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Big League Stew

Best of Answer Man interviews in 2012: Mike Trout, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen respond

David Brown
Big League Stew

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The Answer Man Q&A series tries to ask questions of top major leaguers that no one else has. For better sometimes, for worse, others — but always for fun. Usually fun. We had a diverse array of victims in 2012 that included the best rookie in baseball history, two leading MVP candidates, a Cy Young finalist, and two of the best right fielders in the American League. Look for more Answers coming in 2013. And now, on with the funny!

Sept. 21: AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout

On the occasion of his first big-time product endorsement (Hey, who's thirsty for some BODYARMOR SuperDrink?), we got Trout on the horn to talk about the best rookie season any ballplayer's ever had. Home runs. Home runs stolen. Bases stolen. MVP awards stolen. (I kid, I kid!) With young interview subjects, you never know what you're going to get, but Trout was thoughtful, effusive, even glib. And quite polite, even answering clown questions.

David Brown: Have you saved any of those baseballs that you've stolen?

Mike Trout: Yeah, I do. Sometimes, I'll check 'em out. And sometimes I'll also go back and watch [the highlight] again and I'll still think the ball's about to go out. But I think my J.J. Hardy catch is the best one out of all of them.

DB: What is the toughest thing about robbing somebody of a home run?

MT: Just getting back to the track and, you know, timing is the key. You have to have the right timing and if you don't ... it's easy to jump too early or jump too late. It all has to come out right. You've sort of always got to be on point.

DB: I've been trying to make fun of your last name, but it seems like all the good jokes have been taken. Any of it strike you as being clever?

MT: When I was in Toronto this year, I was in left field and everybody in left field — or maybe it was the whole stadium — was chanting "Here, fishy, fishy, fishy!" That was pretty intense but also pretty cool. And funny, actually. But signs like, "You smell like fish." I mean, c'mon.

DB: If someone in your family catches a trout, guts it, grills it and eats it, is that cannibalism?

MT: Haha — that's funny! But to answer the question: I don't know. I don't think so.

DB: There's one area where Bryce Harper is ahead of you, and that's in fielding Clown Questions. What do you have to do to close the "Clown Question Bro" Gap?

MT: The question about cannibalism is pretty close. So, I think we just did.

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Aug. 3: Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen

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Nobody got off to a hotter start than McCutchen, who was chasing a batting title until the final days of the regular season. He didn't quite get there, and the Bucs didn't break .500 again (2013 will be the year!) but McCutchen's ascent into stardom — and his dogged pursuit of unique socks — are part of what made 2012 so much fun. And he's also helpful in distinguishing black hairstyles for the less informed. Check out these highlights from the visitor's dugout at Wrigley Field:

DB: With the 'do rag and the braids, if you added an eye patch, would you look just like the Jolly Roger?

AM: Well, first off, they're dreadlocks. They're not braids. Those are two different things. Just want to get that clarified [laughs]. But that look could maybe work. I've never done it for Halloween, but maybe one of these years I probably will.

DB: Reportedly, you haven't had a haircut in five years, so if we freed your braids...

AM: Dreadlocks.

DB: Shoot, I had "braids" written from before.

AM: Haha.

DB: So if we freed your dreadlocks, how massive of an Afro are we talking?

AM: All right, another school on the dreadlocks: You can't free them, you can't let them out. That's why they're called "locks." Once the hair is locked up, you can't unravel it. So there's really nothing else I could do. If don't want it anymore someday, if I wanted to do something new, I'd have to cut it off. That's all I could do.

DB: So, there's no key to the dreadlocks.

AM: Right. Once they're locked, they're locked. Once you grow them out, you're done. And if you don't want them anymore, you have to shave it all off.

DB: I've never apologized for being so white before, but I feel pretty white right now. I'm sorry.

AM: Haha. That's OK. It's all right. A lot of people don't know. It's OK.

The more you know!

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Oct. 6: Washington Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez

Of all the Answer Man interview subjects we covered in 2012, nobody had more energy than Gonzalez. And few were friendlier. As the Nats closed on an AL East title, Gonzalez sat down at Busch Stadium to discuss rookie hazing — then and now — and how his first name reminds the interviewer of a certain discontinued automobile.

David Brown: Did the rookies look better than you expected when they dressed as teen gymnasts?

Gio Gonzalez: Ha! Hehe. Oh, man. They should have done a little floor dance, some tumbling. What do you call those things with the ribbon? Rhythm gymnastics. The little wand thing, some baton twirling. I remember my rookie hazing. It wasn't fun. And with mine, they had a team photographer for that. Nowadays, technology has taken off.

DB: What did you have to dress up as?

GG: I had to do it three times. I was dressed up as a "Yodelay! Girl." And the next one was  a Teletubbie. And then as a heavy-set Hawaiian chick. You'll never forget your rookie hazing, I know that for a fact.

DB: A Yodelay! Girl?

GG: Yodelay. Blond hair, a strap here. Beer mugs. The Ricola chick. Riiiiiicola! Swedish chick.

DB: Do you remember the Chevy Geo automobile?

GG: Haha, yeah. Oh, yeah. A Neo-Geo. I remember those.

DB: Did you want one?

GG: Absolutely not! I remember when I started off, my first car was a Kia Specrta. With a spoiler kit and some rims.

DB: How big?

GG: Like 18 inches. We painted it red. We went all out. That's the time "The Fast and the Furious" was coming out. It was definitely not fast and definitely not furious. It was more like a shopping cart. It's all for show. I'm definitely not a "Fast and a Furious" guy. I'm more like "Diamond to the back, sling to the right. Good to go."

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Sept. 7: Slugger Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers

Cruz enjoyed basketball more than baseball growing up in the Dominican Republic, and he spent much of his youth learning how to be an auto mechanic, but when the time came he knew his calling was baseball. I think it's worked out OK. Trapped inside the visitor's clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, Cruz was made to talk:

David Brown: I want to ask you about the triple David Freese hit in the World Series. You almost caught it. Do you think about it often or does it take someone asking to be reminded?

Nelson Cruz: I tell you, I'm a guy with a short memory. No matter what it is that passes by, whether it's good or bad. I don't try, or go out of my way to remember anything. But it does come to mind when people ask me. It is hard to let it go because it was the World Series. But at the same time, I think you learn from whatever mistakes you make. It really depends on what way you take it.

DB: What would you do differently?

NC: I tried my best but ... I'd probably go closer to the wall, so I didn't have to run that much, and jump. That's the only thing you can do different.

DB: Back home, I've got a 2004 Saturn Vue, V6, front-wheel drive with 175,000 miles on it. It needs a new set of rear brakes, the front axle needs a little work and it's got a cracked windshield. What will it cost me for you to fix it?

NC: I could fix the brakes, but I'm not going to fix anything else. I mean, I haven't worked in the shop since ... '98? And now they have all this stuff we didn't have, like computers. So I can do the brakes, but I cannot do anything else.

DB: Should I bring it to the park?

NC: I could help you out.

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Aug. 17: Oakland Athletics right fielder Josh Reddick

A living example of how looks can deceive, Reddick overcame prejudices against the skinny and scraggly looking to be one of the best outfielders in the AL — few made more acrobatic catches and amazing throws in 2012. He definitely has a chip on his shoulder because of people always telling him what he couldn't do, yet he still managed to be a friendly and polite interview companion:

David Brown: On your shoulder, is this a tattoo of a Georgia Bulldog, as in UGA?

Josh Reddick: That's right.

DB: You didn't end up going there. Did you dream of playing for them?

JR: I had wanted to. I'm more of a college football fan of theirs more than anything. I wanted to play baseball there until the baseball coach told me I wasn't good enough. So that kind of crushed my dream of going there.

DB: Being told you're not good enough is kind of weird recurring theme. You were cut by your middle school team, you've said. That's an even bigger diss than the famous Michael Jordan freshman basketball story. And yet, here you are in a major league clubhouse.

JR: It's something I've lived with my whole life. Never surprised to hear it.

DB: Does it all start with being an average-sized guy? Skinny?

JR: Maybe they look at a skinny guy and don't see his potential. But that just goes back to the cliche "Don't judge a book by its cover." But when they do, it just gives me more reason to prove a whole lot of people wrong and make them eat their own words. I'm proud to have been able to do that my whole life.

DB: Is your video game arm as strong as your arm in real life?

JR: I've never played a video game with myself in it. I'm not much of a video game guy, at least from baseball. I've had a few tweets that say my attributes are a lot lower than I'm proving right now.

DB: As Spider-Man goes, are you more Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield?

JR: Haha. Boy, I dunno. That's a good question. I think the timing of Tobey Maguire was impressive. And I wouldn't mind being as big as he was in the first movie.

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Aug. 24: Boston Red Sox legend Nomar Garciaparra

Ballplayers don't have to be active major leaguers to get the Answer Man treatment. Garciaparra might be the second-most famous athlete in his marriage, but he was more than willing to discuss how he'll even compete for that distinction. And the cottage industry of inflatable mascots that dominate his world. Nomar called in during the Little League World Series, which he helped broadcast:

David Brown: Are you familiar with the Zooperstars, the minor-league mascots who use puns of major leaguer names to create inflatable animal characters? What do you think of Mia Hammster and Nomar Garciaparrot?

Nomar Garciaparra: Oh, yeah, it's fun. You know, that's when you know you've made it. People ask me, "How you do you know?" When you have a Zooperstar named after you. That's how you know.

DB: Some people might say that Mia is the best athlete in the family, but I can't see how that assumption would sit well with you.

Nomar: Well, I can say they're wrong — especially when she's not sitting next to me or anywhere around. So I can definitely say she's not. And you know what? I can probably get into a good argument with my younger brother that he's the best athlete as well. And my sisters might say the same. So there's definitely an ongoing debate. And you can be sure, at family functions, humorous things go on. Whether it's a ping-pong match, or whatever, competitive events go on to see who's really the best at that moment. Sometimes the title goes from person to person, but usually by the end of the day the title is sitting on my lap, no question.

DB: Do you realize that, if you had taken your wife's last name, your name would sound like "No More Ham"?

Nomar: I actually did think about taking her name because it's a whole lot easier to write on a baseball than "Garciaparra." I could sign twice as many autographs that way. But, then we thought about it and my wife was against that, so you're right.

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Previous Answer Men (and Woman):

2012 Gio Gonzalez Mike Trout Nelson CruzNomar GarciaparraJosh ReddickAndrew McCutchenAaron Boone

2011 Pete RoseStephen BishopOrel HershiserWill RhymesLogan MorrisonBilly BeaneLuke Scott

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2010Goose GossageJayson WerthTroy TulowitzkiHeath BellBilly WilliamsJoe MauerNyjer Morgan Charlie ManuelFred LynnBucky DentGary CarterMatt StairsVin Scully

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2009 Shane VictorinoCarlos PenaJay BruceJoe Nathan Joe MaddonJoakim SoriaJoey VottoTom GlavineAdrian and Edgar GonzalezChris VolstadPaul KonerkoEdwin JacksonMark DeRosaTim LincecumDave RighettiPedro MartinezDenard SpanCal Ripken

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2008 • Hunter PenceJustin MorneauDavid WrightErin AndrewsAndy Van SlykeDerek JeterBob UeckerBert BlylevenTorii HunterJoba ChamberlainLarry BowaZack GreinkeKerry WoodHuston StreetJosh HamiltonMilton BradleyCC SabathiaMike MussinaJason BayCole HamelsRon SantoFrancisco RodriguezRyan DempsterEvan Longoria

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