Former All-Star, Dave “Smoke” Stewart recently answered some questions I had, thanks to NBX.com!. Stewart, who now has a radio show on NBX.com, pitched for the Dodgers, Rangers and Phillies before busting out as a member of the Athletics. He left for Toronto for two years, then ended his career back in Oakland.
Stewart finished with a record of 168-129 and a career ERA of 3.95. It took him eight years to finally hit his potential. Breaking in with the Dodgers in 1978 at the age of 21, Stewart pitched two innings, then vanished from sight until he was 24. He did well in relief, then split time between the bullpen and the rotation next year, logging a 2.60 ERA. He was traded to the Rangers the following year during a dominant year out of the bullpen for Rick Honeycutt.
He was merely average as a starter for the Rangers, which then sent him to Philadelphia for Rick Surhoff, and was so bad that he was released. Two weeks later, he signed as an Athletic, and “Smoke” was born, winning 20 or more games for four straight years.
After retiring, he stayed on, coaching and assisting in the front office. He attempted to achieve his goal of being a general manager after serving as a pitching coach for San Diego and assistant to the GM in Toronto, but he left to Milwaukee to coach their pitchers after being passed up for the GM job that went to J.P. Ricciardi. He resigned from the Brewers in 2002, and has yet to return to baseball.
Below is a question and answer session I had with him. I made sure to tie it to Boston by asking his thoughts on Boston.
Fire Brand: How did you get involved with NBX.com?
Dave Stewart: A friend of mine approached me about it. In talking to him about it and listening to what the show was about and how the show was going to be done I thought it was right down my alley, something that I would appreciate and have fun with. We have had some good shows and have been able to shed some pretty good knowledge on the game of baseball and the players involved in the game and all aspects of the game. It’s been a fun time for me.
Fire Brand: Has your show been a success so far? Where would you like to take this show?
Dave Stewart: We’re having a lot of fun with it and everything I have heard the show is doing well.
Fire Brand: You were drafted as a catcher, but was converted to a pitcher in the minor leagues. What prompted this change? Do you think you could have made it as a catcher?
Dave Stewart: I think I could have but once again that was something that was left to the organization after I was drafted. Obviously it was a decision they made before I even got to professional ball. As it turned out it was good evaluation on someone’s part. I think all players believe they have a chance to succeed at their original positions. It’s just ego I guess.
Fire Brand: Why did you take so long to become established (finally with Oakland) despite a track record of talent?
Dave Stewart: One – getting into the right situation and two – getting the opportunity to do what I had always done in the minor leagues. In the minor leagues I was a minor league starter and had good success as a starter. Once I got to the big leagues throwing out of the bullpen for practically six years really going after hitters just one way sometimes you lose the ability to think as a starter, to hone your pitches. I did lose my breaking ball. Then getting out there to have an opportunity for 7, 8, 9 innings, to make mistakes, learn what your body is capable of doing and having all of those things work together. Then eventually the final result is you’re going to have some level of success if you have any ability at all. [Note by Evan: Read this again. And apply it to Jonathan Papelbon.]

“I think there are some players that thrive in key situations, in clutch situations when you need a hit or a home run. There are players like that and David Ortiz is one of them.”
                        –Dave Stewart

Fire Brand: You led the AL in completed games twice (1988 and 1990). We are in the age of where it is very rare for starters to complete games – those who can (CC Sabathia, Livan Hernandez) are considered freaks of nature. Do you think it has to do more with kid gloves or the physical make up of pitchers nowadays? Why?
Dave Stewart: It’s a combination of both – kid gloves and mental makeup, not physical makeup, because a complete game is based on what you think mentally late in a game, not what you have physically. That’s what allows you to complete games. There are some guys who can bring brute strength to the ninth inning but if you can’t think about what you’ve done against all the hitters, and some of them are on their 4th and 5th at bats, you will not complete games. I think it has a lot to do with both. A lot of managers they’re just into going to the closer in the 9th inning no matter what. It’s almost automatic now. Believe me, if a guy hasn’t proven he can close a baseball game as a starter, what’s the point in sending him out there?
Fire Brand: You have stated that baseball utilizes racist policies in hiring front-office positions in baseball. Do you think that minority front-office positions in baseball have improved in terms of opportunity? Would you ever attempt to become a GM again?
Dave Stewart: I don’t think I ever used the word racist. I did say that baseball uses prejudiced policies when it comes to minority hiring in office positions or decision making positions. In my opinion that is a fact if you have two minorities – Omar Minaya who is the General Manager of the Mets and you’ve got Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox. There are many many more candidates who are serving as assistant general managers, scouting directors and minor league directors who are more than qualified to do a general manager’s job. Do I have any plans of doing that, probably not. That would not be something I’m interested in. I’m older in age now and for me my time has passed in pursuing that position.
Fire Brand: You won the World Series three times and was named MVP once, an amazing feat. Boston is seeing amazing feats out of David Ortiz, as many call him the best clutch hitter of all time, while others scoff at the notion of clutch and performing well in pressure situations. Do you think there is such a thing as clutch? Being a “big-game” winner? Why?
Dave Stewart: I think there are some players that thrive in key situations, in clutch situations when you need a hit or a home run. There are players like that and David Ortiz is one of them. Carney Lansford was a good clutch hitter. Obviously Mr. October Reggie Jackson fit that. The reason why you excel in those situations – Jack Morris was a big game pitcher – is you’ve lived it. You understand what you need to do in that situation if it should happen. And another thing, you’re relentless enough that you will not do anything but succeed once that situation happens, once that moment is there.
Fire Brand: Boston historically has had a lot of racial tension, as highlighted by Howard Bryant’s excellent “Shut Out” book. How did Boston appear to you in your playing days? Would you have ever played there? How would you characterize Boston now?
Dave Stewart: There were some racial slurs thrown out at me in the bullpen in 1988, but I don’t think that was indicative of the city because I’ve gone to restaurants, bars, plays, all kinds of events in Boston as a player and I was treated very, very well. Now I was an athlete and athletes are treated differently than most people. Would I have liked to have played in Boston as a home player – no, probably not. I really enjoyed going there. It was competitive, the fans were competitive and into the game. They were good fans rooting for their team. The only racial incident that I ever experienced there was the incident in 1988 when we had a group of about 10 guys out there near the bullpen who were just being a–holes and they were yelling racial things. [Note by Evan: Look at the makeup of the Red Sox today, and look at the makeup of the major leagues as a whole. We are losing African-Americans to basketball, to football. This is a major issue that Major League Baseball needs to address. The percentage is ever dwindling, and this comes when Hispanics and Asian percentages are rising!]
There are three things I found interesting in this interview.
1) His experience breaking in as a relief pitcher after having been a starter in the minors and needing to adjust to being a starter again. Shades of Papelbon’s experience in 2007?
2) David Ortiz. He believes Ortiz is legit, that there is such a thing as clutch-hitting. After watching Ortiz for three years now, who can disagree that Ortiz is simply clutch?
3) The racial tension in Boston. While I alluded to the problem as a whole in the majors, I think Boston still has a ways to go to erase that racial stigma.
Thanks to Dave Stewart and NBX.com for taking time to bring us all a special treat.