this business".
My personality is such that my reaction to that was, "Well, f*@k you! Now, I'm locked into the bay area. I'm not leaving because you said that!". That's the kind of prick I was when I was young and it just came out of me that way.
That has mellowed a bit with age but I have not left the bay area so everybody that I'm going to mention is bay area based.
Bruce is obviously my idol: He humanizes everything he writes about on a masterful level. He can say something in 15 words that would take me 45, and his will probably be funnier, too. I have never consciously styled myself after him but that's the name that I hear most often in comparison. People have told me, "You remind me of Bruce Jenkins". At the end of the day, that's the highest compliment that I could ever get.
Bruce has taken an interest in my career and not just because he knows I like him or because I have all of these nice things to say about him, either. He is truly interested in my work, enjoys it, and that means a great deal to me.
John Shea, as you mentioned, is excellent. He's very prepared in everything he does. I like his approach, he's really thorough, and he's an excellent reporter. Susan Slusser is probably the best reporter I have ever been around. I don't have the reporter gene, the "get after it" thing in my body. I think you need to have that quality where it just kills you to get beat on a story. I don't like getting beat on a story, but it doesn't kill me.
If someone else breaks a story first, then I'm gonna do my best to break it down better and tell you why it happened, and how it affects the big picture.
Susan is so tenacious and she has really great instincts. A's fans are really lucky to have her because she has had opportunities to go elsewhere and make more money in bigger markets, and have a higher profile, but she loves it here! She loves what she does and it shows. Susan truly is the "Queen Bee" of beatwriters and I don't mean that in the female sense. She's "The King" of bay area beat writers! I mean if we're not going to distinguish "actor from actress" then we'll just use the term "sports writer". Susan is at the top of bay area sports reporting and her writing is good, too. She just has the reporting down to a science and she has a gene that I do not have in that sense.
Andrew Baggarly has that gene, too, which is why CSN made a brilliant hire in replacing me with him as the "Giants Insider". He is the best Giants beat writer and I truly believe that. He's very talented. Henry Schulman is another great beat reporter who also happens to be a very gifted writer, he's almost lyrical at times. His game stories are outstanding!
Monte Poole is exactly what a columnist should be and so is Lowell Cohn. They're supposed to polarize you and you either love them or hate them. Ray Ratto is the same way. If you're on the fence about a columnist, then they're not doing a very good job. I'm pretty sure most people are not on the fence with any of those guys. Certainly not Ray and Lowell! Ray probably does it better than most and he is unbelievably prepared, smart, and hooked in. Scott Ostler is super funny and Tim Keown is great at humanizing sports figures in his stories. Ric Buecher, I really enjoy.... Matt Steinmetz is as hooked into the Warriors as anybody.
mrod- Ya, I'm a big fan of Matt as well.
murban- I have got to know him better over the years and he's really underrated, he's extremely funny, and his sense of humor is very dry. He will never sugarcoat anything, he'll just tell you straight up, "Here it is!".
mrod- Having had the opportunity to meet both Susan and Matt, I'd say you're spot on. Susan is very gracious and down to earth. It seems like she always has time for "you". Very cool. Matt Steinmetz is just as genuine in person as he is with his writing and coverage of the Warriors. He just cuts to the chase and doesn't BS you. I admire that quality more than anything and you're right: He's damn funny, too!
murban- Matt Maiocco is everything to the 49ers that Susan is to the A's. I mean that guy is unbelieveable! He's made me a better reporter and a better analyst. I saw him breaking down game film one day and I asked myself, "Why the hell am I not already doing that?!". After I started to do that, it made me better at my job. Joe Stiglich is another A's beat writer that I don't think gets enough credit. That guy works so hard ! He's very underrated and is always the last person to leave the press box. I know him on a personal level as well and he doesn't get enough recognition, mostly because of the shadow that Susan casts.
So, because Susan is so good at what she does, the rest of us, myself included during my days as the A's beat writer, are sort of left to scramble for the scraps. So, as good as Joe or anyone else is, as long as Susan is around that's the way it's going to be. That's just the way it is.
mrod- Mychael, let's talk about the 2012 Oakland Athletics for a bit. What's this team's outlook for this year, best and worst case scenario, in your opinion?
murban- That's almost impossibe to answer because there are so many question marks with this team. For instance, their rotation is so unsettled but there's a lot of talent there. Best case, if the young pitchers produce, Yoenis Cespedes is everything he's advertised to be right away, Manny's healthy, happy, and productive; Then they're gonna do some damage to some people who are contening, maybe not as contenders. I don't know, even in a best case scenario, that the A's can truly contend. I don't see them making that quantum leap with as much turnover as they've had. I do see enough promise with Cespedes and Weeks as the primary building blocks that you know are gonna be around for awhile. At least you would hope they are gonna be around unless they get traded at some point, which A's fans are all too familiar with.
mrod- Yes we are!
murban- The A's farm system back when they had The Big 3, Miggy, Chavvy, Giambi and all those guys...their farm system was the envy of baseball. Then the A's went through some rough patches. Nobody bats a thousand, ya know. The game is cyclical and the A's swung and missed on some draft picks. Some guys didn't pan out, so they had some down time and we've seen things at the big league level take a dramatic drop.
The trades that Billy Beane made in the off season were designed to beef up the farm system and push the A's back up into the upper ranks, ya know, put them up near the top again. This combined with the near ready or major league ready talent that Billy acquired in these trades gives the A's players that can both help them now and well into the future. To me, this year is about finding out exactly who is going to be part of the big picture moving forward, and a lot of the young pitchers Billy got back in these trades are gonna be a focal point. Are they gonna be guys you can count on in the rotation?
When the A's came to camp this year, Brandon McCarthy was their number one starter. I mean, nothing against Brandon McCarthy because he had a nice year in 2011, but you don't want him to be your ace for more than one year. You don't want him to be your Openining Day starter next year. You want to have Jarrod Parker or one of these other young studs starting for you, right?
murban- McCarthy is a hell of a middle of the rotation guy! I love his game but I don't want him at the top of my rotation because other aces are better than him. Maybe that's just my opinion, but I think you know where I'm going with that.
murban- Bartolo Colon is just a place holder for these guys. If Dallas Braden comes back healthy, Brett Anderson get past his surgery and recovers, you know what these guys are capable of doing. Brett Anderson, especially, we've seen just how talented he is. If he can stay healthy, he'll be somone you can count on for years to come. Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock, someone like Tyson Ross, who is already in the mix, and some of these other cats the A's picked up, if they can identify their rotation moving forward, that's so important. It's important for every organization because it's all about building around pitching and then hopefully having enough offense to support them. That's big and we've seen what can happen in a perfect storm. We've seen some recent A's teams with great pitching staffs and crap on offense, and that's not gonna cut it. The 2010 SF Giants won a World Series because they had great pitching.They were not a great offensive team but their bats got hot at the right time.
The A's need to identify their rotation moving forward this year, play some competitive baseball, flirt with .500...maybe hose the Angels or the Ranger somewhere along the way. Ya know, make a statement like, "I told ya not to mess with us!", or something along those lines. That would certainly vindicate some of the recent moves made by Billy Beane and restore some faith. I know there are fans out there that think that Billy's lost his fastball a little, his interest, his acumen. I don't really believe that but this is a results based game and the results have ben bad lately. So it's fair to criticize Billy, it's absolutely fair. Get the pitching staff established, develop some of these guys offensively, and feel like you have a really good base going this year. So, my best case scenario for the A's this year is them playing .500 ball and scare some people in the process. I think that would be a great season for them. Play with pride, make it a team that's fun to watch and that fans can be proud of. Worst case scenario they could lose 100 games. Things could get ugly if nothing goes their way and there is that potential for them to be that bad.
mrod- Seeing as you're heading to spring training tomorrow, what are some of the scenarios you'll be watching or interested in? Is there a player that is your dark horse this year? Tommy Milone is my personal pick to perform and really open some eyes this year.
murban- The closer competition is fascinating to me this year between Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, and Joey Devine. They all have significant pros and cons. I think in a best case scenario, Joey Devine is my closer because he's 28 years old and has great stuff. He put up ridiculous numbers in 2008. In 2009 he was gonna be a co-closer with Andrew Bailey before he got hurt. If he can get his mechanics back, stay healthy, and find his control again, I'd like to see him as the A's closer. Then they would be set their for the next few years. Fuentes is 36 years old and his best days are behind him, even though he's a former All Star. I just don't believe in him as a closer. Balfour is a little older as well and he does have a closer's mentality and closer stuff. I think he might be too intense and that might work against him sometimes.
People that say the 8th inning is the same as the 9th inning, don't know. It's not true. There are high leverage situations in set ups and closing roles. Sometimes the game is saved or won in the 8th inning, sure. But, look at what happened when Arthur Rhodes came here in 2004.
mrod- Oh God!
murban- He was a good set up man and he was convinced the 8th inning was no different than the 9th. He was terrible for the most part and eventually had to concede, along with everyone else, that there was a difference after all. The focus of the hitters sharpens because they know they only have three outs and the game is over. There's no do over to bail them out, the intensity of the crowd amps up, the game is literally on the line. So, I'm looking forward to watching Joey Devine work and see how the closer role shakes out.
The young pitchers are going to be fun to watch as well. They combined on a two hitter yesterday against the Brewers and looked really good. The reason I'm looking forward to watching them is because most of the time with veteran staffs, those guys don't have to worry about their job security. They are there to get stretched out and maybe work on a few things.
For instance, Matt Garza got hammered yesterday. The reason for that is he threw nothing but fastballs. He has a job and he doesn't have to get outs, or impress anybody. That's what's compelling to me about the A's camp right now. They don't have that luxury. Guys have to get results, especially the pitchers. They have to get people out! That's what's great about spring training this year, is seeing that kind of intensity so early on.
mrod- Mychael, what's your feeling about Chris Carter? Will he be part of the A's plans moving forward?
murban- I grew up a fan of both teams which is great, living in a two team market, and I could go to a game anytime, and split my time equally between both yards. So, the A's fan in me is really frustrated with CC. He hasn't been the guy I was expecting him to be. I remember watching him take batting practice for the first time side by side with Matt Holliday in Arizona one day at ST. I thought, "Oh My God, this is the guy A's fans have been waiting for!". Holliday was launching absolute bombs that day and Carter was matching him blow for blow. Now granted, this is fifty five year old guys, tossing 65 mph heaters and anybody who plays professional baseball should look good in that environment. Chris Carter looked really good. The slider has been his big demon. He hasn't quite figured it out, and if he can't hit it, then at least lay off of it. He hasn't laid off of it. It's hard to throw a nasty slider for a strike. In fact, if you are a pitcher, you don't want to throw a nasty pitcher for a strike, more often than not. You want guys to go out of the zone.
So, if he could just spit on the slider and force guys to show him something else, then he could be a beast. It's unfortunate that he's not better defensively. Personally, I think that's on the coaches. I don't see why a major league coaching staff can't turn him into a serviceable 1st baseman. Shooty Babbit joked with us on the air the other day, " That boy's allergic to leather!". I've seen enough of him to know that he's not athletic enough to be an outfielder, so I wouldn't put him there.
mrod- Neither would I.
murban- I'm not saying that you have to be a good athlete to be a 1st baseman, but this is an organization that turned Scott Hatteberg into a 1st baseman. Ron Washington thought it was a joke when he first got here. Granted, Wash isn't here anymore and he was one of the best, but Mike Gallego is a really good fielding coach as well. I don't buy that the A's staff should get a pass on this guy. I think they should be able to turn him into a 1st baseman. Nor do I buy that they don't want someone that young to be a full time time DH. Manny being around changes things but, I've also heard, " We'd rather not have a 23 year old DH. We want to find a place for him to play." If you've decided he can't play and throw your hands up in exacerbation about his defense, then DH him. If he can help you and give you the power you've been missing from the right side, then let it go. He needs to prove he has that power for the A's to commit to making him a defensive player. It's a chicken or egg thing. Chris Carter is the greatest mystery in the A's organization. I do think he has a world of potential and a world of power. Somewhere along the line, the coaching and development has to take charge and unlock that!
mrod- Who's gonna be the A's opening day 1st baseman?
murban- Not Daric Barton! Ha Ha He's taking shots like Nick Cage on a Vegas bender, except they are cortisone shots!
It's unfortunate, cause it's a make or break year for him. He was considered one of the best minor league hitters in the game, once upon a time. And he was that, but there's a difference between minor leagues and major leagues. Chris Carter is finding that out as well. Daric just can't stay healthy. You know, I just can't quite figure it out. It just goes to show, if you make it to the big leagues, you are ungodly talented. You are one of the best plays in the world! Everybody at that level is great but, what's between the ears? Where is your confidence? Do you truly believe you are better than the other person in the battle between a pitcher and a hitter? Do you believe that you are better than him? If you do, you have a good chance to succeed. If you don't, well.....you probably won't succeed. If you both believe you're better, than maybe talent tips the scales. Who has more? I think, somewhere along the road, Daric lost that. I don't know whose going to win the 1st baseman spot. It might even be by default. Maybe it will end of being one of the 27 outfielders the A's invited to camp!
mrod- I have some questions from A's fans. This one is from Saint. "Mychael, my wife found an old FP Santangelo bat in the dumpster in our back yard. Do you want it because I don't?!".
murban- No, that' probably where it belongs. Love FP, but look at the back of his baseball card. He didn't necessarily move the needle as an offensive player. Give it to a kid, there has to be some out there that are FP fans!
mrod- This one is also from Saint, but I think all A's fans really would like to know, "Is there anything that happened with Tim Hudson in Boston that we don't know about and that you can elaborate on?".
murban- Everything that I know is truly in my book, Aces. Did I mention that his brother landed a couple of haymakers in that fight as well?
mrod- You did.
murban- Listen, that injury was not a result of that fight, I say that with 100% conviction. You look at his history with that injury. It came up every year around the same time of the year in the same area. The fight didn't have anything to do with it. Did the fight happen? Yes. Was Tim Hudson involved? Yeah. Did he instigate the fight with a couple of not-so-smart words about someone's girlfriend? I can see it. I wasn't there, but all I have to go on is Tim's word, Barry's word. I was actually invited out with them that night but decided not to go. I wish I had gone because then I could tell you exactly what happened! Instead, I've got to go on their word and the bottom line for me is what made that a story, is his injury. I truly believe the fight had nothing to do with the injury.
mrod- What ever way it shook down, we both know that Tim isn't the type of guy to take shit from anybody.
murban- Yeah, ha ha ha ha! Look at him, he's always been the smallest guy on the field. I love it when people ask me this question: "If you had one pitcher that you've covered, thats healthy and ready to rock in a deciding game, who do you put on the mound?". It's Tim Hudson for me, every single time because that dude takes the mound convinced that he's better than you. It doesn't matter if you are twice as big as him, if you can eat him, whatever! He's gonna beat you, he's a bull dog. and he's a true leader as well.
mrod- This next question is from Billy Frijoles: "What is the difference between the A's and Giants' fan bases?".
murban- In terms of the hard core fans, they are the same. There's a small group of hard core fans in every market that are passionate, and live and die with their team, no matter what. When I went after Milton Bradley years ago, I found that out the hard way. People ostracized me, even on AN. I went after one of their guys and they didn't like it. When I expressed that I felt that Scott Cousins made a clean play at the plate, Giants fans turned on me. How dare I say, "Buster Posey didn't suffer from a cheap shot. It was a clean play!". Cousins had no intention of maiming him, it's just baseball. So, you really see that type of fan in Oakland a little more because the Giants appear to have a bigger fan base because they draw bigger crowds.
Right now, the Giants are winning more than the A's and everyone loves a winner. The Giants also have a destination ballpark and its both fun and cool to go to ATT Park. It's a beautiful place to watch a game. So, there are certainly people that I see at a Giants game that I consider not to be true baseball fans. They're there to see and be seen. If I see someone with an iPad and they are not using it for a baseball application or it's not enhancing their experience of the game itself, I'll say something like, "Would you put that thing away before I punch you!?!?". There's no place for that and I see that element more at a Giants game than I ever do at an A's game. I think that's more a function of the success of the team and the ballpark. I think the true fans of the A's and Giants are not all that much different. They both have really smart, knowledgeable fans.
mrod- Maybe so, maybe not. Still, no one throws down a meaner tailgate than A's fans, baby!
murban- You might have me on that one!
mrod- Is the Coliseum as big of a problem as players make it out to be?
murban- It's a problem if the players believe it to be. That's the perception and perception is reality in everything whether it's sports, business, or in life. Players talk to each other and the Coliseum has almost like an urban legend (no pun intended) about how crappy it is. I mean, you would think players were walking through tunnels and sheet rock was falling on their heads! Or that there's rats running around everywhere. That's the reputation it's picked up over the years. Also, you know, that the A's are cheap skates and you have to pay for a soda! That's totally Moneyball being editorialized to the extreme by Hollywood and that didn't help things. C'mon!
Still, Billy Beane admitted in his suite during last year's winter meetings for the first time that the stadium was an issue. He doesn't like to make excuses but he finally said, "The ballpark is a problem." We all know the money that they've tried to throw at guys like Rafael Furcal and Adrian Beltre, and Lance Berkman in the past. Those guys signed lesser deals (Beltre the first time at least) to play elsewhere because someone has told them the Coliseum's an absolute dump! I'm not saying the Coliseum's a gem. We all know it's not but it's not that bad. I grew up going to games there. Mt. Davis is a monstrosity and I don't like it. I liked it opening up to the Oakland hills but it's still an enjoyable place to take my family, I don't mind it at all. It doesn't stop me from going there. But, if you're a selfish guy and you want to put up big numbers, you're probably not gonna go there because of the size of the foul ground, the heavy night air, or some of the other negatives that you may have heard.
mrod- Blez wants to ask, "Did you have any special training making the transition from writing to radio, and then to television? And do you have a favorite?".
murban- Among the mediums? Writing is always going to be my favorite. It's not to diminish skills that people have in radio or television. I do think that it is a skill, that it can be developed and cultivated, and created. You can sharpen those skills. You can't create talent out of thin air and there are people in radio and television who are very talented but I don't have it. I'm able to get by because I developed the skills, but I didn't have any formal training. I watched, listened, and learned a lot.
Just like parenting, I have come across many different parents in my life, and figured out what works and what doesn't. It's training like that I have learned as I went along. I believe that everyone is given one thing in life that they are good at. Whether it's God or whoever you want to say it is, turns to you and says, "Ok, you're going to be good at this one thing and it's going to come easy to you. If you're smart about it and lucky enough, you're gonna make a living doing it". I think that's what writing was for me, that was the talent I was given.
mrod- I don't really want to get into the A's situation with the stadium in San Jose and all that because it will take too long, so we'll cover that next time.
murban- What, the next interview is gonna be in 4 years? Haha!
mrod- No kidding, right? I'm just sick of it. Talk to me when something actually happens! Otherwise, I just think the whole situation stinks! Today we heard the statement from the A's..
murban- Ya, only because of the statement that the A's released, did I take a vested interest again. Before the statement was released, I wrote in my daily notes to John and the program director, I was joking around , ya know? I wrote, "Also, the stadium isssue", and then all the letters were jumbled up like rfruh$%@# and I wrote, "ZZZZZZ......sorry I fell asleep just thinking about the stadium issue!". Speaking of urban legends , this thing about Walter Hass giving the Giants the territory rights out of the kindness of is heart and why don't the Giants just give em' back...? There was something new at least. The A's finally said, "Ok, we gotta get something on record here about this particular instance!".
It's fascinating to me and I think it could be the start of an epic pissing match between the A's and the Giants, and that's always fun to watch. I think there's a perception that the Giants brass looks down on the A's. Again, perception is reality and I do think there's a reality there as well. They could go the high road and say, "Ok, I'm not going to dignify your comment". Or they might say, "You're wrong and I'm gonna explain to you why". Then Lew Wolff might fire back again because he can't resist, and that makes it fun for people who have jobs like our, in the media,
mrod- At the end of the day, it's about the thing that makes the world go round, Mychael. It's about money.
mrod- I know we need to wrap it up soon because you need to get back to the radio station for your afternoon report, so let me ask you this: What would you be doing if you were not a baseball/sports writer?
murban- I'd be teaching English to younger kids, probably 9th or 10th grade, maybe even younger than that, and coaching. I couldn't be completely away from the game. I do private pitching lessons and clinics, and during this down time in my career, it's been a great opportunity to expand that. I guess I have four part time jobs now. I just love seeing the light go on, the expression on a youngster's face, to see the immediate result from teaching something to them. It's very rewarding.
Getting credit from kids who you help unlock things that they are interested in, you just can't beat that. That's what I love about teaching and I love kids. I love hearing their stories and I love trying to inspire them and instill confidence in them. That's a big part of what I do as a pitching coach, it's all about that confidence that we talked about. So, it would have to be something that involved being around people all the time, preferably kids because they're less jaded.
mrod- So true....right on. Final question: We're too young to be talking about a bucket list, God willing. Tell me one thing that Mychael Urban wants to see or accomplish before he leaves this earth?
murban- I want to celebrate my 50th wedding anniversary with my wife, two beautiful, happily married daughters, and a passel of grandkids running around at my feet. If I can do that, it doesn't matter what else...(he begins to choke up a bit, then stops).
mrod- Spoken like a true gentleman. Mychael, thank you so much for taking the time to sit and talk with me today. On behalf of myself and Athletics Nation, we really appreciate everything you do for bay area baseball. Good to catch up with you my friend, and hopefully we'll catch up again after you return from spring training. Have a good one, brother!
murban- Sure, you got it man. Right on!
End Part 2