Classic roster excites Martinez
by Alan Schwarz
January 4, 2006
pieces of the upcoming World Baseball Classic gradually fall into place, one of
the biggest appeared at the Winter Meetings: the Team USA manager will be Buck
Martinez, the current ESPN analyst and former manager of the Blue Jays.
The prospect of managing the greatest collection of talent in the history
of baseball, with names like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and more,
has left the garrulous Martinez anything but speechless. I sat down with Martinez
to discuss his evolving juggernaut and any plans to bribe the Rocket out of
ALAN SCHWARZ: What was your impression of how the attitude toward the
World Baseball Classic has changed?
BUCK MARTINEZ: I think once everybody was aware of the names revealed
today that have agreed to participate on a worldwide basis, everybody got pretty
excited. To see Ichiro and Pujols and Clemens and Bonds and Piazza and Griffey
Jr., the names are impressive. That really rang home about how the players feel
about this. They are genuinely pumped up to play in this thing.
AS: What's the difference between managing a real major league team
that's roughly .500, like you did with the Blue Jays, versus leading what will
probably be the most talented group of players in the history of baseball in an
exhibition-type event? How is your mindset different?
BM: I don't think it's any different. You're trying to win a baseball
game. Obviously you look on the bench and the players are a little bit
different--they're the greatest players in the world. They understand how to play
the game. They also understand how to play for championships--you look at the
roster, and it's loaded with championship-caliber players. When they see what
they're playing for, you won't have to motivate them. I think the players that
have been on Team USA, like Jason Varitek, who have experienced playing for their
country, they will spread the word.
AS: You're trying to win a baseball game, but there are other
considerations--the health of pitchers, for instance. How will the competitor in
you keep in mind this higher concern?
BM: It's higher because we want this to be an ongoing thing. We don't
want any player or GM or manager to come back and say, "We're not doing it again
because this guy got hurt." Well, this guy can get hurt playing in his team's
spring-training game as well.
We're going to take all the measures. That's why we've put together such an
experienced coaching staff that includes (bench coach) Davey Johnson and
(pitching coach) Marcel Lachemann and (hitting coach) Reggie Smith, who have all
participated in international play. But more than anything, they're major
leaguers. They've been through spring training more than once. They understand
how guys get prepared. They also understand that if Ken Griffey Jr. runs around
for five innings, he might not be able to play tomorrow. So you have to think
about putting your roster together right. You have to have versatile
players--guys who can play more than one infield or outfield position.
AS: But when the bell rings, how are you going to balance your
competitive juices with the fact that you're playing with other teams'
BM: We're going to score early and throw a big bullpen at 'em!
(Laughs.) You have remind yourself, first and foremost, we are there to win. But
1A, we have to protect the players.
I personally believe that they will be in a better situation than being with
their team in spring training. Because everything will be more focused. We have
30 guys. Spring training has 50 guys. So guys don't get as many at-bats. Our
programs for them will be more customized to fit their needs. We will talk with
pitching coaches to make sure that the guys we have that have unique routines
will be addressed.
AS: So 1 is to win and 1A is the health of the players?
AS: You played in a Caribbean Series back in February 1971. What are
your memories of that kind of international play?
BM: Yes. Frank Robinson was my manager. Had a guy named Reggie Jackson
in right field. Don Baylor was in center, Tony Perez was at third. We beat
Roberto Clemente's team in the semis to make the World Series. I played for
Santurce. It was a phenomenal league at that time. The fans down there just love
AS: You grew up in the 1960s, went through the Cuban Missile Crisis as
a kid, and later were in the United States National Guard. Is going up against
Fidel Castro something special for you, something different than facing, say, the
BM: I grew up in Sacramento, and every night we had the B-52's take off
over our house. Every night when I was 12, I felt we were going to go to war. But
no, I don't have anything. I have so many Cuban friends, including Cookie Rojas.
It certainly will be special, though. As you say, when I grew up, Cuba was the
big, bad guy just 90 miles away.
AS: How much is Marcel Lachemann already strategizing about how to
deploy pitchers with the as-yet-undetermined pitch and inning limits, while also
figuring who to save for an upcoming game?
BM: He's tinkering already. We just learned the schedule in the first
round, and we play the first two days, day off, then a game on the fourth day.
You actually go backwards from the final on Monday (March 20), and go
backward--not unlike what you would do to get your pitching staff ready for
Opening Day. If you want A, B, or C you have to establish how you're going to get
AS: But sometimes there won't be a tomorrow. You get behind in a game,
and it can get pretty dicey.
BM: Reggie Smith put it in perspective when he said, "Buck, every
game's going to be like Game 7." Marcel told me today that you don't want to get
into a three-team, everyone's 2-1 situation. You don't want to lose a game. Then
all the tiebreakers come into play.
AS: How much of your own personal funds have you earmarked to bribe
Roger Clemens into pitching? Will you actively recruit players?
BM: (Laughs.) Roger's concern, as I understand it, is health only. If
he's healthy, ready to go, his offseason workouts go as he plans, Roger will be
happy to play on the team. You don't need to convince Roger Clemens.
There are other players we're going to talk to. I've talked to three or four
AS: How much time have you spent playing with lineups and pitching
BM: A lot, believe me. It's a tremendous opportunity to be the guy to
think, "Geez, who's going to lead off here? Carl Crawford is a marvelous talent,
but is he going to make this team? Johnny Damon, does he lead off? Who hits
second?" You can't go wrong. Really.
AS: Talking about crowded spots, your bullpen is ridiculous--Billy
Wagner, B.J. Ryan, Huston Street, Brad Lidge, Chad Cordero, Eddie Guardado and
Jason Isringhausen have already committed, and we haven't even talked about the
Andy Pettittes and Barry Zitos who might not get actual starts. How do you keep
BM: You inform them that you leave your egos at the door. We're going
to make sure that everyone participates and do everything we can to win the game.
Everyone on the team will play. We're just going to have to manage people.
The prospect of shortening the game to six innings before running out three
closers for an inning apiece is pretty intriguing. And then tomorrow, we're going
to use these other three! It's all about winning, that's for sure.
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to email@example.com.