1. Who were your biggest baseball influences when you first came up with the Milwaukee Braves?
Being on the Milwaukee Braves was interesting because when I became a member of the team I had already gotten to know a lot of the players as my brother Frank was with them in 1957-1958 when they were in the World Series. Aside from my brother, my idol was Eddie Mathews, who was very influential to me because he was a big-time player who was very much a blue-collar guy - there was no sense of entitlement with him. Also Lou Burdette and Warren Spahn took me under their wing. Those two actually took me to the movies one day in St. Louis in the middle of the afternoon! I was very fortunate to have guys like that to make my first experience in the big leagues very comfortable.
2. At what point in 1971 did you think you could win the National League MVP?
You don’t really have any control over the MVP vote, so you just have to go out and do what you can and see how much of an impact you can make on people who vote for that stuff. The fact that we didn’t figure in postseason play was a detriment to winning the award in my eyes, but evidently the biggest benefit I had was that my main competition, Willie Stargell, got hurt the second half of the year which is how I won out. I had a terrific year, but always felt like if the MVP plays in the postseason, which the Pirates did in 1971, it is a decided advantage.
3. How did your career as a player and first two managerial experiences with the Mets and Braves influence your later years managing the Yankees and Dodgers?
Anytime you go to the ballpark you want to learn something as a player or a manager. During my playing years when I got traded to St. Louis, I was around Red Schoendienst a lot, and he is someone I really admired and used as a measuring stick. The fact he went from a Hall of Fame player to a manager, and used that experience to just let the players play, was very helpful. He used his experience as a player to know what to do as a manager, which is how I patterned myself.
I had five years with the Mets and going from a player to a player-manager to a manager was a transition that happened awfully fast. One of the incentives we had as a team was to try to beat some of the better teams that we’d go up against and towards the end of the year try fighting off that ugly 100-loss season mark, which we did on a couple of occasions. You dangle whatever carrot you can to make the players understand the importance of winning a game or a series.
With the Braves we won the Western Division in my first year in 1982; that was my first taste of postseason play. I’d always heard that the second job is the toughest one you get, and when I did get that second job, I thought I was in pretty good shape. That didn’t prove to be the case as I got fired after the 1984 season which led me to the broadcast booth for six years with the Angels. That was my first involvement with the American League—having always been in the National League—and it allowed me to see guys like Sparky Anderson and Tony La Russa manage. It wasn’t all that different than what I was doing, which validated the way I managed and proved to be helpful for when I got the opportunity with the Yankees.
4. As a native New Yorker with ties to both N.Y. baseball clubs, can you describe the atmosphere surrounding the Subway Series in 2000?
Oh my goodness! It was torture. Just knowing it was the Subway Series and maybe the Mets had a better team—which had nothing to do with who was supposed to win because we’re the Yankees. It was a great deal of pressure in that you couldn’t get away from it; it was all over town and there was nowhere to go to insulate yourself for a few hours. It was wonderful for the city and there was a very special buzz about what was going on but there was a lot of pressure. We won a very tense first game at Yankee Stadium and the second game had the Clemens/Piazza situation; every single game was a high-wire act. It was pretty special when we won. The one void in the whole thing was that Mel Stottlemyre was going through treatments for his multiple myeloma so he wasn’t with us. Even though he was in the clubhouse for Game 2 in Yankee Stadium chomping on a burger in my office with George Steinbrenner, I really missed him sitting on the bench with me.
5. You’ve been an All-Star, MVP, Broadcaster, World Champion, and now an MLB Executive. As you enter the Hall of Fame, can you reflect on what the game of baseball has meant to you personally?
As a kid I never envisioned I’d be in the big leagues—I mean what are the chances of two boys from the same family making it to the big leagues? I’ve never taken for granted the career I’ve had. Baseball is an interesting life. The unique part about it is that it always feels brand new. When we won in 1996, my wife Ali said, “Well, this is the one piece that was missing, so let’s retire and open our flower farm in Hawaii.” But I told her that I wanted to see if we could do it again, having no idea that it would turn into 12 years with the Yankees. Every aspect of what I’ve done in baseball has been interesting—even the broadcasting part where I had an opportunity to spend time with Angels owner Gene Autry who became a very special friend. And now I’ve been afforded the opportunity to have a very significant job in the Commissioner’s office. It’s a lot of work, but I can honestly say it’s not stressful because I don’t have to worry about winning. Baseball has been my entire professional life—it’s something I always dreamed about never realizing it would become a reality.