Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Oakland A's Broadcaster Ray Fosse Talks Tigers

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

There is one position on the baseball diamond that I can relate to back during my days playing youth baseball.

It's being a catcher.

This is a position where many managers are hired.

This position, which is involved in every play, has much intrigued and is also my favorite position player to interview.

During my first two years playing, my father who managed my teams tried me at every position and I struggled.

But one day, our two starting catchers didn't show up and he asked who wanted to play the position?

I raised my hand as high as I could and I was quite loud during the 1973 season playing for the Southfield Wildcats.

He gave me a chance to play the position and I played so well that these other catchers never sat behind the dish
again. One of those catchers quit the team in the middle of the season.

Back then, I was about 4-5 and weighed around 60 pounds.

Unfortunately during that season, I lost my Grandfather Sidney Morganroth due to Cancer but our team went on to finish 21-0 and won the City Championship.

This was bitter sweet.

But I enjoyed warming up the pitchers during innings, talking to the umpires and batter, all while  getting in their head to distract them, and framing balls and turning them into strikes.

I also took a beating behind the dish getting drilled with foul balls and was in my fair share of collisions. But that was the nature of the position and I liked being involved in every play.

Over the years, some of the catchers I've interviewed were Lance Parrish, James McCann, Brad Ausmus, Jake Rogers and now Ray Fosse.

I've enjoyed everyone of these and we definitely speak the same language.

Fosse, 71 is an interesting story.

He played MLB from 1967-1979.

He appeared in two All-Star Games in 1970 and 1979.

He won a pair of World Series Championships in 1973 and 1974 with the Oakland A's.

He also won two Gold Glove Awards and had a career fielding percentage of .986.

Fosse played in 924 games and had a career average of .256 with 61 HR and 324 RBI.

His 12-year career was marked by injuries.

But Fosse was best known on the diamond for what happened during the 1970 All-Star Game at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was a member of the Cleveland Indians at this time.

On the last play of the game, he was involved in an incident with Pete Rose as he was barreled into in what was an extreme collision.

These are definitely uncommon in an exhibition game and this situation is prominently seen in MLB All-Star highlights.

Fosse has been a color commentator for the Oakland A's on NBC Sports California since 1986.

As I spoke to him in Mesa, AZ., I was amazed at how much he knew about baseball and he was very knowledgeable and candid when we spoke.

This was long before we knew that the small market Oakland A's, who are 90-60 as of this post, and barring an unlikely collapse appear to be headed to the playoffs.

We had a great conversation and I hope all of you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed talking to Ray.

Q: There is no way that I can have an interview with you without asking what it was like to be bowled over by Pete Rose in the All Star Game?

A: I was very happy to be on the All-Star Team and Earl Weaver picked me to be on the team. Bill Freehan started and I got in the game. It was very unfortunate one of those things happened. It's a changed game and that wouldn't happen today just because of a lot of situations. First of all, you can't do it. I wasn't trying to block the plate. I was going where Amos Otis had thrown the ball. As it turned out, it was up the line and the rest was history.

Q: Would you say that Miguel Cabrera's one of the best pure hitters you've ever seen?

A: I think in today's world, to see how smart of a player he is, I caught behind and tried to pitch to some of the great's
like Rod Carew, for example, one of the best hitters I've ever seen.

But you know if you think about what Cabrera does today and how he makes adjustments, I think that puts him in a category by himself.

Q: To preface what you're saying, how impressed were you when Cabrera won a triple crown and that's awfully hard to do?

A: Well especially, a triple crown you're going to have power or you're going to hit for average, but to do all of those things that's to me as great of a hitter as he is. I can't remember the pitcher of the A's had but Miguel came back from the birth of a child, he hadn't been with the club for three to four days, he came back and took early batting practice. The first at bat he hit a home run to right field and the second home run to left field. I said you've got to be kidding me! Here's a guy that hadn't of picked up a bat in three or four days.

Again, to be one of the best hitters he is, it's fun to watch him. He's a fun loving guy and I think he plays the game the right way. To have fun with the fans when he goes to the sidelines and gives them a baseball and does things. This is a game where you want fan experience. I think between being a great hitter, a great person, he exudes that when he's on the field especially with the fans.

Q: Of all the hitters you've seen over your lifetime, would you easily put Miguel Cabrera in your top five or 10?

A: Absolutely! I'd say so because again, I was behind the plate for many hitters that Harmon Killebrew for example was a big power hitter. Like I said, Rod Carew, it's hard to pitch him any particular way. But I think Cabrera, his intelligence of the game, he knows his swing, the hitters, the pitchers and he knows what he needs to do. I haven't seen a hitter as good as him.

With the new schedule the way it is with the A's facing the Tigers seven times a year, I think it's better. He's such a good hitter no matter the times they play.

Just a footnote here: The Oakland A's won the season series 7-0 this year as Cabrera missed all the contests due to injury.

Q: What are your thoughts about Jack Morris and Alan Trammell finally getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame? Was this long overdue?

A: I think these guys were long overdue. What's interesting about Alan Trammell and the Tigers starting 35-5 in 1984, with him and Lou Whitaker at the top of the batting order, they'd get on and it would be runners at first and third. Then somebody would drive them in. It seemed like they were on all the time.

But to have a double play combination like that as long as Trammell and Whitaker were, I'm happy for Alan. He's very unassuming. He doesn't tout himself so I'm sure he's ecstatic.

For Jack Morris to pitch as well as he did against the Atlanta Braves winning Game Seven for Minnesota in 1991, 1-0 in 10 innings, no body is going to do that today.

You're going to go six or seven innings max. But Morris kept going out and he was the best pitcher for that. He said, I'm going to go and he kept going. I don't think there is any doubt that both deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. But like you said, it's too bad it took so long, but eventually they did get in.

Q: Why do you think Whitaker hasn't even sniffed the Hall of Fame?

A: I think a lot of that has to do with offensive numbers unfortunately. The fact that they (Alan & Lou) played so long together, you'll never see that again as long as they did as a double play combination. But Lou was Lou. It is unfortunate but defense isn't as recognized that much anymore. It's more what you do offensively.

Even though in that particular year (1984 World Series Champions) both Lou and Alan had have tremendous seasons leading off for the Tigers. I'm sure the late Sparky Anderson is already there with both of them in. But at least Trammel is in now.

Q: Do you feel the Detroit Tigers are going about things the right way by rebuilding?

A: I think you eventually have to do that because under the late Mike Ilitch, it was different. I know for Al Avila, it's different for him because maybe the resources aren't there anymore. That's why the late Gene Autry unfortunately didn't get a World Championship and he spent a lot of money. Michael Ilitch spent a lot of money. You spend the money and it doesn't guarantee anything.

So to do it the right way, the problem speaking of Miguel Cabrera, he makes a lot of money, and nobody is going to pick up that contract even though he is the best player in the game. He makes a lot of money. I'd say he's still young enough (age 35) and you can still build around him.

When you have to eventually make that commitment to do the things you have to do to get back to respectability, and even if it means tearing it down and going to young players, so be it. The heck with the people that say you're tanking and trying to get draft choices. No you're not! You're trying to develop a good ballclub for the future.

I look at the A's right now. Everybody says low payroll. Well yes, they're young players. Those players eventually get paid. After three years arbitration and free agency after six years. You're going to get your money if you're good. But still, I can't knock the organization for doing it the right way.

In the Tigers case, you have to do it and more power to them. When you look at the past three World Series Champions, the Astros, the Cubs and the Royals, all of those clubs were bad not that long ago. And then they're World Series Champions. You have to do it the right way.

You have to think about the future and the thing is to be honest with the fans. Let them know this is the core group of guys that will be good and we're going to build. The Astros did it the right way. They lost 100, used their young guys and brought in veterans and they supplement what you have.

Q: What are your thoughts about Ron Gardenhire?

A: He loves cheeseburgers. I'm sure he still does. I think the game would be wrong to say that managers like Ron Gardenhire, Bob Melvin and even Joe Girardi, which that firing was unjustified. He was one guy that managed 10 years and one of the most successful managers in baseball.

I'm happy for Ron Gardenhire and I'm happy the Tigers realize he's a good baseball man just like Bob Melvin. I've been around baseball a long time and I've seen a lot of managers. Personally, I think Bob Melvin is one of the best in the game if not the best. The players love him, he demands things from the players even though he can be considered a players manager.

But there are a lot of analytics going on in baseball that you have to make changes and managers have to do that. But I'm happy for Gardy. He's a good man and considering what he's been through health wise, to be able to come back, I think it's great for the Tigers.

Q: What is Ron Gardenhire's biggest strength that he offers the Tigers?

A: He's been there and knows what it's like under Tom Kelly. If you look at the Minnesota Twins, they won in 1987. They disbanded than won in 1991. When you're around that type of organization, the important thing is to do that. If you win, you have to pay, and in today's world, it's a lot of money.

If you win and you have that core group of guys, you may keep those guys but you supplement. As guys retire, other guys come in and take over. But you keep a core group of guys around. In todays world, it's very expensive. But I think Gardy can communicate and understand the young players. He's also a veteran manager and knows how to manage the game.

Q: We've talked about Mike Ilitch, what are your overall thoughts about him?

A: When they wore the Mr. I on their sleeves last year, here is a man that knew Victor Martinez was injured, they realized they needed a player and they signed Prince Fielder and paid him $200 Million just because Mike Ilitch said let's do it. You don't see a lot of owners doing that. That's how great Mr. I was.

I heard some stories about the Auto Industry and how he let the cars in center field not have to pay. He was a good man. But still unfortunately he passes away and the transition for the Tigers is what it is right now. The resources maybe aren't there.

When you have those resources, you're not afraid to spend money that means you can sign somebody like Prince Fielder and give him a contract that's unheard of. But also, remember Juan Gonzalez turned down $160 Million which is the best non-sign the Tigers have ever had. We talk about that all the time because the fences supposedly were too deep in left-field. That's a $160 Million they would have been able to do a lot of things they did since then.

It's a good organization, good group of people like Al Kaline, the late Ernie Harwell, and I have so many great memories of the old Tiger Stadium, good ball clubs and you have to transition. You'd like to be a perennial winner and spend lots of money. But in today's world, it's hard to do.

During my Spring Training coverage in 2018, I really enjoyed searching for lots of fresh content with Southeastern Michigan/ Tigers connections.

Covering the Cactus League was a blast and I was amazed that I was arriving at these ballparks at 7:30 AM. You talk about a full day, those are plentiful in Arizona.

As for 2019, there are two ballparks left on the victory tour. There is Scottsdale Stadium, the home of the San Francisco Giants, and the headquarters of the Arizona Fall League which its season begins on October 9th.

There is Sloan Park in Mesa, the home of the Chicago Cubs which is one of the newer facilities.

Any trip to Arizona consists of the LA Angels to visit my friend Tim Mead.

I'll be looking forward to going back to Maryvale, where the Milwaukee Brewers will have a newly renovated stadium.

I do enjoy being on the road looking for fresh local content.

That's the objective with any sport and I'll reiterate on this story, it was great having the privilege spending time with Ray Fosse, a guy that I enjoyed following as a youngster.

I've met a lot of smart baseball people over the years and Fosse ranks up there with the best.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of Detroit Sports Media.

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