Harold Reynolds admits he’s not the biggest fan of sabermetrics.
The MLB Network commentator is more focused on the game being played than he is the math behind the stats.
Still, the 12-year big league veteran and former All-Star infielder certainly knows baseball and its hot topics, big contracts and player movement.
Reynolds, 54, will be the featured speaker at the Fresno Grizzlies’ 54th annual Hot Stove Gala on Saturday night at the Fresno Convention Center.
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The Bee caught up with the two-time All Star and touched on a variety of topics heading into his local appearance.
Question: Have you ever been to Fresno?
Answer: I’ve driven through Fresno but never played there. I heard about Fresno a million. I’m from the West (born in Eugene, Ore., and raised in Corvalis). I always knew they had great baseball. Rex Hudler, I knew him and knew him as being the king of Fresno. I work with Heidi Watney and she thinks it’s the best place on Earth. I know it’s hot in the summers.
We see you on TV, always seem to be smiling, having fun. What have you enjoyed more, playing baseball for a living or watching and commentating on baseball?
Nothing compares to playing. You can’t beat that. But I do have the second-best gig next to playing: That’s talking about it. I like what I do. So I smile. It’s fun. … I feel like I’ve kind of found my niche. I enjoy doing what I’m doing.
You like to tell it how it is, even if it’s some blunt honesty. Is that tough to do when you’re also probably close to some of these players and coaches?
I haven’t had a whole lot of fall-back. I’m pretty straight forward, pretty honest. But it’s mainly talking baseball, not personal attacks. I always try to not forget how hard it is to play. Hopefully that comes off in my bluntness. It’s not like I never made that mistake. I did. I made those kind of mistakes myself.
My biggest battle comes from the sabermetric community because I’m always talking about there’s a game being played, not numbers. That’s my biggest challenge.
Ever hold back?
I think everybody has to guard your tongue a little bit. You can’t just flat-out say everything that you’re thinking. But I get a chance to say quite a bit.
How do you spend your offseasons leading into spring training?
I do a morning show with the MLB Network, “Hot Stove.” That’s five days a week. That keeps me busy. We’re on top of all of the news. That keeps me pretty sharp knowing what’s going on with baseball. Other than that, it’s a lot of family time, a lot of Oregon Ducks football. (Reynolds didn’t play at Oregon — he was drafted out of Cañada College in 1979.)
Oregon finished runner-up in the national championship to Ohio State, you know ...
That was the worst game I’ve seen us play in probably five, six years. It was tough. You catch two passes early in the game, it might’ve been a different outcome. Heartbreaking. I was there. I try to see three, four games a year.
You moved up quickly during you minor-league career, reaching Triple-A by your third season. But then you spent parts of the next four years playing in Triple-A. Those Triple-A guys who struggle to permanently stay in the majors, what advice do you have for them?
You’ve just got to keep putting the numbers up. You can’t whine about it. I think what happens a lot of time — I know it did with me — is you don’t really get a fair look. You get up and get an opportunity to play three, four days in a row; it’s a short stint. You have to go back down and continue to produce.
I remember one time I hit .360 and they sent me back down to Triple-A. And I’m like, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ And my agent said, ‘Do it again!’ You’ve got to continue to just produce and continue to work on your game.
The turning point in the big leagues for me was: No. 1, I got an opportunity to play. And secondly, my infield instructor, Marty Martinez, was like a dad for me and he said, ‘You’re going to keep going back down to the minor leagues if you keep trying to do what they’re telling you to do. Do what got you here.’ That was the biggest eye-opener for me.
If someone’s telling you, ‘Hey, you need to hit the ball away on every pitch.’ But you’ve never done that your whole life, now you’re trying to do something that you’ve never done. And I think the stubbornness helps you stay in the big leagues. You’ve got to be stubborn and believe in your abilities. That was probably the turning point for me.
What do you think about the Triple-A level?
Triple-A is huge. It’s important. It’s the life of an organization. You’re going to face older people. You’re going to face guys who for the first time can throw a nasty split and command it, or a slider and can command it. You’re always going to come across someone who should be in the big leagues but they’re in Triple-A. You get that chance to measure your talent every night.
Each level is different. A-ball, you’re facing crazy talent. Someone is going to be able to throw 99 (mph) but doesn’t know where it’s going. In Double-A, you’re going to get somebody who can throw a slider for the first time in your life. And you’re going to be like, ‘What was that?’ You’re learning. And then by the time you get to Triple-A, it’s a combination of all those things. You’ve got talent. You’ve got somebody who’s harnessed their abilities. And you’ve got somebody who was sent down and he’s ticked off because he’s down there.
It’s a growing time.
Baseball is going to implement rules to try to speed up the game at the minor-league level. Think it’s needed?
The pace of the game, yes, needs to speed up. To watch games drag the way they do — a guy takes a swing then steps out; he’s looking at his glove, looking at the stands — I’m just like, ‘Come on. Get in the box!’
What’s happened is a combination of things and I consider it baseball’s fault and what we’ve fallen into with pitch counts. Teams are trying to take pitches, get deep into counts, get that pitcher out of the game. And as a result, we’ve slowed the game down, we’re not putting the ball into play and we’re losing people’s interest.
Nobody’s running the bases!
If you play a faster game, a more aggressive game, guys are going to get in the box and you’re going to have a better product.
What do you know of the Astros’ farm system?
They’re going to have some great, young talent coming along. That stuff is all subject as to who’s looking at it. With (shortstop Carlos Correa, the overall No. 1 pick in 2012) and their ability to draft some No. 1 picks and high draft choices, you’re going to see some good, young talent coming along. But I don’t know if it’s No. 1 in baseball. If you look at whoever has the best international signs, that’s probably going to have the best minor league (talent). That’s the hot bed: international players.
How about Mark Appel, the first-round pick out of Stanford who’s considered one of the top prospects in the Astros farm system?
I’ve spoke to Mark; I’ve got to know him. I haven’t really seen him pitch a lot. I think he’s an exciting kid who’s figuring out where he’s at. The one thing you’ve got to do when you’re a minor-league player is you go through: ‘Am I good? Do I belong?’ And I think he’s starting to get to that point where he believes he belongs, because the talent is there.
The fact that the San Francisco Giants won three World Series titles in the past five years but haven’t been able to repeat, can they still be classified as a dynasty? No one has repeated since the New York Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000.
You’ve got to start talking dynasty for what they’ve been able to do. Who wins three in five years? That’s pretty remarkable. And to do it in the format that we play today where you have to go through wild-card teams and an extra round of the postseason. The series are longer. It’s a little bit more challenging for the strength of a team. It’s pretty special what they’ve been able to do.
What do you think about former Fresno State standout Casey McGehee, the third baseman who signed with the San Francisco Giants this offseason?
Casey is back out West now. That’ll be good for him. When he was with Milwaukee, he was an All-Star player. And then for him to go to Japan and come back and make the adjustments, I was really happy for Casey.
How is Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister’s career progressing? He also used to play at Fresno State.
Doug Fister, I believe, is one of the best pitchers in baseball. And clearly now, he’s on one of the best staffs in all of baseball. He’s a guy that, you throw out the record when he was in Seattle and when he got traded to Detroit, you’re just like ‘Wow, this guy is filthy.’ So he’s just now getting into his prime years. I think we’re going to see some great things from him.
Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton signed an MLB record $325 million contract over 13 years. Surprised to see that big of a contract?
You saw it coming with (Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Albert) Pujols and a couple of guys started getting close to that number. So you knew this next generation, this next wave of good players, somebody eventually would get there. I didn’t expect to see it coming from the Florida Marlins. That’s probably the shock more than anything else. I thought he’d have to leave the Marlins to get that type of money. That kind of shows you how the money is flowing in baseball right now.
Guys perceived or known to have used performance-enhancing drugs have been left out of the Hall of Fame. Is that the correct stance voters should continue to take or should they get in at some point?
I think history kind of gives you a better picture as you look back. And hopefully, we’re distancing ourselves and able to look back at things from a different perspective. It’s a tough answer, because you really don’t know who did or did not. And I know right now the voters have a very difficult task of figuring out what to believe or not believe. I’d be really surprised if there wasn’t a player already in the Hall of Fame who took PEDs.
What do you think of the possibility to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens both being left out of the Hall of Fame?
I’m in the generation that watched Pete Rose not get in. I just hope that as time goes by, we don’t become numb without looking at things from a real clear perspective. I think time will be the healer of all that. As we distance ourselves and start to see that generation of players in a different light, then maybe we will see those players in the Hall.
I just don’t know personally if they do belong. You look at their numbers and you look at how they compete and you say ‘Yeah, of course they’re Hall of Famers.’ But I don’t buy into the ‘Well, they were Hall of Famers before their numbers got inflated.’ I don’t buy that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player like Barry Bonds in my whole life. He’s the greatest player I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to say that and not have that guy in the Hall of Fame.
Did you ever consider using PEDs?
I never was tempted. I don’t think I really knew about it until I got into TV. Then I was like, ‘What? That’s why I’m not hitting the ball and the home runs every night.’ Here’s what the weird thing for me was: I played at a time when weightlifting just started. It had been like taboo to lift weights. And then guys started to lift weights. And it was like, ‘Wow. Look how much stronger they’re getting by lifting weights.’ I had no idea they were taking other things to help them. I was naive to it.
I didn’t recognize what was going on until I looked back some years later and I’m like, ‘No wonder this guy started hitting home runs.’
Who’s the best player you played with and against?
The best I ever played with was (Ken) Griffey Jr. I didn’t play against Barry a lot. But Rickey Henderson was off the charts, could do anything on the field. The best player I watched broadcasting was Barry Bonds.
Give some fantasy baseball advice? Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout still considered the best in baseball?
I would have to say Mike Trout is probably the best player. The only hesitation is his close-to-200 strikeouts makes me go, ‘Hmm. Hold on a sec.’
I’ve got to look at Miggy (Miguel Cabrera). What he does is pretty amazing. He’s been hurt the last couple of years, which has prevented him some from what he’s able to do. But it’s still pretty amazing.
Cleveland Indians pitcher Corey Kluber kind of came out of nowhere to win the American League Cy Young. You think he’s legit and can perform at a similar level?
I think he’s just scratching the surface. He’s just figuring it out and he’s going to be around for a long time. I think think Felix (Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners) should’ve won the Cy. But Corey had a great year.
Does Albert Pujols have anymore high-level baseball in him?
I think Albert is getting a bum rap. He’s in one of the toughest ballparks in the majors. And he’s still putting up 20-30 HRs a year. I think Albert has still got it. If Albert was in Baltimore or Texas, I think he’d still hit 35-40 (home runs) a year.
Think Madison Bumgarner can have another great season or will pitching deep into the postseason cause some problems this year?
I think he relishes in the fact that people are now starting to recognize how great he was and can be. I think this is just a springboard to greatness for him.