Covering The Plate: A Baseball Catcher Tells All
Brad Ausmus has been called one of the best catchers in baseball. He spent 18 seasons in the big leagues, playing for teams like the Dodgers and the Padres. He details what it's like to couch behind home plate, deal with umps and make pitching calls.
Other segments from the episode on August 18, 2011
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Covering The Plate: A Baseball Catcher Tells All
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, sitting in for Terry Gross, who's
off this week.
I've watched baseball for a long time, and the more I see, the more I
appreciate catchers. They aren't like the outfielders, gracefully loping
under fly balls, or infielders diving for grounders. They're baseball's
anonymous brutes, hidden behind masks and crouched behind the plate,
eating dust from pitches in the dirt and getting clipped by foul balls.
But the position is incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally.
Besides doing 150 knee-bends a day and absorbing collisions at the
plate, catchers have to study hitters and call just the right pitches
and manage the delicate psyches of their pitchers, young and old.
I wanted to talk to a veteran catcher about the life he leads, and
people who know steered me to Brad Ausmus. He retired last year after 18
seasons in the big leagues, 10 of them with the Houston Astros. He's a
three-time Gold Glove winner and was named to the 1999 National League
He caught more than 1,900 games in all, good for seventh place on the
all-time list. He's now a special assistant to the general manager of
the San Diego Padres. I spoke to Brad Ausmus last week.
Brad Ausmus, welcome to FRESH AIR. As a catcher, your role is unique.
You and the pitcher are busy on every play, while seven other guys,
although they all do tremendous things from time to time, are standing
around. Tell us - describe, if you will, some of the physical demands of
catching in the big leagues.
Mr. BRAD AUSMUS (Former Major League Baseball Player): Physically, it's
mainly getting in and out of a squat. You do it not only during the
course of the game - which is actually the easier part - you do it in
the bullpen, you do it in spring training, you do it doing the warm-ups,
you do it prior to the game.
At times, I've tried to total up the number of squats I've gotten into
over the course of a season, and you know, you'd have to go 150 squats a
day for seven months, and you'd come up with a number. So your legs take
a toll, especially when you get down to the last two months of the
season. In August and September, you start to feel your legs getting
I remember walking up the stairs one season when I had a newborn, my
second daughter, and I would walk halfway up the stairs to the landing,
and I'd kind of have to rest because my legs were tired. So there is a
physical demand, mostly on your legs.
DAVIES: And I imagine that you like a pitcher who works quickly. I mean,
you're there crouching, and somebody who takes his time, you know, picks
up the rosin bag, thinks it over, rubs his forehead while you're there
crouching, does that make your day tougher?
Mr. AUSMUS: It definitely makes it tougher. When you have a pitcher who
works quickly, not only works quickly in the sense that gets the ball,
gets back on the pitching rubber and is prepared to get the sign and go,
but works quickly in the sense that myself as the catcher and the
pitcher are on the same page in terms of what pitch should be used in
the situation against this hitter in this game, and there's not much
shaking off going on. The pitcher's constantly in agreement with the
catcher. That's the games that are fun and go quickly.
DAVIES: Now, you have those deep knee bends you're doing all day, or at
least all through the game and the warm-ups, but there are those times
in the game when you get nicked. Now, I imagine the equipment's probably
improved since you first started, right, the protective equipment?
Mr. AUSMUS: It's improved - yes, it's improved and become a lot more
DAVIES: Yeah? In what ways?
Mr. AUSMUS: When I first started, really the inside of the shin guards
protecting your legs was just hard rubber, and now they're rubber lined
with cloth, and it's a lot easier, especially when sometimes you get
gravel or dirt in between your legs and the shin guard. And this new
material softens it, and it's not constantly grinding on your skin.
But there's been improvements in other areas. The chest protectors, they
now have a slow-release foam rather than just being stuffed like a
stuffed animal with fabric or some type of fiber. And of course nowadays
catchers have a choice of masks. They can go with the old-style mask and
helmet combination, or they can go with the relatively new style in the
last 12 or so years of the hockey mask, which has become pretty popular.
DAVIES: And why is the hockey mask better?
Mr. AUSMUS: Well, being a former hockey-mask wearer, I liked it for a
number of reasons. One, it provided protection for the entire head. So
if the hitter on his backswing came all the way around and hits you
toward the back of the mask, your head was still protected in a hockey-
style mask, more so than it would be in the old-style mask.
But also the bars were thinner and closer to your face, which gave you a
better viewing through the mask, and you could see the field better, see
the pitch better, see any ball being thrown to you better.
Thirdly and finally was with the new-style mask you never had to take it
off. You know, when you wore the old-style catching mask, the helmet was
generally turned backwards, and the brim of the hat faced backwards.
So if there was a pop-up or a foul ball that you were chasing, and you
looked up, what would happen is the brim would hit your upper back or
the back of your shoulders and it would cause the mask to jostle. As a
result, catchers constantly have to remove their masks for a foul ball
or a pop-up.
With the catching-style mask, there is no brim in the back. So you can
move your head in all directions without changing your view or jostling
the helmet itself, or the mask itself. So you could leave it on, on a
pop-up. You don't even have to remove it and worry about throwing it to
the side or stepping on it or hitting the umpire with it.
DAVIES: Right. Do you catch one-handed, with one - with your bare hand
behind your back for protection, or do you keep both hands out there?
Mr. AUSMUS: Well, it changes based on the situation. If there's nobody
on base, I keep my right hand or my throwing hand kind of to my side by
my hip and down a little bit to protect it from a foul ball.
Back 40, 50 years ago, before there was changes in the catcher's mitt,
it used to be just basically a pillow with a hole in the middle or a
dent in the middle that catchers would have to catch the ball and
immediately put their throwing hand over it so it wouldn't pop out.
And there's been a lot of changes in the catcher's mitt. It's hinged and
it has a webbing. You don't really need two hands to catch the ball. So
when there's nobody on base, the throwing hand, in order to protect it,
is either behind me or down by my right hip.
Now, if there's a runner on base that could possibly steal, or I need to
be concerned with the ball in the dirt not getting by me, then I'd bring
my hand - and I actually lay it relaxed on the groin area or the inner
thigh of my right leg, and it just kind of hangs there flat against my
inner thigh, and it's in a good position there to either block the ball
in the dirt or to be ready to throw a base-stealer out.
DAVIES: And you hope you don't get a foul tip into that exposed arm or
Mr. AUSMUS: You're right, and it's a precarious position. What I've
found is, first in, you know, 18 years in the major leagues I may have
gotten hit in that spot 10 times. It doesn't get hit very often. I've
also found that if you keep your hand relaxed, when you do get hit,
there's usually no damage.
And I can say over the course of my entire career, there was only one
foul ball that hit my throwing hand that caused me to miss any time. I
missed two or three games when I was playing for the Houston Astros. But
other than that, it's usually like any other foul tip. You shake it off
and you move forward.
DAVIES: So a guy's 58 feet away throwing 90 miles an hour, a batter
swinging in front of my eyes, and I'm staying relaxed.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AUSMUS: That's the goal.
DAVIES: Now, you mentioned balls in the dirt. They're a terrific weapon
for your pitcher, I mean to get a batter lunging at a ball that's
dropping out of the strike zone. And so you get a lot of ground balls
and a lot of strikes that way, and that's good for your team. But
there's also the risk that that ball can get past you, the catcher, and
a base runner can advance.
You were known for being good at stopping balls in the dirt. Any
particular tricks you used?
Mr. AUSMUS: There's nothing - no trick to it. And really the important
thing about keeping balls in front of you - this is how I often explain
it. If I was a basketball player, and somebody took a jump shot, and I
swatted the ball into the stands, blocking a shot, everyone might ooh
and ahh, but the truth of the matter is, is that team gets the ball back
because it went out of bounds. So it doesn't do us any good.
That is very similar to catching. You can't just block the ball, you
have to control the ball, because if you block it and it ricochets more
than five feet away from you, the runner's going to advance anyway, and
it hasn't done you any good.
So my whole theory on blocking was controlling the ball, kind of
catching the ball with my chest protector and keeping it close to me,
because if it went too far, we're in a worse predicament.
DAVIES: Now, I want to talk about collisions at the plate. There are
some collisions in baseball, like occasionally outfielders will collide
with each other or the wall, and sometimes it happens among base
runners. But the one time in baseball that a collision is intentional
and accepted is when a runner is coming in from third, the catcher is
waiting for a throw from the fielder, and the catcher's got to catch
that ball, make the tag on the runner, and if you block the plate,
they're allowed to plow into you, right?
Mr. AUSMUS: Yeah, absolutely. You are free game.
DAVIES: Tell us about how that works. I mean, would you block the plate
and thereby induce a collision, or would you like to give them a path so
that they would slide and try and avoid the tag? How did you approach
Mr. AUSMUS: You know, every play at the plate can be slightly different,
but going into it, this was my general approach: The ball gets hit to
the outfield, there's a runner at second base, I know there's a possible
play at the plate as soon as the ball's hit.
So I get my feet set, usually at the left - the front left corner is
where I put my left foot, and I kind of point my toe towards third base
because if that runner slides into me, I don't want to have my toe
pointed towards the pitcher's mound, and now the runner slides into the
side of my knee. So I'm setting my feet ahead of time.
And as the play develops, you get a sense, by looking back and forth and
through your peripheral vision, if there's going to be a play or not.
And as the throw comes in, what happens more often than not is the throw
takes you to where you go because you have to catch the ball and apply
the tag. So you have to go where the throw is.
If it does come right to you and there's time to catch the ball and set,
then that's probably when you're going to get hit. The general rule as a
base runner is if you're running towards home and the catcher is about
to catch the ball or already has the ball, that's when you want to hit
him. That's when you want to either jostle him, jostle him just before
he catches it, or hit him hard enough where he drops it. And that's
really the only time where the contact comes into play at home plate.
DAVIES: You want to tell us one of your more memorable encounters there?
Mr. AUSMUS: I - one clearly stands out above the rest. I was playing in
Houston, and we were playing against the Milwaukee Brewers, and a player
named Scott Podsednik was on second base, and there was a base hit to
center field, where Carlos Beltran was playing. And there was going to
be a play at the plate.
The throw, kind of as I described, took me a little bit to my right, and
I had to reach with my gloved left hand and come back towards home
plate, and as I came back towards home plate, Scott Podsednik hit me on
the left side of my shoulder and mask, and I was actually spun around,
my helmet came flying off, and I was unconscious for about five or 10
DAVIES: Wow. I hate to ask you this, but did you hold the ball?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. AUSMUS: You know what, ironically I did. I didn't know it. I held on
to the ball, and I landed face-first in the dirt, and the pitcher, who
was backing up home plate in case of an overthrow, had to come over and
take the ball out of my glove while I was unconscious, in case the
runner at first, who had had the original single, tried to advance to
the next base.
And Scott Podsednik, who had plowed into me and knocked me out, was
actually called out.
DAVIES: Yeah, I mean typically the umpire just looks to see if the
catcher holds on to the ball, and if he does, it's an out, right?
Mr. AUSMUS: Yeah, generally that's how it works. If there's a collision,
they're assuming a tag was applied, and more often than not, that's the
DAVIES: Do you think the rules should change? I mean, you know, this
doesn't happen at second base or third base, where guys just go
barreling into a fielder, and I've got to see - even though as a catcher
you've got some protection, the momentum is with the base runner.
I mean, I remember Pete Rose actually ended the career of a catcher in
the All-Star Game once, by plowing into him. Should the rule change?
Mr. AUSMUS: No, I don't think there should be any rule changes other
than with one caveat. I would say maybe take away the head hits. Any
contact by the base runner at the catcher's head or above his shoulders
could be deemed illegal.
That way, with all the new studies and discoveries concerning
concussions, you might be able to avoid some post-playing career issues,
medical issues. But other than that, home plate's different. Home plate
is not second base. Home plate is not third base. When you cross home
plate, you've scored a run, and one run can make the difference in a
So for me, being a catcher, even though I know I could have been hurt
while trying to block home plate or trying to apply a tag at home plate,
home plate's not third base. If someone slides into third base, that's
not going to win the game for them.
If someone slides into home plate, and they've crossed it and tagged it,
that could win the game for them, and the axiom in baseball is one game
can be the difference between a playoff team and a team that goes home
and plays golf. So one run could be the difference.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Brad Ausmus. He spent 17 years as a catcher
in the big leagues. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with former big league
catcher Brad Ausmus. He caught more than 1,900 games in Major League
Baseball. We're talking about the life of a catcher.
I want to talk about what happens there at the plate with the umpire. I
mean, you're behind the plate. The batter's at the back of the batter's
box and the ump is crouching over your shoulder. You're kind of almost a
unit there. I mean, do you and the umpire sort of work together? Is
there a sort of choreographed dance there?
Mr. AUSMUS: Generally speaking, the umpire works around the catcher.
There are some umpires who like to place a hand on the catcher's
shoulder or side. It kind of lines them up and gives - they know where
they are and gives them their view of the strike zone.
And you know, 99 percent of the catchers have no problem with it. And
sometimes the umpire will even say, hey, does my hand on your shoulder
bother you? And once again, I think 99 percent of catchers say no, don't
worry about it. As long as the umpire's not actually pushing you in any
way when you're trying to catch the ball, it's usually not an issue.
The umpire is kind of setting up around the catcher, but you are, in a
sense, working together. And you know, I will have umpires, or I have
had umpires, say, hey, I'm having trouble seeing the inside pitch, can
you get a little lower. And generally you try to accommodate the umpire.
This guy's making decisions on balls and strikes. The last thing you
want to do is make him angry.
So you are working together, and you get to know these guys. You know,
people from the stands are yelling blue or four-eyes, you know, whatever
they have for the umpire, but you know, you get to know the umpires by
name. You have a rapport with them. You know who you can joke around
with, who you can't. So there is a relationship there that goes beyond
DAVIES: And can you work an umpire? I guess one of the things you do is
when a close pitch comes in, you try and frame it for the umpire and
make them give it the appearance of a strike, right? And that's
something I'm told you were known for doing well.
Mr. AUSMUS: Yeah, you want to get every pitch you can. And my whole
premise was the less movement you had, the less distracted the umpire
is, the more likely the umpire is to think it's a strike. If there's a
lot of movement, he's thinking you're reaching for the ball, it can't be
where you wanted it. Maybe it was a ball. Or sometimes just the movement
of a catcher itself can distract the umpire.
So my whole theory was as little movement as possible and make the ball
look like it's in the center of my body. So there was a slight shift of
my upper body as I tried to catch the ball towards the center of my
chest protector, in a spot where the umpire could see it. I don't mean
catch it literally on my chest protector, but directly in front of my
sternum, I would try and catch it with slight shifts from side to side,
no sudden movements.
DAVIES: Now, if you're not getting the close calls from the umpire, can
you work him at all?
Mr. AUSMUS: You can. You know, early in the game, generally speaking,
I'm going to let the umpire kind of establish where his strike zone is.
You know, these guys aren't computers. Not every umpire has the exact
same strike zone. There are slight variations.
And I don't mind the variations, as long as these variations hold true
for the entire nine innings. If they've established their strike zone in
a certain manner in the first two innings or so, I don't want to see
that strike zone change when we get into the eighth inning and now the
game is on the line and he misses a call that he's called all day.
So as long as they're consistent with their strike zones, you know, I
don't think anyone really has a problem with it.
DAVIES: And what does it - tell me what it sounds like when you admonish
an umpire or work him in a circumstance like that, where you think
they've, you know, they've changed their strike zone.
Mr. AUSMUS: It would â again, it would depend on the situation. If it's
the first time I disagreed with him, it would - it'd be very congenial.
And one general rule I stuck to was I didn't really admonish an umpire
or argue or question an umpire while there was a hitter within earshot.
Even if it was only the second pitch at the at-bat, and the at-bat went
eight pitches, I would wait till that hitter was gone before I said
something to the umpire, and usually if it was one - the first or second
pitch that I disagreed with it, I'd ask him: Hey, where did you have
that curve ball that he threw second pitch?
And the umpire might say: Oh, I had it outside. And I said: I thought it
caught the corner. That right there sends a message, all right? He
thinks - he knows that I thought it was a strike, even if he had the
pitch being outside.
Now, if this happens again and again, or he consistently misses pitches
that I think are strikes, or he consistently - or I should say not
consistently, if he later in the game doesn't call something a strike
that he had called early in the game, then it could get a little bit
And believe it or not, sometimes you don't even have to say anything.
You can just hold the pitch a little bit longer, not throw it back to
the pitcher as quickly. Body language speaks as loud as words.
DAVIES: And the rule is you're not allowed to argue balls and strikes.
You can be ejected for that, right. So you kind of have to be subtle
Mr. AUSMUS: You can. I mean, the umpire will give you some leeway in
terms of disagreeing with him. You know, umpires know they're not going
to get 100 percent of the pitches right, and as long as you're not
complaining every single inning, every single game they're behind home
plate, they really don't have a problem with you disagreeing with them.
I think as a catcher, you need to understand that these guys have a job
to do. The large majority of them are doing the best they can. You know,
they don't have vendettas against players, generally speaking. That
rarely happens. They don't hold grudges. One of the first things they're
taught is they can't hold grudges.
They're trying to get every pitch right. They're being evaluated on it.
And there's no animosity that the umpires harbor, for the most part,
against players. They want to get the call right.
DAVIES: Brad Ausmus spent 18 years catching in the big leagues. He's now
a special assistant to the San Diego Padres. He'll be back in the second
half of the show. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross who has
the week off.
We're talking about the life of a Major League catcher with Brad Ausmus
who retired last year after 18 seasons in the big leagues. He's now a
special assistant to the San Diego Padres.
One of the most important things a catcher does is to call the pitches
that the pitcher is going to throw. I mean people who watch the game
know that between your legs you will drop typically I guess one finger
to signal a fastball and then two, three or four for various other
pitches that the pitcher might throw â the, you know, a curveball, a
slider, a changeup. And when you see this working well it's interesting.
You will see the pitcher get the ball back and then almost go into the
wind up immediately. And I'm thinking for that to happen the catcher
must be making the decision on what pitch to call immediately as soon as
the last pitch is a completed.
Does it work that quickly? I mean, is that what you do?
Mr. AUSMUS: Basically, yes. That's exactly what happens. A pitch is
thrown and as soon as you've thrown it back there's kind of a checklist
that you go through. And it becomes more reflexive as you do it more and
more. And a veteran catcher, a lot of the checklist he just glosses over
because he knows the answer to it. But you're really going through a
bunch of different things in your mind, including what's the score? What
inning are we in? How many outs? What's this hitter's weaknesses? What
is this pitcher's strengths? Who's on deck? How did we get this guy out
last time? What pitches did he see? What pitch did we just throw? So I
mean there's about 10 to a dozen things that you kind of - a checklist
you go through in your mind before you put that signal down.
DAVIES: Right. And then you can pick from four or five pitches that the
pitcher throws. And it can be up or down or inside or outside. That's a
lot of options that you've got to get through in a hurry.
Mr. AUSMUS: It is. And you prepare for it. You know, it's, that
checklist you go through before every single pitch. But a lot of it
happens beforehand. You know, you, we have pitcher and catcher meetings.
On the teams I've played with the catchers would get together and go
over the entire offensive lineup or potential lineup, their strengths,
their weaknesses. What - can they run? Do they hit and run? Are they
Before every series I would have a stack of graphs and they would have
each hitter on the opposing team, what they did against right-handed,
what they did against left-handed pitchers, what they did against
curveballs and sliders, against right-handed or left-handed pitchers,
what they did against changeups and split-fingered fastballs against
right-handed and left-handed pitchers.
And this all gets condensed down into basically a sheet or a chart of
strengths, weaknesses. And you use that as your cheat sheet before the
game and when you're going over the lineup with the pitcher that day.
And so this all, all the decisions that go on during the course of a
game, this starts long before the games begin. And in fact you could
even make the argument that when a new pitcher comes to a team it starts
all the way back in spring training when you are catching this new
pitcher to your team and your figuring out what his strengths, what are
his best pitches, what is his best off-speed pitch. And all this
knowledge gets applied when you get into the game with that pitcher and
you have to call pitches.
DAVIES: How many hours a week would you spend just doing the mental
work? I mean outside the game just studying stuff, making graphs?
Mr. AUSMUS: Well, I would do the graphs before every series. So and that
would take me a couple hours. And then you go over each lineup on a
given day which would only take about 20 minutes. And then I would spend
another's 20 minutes every game that I was catching going over the chart
myself and looking at that day's opposing lineup and just giving myself
a little refresher of what the strengths and weaknesses are of each
player in the opposing team's lineup.
DAVIES: So a catcher then who knows his pitcher and knows all of the
hitter's tendencies and calls a great game is a tremendous asset, and I
think people in baseball know this. And frankly, people who write about
you say that you were one of the best at this. Adam Dunn who is, of
course, a terrific left-handed power hitter has said of you, as a hitter
I hate him.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DAVIES: Because you are known for doing this well. You've also though
got a handle your pitcher's psyche. If the pitcher out there is getting
frustrated, not hitting his spots and you trot out. I'm sure every
conversation is different, but do you have to know, I don't know, do
some pitchers bristle if you make a suggestion? Is it a matter of simple
encouragement? Is it strategy? What do you say when you get out there
and talk to them?
Mr. AUSMUS: The one general rule I had - and this didn't apply every
single time I went out to talk to a pitcher. You know, there are times
where I would have to get on a pitcher, but my general rule was when I
left the pitcher's mound after talking to any given pitcher, I want them
to feel like they can get out of this situation.
You know, baseball's a tough game. It's not as physically demanding as
say football or hockey. But it's a tough game in the sense that it's
pitch after pitch after pitch for 150 pitches a game for six straight
months with very few days of rest. So when I left that mound, I wanted
that pitcher even if he was in the worst situation possible. If he was
in bases loaded, no outs, with the tying run at third base in the bottom
of the ninth inning, when I left that pitcher's mound, I wanted that
pitcher to feel like hey, I've got a chance to get out of this.
So I, my general rule was to be positive. Unless there was a guy who I
knew could handle a little yelling or little berating, I was generally
very calm and I walked away hoping that they felt like this is not an
DAVIES: And when somebody could take a little berating what would you
berate them about?
Mr. AUSMUS: Usually when I was berating someone it was because they were
pitching what I would call scared. They were trying to avoid contact or
they were afraid that the hitter was going to hit the ball. In sports in
general you can't be afraid of failure, but in baseball there's so much
failure you really can't be afraid of it. So the only time I would
berate a pitcher or get on a pitcher would be when I felt like they were
pitching scared on the mound and that they were trying to avoid contact
because they were afraid of what was going to happen. So unless you were
doing that like I said I general rule was to walk away with them feeling
they could get out of that situation.
DAVIES: Crash Davis, the catcher in "Bull Durham," said you play the
game with fear and arrogance. Did you like that movie?
Mr. AUSMUS: I did like it. Yeah. It was a good movie.
DAVIES: There's a moment in that film where his young pitcher, "Nuke"
LaLoosh is shaking off his signs. And he says I can't believe this guy
is shaking off my signs. And after conversing with him at the mound,
"Nuke" wanted to throw his fastball against a guy who always looks for a
first ball fastball. The catcher then Kevin Costner, tells the batter
Did you get irritated when young pitchers would shake your signs off?
Mr. AUSMUS: I did. There were times where I did get irritated,
especially later in my career when I felt like I had a generally pretty
good knowledge of the hitters in situations. I don't mind being shaken
off and I would never make a pitcher throw a pitch he doesn't want to
throw because if he doesn't believe in it it's not going to be
successful even if it's the right pitch. I'd rather have him throw what
he wants to throw even if it's the wrong pitch. But it would bother me
at times when a young pitcher who had never seen the hitters before
would come up and start shaking.
It would also bother me sometimes when a pitcher would come out of the
bullpen for the first time in a series, and maybe it's the third game of
a four-game series and he hasn't pitched or seen any of these hitters
and I've seen them for three straight days and he'd come out and start
Does that make me right and them wrong? Absolutely not. Like I said, I
would rather they throw the wrong pitch with conviction than throw the
right pitch halfheartedly. That being said, there are times too where
I'll put a sign down and they'll shake and I'll put it down again and
they'll shake, and I'll put it down a third time and they'll go okay.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DAVIES: Okay. This is the pitch. Now this gets sensitive. Did you ever
call for your pitcher to plunk a batter? I mean this is a part of the
game, they say - situations where you might throw at somebody or throw
in, throw close to them.
Mr. AUSMUS: Yeah. Yes I have. You know, there are times where a team or
a player kind of breaks the baseball code. You know, whether it's trying
to steal a base late in the game when the opponent had a big lead and
didn't need to be stealing bases and scoring more runs, trying to stick
it to us or show us up. An opponent slides into our second baseman with
the cleats high, looks like he's trying to injure him. You know, there
are times where you kind of take the law into your own hands.
DAVIES: Would those calls come from the dugout or would they come from
Mr. AUSMUS: Both.
Mr. AUSMUS: You know, I've had managers tell me they want player X to be
hit and there's been times where I've walked up to a pitcher in the
dugout and said hey, when player Y comes up drill him. So it's happened.
It's happened both way. It hasn't happened a lot but it has happened and
it is part of the game. It has been for generations.
DAVIES: Now if a batter comes up and thinks that he's being thrown at
and things are getting tense would you, are there things you would say
to defuse the situation?
Mr. AUSMUS: Yeah, especially if we hadn't tried to hit him
intentionally. And usually if we tried to hit the person or it was an
intentional plunking I wouldn't say anything. I'd just try to
strategically place myself between him and the pitcher in case he rushed
out there. But if it was an accident, if we actually weren't trying to
hit the batter and we did then I'd try to explain to him that we weren't
trying to hit him.
DAVIES: In general is there much conversation between you and batters? I
mean can you ever get into a batter's head? Do you ever try and do that?
Mr. AUSMUS: I didn't do it too much. You know, when I was hitting I
didn't - other than to say hello to the catcher, unless I was good
friends with him I didn't want to talk too much. And I know how hard
hitting is so I kind of left hitters, I left them alone when they walked
in - other than to say hello. You know, there was a lot of guys who I
played against for a lot of years so certainly I'd say hello, how you
doing. After that it was business.
Now there are, you know, a handful of friends that I've known for
decades that would come to the plate and I might joke around with them.
But as a general rule other than a hello I - we both had a job to do.
DAVIES: Well, Brad Ausmus, it's been fun. Thanks so much.
Mr. AUSMUS: All right. Thank you, Dave.
DAVIES: Brad Ausmus caught 18 seasons in the big leagues. He's a three-
time Gold Glove winner and ranks seventh all-time from most games
caught. He's now a special assistant to the general manager for the San
Now here's that scene from the classic baseball film "Bull Durham" we
just spoke about. Here catcher Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner, has
called for a curveball to start a hitter. On the mound his pitcher
"Nuke" LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, disagrees. The scene is slightly
edited for clarity.
(Soundbite of movie, "Bull Durham")
(Soundbite of crowd shouting)
Mr. TIM ROBBINS (Actor): (as "Nuke") Why's he calling for a curveball? I
want to bring heat. Shake him off. Start throwing 'em.
(Soundbite of whistling)
Mr. KEVIN COSTNER (Actor): (as Crash) Dammit. Time out. Hey, why you
shaking me off? Huh?
Mr. ROBBINS: (as "Nuke") I want to bring the heater to announce my
presence with authority.
Mr. COSTNER: (as Crash) Announce your what?
Mr. ROBBINS: (as "Nuke") Announce my presence with authority.
Mr. COSTNER: (as Crash) To announce your (bleep) presence with
authority? This guy's a first ball, fastball hitter. He's looking for
Mr. ROBBINS: (as "Nuke") Oh yeah? So what? He ain't seen my heat.
Mr. COSTNER: (as Crash) All right, meat, give him your heat.
Mr. ROBBINS: (as "Nuke") Why is he always calling me meat? I'm the guy
driving a Porsche. Fastball.
(Soundbite of cheering)
(Soundbite of ball being hit)
(Soundbite of bull roaring)
Unidentified Female: Home run for Burt Brooks.
(Soundbite of hands clapping)
Unidentified Man: Play ball.
(Soundbite of bull roaring)
Mr. COSTNER: (as Crash) Well, he really hit the (bleep) out of that one
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. COSTNER: (as Crash) Look at that, he hit the bull. Guy gets a free
(Soundbite of Bull roaring)
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. COSTNER: (as Crash) You having fun, yet?
Mr. ROBBINS: (as "Nuke") Oh, yeah, I'm having a blast. Thanks.
Mr. COSTNER: (as Crash) Good.
Mr. ROBBINS: (as "Nuke") God, sucker teed off on that like he knew I was
going throw a fastball.
Mr. COSTNER: (as Crash) He did know.
Mr. ROBBINS: (as "Nuke") How?
Mr. COSTNER: (as Crash) I told him.
DAVIES: Coming up, Ed Ward on some early music from Sly Stone.
This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Sly Stone: The Early Days In The East Bay
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Sly Stone is known to millions from the records he made with Sly & the
Family Stone. But he had a career before he and the family got together
and at one point had his own record label, Stone Flower.
Rock historian Ed Ward says Stone's other work adds another dimension to
the career of this enigmatic character.
(Soundbite of song, "Free Advice")
Mr. SLY STONE (Musician): (Singing) Woman says she loves me she gives me
free advice. Woman says she loves me every single night. I wonder who it
is she loves if she wants me to be so nice.
ED WARD: When you think of Sly Stone, this is not the sort of thing
which immediately comes to mind. It's "Free Advice," a single by the
Great Society, recorded in December 1965 and featuring Jerry Slick, his
wife Grace and his younger brother Darby. It may not sound like it, but
it took 53 takes to get this one, and the reason for that is right on
the record label, which says produced by Sly Stewart.
By the time this was released, the young producer, a notorious
perfectionist, had been working for Autumn Records, a label run by San
Francisco DJ Tom Donahue and his partner Bob Mitchell, for two years.
Donahue undoubtedly knew Sylvester Stewart as a fellow DJ who held down
a slot on KSOL in the East Bay, and also knew that while Sly Stone - as
he was known on the air - loved soul music, he was also way into British
rock. Thus, when Donahue brought a band into the studio that he'd
discovered in a San Francisco North Beach club, his young producer knew
just what to do with them.
(Soundbite of song, "Don't Talk to Strangers")
THE BEAU BRUMMEL (Rock Band): (Singing) Follow your lone beaten path.
Wander where you can't be grabbed. Be aware of hidden dangers. And don't
you go talking to strangers.
WARD: "Don't Talk to Strangers" was the fourth charting single Sly Stone
had produced with the Beau Brummels. While it did okay nationally, it
was a big enough hit locally that the band was soon scooped up by Warner
Brothers. Sly kept busy for Autumn, though, producing hits and misses
for the Mojo Men and the Vejtables, with a J, whose lead singer and
drummer was Jan Errico. If that name sounds familiar, it might be
because her cousin Gregg was soon to emerge as the drummer in Sly's new
band, The Family Stone.
When Autumn fell apart early in 1966, Sly Stone was already producing
some sessions for Billy Preston, playing in San Francisco with his band
The Stoners, and cutting demos with his brother Freddie's band, which
already show the fusion of rock and funk.
(Soundbite of recording)
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man #1: Is that (unintelligible)...
Unidentified Man #2: Wait, wait, wait, wait.
Unidentified Man #3: (Unintelligible).
Unidentified Man #4: "You Really Got Me" take four.
Unidentified Man #5: Three, four...
(Soundbite of song, "You Really Got Me")
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE (Rock, funk, and soul band): (Singing) Girl, you
really got me going. You got me so I don't know what I'm doing, now.
Girl, you really got me going. You got me so I can't sleep at night.
Yeah, you really got me going. You got me so I don't know what I'm
doing, now. Girl, you really got me going. You got me so I don't know
what I'm doing. You really got me. You really got me. Yeah.
TUCKER: By late 1967, the personnel of The Family Stone had jelled, and
they were on their way to million-sellers, Woodstock, and crossover
success. In 1969, Sly and his manager Dave Kapralik incorporated Stone
Flower Productions, and soon they were approached by Atlantic Records,
offering them a label on which to place Sly's productions. Sly's first
two signings for the label were an old friend, Joe Hicks, and a trio
called Little Sister - which did indeed have his little sister Vaetta,
known as Vet, and two of her friends. Little Sister had been a gospel
outfit, but like Vet's big brother, they liked to experiment, and they
didn't get many bookings. So Sly Stone signed them.
(Soundbite of song, "You're the One")
LITTLE SISTER (Music Group): (Singing) I'm the one who wants to be
ahead. I stand in line and I'm behind instead. What is happening, let me
look around, not a thing trying to hold me down. Now I know I got to
look at me. Some things a little hard to see. Ahh. Ahhh.
WARD: There was no doubt who was backing them up, of course, and "You're
the One" made it to 22 on the pop charts. The follow-up didn't do as
well, but it did give a bit of insight into the new sound Sly was
(Soundbite of song, "Somebody's Watching You")
SLY & THE FAMILY STONES: (Singing) Pretty, pretty, pretty as a picture.
Witty, witty, witty as you can be. Blind 'cause your eyes see only
glitter, closed to the things that make you free.
Ever stop to think about a downfall, happens at the end of every line.
Just when you think you've pulled a fast one, happens to the foolish all
Somebody's watching you. Somebody's watching you.
WARD: The last Stone Flower single, by Joe Hicks, remains one of the
most disturbing records I've ever heard.
(Soundbite of song, "Life and Death in G and A")
SLY & THE FAMILY STONES: (Singing) Good and bad. Big and small. In and
out. None at all. If it feels good, it's all right. If it feels good,
it's all right. Tell me when you feel it. Front and back.
WARD: The extreme compression, the minimalist backing dominated by the
Ace Tone Rhythm Ace machine, and the lack of chord progression makes
"Life and Death in G and A" a claustrophobic, paranoid experience. Sly
Stone was on to something else now, about to release "There's a Riot
Goin' On" and then disappear for two years.
DAVIES: Ed Ward lives in France. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the
film "Mysteries of Lisbon."
This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Four Hours In 'Lisbon': A Rich And Dreamy Voyage
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Filmmaker Raoul Ruiz was born in Chile in 1941, but fled to France after
the 1973 coup. Living in exile, he's directed more than 100 films, many
experimental and with international casts. "Mysteries of Lisbon" is a
wide-ranging Napoleonic-era drama made in six episodes for European
television but cut down to four and a half hours for a theatrical
Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: Seventy-year-old Chilean-born director Raoul Ruiz has
made over 100 films, only a few of which have been distributed in the
U.S. - but he's beloved at festivals and in film studies programs
everywhere. I've seen seven of his movies, and five struck me as less
than meets the eye - not just difficult but pointlessly disorienting,
the disjunctions like manic tics meant to break up the relationship
between image and language.
Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum called Ruiz's works irresponsible, not merely
in their dogged marginality, but also in their refusal to aspire to the
rigor or consistency of masterpieces, their total unwillingness to
marshal their forces in any single, concerted direction. Yes indeedy -
except Rosenbaum thought that was a good thing.
Ruiz finally won me over, though, with his 1999 Proust adaptation, "Time
Regained." Actually, adaptation is the wrong word. It was a translation
from one medium to another, in which Ruiz managed to create a Proustian
stream of consciousness on film. He wasn't undermining narrative for the
sake of being a narrative underminer. He was evoking the way emotions
transform our view - spatially and temporally - of the past. He was,
like Proust, bending time.
Now comes Ruiz's "Mysteries of Lisbon," based on a novella, unavailable
in English, by the prolific 19th century Portuguese author Camilo
Castelo Branco. It's in Portuguese and French and four and a half hours,
the pacing on the slow side. Sound tempting? Maybe not. But it turns out
the film is enthralling - and also, if you're willing to relax and go
with the flow, as juicy and accessible as a great soap opera, and with a
sting in its tail.
It opens like a Dickens novel, its apparent protagonist a bookish and
sad boy named Pedro who lives in a boarding house run by the supremely
empathetic Father Dinis. Pedro is branded a bastard by other boys and
seems to be an orphan. But as the film progresses, we learn the secret
of his origin - and then the secret of his parents' origins and the
origins of people who saved his life and continue to determine his fate.
Point of view is passed like a baton from character to character. There
are multiple narrators, flashbacks within flashbacks, incredible
coincidences, and people who shed one identity and pick up another and
another. Yes, it's confusing, but the confusions are momentary and
reinforce the overriding motif: that in this rigorously Catholic and
class-based society, all surfaces are suspect. Life is a mystery play.
The author, Branco, was something of a Portuguese social-realist, but
Ruiz's work is closer to magic realism, endlessly stylized. The film
unfolds on what looks like the most sumptuous puppet stage ever created,
with occasional cuts to an actual puppet stage on which cardboard
figures are manipulated by the boy, Pedro.
Is the movie the dream of the orphaned puppeteer? It's certainly
dreamlike. Shot on digital video, "Mysteries of Lisbon" is full of long
tracking shots and lengthy takes, the images painterly, the space
layered. The score serves up high melodrama and lush romance - but every
so often Ruiz throws in an overhead or under-the-table shot as a way of
There's always some ironic distance. Duels and military executions are
viewed from odd angles. Lovers' quarrels are framed in doorways in front
of which servants sit and listen as if to a good soap opera. But the
characters' emotions aren't slighted. The camera is always in the right
place to capture what's important - a furtive glance or a frenzied
glower. And the actors are wonderful. Adriano Luz deftly juggles
personas other than Father Dinis, and Ricardo Pereira has a devilishly
romantic screen presence as a scarred Brazilian businessman. He has
international superstar charisma.
What makes this movie transcendent - a fast four and a half hours - is
that unique blend of distance and intimacy. You can study it like a
series of paintings - and then realize, with a gasp, that it's gotten
hold of you like a fever dream.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
(Soundbite of music)
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