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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Arizona Heat
by Pascal Marco

Steve Stone Speaks!
A Spring Training Interview from Arizona

by Pascal Marco

March 6, 2008

From the moment you first meet Steve Stone, new WSCR radio and White Sox broadcast booth partner of Ed Farmer, the biggest impression you get is how down-to-earth and likeable the man is.

I had approached Stone by sending a note to his table while we both happened to be dining the other night at a restaurant in the north end of Scottsdale, Arizona. I had hoped Steve would read my note, in which I asked him for an interview for the fan web site www.whitesoxinteractive.com, and then would decide later whether he wanted to respond to my impromptu request.

But in (what I would later find out is) classic Steve Stone style, he immediately left his table, walked over to mine, warmly introduced himself, and graciously told me he’d be happy to grant me the interview, promising to call me in the morning.

A man of his word, Steve did exactly as promised and made me feel right at ease as we jumped into an hour-long conversation about baseball, broadcasting, and even Disco Demolition.

Stone has a unique perspective when it comes to observing baseball, particularly Chicago baseball. I pointed out to him that I don’t think there is anyone beside himself who has ever played for both teams in a city and then later broadcast for both, asking him if he could ever recall someone like him before in this situation.



Sox radio analyst Steve Stone returns to the South Side and talks to WSI's Pascal Marco!

“I really can’t. I know there’s a lot of players who’ve played for both teams but [you may be right] I’m not sure there’s ever been. Having pitched for the White Sox twice and the Cubs once and having spent twenty-some odd years in their respective broadcast booths, I have a good feel for both teams.”

There was definitely a positive lilt in Steve’s voice when he emphasized that he had only pitched once for the Cubs and twice for the Sox. However, Steve seems like the type of person who’d never admit to favoring one team over the other. He strongly emphasizes he’s a Sox broadcaster and backs his team. The night I met him, he wore the classic light grey colored shirt with black piping, emblazoned with Sox lettering, and said, “Who says I’m not a homer?” as he pointed to the shirt’s embroidered logo.

“When I first got to Chicago, the first team I was with was the White Sox team of ’73. It was an exciting team with Dick Allen on it. John Allyn, the Sox owner then, really believed they were going to win it that year. They had made a terrific run at it the previous year.”

Stone had joined the team with high hopes of making Allyn and Sox fans’ wishes come true but found himself smack dab in the middle of pitching coach Johnny Sain’s three-man rotation experiment. Sain started him in-between knuckle-baller’s Wilbur Wood and Eddie Fisher.

“With a conventional pitcher in the middle, like me or Stan Bahnsen, it usually killed the conventional pitcher. I have to tell you, now pitchers complain about pitching on the fourth day and how difficult it is, try pitching on that third day and find out how hard that is. I had ten starts on the third day that season and it was a most unique experience.”

Stone chuckled reminiscing that bygone era, as I fully sensed that I was speaking to a ball player whose hard-nose, do-whatever-it-takes style to get the job done is somewhat of a rare find in those athletes playing today’s game.

“It’s an experience I’d never want to duplicate but it made me appreciate the five-man rotation even more.”

I think Stone was being modest because if he was playing today and the ball got handed to him every third day, I think he’d still head to the mound to do his job the best he could.

Stone and I then reminisced about some of the great players during his first stint in Chicago on that 1973 team. The first name that came up was Dick Allen.

“I have some tremendous memories of Dick, in fact, you might remember that [before coming to Chicago] he had severed some of the tendons in his right, the last two fingers in particular not working very well. There was a very cold day in Milwaukee where I was starting. Dick fielded a ball a first, tagged the base, and then had a runner dead to right, trying to go from second to third. He let the ball get out of his hand, overthrowing third, and the runner scored. Another runner had subsequently scored that inning, his error allowing the inning to go on.

“He came up to me after that inning and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get ‘em back for you.’ He came up late in the game with a man on second base and hits a line drive rocket that never got more than twenty feet off the ground and cleared the right center field fence easily for a home run. He circles the bases, comes back to the dugout, stops at the top of the steps, looks at me sitting at the end of the bench, and winks at me.”

I asked Steve, quite naively I might add, if that was the first time he had told that great story. He kindly replied that he didn’t know if there was anything I’d hear from him in this interview that would be, in his words, “virginal,” since he’d been in the game of baseball, both playing and broadcasting, for forty years.



Sharp-dressed man with the Sox!

That’s the great honor you feel when you speak with “Stoney”--that he’s a walking, talking encyclopedia of the game of baseball.

Stoney went on to laud some more praises of Dick Allen, a player, he adds, for whom he had only the ultimate respect, calling Allen an “infinitely, infinitely, talented player.” He especially remarked upon his love for Dick’s approach to the game. A style, one could easily assume, almost certainly had an effect on Stone’s approach to the game, too.

“I’ll tell you another Dick Allen story.” Stone’s voice begins to rise with excitement a bit, recalling a fond memory of the time he sat on the bench next to Allen before the start of a Sox home game against Baltimore. “Allen said to me, ‘You know, Mike Cuellar starts me off with a slow curve ball every time he’s ever faced me. If he starts me out with that slow curve ball tonight, I’m going to hit it over the roof.’

“Now, remember something,” Stoney pauses dramatically for a moment at this part of the story, emphasizing the fact he’s about to tell me. “I think at that time only about twelve people had ever hit a ball over the roof, out of old Comiskey Park. So, I’m watching with interest, of course, as Dick bats, and sure enough, on the first pitch Cuellar throws his really good, slow curveball, so good in fact it’s the kind that sort of slowly disappears. And Allen took it over the roof.

“It was an amazing shot, but the most amazing thing for me--and I’m sure he didn’t share this with anybody else--was that he told me what the pitcher was going to do, he told me what he was going to be looking for, and he told me if he got it what was going to happen. And all of it happened. Mortal men can’t do that. He was an unbelievable player with unbelievable skills.”

Stoney’s voice reveled in recalling his fond memories of playing with the ’73 Sox team, not only with Allen but also with other long-ago, Sox fan favorites like Goose Gossage, Stan Bahnsen, and Wilbur Wood. He went on to tell me a story about his first spring training as a member of the Sox in Sarasota. At that time, the 25-year-old Stone had only spent two years in the big leagues, both with the San Francisco Giants, before being traded during the off-season (along with outfielder Ken Henderson) to the White Sox for starter Tom Bradley.

“I had just found myself in Sarasota, Florida, and Dick Allen invites me to dinner at our team hotel, which I thought was really great. I’m waiting for him, but he doesn’t show up. Then I get a phone call from him and he says we can’t have dinner because I just got traded.

“‘Traded?’ I reply, ‘Where’d I get traded to?’ Well, Allen knows I’m from Cleveland and he says, ‘Cleveland. To The Indians.’ And I say, ‘How’d I get traded? I just got here.’

“Well, he doesn’t say a thing, so I ask him, ‘Who’d I get traded for?’ and he replies, ‘Even up for Jack Brohamer. Roland Hemond will be down to talk to you soon. Just wait by the switchboard.’

“So, I call my parents right away and my dad is ecstatic. I mean, I’m coming home to Cleveland. So my dad asks me who I’ve been traded for and I tell him, ‘Even up for Jack Brohamer.’”

Stone’s father was shocked. He couldn’t believe his son had been traded, even up, for the .233 hitting infielder, Brohamer, but his father was, nonetheless, overjoyed his son was coming back to play for his hometown team.

“So, I wait for quite some time behind the switchboard as Allen had directed me to do until the switchboard operator asks me who I’m waiting for. ‘I’m waiting for Roland Hemond. I just got traded,’ I tell her.

“‘Oh, you mean that Dick Allen thing?’” she says. “‘No, you didn’t get traded, he’s just screwing around with you. Roland Hemond’s not coming down. Just go back to your room. You’re not traded. You’re still with the Sox.’”



Cy Young Stoney!
He learned everything he ever needed to know about winning on the South Side!

Stone chuckled recalling that story for me of his introduction to the White Sox and to Dick Allen, as he once again reiterated how the prankster Allen was one of the finest ballplayers with whom he ever had the privilege to be teammates.

But only one year after his arrival, and after pitching coach Johnny Sain’s failed three man rotation, Stone found himself traded that off-season to the cross-town Cubs, along with Ken Frailing, Steve Swisher (father of current White Sox player, Nick), and Jim Kremmel. It was a trade that brought Cubs’ veteran Ron Santo over to the Sox.

When I brought up the details of the trade, Stone candidly described it as a trade that hurt both teams and left it at that. I then asked him if he could make any comparisons between Steve Swisher, Stone’s former teammate on both the Sox and Cubs, and his son, Nick, Oakland’s 2002 first round pick whom the Sox acquired during the 2007 off-season in a three-player swap with the A’s.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to speak with Steve yet but I have spoken to Nick and I told him his mother must have been supremely talented,” Stoney jokingly added. “Seriously, though, I liked his dad, a terrific guy, a hard-working ball player who was an All-Star one year, and I know his son, Nick, is a hard worker, too.”

Getting back to Stone’s Chicago White Sox career, when Stone came back to the South Side in 1977 as a free agent signed during the off-season, he was a stand out on the mound for the infamous South Side Hit Men, leading the team in victories. Surely, a prelude to the tremendous Cy Young Award winning season he had in 1980 with the Baltimore Orioles, Sox fans always believed.

“1977 was a wonderful year. It was exciting. It was exciting for the fans. You know, Bill Veeck’s feeling was that if you’re going to err, err on the side of offense. He didn’t have a great deal of money but he did make the most of it. Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble hit 30 and 31 homeruns, and Eric Soderholm hit 25 that year. But what sticks out the most to me that year is Bill Veeck. He was one of the great characters of the game and a man that I really enjoyed. That was the thing that was great.”

I shifted gears a little on Stoney and asked about his early broadcast career, commenting on what I believed is his trademark “tell it like it is” broadcast style, asking him where he thought that approach came about. Stone started his broadcast career on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball and cut his teeth working with veteran broadcasters Al Michaels, Keith Jackson, Don Drysdale, Bob Uecker, as well as with the legendary Howard Cosell, making Stone part of the network’s two, three-man broadcast teams.

“Obviously, Cosell had an effect [on me] but let’s not forget the guy I spent fifteen years with, Harry Caray. He was the guy who told it like it was. Harry told me a couple of things that I’ve never forgotten and one is that when you look into that camera, or when you speak into that microphone, whatever you say it best be the truth as you see it because the fan is going to know. And if you lose your credibility with the fan then you’re going to be done as a broadcaster. So, always make sure you’re telling your true feelings.”

Speaking about Harry, I asked Steve if he learned anything about the game of baseball working with the Hall of Fame broadcaster, whose own career spanned over fifty years.

“I didn’t learn much about the actual game since I had played it so long, but what I learned from Harry was the excitement he brought to the ballpark on a daily basis, the real joy that doing major league baseball games gave him and radiated off him. He felt like every day at the ballpark was like Christmas. And I have never lost sight of that. I think it’s a privilege to have one of these jobs--there’s not too many of them--so I’ve always worked at it.”

As testament to his great Midwestern work ethic, he approaches his current job as a broadcaster the same way he approached the game when he headed to the mound with the ball in his hand. You can tell by the emotion in Stoney’s voice that he’s quite passionate and serious about his job, prepping for each broadcast as he did games when he was a player.

“I prepare for every broadcast as if I were going to pitch a 16 inning game. I do a lot of research as far as baseball is concerned. I know both leagues, I know the prospects from each organization. I talk to the scouts, I find out who are the guys that are going to make an impact on their team. I want to give the people who listen to me on the radio their money’s worth. I want to make sure that they are hearing from me possibly something they aren’t hearing from anybody else, so I work very hard at what I do so that when you hear something from me, it’s pretty much been vetted by a number of different sources. ”

Talking about the current Sox team, Stone backed-up his statement above and was not at a loss for words as he sized up the team’s off-season moves, its current roster, and its prospects. We started with the Jon Garland for Orlando Cabrera trade.

“You got both of these guys in the final years of their contract . . . the Sox probably having almost no chance of signing Garland, considering the contracts that were happening in the market with guys like Zambrano, Sabathia, and Zito. But the Sox do have a chance of signing Cabrera. And they needed some offensive punch, being last in the league in runs scored last year. They couldn’t score if they didn’t hit home runs, they didn’t have much speed, and they didn’t have great smarts, or team baseball acumen, which is something that rankled Ozzie [Sox manager Ozzie Guillen]. That’s what Cabrera brings to the club.”

That’s classic Steve Stone--telling it like it is. He went on.

“Do they have another 18 game winner to fill in for Garland? No. But I don’t believe he won 18 last year. He’s a good pitcher and I’m sure the Sox wish him well and if they really like him, I’m sure [next year] he’ll be a free agent and they can bid on him if they want. But I think it was time to change the configuration of the baseball team and Kenny [GM Kenny Williams] set out to do it.”

I then asked Stoney to comment on the Joe Crede/Josh Fields contest at third base that is shaping up this spring.

“I think as soon as Joe Crede can prove that he can [without effort] hit the baseball, move to either side, charge some ground balls, that his back is 100%, and that hopefully his bat will be back, then I think he will be traded, with the most logical place for him to go [being] San Francisco. However, I think I would investigate some of the young kids with the Dodgers and find out if Ned Colletti [Dodgers’ GM] wants to sink or swim with Andy LaRoche at third base [LaRoche, ironically, tore a ligament in his right thumb after this interview], who had a good Arizona Fall League.”

More classic Stoney, for sure. He’s done his homework and keeps telling the truth, as he sees it.

“If you can get two teams bidding for Joe Crede, it’ll clear the field for Josh Fields, the Sox third baseman of the future. Joe Crede is part of your past. Now [the Sox] are not just going to give Crede away. But if it happens that they don’t get what they want, they might not hesitate to send Fields down to the minor leagues. But when you have 23 homeruns and drive in 67 in less than 400 at-bats that equates to about 35 and 105 if he played all year. Those are big-time numbers for a young kid like Fields. I would think the Sox would like to see him learn more about playing third base and love that bat in the middle of their lineup.”

There are a number of other question marks surrounding this year’s Sox team and one of them is second base.

“Right now the competition is fierce for second. Richar is back in camp. Ramirez is hitting the daylights out of the baseball, but he’s got to smooth out his defense. And you’ve still got Uribe.”

We moved on to talk about the White Sox relief corps.

“Bobby Jenks is one of the premier closers in baseball but if you don’t get the ball to him with the game on the line he won’t be able to live up to his potential.”

Stone is obviously referring to the dilemma Manager Ozzie Guillen faced last year as middle relievers consistently gave away leads after the sixth inning, taking the opportunity away from the fiery Venezuelan manager to get the ball to his closer in lead situations, whom Guillen affectionately refers to as his “Big Boy.”

“When Bobby’s stuff is good, which it usually is, it’s just plain over-powering, and not to many people can do much with him. So I think the Sox are hoping that Linebrink [Scott Linebrink, a free agent whom the Sox signed to a four-year deal] and Dotel [whom the Sox signed to a two-year deal during the off-season] are going to do for them what their setup men didn’t do for them last year,” Stone said.

I asked Steve how he’ll walk the fine-line between being former player for both the Cubs and Sox and ex-broadcaster for the Cubs, prodding him a wee-bit to see if there were any issues with him on the subject in terms of where his loyalties would lie.

“I don’t think it’s a difficult situation at all. I broadcast for the Chicago White Sox and I want the Chicago White Sox to win. Believe me, if the Cubs don’t beat a woeful National League Central, after Jim Hendry over the last five years has spent or obligated the Chicago Cubs to $800 million, outspending everybody in that division by at least $50 million, [and] for that [spending] in those five years the Cubs are only four games over 500 . . . if they can’t win that division, a division where during Interleague Play the only team in that division that doesn’t play the Red Sox or the Yankees is the Cubs . . .”

Stoney abruptly stops his more than clear opinion of the pressure on our North Side rivals and their GM Hendry to not falter in 2008 as they did in 2007, letting his astute evaluation speak for itself.

Changing subjects on Steve once again, I asked him if he were a player today would he have his own website, as Nick Swisher does, as well as many other of today’s ball players do.

“I have my own website,” he pointed out to me. “It’s called www.stevestone.com [But] I’m not a player today nor could I have imagined when I was a player what [technology] was coming. I can’t speculate on what I would do if I was a player today . . . I have no conception of what I would be as a player today. All I know is what I was as a player then and as a broadcaster now, and so, hypothetical questions, especially ones that you can’t possibly foresee, are only ones that you can get into trouble answering.”

Stoney added to his answer, quipping, “All I know is, I’m having a hard time figuring out my blog.”

Convinced at this point in the interview that Stoney’s tell-it-like-it-is, truthful style is what makes him so well liked by all of his fans, I decided to end the interview on a light-hearted subject, knowing how both he and new radio partner Ed Farmer are both fans of Chicago radio personality, Steve Dahl, himself a huge Sox fan. I asked Stoney if he remembered where he was the night of July 12, 1979, Disco Demolition Night at old Sox Park.

“I was probably playing in a Baltimore Oriole uniform somewhere, so, no I don’t remember that. How could you possibly remember? I don’t even remember where my car is parked right now,” he chuckled.

Right then it made me realize that maybe our best off-season move just may have been the re-acquisition of Steve Stone and his return to baseball on the South Side of Chicago.

Go Sox!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pascal Marco is a free-lance writer who splits his time between Scottsdale, Arizona (where he formed the Arizona Sox Posse in 2005) and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, he has been a Sox fan since the unforgettable Go-Go White Sox days and has contributed to White Sox fan web sites such as www.whitesoxinteractive.com. He can be reached at reply85254@aol.com.

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