You're a manager for a minor league baseball team, the Brewers, out of Milwaukee. How did you get there?
Well, that’s a long and somewhat involved tale. Looking at me now, you may find it hard to believe that I was once touted as the next Ty Cobb. Yup. I was. I had the baseball world on a string. I was a “can’t miss prospect,” the talk of the town as they say, until that fateful day, when my teammate and now current nemesis and rival Chip McNally got in my way chasing down a fly ball. He just had to try and steal the limelight. That was always Chip. It’s how he got he nickname “ Hollywood .” He still claims to this day that he never heard me call for the ball, and that it was his play anyway, but that’s not what others say. It was mine all the way. The result was a busted knee and the end (a few years later) to what could have been a long, noteworthy career. So, because baseball gets in your blood and beckons to be satisfied, I began coaching and managing. It’s not quite the same as playing, but it sure is better than putting on a three piece suit every morning and pushing papers across a desk in some godforsaken office. I’m out there in the sun, with the smell of grass and pine tar, doing what I love in a city that I also love. And, one day, with a little luck, I will get a chance to manage in the majors. I’m thinking that my incredible discovery – Mickey Tussler – just may get me there a little sooner than I thought.
You 'discovered' pitching phenom Mickey Tussler. Tell us how that happened.
Yes, finding Mickey was, as I already suggested, the discovery of a lifetime. I was on a scouting trip, all set to see another prospect whose name I have completely forgotten by now, when I ran into a little car trouble. So I run my car into this ditch. Now I'm in the middle of nowhere, with nobody to help me, and obviously no chance of keeping my appointment. Boy was I ticked off. I staggered up the road a bit, to a very old farmhouse. I wandered up the dirt drive, hoping to find someone who could help me, when I heard this unusual "popping sound" coming from the back area of the barn. I followed the sound. It did not take long to discover its source. It was there I witnessed the most amazing sight -- this young, very powerful, somewhat quirky farm boy throwing apples into a barrel turned on its side -- throwing with power and accuracy from what must have been well over 100 feet away. One after the other. Splat. Right in the center of the barrel. I don' think he missed one time. Not one! It was remarkable. And what made it all the more surreal is that this boy was obviously "not right" -- by that I mean he was just a little off, maybe slow or something. Quirky. You understand. But despite the oddity, he captivated me instantly. Really. I've been around the game a long time, and I have never seen anything like this kid. It's only now that I understand Mickey has a condition of some sort that makes him special. It is challenging at times for us as a team, but Mickey has made al the difference fro the Brew Crew. After a little instruction about pitching mechanics and such, and more than a little TLC, I now have what I believe to be the most incredible pitching arm baseball has ever seen. Come out to a game and watch this kid do his thing!
What drew you to Mickey?
Of course what interested me immediately was the boy’s sheer ability. Power and accuracy are quite a combination for any ballplayer, especially pitchers. I knew, just knew, that I could harness his raw ability into something magical. It worked our very well to say the least. But I also want to say that a good part of the boy’s appeal lies in who he is. His approach to certain things is certainly different, but I have to add that the boy’s simplicity and genuine nature make him truly special. I have developed real feelings for the boy. I sort of feel responsible for him, like a father. You know? I think Mickey appreciates that, as does his mother Molly, especially since Mickey’s father is not exactly the nicest guy.
How was Mickey different from your other players?
Mickey is different in two very notable ways. First, he is the most purely gifted of any player I have EVER had. Period. That elevates his status right there. Mickey does things on the field that have never been done before – that will never be done again by anyone else. He is a “game changer” for sure as the old expression goes. More importantly, Mickey sees the world differently from his teammates. His condition leads him down some different paths, but that’s okay with me and all of the guys here. And you should see this kid with anything related to numbers. It’s amazing.
You had some trouble at the end of the last season. Did you think Mickey would ever come back to play ball again?
Well, did I think he would? No, mostly because his mother was so adamantly opposed to it. However, I did always retain hope that he would. And with a little persuasion and some serious groveling, I managed to allay most of Mickey’s mom’s fears and Mickey’s as well. Now the Baby Bazooka is back and he is better than ever.
This season, you have another new player who brings his own challenges. Can you tell us a little about this situation?
Unfortunately, the Brewer family lost captain and Milwaukee icon Raymond “Boxcar” Miller to cancer earlier this year. It was a devastating blow to all of us, especially Mickey. I think it was the kid’s first experience with this sort of loss. The two of them were tight and Boxcar helped Mickey a lot when Mickey first arrived. Naturally, you can never replace someone like Boxcar. I was, however, fortunate enough to sign another catcher – one who was a standout in the Negro Leagues – and he has filled in very nicely. Lester Sledge has all the tools that a manager wants to see from his catcher. He can do it all. The only thing he cannot do is enlighten some of the ignorant slobs who still do not want to see integration of black and white on a baseball field. Cripe, it’s been a couple of years now since Jackie broke in with the Dodgers and we still have idiots sending hate mail and making threats to guys like Lester. But, all of us have Lester’s back, and I am positive that this guy’s performance on the field is going to silence many of his critics. It has already begun to happen.
What would you most like people to understand about Mickey and baseball?
That Mickey is a special talent, but also a special person. And, being one doesn’t mean he cannot be the other. Folks need to open their minds to things that are not familiar. If they do, they might be surprised.