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October 8, 2013 at 7:45 pm ET
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Slammin’ Salmon: A B&C Postseason Interview with Tim Salmon

Tim Salmon was part of a stud Angels outfield that included Garret Anderson and Jim Edmonds which held a commanding 11-game lead over the Mariners on August 8, 1995, only to find themselves traveling to Seattle’s Kingdome for a one-game playoff to determine the AL West champion. There, Salmon watched a Luis Sojo broken bat grounder score four runs and a Randy Johnson slider end California’s season. Seven years later, Salmon helped take down the Giants in a seven-game, World Series thriller that made champions of the Halos for the first time.

Who better to speak about the MLB playoff picture? Salmon ran the gamut of October emotions.

Beyond those playoff experiences, Salmon also ranks first in Angels history for home runs and walks, and second for WAR, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, games, at-bats, runs, hits, total bases, doubles and RBI.

Salmon joined us on Tuesday afternoon to weigh in on which teams he feels will square off in the Fall Classic, that he doesn’t mind those players holding onto old school ideals, his philosophy as to why failing to get a bunt down can lead to a big hit, that Joe Maddon is the real deal and why it may be better to never reach the World Series than lose it.

To you, the loyal and learned B&C reader, we proudly present  the second-best player in Angels history with a fish surname, Timothy James Salmon:

There have always been unwritten rules in baseball, but over the past few months it seems players have been more sensitive to perceived slights on the field, the latest of which occurred between Grant Balfour and Victor Martinez on Monday in Detroit. Did that type of thing happen quite as often when you played or are players just less tolerant in today’s game?

I think that it was a lot more sensitive back in the day. I think what you’re seeing are the remnants of any old school players out there trying to hang on to the old guard of the etiquette of the way you play the game. In some ways, it’s refreshing to see some players standing up for some of that (laughing) for my generation.

As someone who just went about his business playing the game, what are your impressions of Yasiel Puig’s on-field demeanor?

Everything’s changed. Back in the early ’90s, that kind of flair, you think of guys like Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco, they had that flair but they also had the track record to back it. What I think you’ve seen over the last five-to-ten years is more and more of baseball becoming younger, with more youthful players showing that flamboyance or zeal right out of the gate before they’ve proven much. There again, I’m talking from an old school standpoint, it’s something that would have been frowned upon 10-15 years ago, but in today’s day and age, yeah it’s frowned upon a little bit, but it’s amazing how quickly it’s accepted when (Puig) starts to produce a little bit. It’s just a different era, if he had been doing this 10-15 years ago, there were enough old school guys out there that would have made a point to let him know that it was disrespectful or whatever you want to call it. Nowadays, there’s so many guys out there that share that flamboyancy that I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal in today’s game.

The Pirates and Cardinals are about to embark on Game 5 on their NLDS. All cliches aside, what runs through a player’s mind heading into an elimination game?

It’s high anxiety. One thing at this time of year that always struck me was that you’d wake up in the morning before a game and lay in bed thinking about what you happened to have accomplished, and think that the next time that I lay my head on this pillow I’ll either be going home or I’ll be moving on or I’ll be a world champion in some ways, that’s my experience. It’s always weird when you think in that kind of context, like wow, there’s a lot riding on today’s event, my performance and the team’s performance, and it can be a life-changing event. I think that there’s a lot of anxiousness to just get to the ballpark and get the game going and do what you do best.

As monumental as this statement sounds, it doesn’t stop it from being entirely possible — in Clayton Kershaw, are we watching the greatest left-handed pitcher in Dodgers history?

You’re kind of asking the wrong person, I never saw Sandy Koufax pitch and everybody says he was the best. That being said, I’m not a big Dodgers historian, but I will say that in our day and age, this generation, you might be seeing maybe the best left-hander. I just can’t imagine a more imposing guy that’s out there right now. A big, strong lefty that just really dominates you with all his pitches. In some ways he reminds me of what Randy Johnson was ten years ago, he just had a presence and an aura about him where teams trying to face him were already behind the 8-ball from a mental standpoint going into the game, regardless of him throwing the first pitch.

Which two teams do you feel will be left standing in the World Series, and who do you feel will take it down?

Right now, I tell you what, Boston really looks strong. They look strong because they hit and they pitch. I’m not so sure what’s going to happen with the Oakland / Detroit series, but both those teams have shown the propensity for the bats to go quiet when they face good pitching, and you’re going to face good pitching in the postseason and you really have got to have some kind of offensive production and it seems like the Red Sox are that in the American League. On the National League side, I kept thinking the Cardinals, but the way Pittsburgh’s played, the Cardinals may not even be in the mix! But I do like the way the Dodgers are playing. They’ve got great pitching, great starting pitching and that’s always what you look at when you size up a series, and as we’ve seen, their bats continue to be hot, they go out and continue to consistently score runs. Against top notch pitchers, (L.A.’s) still scoring two, three, four runs, and I think that’s going to be enough with their great pitching. I think it’s going to be the Dodgers and Red Sox, which to me is going to be very compelling because of that big trade the two teams had last year.

We are immersed in a new era of baseball analytics, with sabermetrics becoming more and more a part of the game. Having played with David Eckstein, and today with a player like Nick Punto, are there truly values to a player that cannot be measured statistically but  help their teams win ballgames?

They do. Not that I’ve done any sabermetric analysis on David Eckstein, but to me, I would think with the stuff that’s out there, there’s got to be something that would give him more credit that the naked eye would. I have to believe there’s some statistician out there who could find something, but with that being said, you’re right, I don’t know Nick Punto a whole lot, I know he’s a super-utility player for the Dodgers, but with Eckstein for example, the tone he set, his approach, he never gave up at-bats, just everything he brings to the table night in and night out, being that kind of a player really does make a difference. Whether it’s taking pitches, slowing the pace of the game down and making the pitcher work to taking advantage of those situations where they don’t expect a leadoff hitter to drive in a big run, there’s just not a situation he can’t adjust to and I do think that gets lost in shuffle a little bit. That being said, David Eckstein, over his last few years, I think baseball people came to realize that he did bring a lot of intangibles other than just his raw stats or raw physical abilities.

Tim McCarver once said that the gloom felt after a postseason loss was disproportionate to the glee of victory. Describe the chasm between that loss in Seattle and Darin Erstad hauling in Kenny Lofton’s fly ball in ’02.

It’s the outhouse to the penthouse. I can recall in 2002 when we were in the World Series, we had flown back from San Francisco, and the Giants had just drubbed us in Game 5 and I remember driving home at 3 0’clock in the morning with my wife thinking we’re facing that elimination game. Here we’ve come on this road, all the way to the World Series, but as exciting as it’s been it would almost be worse to be this close and lose it than to never have experienced it. I think that’s the one thing that the playoffs do, you may get into the postseason but boy, unless you win the postseason, the bitterness, the taste that it leaves behind when you lose something, other than that ’95 one-game playoff, I can’t image going that far in ’02 the way we did and coming up short. This many years after the game for me in retirement, I’ve got to believe it would be haunting me the rest of my life. That’s the double-edged sword of postseason, only one team really truly gets to enjoy the spoils, while everybody else goes home with nightmares and things to fret about the rest of their lives.

On Monday night, Juan Uribe couldn’t get a bunt down for the Dodgers, then planted one into the left field seats that ended up sending the Boys in Blue to the NLCS. Back in ’02, the same thing happened with Adam Kennedy, who ended up with a hat trick to down the Twins and send the Angels to the World Series. What did you guys feed Kennedy that morning — spinach, Fruit Loops — where did that come from?

(Chuckles) Anytime that a player does something like that there is no secret sauce, it’s just one of those magical things that happen, and I don’t think the players can even describe it. I think if you interviewed Adam Kennedy to this day he’d have no answers for you, either. It’s just a magical thing that seems to happen in this great game. That being said, whether it’s a guy that can’t get down a bunt and he hits a home run or a guy can’t get down a bunt and he drives him in, it seems like I’ve seen it happen maybe more times than not and I think it has something to do with the fact that the batter recognizes he didn’t get the bunt down and it locks him in a little deeper, grinds him into that at-bat and focus with two strikes, and also the pitcher looks at it as a conceded out so it disarms the pitcher, so with that refocused hitter, it seems like you see that situation happen a lot, maybe not necessarily with a home run but coming up with a big hit.

Rays manager Joe Maddon served as bench coach for the Angels while you were with the club, including that championship season of ’02. Give us your thoughts on a man who has a very unique, but equally successful take on the game.

Joe Maddon acted as the scout that signed me, so in ’89 when I signed my first professional contract, he was the Field Director for the Angels and he actually came to my house and signed me to my first professional contract. So, I got to know Joe really well early on and in some ways, everybody would always tease him that he was my “daddy,” because when I was in the minor leagues as a prospect, he would always seem to pay attention to the prospects, so I got to know Joe really well in the minor leagues. One of the things about Joe Maddon, maybe not a big league story, but in the minor leagues, Joe was always the gadget guy, he was always experimenting with gadgets, training techniques and different schools of thought on things, just always bucking the system  and back in the late ’80s, early 90s that was still an old school style of baseball and he was definitely set apart. I think in some ways people labeled him he was a minor league, gadget coach in this old school world of coaching and managing baseball, and I don’t know if he really got the respect he deserved. What (Maddon) does today is so true to the core, it’s not something that he conjured up since he got to the big leagues, he’s been that way from day one when I knew him back in 1989 when he was the minor league Field Director. He was always open to ideas, open to doing things a little bit differently, bucking the system in a sense, but hey, if it provided an opportunity to learn something different about the game or it gave you an advantage, why not? I don’t know if people embraced that early on back then, but as you see we’re in a new millennium of baseball and I think he’s on the crest, he’s riding that wave out in front setting the tone for the way baseball is going to be in the future. Just like sabermetrics wouldn’t have been accepted back in the late 80s, early 90s, Joe Maddon’s style of coaching wasn’t accepted necessarily back then either, so we’re in a different era and a different age and he’s the right man to be leading the charge.

After inking Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton to massive contracts, the Angels have failed to reach the playoffs each of the past two seasons. What do the Angels have to do to get back into the tournament?

You can have the best team on paper, but it always comes down to health. If you can’t have your starting rotation taking the ball out there every fifth day it’s going to create havoc. Last year in particular, between Jason Vargas and Jered Weaver, I think they missed 18 starts or something like that and that hurts you because it’s just the domino effect because of what it does to the rest of the rotation, what it does to the bullpen trying to fill in and the psyche of guys trying to pitch in situations they’re not used to and then it snowballs on the defensive side and the offensive side. You have to remember, the Angels lost Erick Aybar this year, they lost (Alberto) Callaspo, they had a lot of injuries and DL time that didn’t get enough credit. Josh Hamilton had a terrible start, but I think he worked his way out of some of that toward the end of the season and hopefully he’s start back and have a better start next year, but when you go back and look at this past year with the struggles they had in the bullpen in the second half and the starting pitching issues due to injury, there aren’t many teams that would have been able to deal with that unless you had a lot of depth. And everybody knows the Angels don’t have a lot of depth right now, the minor leagues have been depleted a little bit, so the guys they pencil in in February, they’ve got to keep their fingers crossed that they stay healthy because there’s not going to be a whole lot of help if those guys go down. So, I think that’s the biggest challenge for them, if they stay healthy I think they’ll do whatever everybody expects them to do, but the key is always going to be staying healthy.


Be sure to check out Salmon’s book Always an Angel: Playing the Game with Fire and Faith.

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