Twenty-three times in 2008, Christmas came early to Big League Stew in the form of Answer Man, a unique Q&A in which the reader cannot reasonably expect what will be asked or answered. No topic is taboo. No question is too silly. No answer is too unresponsive. Hopefully, it all adds up to funny. Here are my favorite interviews from the past year, complete with a key back-and-forth from said session:
1. Andy Van Slyke (May 1) Perhaps the closest that Answer Man could ever come to "Frost/Nixon," this interview made some laugh, others cry and even broke some news, or at least regurgitated it from a Jeff Pearlman book. Van Slyke performed at an All-Star level with hard-nosed panache and he's always interviewed the same way, even now, as a Tigers coach.
The highest of the highlights: we rediscovered Van Slyke's take on the Sid Bream Slide in the 1992 NLCS, and also what it felt like to bop teammate Barry Bonds in the face. Not to overstate its importance, but Van Slyke's Answer Man probably was the high point of both the Tigers and Pirates respective seasons. Yes, they were that lousy.
Q: How did you feel after punching Barry in the nose?
AVS: Punch him in the nose? Did I punch him in the nose?
Q: I read it in a Jeff Pearlman book (called "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero" — P. 94).
AVS: We had an argument once, yeah. It was the best thing that could have happened to our working relationship. After that, we understood each other and got along much better. I always respected Barry Bonds, and I wanted to let him know that I did in a certain way.
Q: Did he have it coming?
AVS: A lot of times, people outside of locker rooms don't understand that some things that happen there make it a completely different work environment from anything else out there. Outside of baseball, a lot of people in different environment say, "You should never let something like that happen, regardless." In baseball, things happen that are timely and necessary.
Q: If the Tigers ever were to sign him, would you give him a big hug?
AVS: Absolutely. And I would tell him to hit 30 home runs — or else I'll punch him [laughs].
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2. CC Sabathia (July 31) In a less-cynical era, before he took $700 billion from the federal government $160 million from the Yankees, Sabathia waxed poetically about the dots in (or out of) his name, his invisible friend (Danny) and what it might take for the Brewers to keep him in Milwaukee. Turns out sixth man on the Bucks couldn't quite cut it.
CC: [Shaking head].
Q: You know the Onion, the satirical newspaper that does funny stories?
CC: No, I haven't seen it.
Q: OK [scrambling]. I think the headline went something like, 'CC Sabathia, Prince Fielder Keep Imagining Each Other aAs Giant Hamburger, Hot Dog, Respectively.'
CC: Ha! That's good! I mean, we're big guys and always going to be big guys. Nothing really offends me and I'm not really bothered by it. You take it in stride and laugh if it's funny.
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3. Mike Mussina (Aug. 7) Phew! I got Mussina under the wire just before he retired. One of the final few hundred interviews ever conducted at old Yankee Stadium, this session tried to utilize Mussina's "different" sense of humor, while getting to the nuts and bolts of life in the Bronx.
Q: Since you signed with NY, and moved here during baseball seasons, how much more have you asked yourself, "What's that smell?"
MM: Not since I moved here [laughs]. But as a visiting player, every time I'd enter the subway to go anywhere in the city, you have to ask yourself that very question. And, depending on the level that the train is — how deep you have to go — the smells are a little bit different.
Q: What do you think the smells are?
MM: I have no idea and I don't want to know. The No. 7 Train going to Shea smells different than the No. 4 train, from Grand Central, going to Yankee Stadium.
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4. Zack Greinke (June 20) If Answer Man had a kid brother, he would be Greinke. Funny, well-meaning and smarter than people give him credit for, Greinke's oddball answers to Answer Man's kooky questions created a perfect storm of sorts.
ZG: Yeah, we are.
ZG: Probably not too far away. About 10 years. That's my guess.
Q: OK! I can hold out for 10 years.
ZG: Actually, probably longer than that.
Q: But, you said...
ZG: There definitely will be flying cars, but whether there'll be flying cars for most people to use, it'll probably take a long time to straighten everything out, all the rules and hassles. It'll take a while to figure out how to keep people from crashing into each other.
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5. Hunter Pence (April 20) The very first Answer Man set the mood perfectly. It detailed why Pence crashed through a clear glass door during spring training and his virtual participation the often-misunderstood computer universe of World of Warcraft. Pence paid Answer Man a big compliment when he said, "These are interesting questions. I've never had an interview like this."
Q: As a precaution, are you never going to again wash a window?
HP: Um, I'm never going to run where there's a glass sliding door. I'm going to walk.
Q: And look. Were you looking?
HP: I don't ... I really just ... It happened so fast, like a quick decision to turn. I think I was looking. It's not that I washed it — it was a brand new townhouse, so maybe they washed it — but someone else had shut the door without me looking, so in my brain it was open. ... You know what's amazing about it? How many people have told me they've done the same thing, but they didn't fall through, they just bounced off it. I'm the only one that's crazy enough to be running.
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6. Huston Street (July 10) Also a budding guitarist, Street lost his job as A's closer soon after this interview. The signs of struggle were apparent; teammate Andrew Brown needed to help Street out a little.
Q: Where are you in your musical evolution?
HS: I'm like a third-grader. I think I can say my A-B-C's; I know most of the chords.
Andrew Brown: What kind of third-grader were you? That's a low third grade. Is that a home school third grade?
HS: It's a metaphor, Andrew!
Andrew Brown: When I was in third grade, we were doing multiplication tables, stuff like that.
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7. Bert Blyleven (May 22) One word says it all: gas.
Q: Speaking of pride, what about this T-shirt you've been photographed wearing that says, "I [heart] to fart"?
BB: I LOVE to fart.
Q: What's wrong with you?
BB: I'm honest. Have you ever farted?
Q: One or two times.
BB: And did it feel good?
BB: Probably so. That's why I wore it. I love to fart. I do. When the time is right, I do it. I'm not going to hide it.
Q: You're so blunt about your love for flatulence.
BB: Yeah. Well, someone gave me the shirt because of my history of farting, so I wear it. I LOVE to fart. I think I still have it.
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8. Cole Hamels (Aug. 22) Before being draped in World Series MVP glory, Hamels was stalked by a pink ape and was widely considered to be the less-good-looking half of his marriage.
CH: No. I think I smoked one cigarette in my life and I hated every minute of it. I'm glad I tried it, and I think it's definitely something that's not for me.
Q: When was this cigarette?
CH: Well, I was out underage-drinking (laughs).
Q: Any other crimes you committed that you'd like to admit to?
CH: No! I mean, I think all kids have done it at some point.
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9. Francisco Rodriguez (Sept. 11) On his way to the single-season save record and a $37-million deal with the Mr. Mets, K-Rod recalled a time long ago when he didn't have enough money to afford a real glove. No matter to Answer Man, who can find humor even in poverty. (Shame, Answer Man, shame!)
Q: Is it true that your first glove was a milk carton?
FR: That is totally true.
Q: How long until it wore out?
FR: It would wear out quick; it would maybe last two or three games.
Q: Did you catch better with chocolate milk, or regular?
FR: I think it was regular milk.
Q: What would you have done if your family got its milk in bottles?
FR: Would have used my bare hand. I remember my second glove — after the ones I made with the milk cartons — was given to me from Carlos Subero, who's now the Double-A manager with the White Sox. He'd give me gloves and shoes.
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10. Milton Bradley (July 24) Whoever gets him on the free-agent market will have an edge in the domino olympics. Beyond that, Bradley's new team will get a player with a misleading reputation.
Q: Jeffrey Hammonds told you in an orientation that basically players will get a label and it sticks to them forever. What does your label say?"
MB: "Contents in package are not as they appear" [laughs].
Q: Does your label have an expiration date? You can't scratch off this label, like on a beer bottle?
MB: Probably not. It's there.
Q: So, if your label is misleading or wrong, what actually are your ingredients?
MB: I definitely got some cayenne pepper. Sugar. Everything has high fructose corn syrup in it. Distilled water, maybe, I don't know.
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2008 Answer Men (and Woman):
• Hunter Pence — April 10 • Justin Morneau — April 17 • David Wright — April 24 • Erin Andrews — April 25 • Andy Van Slyke — May 1 • Derek Jeter — May 8 • Bob Uecker — May 15 • Bert Blyleven — May 22 • Torii Hunter — May 29 • Joba Chamberlain — June 3 • Larry Bowa — June 13 • Zack Greinke — June 20 • Kerry Wood — June 26 • Huston Street — July 10 • Josh Hamilton — July 15 • Milton Bradley — July 24 • CC Sabathia — July 31 • Mike Mussina — Aug. 7 • Jason Bay — Aug. 14 • Cole Hamels — Aug. 22 • Ron Santo — Aug. 28 • Francisco Rodriguez — Sept. 11 • Ryan Dempster — Sept. 18 • Evan Longoria — Oct. 2