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The danger of non-celebrity

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.42.03 AM

This is Skip.

Skip was my first-ever counselor, at Camp Kiwi, in 1978.

Being that I was only 6 at the time, I don’t remember much about Skip. But let’s say I did—and let’s say I didn’t like him. And let’s say, in this space, I described Skip as a lazy, dopy moron who couldn’t tie his shoes.

Skip could sue me. And he’d likely win.

Now, let’s say—instead of Skip—I wrote these words about, oh, this guy. Will Clark. Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 11.14.55 AM

Let’s say I wrote, “Will Clark is a lazy, dopy moron who couldn’t tie his shoes.” Hell, let’s take it another step. I, Jeffrey R. Pearlman, do believe Will Clark to be a lazy, dopy moron who can’t tie his shoes. Well, not lazy—guy worked hard. But dopy—yes. Unable to tie his shoes—yes.

Will Clark can sue me. And he’d almost certainly lose.

Why the disparity? Because, in this country, public figures have to go through absolute hell to win a lawsuit. Skip only has to show that he was injured. Will Clark has to show that he was injured—and that there was a malicious effort to cause said injuries. It’s an enormous leap, and it’s the catch that protects rags like the National Enquirer from being repeatedly taken to the cleaners by damaged celebrities. If the Enquirer writes about, oh, Tom Hanks’ potential sex change, it isn’t enough for the information to be false for Hanks to win. The actor has to prove that the Enquirer went out of its way to fabricate. That’s a toughie.

Which leads me to Andrew Robert Rector, the sleeping Yankee fan.

If you missed this story, Rector was caught dozing by ESPN cameras during a game between the Yanks and Red Sox on April 13. The broadcasters, Dan Shulman and John Kruk, discussed Rector, jokingly calling him “oblivious” to how good an advertised product was. They stayed on him for a couple of minutes, but clearly in a lighthearted manner. There was nothing mean, nothing cruel. Just … in-game banter.

He’s now suing ESPN for $10 million.

Here’s the clip:

Rector claims he “suffered substantial injury” to his “character and reputation” and “mental anguish, loss of future income and loss of earning capacity.” Silly, right? Stupid? Nonsense?

I assure you, ESPN’s lawyers are freaking out. And the network will almost certainly settle—then follow with an in-house memo making clear on-air personalities cease from discussing fans in compromised/awkward positions.

And, for the record, Skip was an awesome guy.

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Athletes Blog News QUAZ

Rudy May

Screen-Shot-2014-01-09-at-12.11.51-AMLife is quirky, and I have the proof.

Two months ago, my dear friends Robyn and Dave got married. As I was writing the card, I thought I’d be funky and tape something to the front. I looked around and looked around and there, sitting on a desk, was a random, out-of-place 1973 Rudy May Topps baseball card. I had purchased it, oh, 30 years earlier at the Stormville Flea Market, and somehow it stuck around. Hence, I pasted it to the note and never thought much of Rudy May again …

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 1.24.26 PMUntil a week later. That’s why—without rhyme or reason—Rudy May’s name popped up on my Twitter feed. I added him as a friend because, hey, who wouldn’t add Rudy May as a friend. When I ultimately asked whether he’d join thw Quaz party, Rudy offered an enthusiastic, “Sure!”

And here we are.

For those of you who don’t know, Rudy May was a fantastic Major League lefthanded pitcher; one whose 16-year career resulted in 152 wins, a 3.46 ERA and an appearance in the 1981 World Series. Here, Rudy talks about the fading away of pro athletes; why fishing trumps baseball and why Earl Weaver trumps Billy Martin. One can follow Rudy on Twitter here, and visit his website here.

Rudy May, The Quaz is your kingdom …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Rudy, so there’s this thing with retired athletes that’s sorta funny. The insanely famous ones, we follow (Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, etc). The insanely infamous ones, we follow (Mike Tyson, Steve Howe). The rest, however, sort of vanish. They drift off into the real world, rarely to be heard from again. Rudy, I did some digging—and found almost nothing on your life since retiring from the Majors in 1983. Please, fill us in. What is your life? What have you been doing?

RUDY MAY: I found out in spring training of 1984 that I couldn’t pitch anymore because of injuries to my back, so I retired. When I retired I was set to never work again. After about 10 years, however, my daughters thought it was best that I go back to work, so they badgered me until I did.

I had a friend who lived in Fresno who introduced me to the convenience store business. When I decided to go work, however, I realized I didn’t know how to work. I didn’t know what to do. I had a friend who was managing a convenience store, and he introduced me to it. So that’s what I started doing—making $3.25 an hour.

I struggled at first and I quit. But I went back and thought to myself, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this well.” Within time, I was managing three convenience stores successfully—so much so that they moved me up the corporate ladder to a marketing consultancy position. It wasn’t until I became a marketing consultant that I worked regular business hours and I liked it—9-to-5, five days a week, weekends off. When that company eventually went bankrupt, and I moved onto British Petroleum as a marketing consultant, where I worked for 20 years.  I really enjoyed it there and had a good retirement earlier this year. It was really, really good.

My wife, my grandchildren, fishing and work in the yard: that’s my life now and what really enhances me. At this point, I take more pride in my fishing accomplishments than anything I did in baseball.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 12.14.38 AMJ.P.: In 1962 you were an undrafted free agent by the Minnesota Twins out of Castlemont High School in Oakland. You were 18-years old, un-hyped, unheralded, an African-American kid during a time of much racial uncertainty in America—and you’re sent off to Bismarck of the Northern League. I can’t even imagine what this must have been like. So, Rudy, what was this like?

R.M.: I did really, really well in high school in both baseball and football but I didn’t know anything about racial uncertainty—other than my parents’ talking about it. I was born in Coffeyville, Kansas but we left there when I was a year old. I was raised on the West Coast where my schools were predominantly white.

When I left California, to go to Spring Training in Fernandina Beach, Florida—I was in for a big surprise.  It was in a small town. My initial reporting orders said I was to report to the hotel in the town but it turned out it was for the white players only, so I ended up staying in a black home with the other black players in spring training.

I got into a little bit of trouble because I was the only black player from the West Coast. I didn’t know that I was not conducting myself as I should have been. For instance, the clubhouse was segregated. The whites were on one side and the blacks were on the other … and I was there a whole week before I realized that. I didn’t know. One of my teammates told me, “Why are you going in the front door of the clubhouse? Why are you drinking out of the fountain—you’re not supposed to do that. There’s a bucket in the back for us to drink out of.”

When spring training broke, they were going to send me to a higher class team but they thought if they sent me to the South, there was going to be trouble—so they sent me to Bismarck, North Dakota … and it was fine up there. No problems.

I remember the next year (1964), I was in the White Sox organization. I was playing in the Carolina League on a team that predominantly black—but, at the time, the bathrooms still had signs on the doors that said ‘white men only’ or ‘colored men only’ and ballparks had segregated seating. On the day the Civil Rights Act was passed, we were in Kinston, North Carolina and we were checked out of the black hotel in the middle of the afternoon, and walked through the town to the white hotel—we were scared to death!

J.P.: It’s amazing how all the different miniature Rudy May bios on the Internet fail to mention, perhaps, your most amazing baseball achievement: On April 18, 1965, after less than three full minor league seasons, you reached the Majors, starting for the California Angels against the Detroit Tigers at Dodger Stadium. In that game you went nine innings (against Dennt McLain, as well as a lineup featuring Al Kaline and Willie Horton in the middle), allowing one hit, one run and striking out 10 … and the Angels wound up losing. Rudy, what do you remember about the build-up to that start, and the start itself?

R.M.: I don’t remember a lot from that day. I was so young.

I had made the team out of spring training. Dean Chance developed a blister in his first game, so my manager, Bill Rigney, told me a couple days beforehand that I would be starting in his place.

I told my mom and dad, and asked them if they wanted to come down and watch me play. My dad and my brother flew down from Oakland (it was the first time my dad had ever flown).

As for the game, I remember Jake Wood getting a looping single into center where Jose Cardenal did everything he could to catch it—but couldn’t. I really don’t remember striking out Kaline or Horton, but I know I did. The game was like something that happened but then it had come and gone. It was a great feat, I just don’t remember a lot about it—I was that young.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 12.15.03 AMJ.P.: I’ve always wondered what Major League clubhouses were like, back in the 1960s and early-70s, when it comes to race relations (I read an article where your dad warned you, “Blacks don’t play baseball!”). There was this odd mix of white Southern ballplayers—who were raised with segregation, and the idea that blacks needed to know their place—with black ballplayers expressing themselves by growing out their hair, speaking out, etc. Was it weird? Uncomfortable? Odd? None of the above?

R.M.: My dad said to me after I pitched my first major league game, “I never would have believed that I would have a son who would play in the Major Leagues.”

My dad played baseball as a catcher and he loved it. And his dad loved it. I, on the other hand, didn’t know much about it. As a youngster I used to watch my dad play for the Navy team. He had all the equipment in the car, and when he wasn’t watching, I used to go and play with it.

But Dad would let me know that there was no place for a black baseball player. Long before that, they had Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays—but dad didn’t want me to go that way because he didn’t believe I had the ability to do it.

My aunt lived across the street from where we played baseball in high school. When we played, a lot of Major League scouts would come and watch. I played with six guys who signed to play pro ball (one was Joe Morgan). My aunt would tell my parents about all the scouts, and how well I was doing. She would give the scouts cards to my mom—but my dad was not interested. He would use baseball to get me to do well in school, and do chores around the house. I had to keep my grades up because there was a chance I was going to get a scholarship, as I was an All-Northern California football player. I was not doing well in English, so my dad told me that I could only pick one sport: football or baseball. I said football—so I played football.

When the football season ended, the baseball one started. Both my parents worked so they didn’t know I kept playing baseball. One night, I came home late and my mom asked me where I had been. I had to tell her and she said, “Well, I can’t protect you. You know your dad is going to find out … but I can’t protect you.”

We had a game against Oakland High School, and I threw a no-hitter. When I got home, I walked in the door, and was sent to my room by my mom. My aunt called and told my mom that all the scouts were excited and talking about me, and they want to talk to her and my dad about my prospects. My mom asked me: “Are you really that good?” and I told her “I’m better than that.”

My dad was very angry. The next morning, my mom came in the room and asked me if I wanted to play baseball. I said yes, so she said “OK, but don’t lie to your dad. He’s going to ask you some questions.”

I went into the living and my dad was reading the morning papers, and he said: “Hey boy … are you playing ball? Don’t lie to me because I’m reading the paper and I see ‘Rudy May pitches no hitter against Oakland High,’ and I was at work yesterday, so I know it wasn’t me! Is this you?” So when I answered yes, he sent me back to my room. My mom eventually came in and said, “Your dad wants to see what you have … I’m serious.”

So we went outside and I started throwing to him. He had his catching gear on, and after a few pitches, he said to my mom: “This boy’s got nothing”—but I can see he’s starting to flinch at my throws.

My mom walks over and she says, “Dad says you don’t have anything.” I said I couldn’t throw the ball hard because he was flinching, and that if I did, he was going to get hurt. She said, “Do you want to play ball?” and I was like, “Yeah!” so she told me to “Give him what you have.”

I threw a three-quarter fastball, he flinched, missed the ball. It hit him in the chest and knocked him over. I ran down there to pick him up and he yelled, “You go get that ball!” When we went back inside and my dad said, “I’m going to let you play but you have to bring those grades up!”

Two years after that, I was in the big leagues.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 12.14.27 AMJ.P.: On June 15, 1974, you were purchased by the Yankees from the Angels. I know guys feel uncomfortable being traded. I know guys struggle with free agency. What was it like being, literally, purchased by a team? And what was it like for you, a Californian, to have to relocate to New York?

R.M.: It was a blessing in disguise when I got sold. It enhanced my career—it was like I had never played before and I was a whole new player. When I was with California, I was on the brink of being a superb AL pitcher when I hurt my back and it was like I lost everything. I lost my desire to play and my ability at that point. Man, 1973 was a bad year—I wound up in the hospital because of my back. They said I was faking it, that I wasn’t hurt. I had thrown three shutouts in a row and then my back went against Kansas City. For the rest of the year, I was trying to pitch with a bad back. On top of that, things weren’t going well with my pitching coach, and he was real instrumental in getting me sold to the Yankees.

The strange thing about it was that it happened on Monday after the game (June 15). The Angels were playing the Yankees in Anaheim Stadium. So on the Tuesday, I just went to the Yankees clubhouse (next door). On the Wednesday, when the game was over, I got on the bus and flew to New York. When I got off the bus, it was so different than California. I was left standing with nowhere to go. I didn’t even know where to go! So I went to the hotel where we stayed as a visiting player and I checked in there. After getting a good rest, a friend picked me up, and I stayed with him. It was weird.

J.P.: Midway through the 1976 season you were involved in my all-time favorite Major League trade, because it includes so many cool names and interesting players. It involved you, Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor and Dave Pagan going to the Baltimore Orioles for Doyle Alexander, Jimmy Freeman, Elrod Hendricks, Ken Holtzman and Grant Jackson. What do you recall of the trade? Also, that season, the Yankees went on to play in the World Series—without you. What does that feel like? Did you watch the games? Celebrate? Cry?

R.M.: I didn’t watch the games. I didn’t celebrate or cry.

Something really traumatic happened to me in the weeks leading up to the trade, that’s hard for me to write or talk about even now.

Early in 1976, I pitched against Cleveland. I pitched well, but we lost the game. After the game, I went into Billy Martin’s office because I wanted to talk to him about the game—and he lit me up. He let me know that I would never pitch for him again. I just left it at that and then I didn’t pitch for a while. But things between Billy and I were never the same.

Soon after, Dave Pagan (who took my spot in the rotation) got sick, and he couldn’t pitch a game in Detroit. When I got to the ballpark that day, Billy told me I was pitching that day. Billy said, “I will tell you when you come out of the game!” We had a heated disagreement about me coming out of games prematurely and he didn’t like it when I asked about it. After our talk, he threw a ball at me, and it hit me. That night, I went out and I threw a 1-0 shutout. After the game, we flew to Boston.

The next day, I was in the hotel talking to my mom on the phone when someone came in and told me my wife was there. I knew that was going to cause more trouble with Billy because there was an automatic fine if a wife showed up on the road. I sent her home the next day and everything was fine was fine with Billy at that point.

Then the next night, I was out with Goose Gossage and we stopped at a watering hole, where Billy and Art Fowler happened to be. Goose got into it with Art Fowler. Billy was drunk … I am not going to get into the details—but it was a big hassle. So much so, that that I was psychologically beat.

The season went on and Billy wouldn’t speak to me—and I wouldn’t pitch. One day in Minnesota, Billy was on the clubhouse phone, he looked over at me and started laughing. I didn’t know why. That night, I was back to my room, and Catfish Hunter came back and told me I was trade to the Orioles. Billy had sent him to tell me, instead of telling me himself. I told Catfish I was sorry he had to do that.

It took me a very long time to get over the whole ordeal.

I played for Billy again later in my career but the relationship was superficial. After I retired, I realized that none of it mattered. It was a just a phase in my life and that I needed to forgive Billy. On an old timer’s day, a few years after I retired, I saw him in the clubhouse. I walked up to him, told him that I loved him and that I wished him well. He said the same back to me. We kind of hugged. It wasn’t long after that he died.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 12.13.26 AMJ.P.: Your calling card was your curveball—a nasty, nasty pitch. How did you learn it? How did you throw it? And do you feel like anyone can learn to throw an effective curve—or is there something inherent about the ability?

R.M.: It was certainly inherent. I threw my breaking ball a certain way. There were a lot of other pitchers in baseball who I asked, looked at, and compared myself to … but there was nothing like it. Guys like Nolan Ryan, Andy Messersmith, Bert Blyleven and Sandy Koufax—but I didn’t throw mine like any of them. It was something I learned out of trial and error.

Whitey Ford and Sammy Ellis worked with me. Whitey didn’t teach me as so much as I was self taught, but he showed me the motion and what I needed to do at the end of the pitch to get the most out of it. The more I worked on it, the better it got. People feared it. It was that devastating. I didn’t learn to pitch until late in my career. But when I was on with it, I could throw it at any time in the count. Hitters had to look for it.

J.P.: You retired in 1983—thirty years ago. There’s a line in the movie Everybody’s All-American, where the main character—a long-ago football star—says, “I’ve told the same stories so many times, I can’t remember them actually happening to me?” Do you ever feel that way? Does baseball seem like another life ago? Does Rudy May—the ballplayer—seem like a different person? Another guy?

R.M.: Yes. I see my life as divided into 3 stages:

1) Adolescence/youth

2) Years as a family man and father

3) And now, the elderly years, with the appearance of grandchildren, and the faltering health as a senior citizen.

When I look back at that, those early parts of my life are gone. People see me as Rudy May the baseball player. My neighbors know that of me, but they don’t think of me like that.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 12.12.36 AMJ.P.: While you were a ballplayer you also became a professional diver, and received an NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) license in order to be called upon for emergency jobs. Uh … that’s something I’ve never heard of with a ballplayer. Please explain, Rudy. And do you still dive?

R.M.: It’s something I did and enjoyed immensely. What I did was legal but while I was playing baseball, it was illegal. If some of the teams knew that I was doing it, and knew the extent to what I was doing it, they would have disallowed it. It was written out of my Baltimore contract because I got caught.

I wasn’t making any money in baseball but I was making $400 per hour diving. That was good money. It really supplemented my baseball income (which wasn’t much).

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 12.16.08 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH RUDY MAY:

• Lowest moment of your baseball career?: Retirement

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Lyndon Johnson, Quebec, Google Maps, General Hospital, Abba, Sanford and Son, Jennifer Lawrence, Gloria Steinem, Reggie Jackson, Roberto Duran, cabbage, Alf: Sanford and Son, Roberto Duran, Lyndon Johnson, Gloria Steinem, Reggie Jackson (good when under control), Quebec, all the rest.

• Right now, we give you a month to train, then one start for the University of Delaware baseball team in its game against Towson State. What’s your pitching line?:  9IP, 3H, 1ER, 1BB, 12K—and I get the win. Of course!

• Celine Dion calls—she offers you $5 million to move to Las Vegas for a year and give her 8-year-old son daily 7-hour pitching lessons. You also have to clean her sink and get a tattoo of the Titanic on your neck. You in?: No! Not for $20 million. There’s no fishing in Vegas.

• Five nicest guys you ever played with?: Thurman Munson, Catfish Hunter, Earl Weaver, Dick Howser, Andre Dawson

• What happens after we die?: We go to heaven (or hell).

• The next president of the United States will be …: I don’t know

• Best advice you ever received?: Keep the ball down.

• My daughter seems to like One Direction. I would like this behavior to immediately stop. Any advice?: That’s a tough one. No. Sorry.

• Who would have won in a fight between Earl Weaver and Billy Martin? How many rounds?: Billy would have won the fight but Earl Weaver and Dick Howser were the best two managers I ever played for. Weaver was the epitome of what a manager was supposed to be.

Categories
Athletes Blog News QUAZ

Ron Kittle

kittle

To many baseball fans of the 1980s, Ron Kittle was a bopper.

To me, he was The Bopper.

What I mean to say is that, were 12-year-old Jeff Pearlman offered the choice to pick one ballplayer to homer in a big spot, he’d have likely selected Kittle, who at the time was the Chicago White Sox’s left fielder and middle-of-the-lineup power threat. In 1982, Kittle emerged as the AL Rookie of the Year by hitting 35 home runs with 100 RBI. The next season, he added 32 homers and drove in 74. Yet Kittle was, with rare exception, an all-or-nothing guy. As a rookie, his power was accompanied by a league-high 150 strikeouts. That second season, Kittle hit .215, and whiffed another 137 times. He wound up bouncing to the Yankees, then the Indians, then back to Chicago, then Baltimore, then once more to the White Sox, before retiring in 1991 with 176 home runs, 460 RBI and 744 strikeouts. Baseball Reference says the two players his career best mimics are Steve Balboni and Bo Jackson. That seems about right—lots of oomph, interrupted by myriad strike threes.

Here, Kittle talks about breaking his neck in his first professional game, then bouncing back when few thought he could. He discusses what was, what could have been, how to make the perfect baseball bat bench and why Hall & Oates out-rank Wilson Phillips. These days Ron’s a mainstay on the motivational speaking circuit, and you can buy his handiwork here.

In the midst of World Series week, we appropriately welcome Ron Kittle to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Ron, on your Facebook page you recently wrote, “time to wake up and shake yourself out…loosen up that body and do something fun.sometimes you just need to quit worrying about what others think..who cares..LIVE LIFE and meeting some friends at Cracker Barrel soon …” Ron, I love the carefree aura of this message, because it’s something I struggle with. Ron, how aren’t you burdened? By the inevitability of death? By climate change and Syria and homelessness and tribal warfare? I see the world and, quite often, I’m heartbroken. Help, please …

RON KITTLE: Jeff, I have seen so may things over my life, and I question why things happen or why they make others suffer. What we have done is we have become complacent, and we have forgotten the ability to get better. I’ve said there is always someone who has it worse than you do. I focus on the strengths and work to make myself and others better.

J.P.: You began your professional career after making the Dodgers organization at a tryout camp in 1976. In your first-ever game, you slid across home plate and the catcher landed on your neck … breaking it. I repeat—in your first game, you broke your neck. What did that feel like? Did you know it was broken? And how didn’t you just hang ‘em up there and move on with life?

R.K.: There was no one more bitter about this accident then me. I asked myself Why so many times. I slid across the plate and a high throw came in from right field and the catcher reached off balanced and landed on my neck and shoulders while I was getting up. I just kind of laid there and couldn’t move. No feelings whatsoever. I did not feel any pain—it was more of a lack of motion, After a trip to the hospital, my neck never hurt, but everything else did. After a while I was being treated for shoulder, arm and back issues. I didn’t come back right away, but after the season I was looked at and found they found three crushed vertebrae and a fractured spinal cord. Surgery, the halo and a tough-love father made me want to get stronger.

J.P.: You’re one of the few players I’ve seen who wore glasses all the time. I’ve never seen this asked, or thought to ask it, but what’s it like trying to play all-out Major League Baseball with glasses? What were the complications? The problems? And how much trouble did it cause you?

R.K.: I made baseball my challenge. An old scout said I would never be able to play pro baseball with glasses. I had not much of a choice. I tried hard lenses, but as a catcher the foul balls caused the contacts to fall out. With glasses, the issue was sweat. But you do what you have to do. Most older parks had poor lighting back when I played, so reflections and poor lighting causes issues of subpar vision. You just adapt to what you have to deal with, but having both eyes with different RX, well, you just focus harder

J.P.: I’m gonna say something, and please don’t be insulted: I was a kid when you played with the Yankees, and I always sorta thought of you as a swing-and-miss-or-swing-and-hit-it-a-long-way lug, a la Dave Kingman or Mike Laga. Was I, in hindsight, off on this? How would you break down your game, looking back? And are you satisfied with your Major League career?

R.K.: Of course I am not satisfied with my career, but despite coming back from a broken neck, I did real well. I have always had the ability to hit for average—I missed multiple Triple Crowns in all minor league levels. But once I got up to the Majors, it was a must to swing hard and drive the ball out of the yard. A strikeout is just not three pitches—there are many scenarios to each at bat … three, four, five. six, seven swings and sometimes even more. And most home run hitters need to swing aggressively. It’s no different then a ground ball to second base or back to the pitcher. It’s still an out.

ronronJ.P.: A bunch of years ago you called out Barry Bonds in your book—something I loved, because he’s the meanest person I’ve ever met. However, I must ask—what’s your beef with Bonds? And how did you feel when he responded with, more or less, “Who the hell is Ron Kittle?”

R.K.: He knew who I was … I played against him in spring training many, many times. His comment was not really about who I was. What happened was I asked him very politely to autograph three game jerseys I bought for my charity. I took four Sox batboys with me and his comment was, “I don’t sign for f—-ing white people.” And he left. I just laughed because I thought he was kidding. The rest of the team in the locker room handed over many items for my charity … to make up for his asinine comment.

Dusty Baker came out and gave me a hug. He said he was not surprised with his comment, but was surprised I didn’t kick the shit out of him..

J.P.: Baseball is a strange game—you were the 1983 Rookie of the Year, you had a bunch of other big power seasons and then, by age 32, you were done. How is it, wrapping up a career so early? Like, when did you know—for sure—you were finished? How did you accept it? And did you miss the game much after your career wrapped?

R.K.: I signed out of a tryout camp in 1976 with so much talent, but I ended with a major injury. I played my career at about 65 percent of my ability, and as anyone should know when you have spinal injuries … you’re limited to what you can do, and maybe even how long you can do it. I shattered my shoulder in 1984 on Opening Day while jumping for a baseball and into a brick wall. I still hit 32 home runs but I couldn’t lift my arm to get better. I struggled after that, but I still wanted to play. My plate appearances went down due to injuries, but I was still in the Top 5 of home runs per at bats in the Majors, and I was advised by my doctor that if I played any longer, I would be in a wheelchair at age 50.

So three fused vertebrae in my neck, two ruptured—one above the three fused and one below the fused ones and also two taken out of my lower back in 1989—when I was having a very good year, until someone ran me over at first base.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 3.22.39 PMJ.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

R.K.: My first paycheck is tops. My low would have to be not getting to play at my ability to show everyone what I really had.

J.P.: You make benches out of baseball bats. I’ll repeat: You make benches out of baseball bats. Uh, explain? And how’s business?

R.K.: I have always had a passion in woodworking and steel work. I bought a bench years ago and it was poorly made, so I just recreated it and made it better. It’s very practical, but it’s more baseball art. I make beds, humidors, ashtrays, larger bats—all sports art. I tell everyone, there is nothing I can’t make … and I played baseball for a hobby.

Business is good. I work when I want and have no trouble selling or making these items

J.P.: You do some motivational speaking. I’m always a tad skeptical when athletes work as motivational speakers, and here’s why: What the hell does playing a sport have to do with the real world? I know … I know—teamwork, togetherness, blah. I’ve heard it all. But honestly Ron, is there any true crossover between DHing for the White Sox and working behind a desk at a law office?

R.K.: I see here, J.P., a huge hint of jealousy in your question and I can see by your questions what personality you have. [Jeff’s Note: Ouch, babe] There is no difference in any occupation, but so many valuable lessons to learn from others who work at their skills and know what it takes to get to the next level. I personally challenge others to give their best and make the world a better place. It’s so easy to sit back and let others succeed, and you question their efforts. I know personally I make people better, because I know what it takes. I have heard many speakers over the years and if one things is said to make you think I can do this or that, well, you did your job as a speaker. I open my talks by explaining that there are five things I can’t do: 1. Give birth, 2. Do my taxes, 3. Sing, 4. Dance, 5. I haven’t found this one yet.

And when I speak, I offer my hosts a deal. If they don’t find it fun, educational, motivating—they do not need to pay me. It’s been 26 years, and I’ve yet to find someone who didn’t enjoy my talk.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 3.22.10 PMJ.P.: Looking back, does playing in the Majors meet the hype? What I mean is—sooooo many boys and girls dream of one day being pro athletes. But is the reality as spectacular as the aspiration? Does it live up to the hype? And are you as happy now as you were back with the Sox, young and carefree?

R.K.: I feel very lucky and honored to have competed at the highest level. Everyone needs a dream, and they also need to know you have a better chance to be a Dean of a University than becoming a Major League player. And I have know so many better baseball players who never made it … due to not being able to handle pressure of failing. Those are the bitter ones.

I look back and, before I broke my neck, I was a switch hitter, and I hit them farther lefty than righty. I had skill like no others, but with my injuries I realized I had to show others you can come back from most anything to excel, and to pass on what it takes to get there. And make it fun.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 3.23.35 PMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH RON KITTLE:

• The world needs to know—what was it like playing with Dan Pasqua?: Quiet. Great guy … good friend.

• We give you 300 Division III softball at-bats right now. What’s your line?: .900 average with 250 home runs.

• Five nicest guys you ever played with?: Harold Baines, Greg Walker, Scott Fletcher, David Winfield, Ron Guidry.

• Celine Dion calls and offers you $5 million to play Naked Gum-Chewer No. 7 in her Las Vegas show, “Kittle and Celine Do Naked Stuff.” You have to work 320 nights per year. You in?: Rode a Harley naked for $1000. Might be in.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Twice. Shit happens, no control.

• My sister’s boyfriend recently accidentally sent a romantic text (intended for her) to the entire family. How long am I allowed to ruthlessly mock him for?: Send pictures next time … and giggle.

• Best joke you know?: Real life things that happen are funny.

• Number of times a year you’re asked, “Aren’t you Greg Walker?”: Never … he’s my best friend and was my roommate for eight years.

• One questions you would ask Trey Lorenz were he here right now?: Honestly, I don’t know who he is. Sorry

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Sammy Sosa, Anthony Weiner, plastic cups, Circle K, Hebrew National Hotdogs, six feet of snow, Wilson Phillips, St. Louis Rams, the Kingdome, John F. Kennedy, purple nurples, Hall & Oates: Purple nurples, John F. Kennedy, Hall & Oates, Sammy Sosa, Hebrew National Hotdogs, Six feet of snow, plastic cups, Circle K, Wilson Phillips, St. Louis Rams, Anthony Weiner, the Kingdome.