Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Countdown to Opening Day: An alarmingly long interview with Tom Hamilton, voice of the Indians and guy we’re sorta obsessed with

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2008 at 1:32 PM

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Talk to us, Tom. Talk to us.
Opening Day is only five short days away, which means it’s less than a week until we get to hear the golden voice of Indians announcer Tom Hamilton. Cleveland baseball just wouldn’t be the same without his trademark, “Swung on and belted to deep left… AWAYYY back… gone!”, or, “Swung on and missed…. BALLGAME!,” or the simple but divine, “How about that!” For any true Indians fan who listens to the radio with the TV turned down, or the expatriate friends of the feather living far from home, Hammy’s voice is enough to give you goosebumps, or cry, or, if you’re me and don’t have much else to live for, both. For my money, he’s the best in the business. (I’ve only heard, like, three other announcers, but screw it: My money’s on Tom). Entering his 19th year in the Tribe’s radio booth, Hamilton kindly agreed to have his brain picked on some of the team’s burning questions for this year and beyond. We talked for more than an hour. I would have stayed on the phone for six. Is that weird? Click through to find out Hammy’s opinions on C.C’s contract status, the imminent demise of the DavidJasonDelluciMichaels platoon, why Asdrubal Cabrera will be batting second to start the season, which minor leaguers will make an impact in 2008, why the Indians are the favorites in the AL, and the strangest request he’s ever gotten from a fan. – Vince Grzegorek C-Notes: Cliff Lee officially became the 5th starter yesterday. The general consensus is that he has the stuff to succeed, but it’s all mental issues with him. Which version of Lee are we going to see, 2005 or 2007? Tom Hamilton: I think he'll be fine. The thing that hurt him last year is that he got hurt, and then he never got caught up. He missed all that time. You're playing catch up and then he started to press. I look at a guy for three years prior to last year who averaged 15 wins a season. I think last year was not a trend. This spring he’s looked terrific. How important is it to have Laffey and Sowers waiting in the wings even though they’ll start the year in Buffalo? Last year we saw Fausto and Laffey step in with great success after injuries to Westbrook and Lee. With pitchers you never know, but seldom does a team use only five starters for an entire season. It just doesn't happen. The Indians feel that you need to have 7 or 8 starters if at all possible, with some in Triple-A that you can call upon when the need is going to arise. That’s the great separator with the Indians and the rest of the AL. Nobody in the AL has the depth of starting pitching that the Indians have. Boston might be close, but their depth has already been challenged with the injury to Curt Schilling. Last year, without Laffey and Carmona, if you lose Westbrook and Lee to injury, you don’t recover. But the Indians are in a great situation with depth at that spot. Will Borowski still be the closer at the end of the year? I hope so, and based on last year he should. It isn’t always pretty, he’ll put you on the edge of your seat, but he gets the job done and that’s the bottom line. He doesn’t let a bad outing impact him for a week. His teammates love to play behind him, and that’s half the battle. I do think, should the Indians have the need and, heaven forbid, he gets hurt, that they’ve protected themselves with Jorge Julio, who just made the team today, Betancourt, and Kobayashi. Will Casey Blake still be the starting third baseman at the end of the year? Or do you think Andy Marte will finally claim the spot? I think Casey is the third baseman from opening day on. Marte has had a tough spring. He made another two errors today and should have had another, but then he goes and wins the game with a three-run homer. That’s the promise that keeps the Indians from giving up on him, but his defense is such that you just can’t afford to put him out there right now. What’s going to happen with the outfield right now. Is Ben Francisco going to make the team, how long is Wedge going to stick with the Delucci/Michaels platoon? Initially, you’re going to see the platoon. But I think at some point you’re going to see Ben Francisco playing a lot in left field. Can Asdrubal Cabrera pick up where he left off? I hope so. He was a critical component of the playoff run and the way the team played in October. He’s so good defensively, and the other thing is that he can give Jhonny Peralta a day off at short and let Jamey Carroll get some time in at second. The tough thing for a second year player like Cabrera is that they come up part way through a season with all the momentum of playing well, and the league doesn’t know anything about them. Now, you’re with the club from day one and you have that bulls-eye on your back. He’ll have to make adjustments, but I think he has a tremendous future. Last year when the Indians were at the trade deadline, and every team basically insisted that Asdrubal Cabrera be part of any package. This kid’s got a chance to be very special. Another question about Cabrera is the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Wedge has said it’ll probably be Michaels/Delucci to start the year. Is that the right decision? I think Eric Wedge is shying away from saying that about Michaels/Delucci batting second now. I think Cabrera will start there, and that’s where he’s been batting for the last five games or so. Who will be the Asdrubal Cabrera of this year – the late-season call up that surprises everyone? First of all, I didn’t know he would do that last year. This year, I think Francisco can be that guy, but he wouldn’t coming out of left field like Cabrera did since he’s already played in the majors. As far as other guys go, Ryan Edell and Reed Santos could be factors in the bullpen later in the season like last year, when guys like Mastny, Lewis, and Perez came out of the minors to be a big part of the bullpen. As far as position players go, I don’t see any position needs right now, nor do I see any guys on the horizon. Does Perez look like he’s got his stamina back after looking tired at the end of last year? He looks good this spring. Last year was the longest he’s ever pitched in a season, and that load takes awhile to get used to. The other thing that will help is guys like Kobayashi, Julio, and Lewis, who will be able to take the load off. The Indians abused Betancourt in terms of innings last year, and he obviously came through. Do you think his work load will be lighter this year? When it comes to crunch time, you’re going to go to the guys who have earned your trust. Betancourt will be in all the critical games in the eighth inning, but the team definitely has depth in the bullpen to help him out. Are you a sabermetrics guy? Are you looking at OPS+, BABIP, WHIP, K/BB ratio? I look at some stats, but I don’t get too hung up on the numbers. I look at OBP, which is obviously important, but the biggest stats to me are still RBIs and Runs Scored. That’s what the game comes down to. Some people believe in the newer stats more than I do, but you can drive people crazy with too many numbers Obviously, the organizations know this stuff, and after Moneyball, there’s an increased interest among fans. Will we see announcers and those in the mainstream media start using this stuff eventually? In my situation, you’re broadcasting for the majority of the people. You have to be careful with stats just like you have to be careful with your vocabulary. There’s nothing that irks me more than picking up Sports Illustrated and having to go to the dictionary. You’re using words that common people don’t use. That’s just benefiting the writer’s ego. Granted, you want to have a vocabulary that’s not at a 5th grade level, but you have to understand who you’re talking to. How far do you have the Indians in the playoffs this year? I learned from Herb Score that it doesn’t’ do any good to make predictions. That being said, this team has a legitimate chance to play deep into October because of its pitching depth. It’s remarkable compared to Boston or New York or Detroit in terms of the teams’ payrolls. But I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t another memorable October. What about the Tigers this year? You really have to wonder about their pitching, even though they’re probably going to score a ton of runs. But it’ll be great to have a bona fide rivalry in the central division. And it’s a match up of polar opposites. Small payroll versus big payroll; a team built on pitching versus a team built on hitting. Is CC an Indian for 2009? We’ve been down this road too many times to worry about it. The one thing you learn is that it’s truly a business. My general feeling is the longer things go the lesser chance you have of keeping a player, but that’s the same thing I thought about Travis Hafner last year. I don’t doubt that C.C. wants to stay in Cleveland, but it’s just a matter of how much he wants that. You can always go on the market and get a bigger contract than you would get if you stayed with your current team. But I try to stay optimistic. Just enjoy the moment. This team is built to win today. If you were a guy and someone told you that you could date Jessica Alba for the next eight years, wouldn’t you just enjoy those eight years and worry about the ninth when it comes? Who do you have coming out of the NL? In the AL, it’s easy to name the teams with the best chance. You have Boston, New York, Toronto – I like their team this year – Cleveland, Detroit, Anaheim and probably Seattle. I think those are seven playoff caliber teams and three of them aren’t going to make it. Then I look at the NL, and I don’t think there’s a team as good as any of those teams I mentioned in the AL. I actually think that the four best teams in the NL are actually all in the NL West. I have a lot of respect for Colorado and Dan O’Dowd. I would have loved, and would love to see and Indians and Rockies World Series just from a baseball standpoint. You have two teams that are built with good scouting and player development, not just with the biggest checkbook. Who did you idolize growing up as far as announcers go? You listen to the people who were broadcasting in your area. So, in Wisconsin, where I grew up, it was Early Gillespie when it was the Milwaukee Braves, and after the Braves left and it was the Brewers it was Merle Harmon and Bob Uecker. But it wasn’t just that it was the guys in my area, they were really good broadcasters. Most memorable game you’ve broadcast? Nothing will ever top my first game. You spend all those years working to try and climb the ladder and get to the big leagues and you know how much work goes into making a dream a reality. But after that game the most memorable was Game 6 of the 1995 ALCS against Seattle when we won the pennant and Kenny Lofton scored from second base on that past ball. That’s not something you see that often, and for him to do that in that kind of setting was just something you never forget. Strangest request you’ve gotten from a fan? A lot of people ask me to record their voice mail messages for them, but the strangest was when I had to record the introductions of a wedding party just like the bridesmaids and groomsmen were players. I didn’t mind doing it, but I know how my wife would have felt if I had come to her with that idea for our wedding. There wouldn’t have been a wedding. Is it going to snow on March 31? I don’t pay any attention to the forecast until the day of the game. Anything can happen in Cleveland. But I don’t think we’ll ever have an opener that will ever compare to last year’s in terms of just being bizarre. I couldn’t believe how many people sat through the snow. Of course, ten years from now, 250,000 will claim to have been there. We’re putting the over/under at five on the number of times you say Jacob’s Field instead of Progressive Field? And, for the record, we’ve got the under. I’ve said it plenty already. Our engineer is going to have to get a cattle prod or something -- that might be the way to keep me line. Usually, that kind of stuff happens when you’re not reading. It’s when you’re just talking about stuff and you have to come up with something to entertain the fans during a game that’s not very entertaining. I say it too much already, but I’m sure I’ll be informed about it when I do it this year. How much, if at all, do you miss baseball in the offseason? I don’t miss it at all. I’ve got a family, four kids, and I already miss so much of their lives that I don’t miss baseball at all when the season’s done. But I do have the best job in the world.

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