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In The Minor Leagues: An Interview With Scott McCauley

I was speaking to Scott McCauley, the longtime (but now former) Indianapolis Indians broadcaster, Friday afternoon about something else entirely, and we ended up having a pretty interesting conversation about the Pirates and the minor leagues, so I thought I would share a portion of that. There are all kinds of fun little tidbits here.

Tell me about the way Pirates fans follow the minor leagues.

Oh my gosh. Charlie, it's ... I've talked to other announcers around the IL. Outside of the announcer in Pawtucket, I had the most Twitter followers. Which is ridiculous. This guy was the Red Sox announcer, and he only had like 200 more than me. And he was like, 'Wow, you must do really good stuff,' and I go, 'No. It's all these people in Pittsburgh.' ... The way that you followed the minor-leaguers, from my standpoint, I've never seen anything like it, for any other team ... You guys are always looking for that guy. You're following people at so many different levels, and the breakdown at which you will do this, it's stunning. And you know what, the players notice it too. They talk about it in the locker rooms.

They read your guys' stuff ... they read anything they see in the Post-Gazette. They like the attention, and they like the way you'll break some things down. I remember last year talking with Matt Hague. Hague had a pretty good line to me -- he said when he got here he was excited to be in Triple-A, and then Chase [D'Arnaud] goes up, then Alex [Presley] goes up, [Eric] Fryer goes up, [Josh] Harrison goes up, and all of a sudden it dawned on him that his goal wasn't to make it to Triple-A, it was to get to the big leagues. And he started to read articles left and right about what people thought of him, if he had a chance. And it's not like it changed his mentality, but all of a sudden he had the confidence to think, 'My buddies are up there, and everyone else kind of wants me up there, the fans do,' and they eat that stuff up.

Presley reads everything. He knew everything that was going on. We were in Lehigh, and [the Pirates] were getting ready to play Toronto. And there was, about a week before, in the Cleveland series, when Timmy Wood gave it up, Presley didn't get called up for that. And our manager had to bring him in the office and tell him, 'Hey, relax,' because it affected him, because he was, like all of us, reading, 'He's on his way.' Those guys pay attention.

Why do you think it is that Pirates fans are different from other teams that way?

20 years of losing is going to do that. And once [Dave] Littlefield left, I think there was probably some kind of sense of, 'Maybe these first-rounders will now pan out.' The Pedro [Alvarez] one really started to switch things. Everyone was ready to get him up there. And I think [Andrew] McCutchen did a lot. The patience with Walker. I don't know what it was like before '05, but there was a sense over those six years I was in Indy, that there was always two, three, maybe four guys that everyone was ready to see, and there was just that waiting game that everyone was so excited when they finally came up there. I think you just paid attention to a certain group, maybe moreso and in the right time, because of Twitter and the blogs and everything, all of a sudden it was like you guys were so far ahead of the game.

Maybe there was a sense of Littlefield showing us how important the minor leagues actually are.

You're right. I was talking to a friend of mine -- we were talking about some Pirates rumors we heard coming up this weekend -- and we talked about the trade with the Astros. And he said, 'The Astros are just stockpiling bodies,' and I said, 'That's what [Neal] Huntington did, remember in '08?' I mean, all four of those guys in the Yankees deal made it to the big leagues, but the big key was, that was three arms in Triple-A, and that didn't exist.

I love the deadline and I loved it in the clubhouse, because I knew Huntington was going to do something, and it was going to involve about six bodies going in one direction or the other. I haven't always agreed with the way he does it. I don't agree with his methods on the way he kind of polices things, but he has a plan, and they've let him execute it, because people were about ready to execute him about two years ago, and I was probably in agreement with that.

I know you've written about this in the past, but how do players in the clubhouse react to the deadline, exactly?

They eat it up. It's on MLB, it's on ESPN, the rumors are out there. On the record, 'Eh, it's just another day, what can you do?' Off the record ... I remember as soon as I walked in the clubhouse, everybody'd walk right up to me, 'What's the latest rumor?' and I'd say, 'Guys, I just know what you know.'

They want to know not just what's happening with the Pirates, but what's happening with other teams. They love it when big guys get dealt, or they have some friend in another organization [and] he's going to go somewhere else. I mean, it's fun, it's like Christmas. Teams get a chance to start all over.

I remember last year when [John] Bowker was traded to the Phillies. Holy cow, that was amazing. The clubhouse, it was like they'd won a championship, the party, because they felt really good for Bowker. They were like, 'You can't play for Pittsburgh, but you can go to the Phillies!' I mean, it wasn't like that, but that's the way they took it. When they see guys move and get a shot, they get pumped, and they follow around the rumors. I wish I was there to see how Justin Wilson reacted to Rudy [Owens] getting traded.

Are they friends, or ...

Yeah, they are, and [Wilson's] an interesting guy. He's tough to get to know. By the end of the year, I got to know him pretty well, and it was okay to go out and have a couple beers with him and not talk about baseball. But he and Rudy were close, and there was some private competition between the two. And I wonder if this is a wake-up call to Wilson. You know, that, 'I know you threw 98 and 100 last year on a juiced-up gun in Louisville, but you haven't been able to do that since.' I'd be curious to see how he reacts to a close guy, a lefty who he's been with every step, is now gone away. He's not alone, but it's a different clubhouse than last year, when it felt like a Double-A clubhouse.

The players are mostly supportive of each other, even though they're competing?

Yeah, very supportive. And I'm always impressed with the way they pull for the Pirates. We have the ticket in the clubhouse, and the game's on every single day, and guys are pulling for each other, and they want them to win. They root for each other.

Now, if someone blows up? They're like, 'Okay, give me a shot. Give this guy a shot.' They don't root for anyone to fail, but if someone fails, they make sure that their agent's aware of, 'Hey, this guy's really been bad the last three weeks. Think it's about time we see if I can get to the big leagues.'

[Laughing] Does that ever work?

No. But my first year, in '06, it was a really veteran team. Guys like Scott Strickland, C.J. Nitkowski, Terry Adams, just, crusty vets. The first weekend, we were in Toledo on a road trip, and there was a bar by the hotel, and I went there, and Terry Adams is one of my favorite guys of all time. And very open, very helpful. He was so good to the few young guys on that team. He goes, 'Yeah, sit down.' They're watching Baseball Tonight. And they all have their cell phones out and they're texting. And I go, 'What are you doing?' and they're like, 'I'm talking to my agent. They just showed Blue Jays highlights and this dude gave up five runs,' because they're looking for work wherever they can. They watch the highlights totally differently than we do. They watch the highlights to see, where are the red flags, how can I fit into that? They pull for each other, but if there's failure and opportunity, they definitely want in.

This is their livelihood. This is their job. Nobody wants to be in Triple-A. You hate to have something happen at the expense of your friend, but if it does, you move on, that's business, and they all know the business.

Let me tell you this story. A couple years ago, I personally thought that the Pirates did [Brian] Bixler wrong. I know you guys hate Bixler, but, uh, Bixler's not a bad baseball player. He's just too robotic. But he's not a bad ballplayer. If he was more fluid, I think he'd be a great ballplayer, because he's like ... I try to compare this to people and they think I'm an idiot. He's like [Derek] Jeter in the fact that nothing seems to faze him.


Like, I know, you're laughing, right?

[A] comparison of Brian Bixler and Jeter! That's a first.

But he could go 0-for-16, and it's just like he went 16-for-16. He had such a good head on him. The problem a lot of guys had when they went to Pittsburgh, and [Steve] Pearce, such a 10-cent head, is they knew if they went up there and they went 0-for-4, they weren't going to play for seven days. So they all try to get six hits in one start so they would play the next day. It was totally the wrong way to go about it. I remember a game in San Diego, Bixler had two hits and a double into the opposite-field corner, and I sent him a text, and he goes, 'I get to play tomorrow.' And they're serious! Pearce knew if he went 0-for-4, he wasn't going to play for five days. So they grinded at each at-bat, and we know that's not the way to go about it.

Bixler was traded to Cleveland in January, and you guys remember when he was mysteriously traded back to the Pirates. Like, 'What the hell?' We don't know why that was. He still, to this day, doesn't know why that was. But we were in Durham, and Kyle Stark ... I saw Bixler packing up his bags, and I'm like, 'Where you going to now?' He goes, 'They want to send me to Double-A,' and I was like, 'What?' I was like, 'Wait a minute, they just acquired you a month ago, and now they want to send you to Double-A?' I mean, it was a bad deal. Well, our old manager in Indy [Tony Beasley] was in Syracuse, with the Nationals, and so he got on the phone, and two days later they sent him to the Nationals for, like, 20 dollars.

And I remember in the clubhouse talking to some guys. I was talking to Brian Burres, and I was like, 'Man, I know this is a business, but that's a bad way to treat Bixler,' and he's like, 'What do you mean?' I go, 'You trade for him, you sit him on the bench, you send him to AA' ... And I'll never forget this -- Burres goes, 'They gave him like two million dollars when they signed him. They didn't treat him bad.' And that's the way the ballplayers look at it, as opposed to maybe the way that I look at it.


Did you get to develop an attachment to [Pedro Alvarez] when he was [in Indianapolis]?

Yeah, I mean, he doesn't talk much. But there's so much there. I wish it would look like he cares, but I know he does. Believe me, he was always the first guy in the cage. He has that certain demeanor that's just, he's not a rah-rah type of guy, but man, when he hits a baseball, good lord. It's like hitting an eight-and-a-half-degree driver. It just goes and rises and vanishes.

How was it different for him the second time he came through Indianapolis, last year, as opposed to the first time?

He wasn't very good last year when he came to us. He was bad. I thought he was worse than he was his first year. His confidence. His stance was bad. He loves [Indianapolis hitting coach] Jeff Branson. He swears by Branson. Branson works with him constantly, and it was Branno that kind of got him on track ... He had no patience. He couldn't read any pitches when he was with us last year. But by the end, he was squaring stuff up, and I believe it's just Branson. He needs someone to believe in him, keep [working with] him, and then eventually he'll pick it up. Guys like McCutchen, they know what they can do, and eventually they get it. I think Pedro needs someone to hold his hand a little bit.