Monday, August 21, 2006
My Interview with Gus Triandos
I have had a very interesting relationship with Gus Triandos. Ever see that movie "Cobb?" That's really the closest thing I can compare it to. Gus and I have gotten together at least half a dozen times in the past few years so that I could interview him for SABR (www.SABR.org) and also for the baseball Web site I created with my talented partner Eric Gouldsberry (www.thisgreatgame.com). Gus and I usually meet at an Olive Garden restaurant in San Jose and start drinking the vino around 11:30 am. (any earlier than that and you're an alcoholic, in my book). By 1 pm both of us are well on our way toward being sloshed. And that's when the interviews always get better! Gus has told me a lot of things that I have never revealed to anyone. He said I can publish them after he's gone, but for now they stay with me. Overall, Gus Triandos is just a really sweet guy with a big heart. He is, however, a little bitter when he looks back on his career in baseball.
Gus Triandos was a very decent catcher during the 50’s and 60’s. He hit 167 career homers, and although he was not fleet of foot (he stole one base and holds the record for most consecutive games played without being thrown out: 1,206), Triandos had a great arm and was known as one of the top-fielding backstops in the league throughout his years with five major league teams. He now lives in San Jose, California and runs a postal company. He was wearing a neck brace the morning I met him, the result of a recent car accident. Gus was a part of a lot of baseball history. A 2-time all-star, he caught Jim Bunning’s perfect game in 1964, used the big oversized mitt to catch knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm during his no-hitter in 1958 and was the opposing catcher when Ted Williams hit a home run in his final plate appearance in 1960.
A long shot to make the bigs: “Sad fact was, I had a tough time getting signed. I wasn’t that sought after. Hell, I wouldn’t even be signed today. No way I’d be signed now. They had D, C B, A, AA, AAA teams – they had a jillion ballplayers out there and I think that it, I don’t know. They just wanted to sign bodies back then. But, even when I was playing minor league ball, every scout that ever came through town and the local sportswriters would ask him and they’d say I didn’t have a chance. But, it never pissed me off, because I thought I didn’t have a chance. My feet were so bad I knew I wouldn’t last. The best thing that happened to me was going into the Army. Those military issue boots straightened my feet out. Don’t ask me how, but they did.”
High school: “My senior year, we had 11 guys sign professional contracts. Mission High was the baseball school, Polytechnic was the football school and Lowell was the basketball school in San Francisco at that time. The only one who really made it for any time in the majors was me.”
All-star appearances: “I played in two all-star games. I hit a 2-run double in one of them, off Elroy Face, in 1958. I probably would have been the MVP had we won.”
The 1957 all-star game: “That prick Stengel didn’t even put me in that game. Was that in St. Louis? Yeah. Didn’t even put me in. That Stengel really hated my guts.
And then the next year it was in Baltimore. That’s when they let the players pick the all-stars for the first time. And I got in because I was elected by the players. And Casey still didn’t want to play me, but he had no choice.”
Players he liked/disliked: “I never got to where I disliked a guy. There were a couple I ended up disliking, but shit, life’s too short. I stayed away from them. You see them now, and you never get a chance to talk. Maybe for a minute at some dinner or event or something. But, there were very few people -- players and managers -- that after it was all over, I disliked…Stengel was one of them. I wasn’t his type of ball player. You know, I couldn’t run. I couldn’t hit to the opposite field. And for some reason he just didn’t like me and it was patently obvious. The greatest thing that ever happened to me was him disliking me. He also made the right pick. He decided that he liked Elston Howard better than me. And that was a helluva pick.”
The baseball life: “Gave me a helluva life for 12 years. I really enjoyed myself. It was kind of a psychological thing, you know. Like you have a little bit of a low opinion of yourself. And then you get to where you can do something well and get a little recognition. It was good. I wouldn’t have a chance to do it now. In this day and age, I don’t think I could get signed. When those 11 guys from my high school got drafted, I never thought I’d be the one to make it to the majors. I wouldn’t trade what I did in baseball for anything, but there was a lot of stuff that was irritating too. But, overall – most of it was on the plus side.”
“I had a lot of liabilities. I couldn’t run. I was a good catcher and all that other happy horseshit. The one thing I could do well for at least the first half of my career in the majors was I could throw. It was one of the few things I had. Most good base stealers stole off the pitchers. But, offensively, I could be pitched to. I’m just thankful I was able to do what I did. I don’t look at the game now the same way I did then. I can’t watch it anymore. I haven’t been to a MLB game in more than 15 years.”
Umpires: “You almost have to be an asshole to be an umpire. You have to take so much shit. You start the season out real good friends with them by the end of the season guys were salivating, hell, saying they hated each other’s guts. The only reason the umps liked me is I didn’t show ‘em up, and I never argued with them. Stayed off them so that the fans wouldn’t get on them.”
Appearing on the TV show, “Home Run Derby”: “That was one of the most embarrassing things. I got bounced out the first time. Dick Stuart and I embarrassed the whole f-ing thing. They did it the middle of winter, when guys hadn’t been to Spring Training, we were both so out of shape.”
Steroids: “What, do they think people are stupid? When this guy goes from 175-180 to 210 and nobody says anything? Of course, I always thought they had ‘em, but I didn’t give a shit. I still don’t.”
Players today: “The way things are now, the kind of money these guys are making, it’s messed everything up. In our era, there was more integrity and more love for the game. Look at these fucking guys, they buy 2-3 million dollar homes; some of them have six or seven kids with five different women? It’s crazy.”
Playing in the Astrodome: “The Astrodome was a theater, it was an architectural wonder at the time. Then, they figured out they couldn’t grow grass in there.”
HOFer’s: “Any Hall of Famer who thinks he’s so wonderful because he did all these great things in baseball is full of crap. He was able to do it because he was blessed by God with natural ability. He didn’t necessarily have to work that hard to be a star. I’ve seen .220 hitters work a lot harder than a lot of Hall of Famers. There were some good ones, but there are also a lot of bad guys who are Hall of Famers. That’s why I never really idolized Hall of Famers, because I thought they were blessed.”