Portland has always been a baseball city. There was pro ball here in
1866 and it continues strongly today. The Beavers are a Charter Member of the
Pacific Coast League and have seen some unbelievable talent come through it's
long and storied roster with Lou Pinella, Satchel Paige, Sam McDowell, and Luis
Tiant just to name a few. Since 1903 the Beavers have been part of the culture
here in Portland, and it thrives and grows today as the city sits on the edge
of getting Major League Baseball
We thought it would be good to talk
to the current man at the helm here in Portland. Since Rick Sweet has played in
MLB and manages here with the AAA Beavers, we thought he would be best to talk
about both aspects of the game. Rick also hails from Longview, WA., just a
stones throw north of Portland in SW Washington, so in every aspect, Rick
covers a ton of ground as it pertains to baseball past, present and future in
Rick follows the current trend in catchers turned managers.
If you follow the game you'll understand why this is: The catcher calls the
game; sees the field and works the pitcher to his strengths and the batter's
weakness. He has spent time with the Padres, Mets, and Mariners as a catcher in
the late '80s and early '90s and saw some unreal pitchers throw to him. Gaylord
Perry, Rollie Fingers, Randy Jones, and Jesse Orosco are but a few. He took
this time and turned it into managing skills, having won Minor League titles
with Tucson and Harrisburg.
In this interview Rick covers a lot of
ground, from player development, balancing that development with getting wins,
his life in MLB, and what he thinks of the possibility of MLB in Portland.
OBC: How hard is it to balance player development with
getting wins in AAA?
probably one of the most difficult things, at times. I think overall what you
have to do is get to know your players individually and kind of find out what
buttons to push because the player really at AAA is really only interested in
what's going to further his career. In other words, what's going to get him
into the big leagues?
What I have to balance is convincing him that
what is best for the team is also best for him. That way, we come up with both
development but you come up with wins at the AAA level and this is the one
level where you have to balance that priority.
using a pitch count help a player mentally for the Majors? Is there a place in
player development for leaving them in to work out of jams?
You know, obviously, within our organization, that is one of the biggest, I
would say controversies right now. Yes, I think at this level there is no doubt
you have to allow them to work out of jams at times. I think that is where a
good pitching coach really can help a manager, because, a pitching coach gets
to know the pitchers even better. We need to test them at this level to prepare
them for the next level, because, at the next level, if they falter once or
twice, they are probably back down with you. So you have to allow them at AAA
to have those opportunities and maybe fail but learn from that failure to get
them better for the big leagues.
OBC: When you're in a
pennant race for a AAA Championship and September 1st rolls around, with the
major league roster expansions how do you cope with losing big contributors
while keeping your focus on winning the championship?
Sweet: Again, as a
manager, and this has happened to me where we at AAA got into the playoffs. It
happened in Tucson and I lost six players to the Houston Astros' major league
club, because they were in a pennant race. You have to remember what your
priorities are: Major league club is number one, AAA number two. How do you
cope with it? What you hope happens, is the major league club tells you, "Okay,
we are going to call these guys up September 1st" and, if as manager, you have
placed your whole roster that is where your backup players are key players for
you. If you have used your whole roster over the course of a year, your backup
players are prepared to step in and take over those roles along maybe with two
or three AA players. If you have a good AA team with a good manager down there,
good player development they are ready to step in and maybe not totally fill in
those roles but they are prepared to play at that level.
OBC: Was too much pressure placed on Sean Burroughs by the
media to perform above at the highest levels of the game his rookie season? How
does his rehab look?
Sweet: Sure. He is
doing great. He is 100%. I think his first test in the big leagues. I think
physically he was ready, but I think mentally ready to handle the pressure;
but, again, he was still 21 years old.
Once it happened, he struggled
with some injuries. He got off to a slow start. He came back to us and he
started slowly; but by the time we were down at the end of the year, he was
back on his game and I think the second time around, he will be much more
prepared - physically and emotionally.
OBC: A couple of
great prospect names are in the Padres system. How does Tagg Bozied look?
Obviously, he is the number one guy. I would anticipate him starting at the AA
level. If he gets off to a good start, is swinging the bat, doing the things
that they hope he will be ready to do at AA; we will see him before the year is
out. Otherwise, there are really no names that you will point at and say his
guy falls into that category for sure. So you've touched on the number one guy.
OBC: Besides Burroughs you've managed another highly
touted draft pick. In 1994 you managed Phil Nevin, who at the time, was
considered a "can't miss kid" in the Houston organization. Was there any
pressure to get him to the bigs or were you allowed to take your time with him
due to the impending labor war that ended that season?
Sweet: Well, you know we don't think that much about
labor wars when you are in the minor leagues like that. That is like another
world. No, there was no pressure to get himto the big leagues or anything like
that. It was putting him out there and seeing what he was going to do.
OBC: On winning 2 minor league titles (Tucson in 1993 and
Harrisburg in 1998): Which one was more special to you?
Sweet: The one in Tucson
. Well, maybe I shouldn't
say that. They were different types of wins. The one in Tucson, it was my first
year in AAA. I was relatively young and quite frankly, the owners of that club
did not want me as their manager, because of how young I was. They wanted an
older, more veteran type of manager and at the end of the year they were very
excited to have me. I wound up there for three years. So I think from that
standpoint, it was very satisfying.
The one in AA, I think the
satisfying part of that was the players we had in the club. We snuck in as a
wild card and we developed over the course of the year with a very intensive
team oriented game. It was a tough year in that organization. At that time, I
was going to quit at the end of the year from that organization, because of the
people. I didn't believe in the philosophy of the people in that organization.
And the team rallied around that theme and it turned out that the people that I
had philosophical differences with, left the organization. That is why I stayed
in the Expos organization. So that being said, it was very satisfying to win a
championship with the philosophy that I have, as opposed to the philosophy that
OBC: Where do you see
yourself in the sport in say 5 years? Are you hoping to move up or are you
happy where you're at?
I want to manage in the big leagues. I would like to coach again in the big
leagues again. So, I am waiting for that opportunity.
OBC: Many managers made the switch from manager to GM . . . Do
you want to get into the front office one day or are you a "on the field guy"?
Sweet: No, I don't think so. It's been a
possibility at times, not so much major league GM but usually you start out as
an assistant minor league director - something like that.
honestly, I don't want to deal with agents. I have talked to a few agents; I
have talked to a lot of agents. I have listened on speakerphones when minor
league directors have had to talk to agents. I don't think I would have the
patience to deal with ignorant people. I am not saying all of them are, because
there are a lot of good ones out there. But there are a lot of shysters out
there that know nothing about the game and to have to deal with people who know
nothing abut the game and to be nice to them, that is not my style. I am a
little too honest to deal with that.
That is the only drawback, quite
frankly. That is the only drawback to get into the front office is to have to
deal with bad agents.
OBC: Has the situation with PFE
been a distraction?
Sweet: Yes. Yes,
there's no doubt about it. I think the biggest difference for me is this is my
home. Not that we don't care other places, but when I was in Tucson and
Harrisburg and Kissimme, Florida and Binghamton, NY, I was only there for six
months. I was only there half a year, but I didn't live there. My reputation
was not there. I was always going to come home. This is my home.
problems with PFE affect me personally, as much as business wise, because the
first thing people ask, "Is there going to be a club - how bad is it?" I feel
like I'm part of that. So the distractions are personal for me. I am much more
involved for that reason. So, yes, it's a distraction. Yes, it makes it much
more difficult. But that's because I care a lot more, because it is my home.
OBC: Has it affected how the actual organization is
preparing for next season or are you guys going forward just looking . . .
Sweet: My players don't even know what's
going on. That's what people have to understand - they read about it. Mark
Schuster and Jack Cain really have done a nice job. The first year, by far, was
the worst, -- was absolutely the worst.
Last year Mark Schuster did a nice job. Jack Cain, being brought
on, actually saved the day. Last year, the players really had no idea of all
the problems that were going on, and I keep that from them. They don't need to
know. This year I anticipate - because there are no players here. I've talked
to a lot of the guys and they don't even know what's going on. As far as they
are concerned, baseball is going to go on as it always does. So, is it a
distraction for my players? No, I keep it from them. The distraction is for me,
because I keep that to myself and I work with Jack and Mark in making sure the
players don't know. And that is a real credit to them.
OBC: If for some reason major league baseball did come
here to Portland, would that be kind of like the ultimate thing to be able to
stay at home and do both?
absolutely! Absolutely! There is no doubt. If they brought a major league club
in here, I would hope to stay with that organization - whatever organization
comes in. When I left Montreal to come to the Padres, the only reason I asked
Jim Bean, who is a very good friend of mind, for that, is it was going to give
me the ability to come home and he just looked at me and said, "Absolutely!" I
would have stayed with Montreal and stayed within that organization, but the
chance to come home, you know, obviously, the Padres are the organization I
signed with. So, I have certain personal ties just from that emotional part of
my career. But, if a major league club was to move here and was to offer me a
job, I would offer me a job definitely want to stay there and the chance to
stay home would be tremendous.
On playing in MLB
OBC: The '78 Padres was one heck of a team, with
Dave Winfield, Gene Richards and rookie SS Ozzie Smith and skippered by Roger
Craig. This was, at the time, easily the finest team in San Diego history. In
retrospect, did you realize just how good that team was at the time?
Sweet: I think
I knew how good the team was because there were four teams that year. The
Giants had McCovey and that groups of guys and, of course the "Big Red
Machine", the Dodgers
Cey, Garvey I mean you can go through
I mean you can go through the whole list there. We were ten games over .500 and
we were in fourth place behind those three clubs. I knew that we were a pretty
good club. I thought we were going to be even better the next year and I was
very disappointed. I think Roger, you know Roger took over in '78 in that
spring training and they wound up making quite a few changes before the next
year and struggled. I think it was kind of a downhill spiral after that for a
few years. They kind of tore the club up a little bit and went into a little
bit of a different direction. But it was . . . I'm not sure I knew how good we
were till about halfway through the year when I started looking at it I said
we're right in the thick of this thing. Look at those guys. We were young and
yet we had some veteran players - Rollie Fingers and Gaylord and Gene Tenace.
Winfield was young. Gene Richards was young. Obviously, Ozzie was young and you
know it never developed as well as you would hope it would.
OBC: What was your favorite park to hit in (majors or
Sweet: Well, I would have to
say that my favorite ballpark to hit in, just the way it was laid out, was good
for me, was San Diego. It was the home field. I loved San Diego at that time.
My favorite ballpark to play in, I would have to say Wrigley Field. Absolutely
the greatest fans in baseball. It was a great place to be - the excitement -
The older ballparks - Fenway, was that way. There was
nothing better than to walk into Yankee Stadium. I can remember one time
specifically, stepping out of the box at Yankee Stadium - I was facing Goose
Gossage. I will never forget this. It was loud and there were a lot of people
there and I stepped out of the box. And I thought - I kinda looked around and
it donned on me, "Man, Babe Ruth was here and Lou Gehrig," just going on and
on. You know, all the greats that have played and then kind of shaking my head
and saying, "I have got to get back into this," and then refocusing back on the
OBC: Nothing like a Goose Gossage to straighten
you up real fast?
Sweet: Yea, but I can
remember that happening at Dodger Stadium and places like that. But I still go
back to Wrigley Field. I love Wrigley Field.
you played major league baseball in 1978 and then were in the minors again from
79-82. What is it like waiting for the call? Watching the bigs from down in the
minors after being there, just one injury away from the show but never catching
Sweet: You find most
professional athletes - one of the things that you have to learn to control
your impatience. If you are very patient and you just sit back, the chances you
are not as competitive as you need to be. You need to be impatient. I like
people that are impatient. I don't want people that are happy being in the
minor leagues, "Oh, I'll just wait my time". Those people are not working hard
enough to get there in my opinion.
So, yes, I was impatient. I wanted
to get there but I also understood, "Okay, I need to be prepared when it
happens. And how do I be prepared? I work hard. I will put up good numbers down
here and when the opportunity comes, I will be ready."
OBC: You caught Gaylord Perry, Randy Jones and Mickey
Lolich as a Padres catcher in the late '70's. Did Perry ever let any spitballs
come your way? If so, just how tough is it to adjust to hard breaking stuff
Sweet: Did he throw any? Oh, of
OBC: How do you deal with breaking stuff like
thing with Gaylord, you know, obviously you knew it was coming. That was key,
because if you didn't know you had no chance. If he threw a really good one,
the chances of catching it were pretty good, but the chances, what you hoped to
do was just knock it down. I had a few of them which totally missed my glove
and hit my body. You imagine if it is hard to catch, think how impossible it
would be to hit. The problem was, if it wasn't a good one it just had a decency
to sit right there and it sometimes got hit pretty hard. But now most of the
time, now I got him in Seattle in '82 and '83 and, and he through a lot more.
At the end of his career, at the end of '78, he didn't have to throw that many
'cause he had very good stuff. He won the Cy Young that year because he had
very good stuff, not because he had the spitter.
bring up a good subject. Is there too much effort placed in early player
development - I mean I'm talking high school and college - for kids to look at
the radar gun? I mean is there a place for a Greg Maddox or a Jamie Moyer?
Sweet: That is the problem. People out in
professional baseball, we don't put that much emphasis on the radar gun. It's
only a tool. Unfortunately, for us, anybody can read a radar gun, so people who
don't really know that much about pitching and about the small intricacies that
you are looking for as a pitcher, they put too much emphasis. High school --
college coaches, the radar gun becomes way too important for them. In
professional ball, we use it nothing more than as a tool. Obviously, we want to
know how hard a guy throws, but we also look at other things. How free and easy
they throw, how much movement they have on a ball, the command they have on a
ball. So, I think there is too much emphasis put on it and at times we take it
away in professional baseball we don't let guys know what they are throwing in
the minor leagues.
OBC: Do you have any insight on any
of the other pitchers that you've worked with? Are there any that stick out
Sweet: I would say
Gaylord sticks out; but I would say Rollie Fingers, obviously, stands out. He
would throw pitches -- his reputation -- I think he had no fear. He would go up
there and throw pitches that maybe weren't the best pitches but because of his
reputation, I think hitters were intimidated and didn't get good pieces of
them. Just amazing how he would challenge people with one pitch after another
over the plate for strikes and get outs. Randy Jones you mentioned, if he threw
81 miles an hour, it was too hard. His ideal, he stayed on the radar gun early
in his career. He was an early guy that the gun was very, very important in
'78. He wanted to be between 78 and 80 miles an hour. That is when his sinker
worked the best, was right around 79mph.
OBC: Last question
How'd you like
those "Pumpkin Patch" Padres uniforms of the 1970's? There are some people who
want to know if you look back on that and look at your baseball cards and go,
you know, "What were they thinking?"
Sweet: Yea, I just shake my head. There were some ugly
uniforms back then. The yellow ones or orange ones or whatever color you want
to call it - the old Padre ones - the yellow that we used to wear looked like
new born baby crap.