For a second straight off-season, Vince Cotroneo has graciously taken time out of his off-season to speak with us. Cotroneo, who makes his home in Flower Mound, Texas (outside of Dallas), was a broadcaster with the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros before joining the Oakland A's broadcast team in 2006.
Interview, Part One
OaklandClubhouse: How did the first year with the A’s work out for you, just in terms of getting used to the team, being back in the league again and that sort of thing? Did you just jump right back into it?
Vince Cotroneo: It did take some time, but I was very thankful for the camaraderie in the booth. One thing that I think enabled me to get the job and helped somewhat with the transition was just the fact that Ken [Korach], Ray [Fosse] and, to some extent, Robert [Buan] had all known me for a few years through my association with the Rangers, and Ken going even further back than that. That really helped, but in terms of getting my mind adjusted to the fact that Bobby Crosby was the shortstop for the home team and Eric Chavez was the third baseman and so on and so forth, it took some adjusting to.
I certainly enjoyed working games in the summer when it wasn’t 105 degrees. That was a welcome sight. I enjoyed working at the Coliseum. The players were very welcoming to me. Ken Macha and the coaching staff were very welcoming to me.
I said all along, and I even said it to you before the first pitch, that I knew the responsibility that was there all along [in regards to replacing the late Bill King]. It’s still an on-going process. I still anticipate that there will be on-going discussions of memories of Bill on the air, as I think we did a good job of in 2006 and those memories shouldn’t be forgotten and won’t be forgotten. By the same token, I still need to continue to establish myself so hopefully I can be like Ken and be like Bill in that I’d be in a position to be with the club, hopefully, for a long period of time. Hopefully, over time people will get used to my style, used to my voice and will eventually be on the look-out for the games when they know I’ll be a part of it.
OC: Was the 2006 A’s season one of the more unusual that you have seen based on your time with Texas and with Houston in terms of the number of injuries the A’s sustained and that they still managed such a high level of success?
VC: It was interesting to be in the middle of an A’s second half run, which was something I had witnessed from the other side of the fence for many years, particularly after the 1999 season. Some things happened that were a little different then normal for this team: they got off to a little bit of a quicker start, Eric Chavez got off to a hotter start then what he is accustomed to doing. Yet there were a lot of those moments that you talked about whether it was all of the injuries or watching Frank Thomas come alive or enduring the problems that Huston [Street] had and the injury to Joe Kennedy and the list goes on. When it was all said and done, it was the pitching that was so consistent and it allowed them to withstand a lot of those troubles.
The buzz word last year in March was “depth” and not only was that challenged, but it was proven accurate by the front office and by the coaching staff that they really did have this depth that they were able to lean on.
I have been with clubs that have never gotten out of the first round [of the playoffs]. In fact, I had never worked a winning playoff game. I was 0-9 in playoff games with Houston and with Texas. When I left Texas, that team was coming off of four consecutive years of being in last place and, for whatever reason, I was caught up in that groundswell of the former president of that team wanting to make a change. Then I come to Oakland and they had not gotten out of the first round in awhile and I am part of a team that got into the second round and it was certainly fun to be a part of that. The Minnesota series was so electric, especially that first game with [Barry] Zito versus [Johan] Santana and Frank Thomas setting the tone. Of course, I was blessed to have the Mark Kotsay inside-the-park homerun call and the Marco Scutaro call in Game Three back in the Coliseum.
Unfortunately, when we got to the ALCS, it seemed like the teams switched uniforms. The Tigers continued to play like they had against the Yankees, which is not how they had played all season. They kind of took what had made the A’s so successful all season and, for whatever reason, the A’s lost that niche that had gotten them to where they were. They were not taking pitches, they were not working counts, they weren’t getting clutch hits, their pitching wasn’t consistent. Those things frustrate you because you felt like leading into the end of the season, the Yankees wanted to play the Tigers or the A’s, no one wanted to play Minnesota and the A’s were welcoming the idea of playing Detroit because they didn’t want to face Santana twice in a series. And yet the way it turned out, that the A’s went into Minnesota and swept that series and the Tigers beat the Yankees, it was a situation where it was almost a “be careful what you wish for” kind of a season once you got to the post-season.
And yet it was such a rewarding season, so much fun. I was very thankful to be a part of that and I am very thankful to be a part of the winning tradition that has been in the East Bay for so many years. Right now, I’m not seeing any reason why that shouldn’t continue into next season. Even though they have lost a few key components, Barry and Frank Thomas, they have still got four very solid starting pitchers, including a 16-game winner who didn’t even start in the post-season, so I think there is a reason for much optimism that this team will be able to defend its West crown and hopefully have even more success in the post-season.
OC: From your perspective, how much do you think the team is going to miss Barry Zito and Frank Thomas, both from a performance perspective and a clubhouse perspective?
VC: I’ll take it one-by-one. Obviously, I wasn’t around Barry all six of his years with the team, although I am certainly aware of what he meant to the clubhouse, to the team and to the community and all of those things were top shelf. He was always very forthcoming with us, very available to us. Whenever we needed something – whether it was pre- or post-game – he was always willing to help and he always gave very insightful answers. For A’s fans, whether they are aware of it or not, they are very fortunate that they have a very forthcoming team for the most part. The guys are really speaking their minds as opposed to other situations I have been exposed to.
That aspect of Zito’s character [his forthcoming nature] will certainly be missed. But, you’ve got to remind yourself that Barry is part of a list of players who have been here and then left and the team has moved on and moved on successfully, so you have to hope that while you’ll miss Barry, that that trend continues. Barry took the ball every fifth day and you could almost pencil in 200 innings and 15 to 20 wins for him and that stuff will be missed, but, you know, that just means it is someone else’s time. Maybe it is time for Dan Haren to step forward or maybe it is time for Rich Harden to finally have that healthy, dominating season that people do expect from him. Things of that nature help to some extent to fill that void that Zito left. It doesn’t fill the void of who Barry was as a person, because he is a unique personality and a very polished player.
On the Frank Thomas-side, watching him be so committed to his daily routine, pre-game, during the game, post-game, all the way through the last game the A’s played, is really a testament to who Frank Thomas is and his determination to prove what he was trying to prove. It was also a testament to the training staff and the coaching staff who helped him to stay the course and who told that it was going to get better, and it certainly did. Thirty-nine homers and 114 or so RBIs is a huge vacuum that is in that lineup. The A’s are going to have to be creative in the ways that they fill that void.
That said, the A’s got to the post-season without anybody – and that includes Frank Thomas – having a true career year offensively, unless you count Nick Swisher, who is only in his second year. He is still trying to establish himself and he very well may have had his career season, but hopefully not. The key components are Bobby Crosby not playing, Mark Ellis having a down year, Mark Kotsay being only okay, Eric Chavez battling through back and forearm and hamstring injuries. The team was able to withstand all of that and still managed to be successful, mainly because of the pitching. Four of the five starters took the ball consistently and there was enough depth to fill the gaps in the rotation last season. Thomas is going to be missed. However, you don’t need necessarily a career year from a Mark Kotsay or an Eric Chavez or a Milton Bradley or a Mark Ellis, but rather a normal year for them based on the levels that they have already established in their careers, and that will help fill in some of those voids.
I also think it is going to be exciting for A’s fans to see someone like Mike Piazza swing the bat exclusively. It will be interesting to see how Mike handles being a DH full-time because being a DH at the Coliseum is unique, in a sense, in that you don’t necessarily get a chance to consistently walk up away from the fans’ view into the clubhouse and sit on an exercise bike or go to a nice, big cage where you can take some swings off of a soft-toss to keep your body loose, and that is a little bit of a challenge. That took some adjusting for someone like Frank Thomas, who has been a DH for a very long time, so it will be interesting to see how Mike Piazza handles that. He is going to be a super fit for the clubhouse. I have dealt with him in the past in the National League and he is very easy to deal with and I am looking forward to seeing him hit the ball like he has done for so many years.
OC: What is Nick Swisher’s personality like in the clubhouse and how does that help you with your pre- or post-game interviews? He seems from afar to be a guy who lights up the room, so to speak.
VC: [Laughing] Quite simply, what you see is what you get. There is simply no pretense about Nick Swisher. He is as gregarious as you see out on the field, talking to people in the stands or out in public. Sometimes that may not be the right path for a first- or second-year player to take around five- or 10-year major league veterans, but that is who Nick Swisher is and he has certainly made it work for himself. I think it fuels his fire and without that I think that he may lose some of the edge and his sense of confidence and he gets it from his open nature.
For us, he is very accessible, does everything that you want. He had a couple of really incredible moments for the team this year. One that I particularly remember that really makes you believe in things that are much more powerful than the game of baseball was when he hit a game-winning homerun on the one-year anniversary of his grandmother passing away. That is one example of the things that make Nick Swisher special and demonstrate that he has a lot of things that mean a lot to him besides baseball, that he is about more then just the free-flowing hair, the goatees and the beards and whatnot and that there is still somebody who has cares and has feelings and who has people who have influenced his life that he just doesn’t forget. To have that kind of moment was really special for him. He has got a chance to really put up some impressive numbers over time, to the point where he could become one of the most popular players to wear the green and gold.
OC: Maybe even more popular than the guy who was most famous for wearing the number 33 before Swisher? [laughing]
VC: Both of those guys really enjoy the public eye. Obviously, after the fact, there were some other factors involved with Jose [Canseco] that I just don’t think are there with Nick, but Nick is the type of person that many people would love to be: young, talented, single, in a big city, who is outgoing and who wants to enjoy life as much as he can. To a certain extent, he has been able to balance all of those things. It will be fun for A’s fans and it will be fun for me, if I am fortunate enough to be around long enough to see it, and even for Nick Swisher himself to look back at Nick five years from now and to have him look at tapes of himself to see if there is going to be a little bit of softening of who Nick is today and to view the maturity process of Nick Swisher and where that might lead him.
Tomorrow, in the second-part of this interview, we discuss Ken Macha's departure, Ron Washington's future with Texas, Bob Geren's prospects for success and more...