SSTN Interviews K.P. Wee
SSTN: Today we are here with author K. P. Wee is the author of several sports books, including The Case for Barry Bonds in the Hall of Fame (2020), Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs (2014); The End of the Montreal Jinx: Boston’s Short-Lived Glory in the Historic Bruins-Canadiens Rivalry (2015); Don’t Blame the Knuckleballer: Baseball Legends, Myths, and Stories (2015); The 1988 Dodgers: Reliving the Championship Season (2018); and The 1993 Canadiens: Seven Magical Weeks, Unlikely Heroes and Canada’s Last Stanley Cup Champions (2020). In addition, he co-authored the biography of John Cangelosi: The Improbable Baseball Journey of the Undersized Kid from Nowhere to World Series Champion. He also has a podcast titled “The K. P. Wee Podcast,” which can be heard wherever podcasts are available.
K.P., it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News.
Thanks for including me, Paul. It’s awesome to see you spreading the news, so to speak about authors such as myself. It’s a wonderful blog that you have featuring authors.
You have been a writer of many books spending this time deeply immersed in the game of baseball. What is it about baseball that makes it such a wonderful and compelling game?
If you asked me 10 years earlier, I might have said all the stats make the game so amazing, but today I’d probably say baseball has such a rich history that we learn new things about it every day. For example, a player might do something today, and we learn that it was the first time ever that it had happened in history, or it hadn’t happened for more than 50 years until tonight, and so on.
Just to give a specific instance of this, Pablo Sandoval did something a couple of years ago: pitch a scoreless inning, hit a home run, and steal a base in the same game. And that hadn’t happened since 1905 when Christy Mathewson did it. So, you learn something about the history of the game literally every week. You get a chance to find out more about players who have been forgotten because they did something which had just been equaled tonight or done again for the first time in what seemed like forever.
But more than that, it’s interesting to learn the stories of players who made it after overcoming injuries or came back when they were counted out. Or that they even reached the majors, period. With the Yankees, just to give an example, we’ve seen Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber come back after injuries this season, and it’s great to see players make it back. When you read or hear stories about how these guys work hard to get back to the major leagues, and compete in the game which they love, those are fascinating stories. Sure, that happens in every sport, but, again, not many sports have such a rich history the way that baseball does.
Your latest book makes the case that Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall-of-Fame. In short, why does Barry Bonds deserve this honor?
First off, the Hall of Fame is a museum, not a shrine. If individuals who were known racists or crooks have plaques in the Hall of Fame, I just don’t think players suspected of having taken substances which were not banned in the game should be kept out. There’s also the argument that, if you talk to journalists and other former players who are in the know, there are already Hall of Famers who took PEDs. So, you can’t keep Barry Bonds, who never failed a drug test, out. Besides, nobody will ever know how much any player took, or what impact those substances truly had on any individual player… You just have to go by what they accomplished on the field and, at the end of the day, Barry Bonds is a Hall of Famer.
If Bonds goes in the Hall-of-Fame, does that also mean that Roger Clemens should also?
Absolutely. Roger Clemens, with his seven Cy Young Awards and stats and other accolades, was among the best pitchers of not only his own era but also the entire history of the game. Being a Red Sox fan at the time, I was crushed when he signed with Toronto and then furious when he forced a trade to the Yankees, but he was a terrific pitcher, one of the greatest of all-time. He should be in the Hall of Fame.
Let’s go through a list of other names of players currently not in the Hall-of-Fame. Please respond yes if they belong in and no if they do not:
Sammy Sosa – No. I’m with the observers who have stated that Sosa wasn’t a Hall of Fame caliber player until he was suspected of “doing whatever he was doing.”
Mark McGwire – No. Other than home runs, he didn’t hit for a high average and wasn’t a great baserunner. Essentially, he was a one-dimensional player.
Rafael Palmeiro – No. He was suspended for failing a PED test.
Gary Sheffield – I’m on the fence on that one. Without looking at his stats, I was included to say yes. But after looking at his numbers, I’m not so sure. I remember him being one of the top five players during his prime and he hit some monster seasons—but what hurts him, I think, is the lack of an MVP award. So, probably not.
Manny Ramirez – No, for the same reason as A-Rod… which I believe is the next name you’re going to mention, isn’t it?
Yes. Former Yankee Alex Rodriguez will be another Hall-of-Fame test case soon. Should he be admitted?
The difference between Rodriguez and Bonds is that A-Rod was suspended for PED use. Bonds never failed a drug test, and you can argue that he did everything he could to stay on the field and help the Giants compete. You can’t say the same for A-Rod, whose suspension obviously hurt his team. So, that’s a big difference. For that reason, I would have to say no. With Manny Ramirez, as far as I understand it, the first time he was suspended, it was for a masking agent, not a steroid. But again, his suspension hurt his team, the Dodgers. Then, he was suspended a second time with Tampa Bay and instead of taking the suspension, he retired. So, in both the cases of A-Rod and Ramirez, they were both suspended and that hurt their ballclubs. I don’t think they should be admitted to Cooperstown.
Let’s switch gears. You have written about some lesser-known baseball players. What drew you to write biographies of Tom Candiotti and John Cangelosi?
As a kid, I loved the underdog. It’s hard to imagine it now, but the Red Sox were an underdog team in my childhood, and I loved them. In 1991, they were battling for first place against Toronto, and the Blue Jays had picked up Tom Candiotti, at the time with an ERA of 2.24 but just a 7-6 record with last-place Cleveland. Guess what, Candiotti went to a first-place Toronto team and went 6-7 with a 2.98 ERA! I started following his games and noticed that over the next few years, he would get the lowest or second-lowest run support in the majors, and in the 1990s had a run where he was 13-13, 11-15, 8-10, 7-7, and 7-14 despite an ERA under 3.50—and pitching for two playoff teams! So, even before I knew much about the knuckleball, I thought Candiotti was a big underdog, a guy who wasn’t even drafted, a guy who was pitching well and not posting big win totals and a guy who was overlooked. I knew that one day I would write about him, and I ended up doing it. Then you factor in the knuckleball factor; he threw a knuckler but had a 2-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. He was the second player ever to come back from Tommy John surgery in major-league history. I felt he deserved a book written about him.
With John Cangelosi, here’s another guy who was an underdog, a guy who was 5’8” playing outfield in an era in which guys with power were given more opportunities. He wasn’t a power guy but was a scrappy player with some speed. Although he didn’t always get a shot as an everyday player, he did do well when he was in the lineup, whether it was with the White Sox or Astros as a regular player. He won the World Series with the 1997 Marlins late in his career. That’s an incredible story, one that can inspire so many people. After all, we watch sports to be entertained and be inspired. His story tells readers that if you work hard, it’s possible for you to achieve your dreams.
You also wrote about the 1988 Dodgers. I love the Yankees, of course, but I love the Kirk Gibson homer against Dennis Eckersley in the World Series. I think it was one of baseball’s greatest moments. It was a true “Roy Hobbs” moment. What can you share with our readers about that tremendous at-bat?
To this day, there are still conflicting stories about that famous scouting report which the Dodgers had on Eckersley. As the story goes, Mel Didier, a Dodger scout, had been scouting the A’s during the latter parts of the season and knew that Eckersley threw a backdoor slider on a 3-and-2 count to left-handed hitters. That’s what Didier told the Dodger hitters. And, armed with that information, Gibson went up to bat against Eckersley, and then with the count 3-and-2, he stepped out of the batter’s box and remembered what Didier had told him and the other hitters, and the rest is history. Gibson looked for the backdoor slider, got it, and hit it out. I had the great fortune of interviewing Mr. Didier for the book, several months before his passing, and he shared that story with me, just as he’d told that story to many others over the years. In interviews which Gibson himself has done over the years—I didn’t get a chance to interview him—he’s told that same story as well.
The conflicting part of it is that, as baseball researchers and historians have uncovered in recent years, Eckersley didn’t even go to a 3-and-2 against a left-handed hitter that much in 1988. The reason is that Eckersley, as the closer for the A’s, had pinpoint control and never walked a lot of hitters. He never got to 3-and-2 on a lot of hitters, let alone left-handed hitters. So, the consensus seems to be that Didier likely saw Eckersley throw a backdoor slider on 3-and-2 to a lefty hitter late in the season once or maybe twice at the most, and figured, based on the fact there was little other history or track record to go on, that he might as well tell his Dodger hitters that it happened “every time” so that those hitters, including Gibson, would feel confident about looking for that particular pitch in that kind of situation. The consensus is that Didier probably thought it was better to make his hitters feel confident about facing Eckersley in that situation by convincing them the backdoor slider was the go-to pitch each and every time instead of saying something like, “Well, I’m not sure because I’ve only seen it once, but he threw a backdoor slider in that one time. Well, guys, I’m really not sure, but that’s what I’d look for.”
So, in that sense, if that’s really how it happened—the way historians have figured—it was a convincing job which Didier did in having the hitters believe they’d found Eckersley’s weak spot, so to speak. On the other side, I think if you’ve read the comments by the A’s, those guys have dismissed this story about Didier and Gibson.
But I find that to be intriguing as Gibson remembered what the scout, Didier, had convinced the players about Eckersley’s pitch selection on 3-and-2 to a left-handed hitter, and he hit that exact same pitch out of the ballpark.
After that 1988 season, the Yankees second baseman, Willie Randolph went to the Dodgers and the Dodgers second baseman, Steve Sax, went to the Yankees. What can you tell us about why the Dodgers didn’t keep Sax? He actually earned MVP votes in 1988 and was a star on the Dodgers.
The way I understand it is that Sax, like any other athlete, wanted to be paid once his contract expired, which it did at the end of the 1988 season—and that’s fair, because salaries weren’t the same as they are today. He’d played eight seasons with the Dodgers, and at the age of 29, he might have felt it was his last shot at a big contract. He got a three-year deal worth $4 million from the Yankees, and that, based on my understanding, was a better offer than the one which he got from the Dodgers. Perhaps the Dodgers wanted to go in a different direction at the time. I guess we have to remember that professional sports, at the end of the day, is a business. But I think it worked out well for both clubs at that particular time because both Sax and Randolph were All-Stars in the following season. And yes, Sax was a star on that 1988 team; he batted .300 in the World Series and stayed healthy throughout the season and postseason, whereas the some of the other guys on that team, whether it was Kirk Gibson or Mike Marshall or Alfredo Griffin or Mike Scioscia in the World Series, missed significant amounts of time at various points that year. I remember asking Sax about his leaving the Dodgers in an interview when I was writing that book, and he mentioned there were no hard feelings on either side about his departure.
Please tell us a little about your podcast.
Like many other people, during the 2020 sports season, with no sports going on and with so many people either working from home or not working at all, it was a good time to do a podcast. For me, I’m more of a writer, but I noticed that from the interviews I’ve done, some of these clips make for great content as a podcast. So, I thought I’d start a podcast and share interviews with people talking sports. It has ended up being a podcast with interviews with former baseball or hockey players, along with interviews with people working in sports—for example, team photographers or digital media designers, and others—and simply “this month in sports history” discussions. It’s something to keep myself busy. So, it’s not me giving hot takes or anything because you’re not going to come to me for those. What I try to do is to offer cool stories and a chance for guests to reminiscence or inspire others.
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?
In regard to the Yankees specifically, a book about the not-so-successful years should merit a look. It’d be cool to hear insights from guys who played in the 1980s, or about the teams from the late-1960s to mid-1970s. Even stories from the early 1990s would be interesting, I feel. That’s just how I see it.
If we’re talking about a specific Yankee, how about a guy like Mariano Duncan? He was on the 1996 Yankees team, but he also won a World Series in Cincinnati, and this was after playing for the Dodgers. Interestingly, he missed out on 1988 when he spent the entire season in the minors. And, of course, he was a member of the 1993 Phillies who reached the World Series. You know, not too many people can say they played for Lasorda, Piniella, and Torre, and went to the World Series with three different teams in the 1990s.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
The best player I’ve ever seen has got to be Barry Bonds. The man could do it all: hit for average, hit for power, steal bases, win Gold Gloves… He pretty much could do it all. He carried the Giants for years when they didn’t have any pitching. If he’d played for the Yankees, he would’ve won a few championships, without a doubt. People talk about Mike Trout, but his Angels, as of now, have reached the playoffs just once (while finishing under .500 a bunch of times), and more teams make it to the postseason now than during the era in which Bonds played. Yet, as I pointed out in my book, Bonds carried his Giants teams to either first or second place in 10 out of his first 12 seasons in San Francisco. They just didn’t have a wild card at the time or just one wild-card team, unlike today. And quite a few of those Giants teams didn’t even have decent pitching or, other than Jeff Kent for a few years, good protection for him in the lineup. Yet, he kept delivering year after year for the Giants.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
My favorite team was the 1991 Boston Red Sox, a team which finished second in the pre-wild card era. What’s interesting was that they came back from down 11½ games out of first place in August and got to within a half game of first place in mid-September, a run which has been forgotten because they ended up not winning the division and, therefore, missed the playoffs. But that was a fun team with Roger Clemens, Joe Hesketh, Jeff Reardon, and Greg Harris, all of whom later joined the Yankees (although Hesketh retired after a spring-training stint with New York in 1995). They had Tom Brunansky and Jack Clark, a couple of good players at the end of their careers, on that team. It was a fun team to follow. I loved that team more than the Red Sox teams that went on to win championships in 2004 and beyond.
Who was your favorite player?
Tom Candiotti was one. Then other than him, I loved the guys on the Red Sox, whether it was Hesketh or Danny Darwin, or Brunansky and Reardon, and Harris.
What is your most prized collectible?
As a kid, I collected a bunch of baseball cards. None of them are worth a lot of money, but I’ve probably kept them for sentimental reasons. But I guess I’ll have to say that when Tom Candiotti sent me a signed jersey, it was special.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
Phil Collins when I was a kid…and Genesis. I just loved those tunes. But these days, I tend to support my buddies a bit more, so I will throw out a name you’ve never heard of: Roger Chong. He’s a buddy of mine from the Toronto, Canada, area, a fellow teacher who’s a jazz guitarist and musician.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
Can’t go wrong with fried chicken or chicken wings. Any pub I go into to watch a ballgame, wings have got to be a go-to dish.
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –
If you’d like to check out my books, that’d be awesome. Or if you’d like to connect with me on Twitter, my handle is @kpwee1.
Thank you so much for this great discussion. Keep up the great work… and please keep in touch!