New Dodgers 2B and utility man Skip Schumaker made the drive out to camp in Arizona today and was gracious enough to give me a call on his way. He grew up in the Redondo area as a Dodger fan. Although he migrated to Orange County, he never went to an Angel game, spending his time at the beach or at the Dodger games more than anywhere else. Below is an interview about his homecoming. Skip has a good head on his shoulders and is a fantastic addition to our clubhouse.
Matt Muncie: Hi Skip, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions and welcome to Los Angeles! What was your initial reaction when you heard of the trade to Los Angeles?
Skip Schumaker: It was bittersweet. I played for 12 years there. I was drafted by St. Louis and I played for 12 years in that organization. I built a lot of friendships, and my wife built friendships, my kids went to school out there, we had lives out there. The whole community, we grew to love St. Louis. When I found out that I was traded I couldn’t think of a better situation for my family which obviously always comes first for me and personally, career wise, going from one first class organization to another. It feels like a really easy transition for me. I’ve been very fortunate and accustomed to winning every year and I could’ve gone to a lot of places where they’re not used to that yet and the Dodgers definitely are.
MM: How did you first hear of the trade?
SS: Heard it from of the Cardinals GM (John Mozeliak), he gave me a call and let me know what was going on, we had a nice conversation, he wished me well and sent me on my way.
MM: You are being reunited with Mark McGwire, and in fact there is some speculation that he went on record on your behalf prior to the trade. Can you provide some insight on your relationship with Big Mac?
SS: Yeah. I don’t know if he did or not. I’m sure the Dodgers did some background work just like before they trade for any player to make sure they’re a good fit in the club house, not only the field but in the club house, that type of thing. Tony LaRussa called me back in 05’ saying that I needed to make a change with my swing, and he felt that me and Chris Duncan could benefit through the offseason, we could benefit by going to the batting cages with Mark McGwire. I was like”Are you kidding me? Sure, no doubt about it”. I grew up watching the Bash Brothers, that would be amazing. I’m fortunate enough, he lives about 10 minutes away from me so we started hitting the cages then and built a really good relationship. I didn’t know how it was going work just because I was a lead-off type of hitter and we’re talking about a guy who hit 70 home runs before so I wasn’t sure how that was going to work. But he’s really good at breaking down stuff, simplifying things, and making it easy and in-game adjustments and that type of stuff. We just formed this really good bond. It worked out, he ended up being our hitting coach obviously and our relationship just took off from there.
MM: Your jersey number with the Dodgers is going be number 3. Does that have any significance for you?
SS: Yes and no. They asked if I would like number 3 which was the first number they asked if I would be willing to take and I said yes, absolutely. I was #3 in high school, and growing up and wanted #3 for a number of years, but I was just stuck to the first number they gave me in St. Louis, #55. I was one of those guys that just took the number they gave you at camp. Number 3 obviously looks better on my back because 55 took up my entire back – I’m not the biggest guy in the world, so number 3 I think will fit a little bit better.
MM: What are some ways you can help the team that aren’t always known or seen by the average sports fan?
SS: Hopefully I can build some relationships in the clubhouse. I’m big on relationships, this is my family during the season and I really enjoy spending time off the field whether it’s at breakfast before the game or whatever it is, hanging out after the game, I just really believe bringing the guys close together all the time and not just on the field can really help a team throughout the season. I think it helps when guys become more accountable for each other and it makes for a good atmosphere. I’m hoping that it’s not just on the field where I can help the team but off the field as well and be kind of that clubhouse guy. Nick Punto was a really good guy in the clubhouse so I think they’ve added some really good guys to build that family atmosphere inside the clubhouse where you can really pull for guys not just because they’re your team but because you want to see them do good. I think there’s a difference when you can find that thing where you’re not competitive against each other but pulling for each other I think there’s a big difference and hopefully I can bring some of that. We’ll see.
MM: A lot of people felt last year that the Dodgers could have used some more clubhouse chemistry so that’s a great. The Dodgers have had a complete makeover compared to opening day of last year. What are your thoughts and is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to?
SS: Looking forward to playing with a lot of those guys who kicked our butt for a lot of years. Zack Greinke, I don’t think we ever won a game against him and it’s going to be real nice playing with him. Kershaw – if you want to laugh a little bit, go look at my numbers against Kershaw. I’m real excited that I don’t have to face him. I think I have 7 AB’s, 6 KO’s and one double play ball. Those are fun at bats. So I’m glad I don’t have to face him anymore. I’m looking forward to meeting some really good players and I’ve heard good things. It takes a while to build chemistry, that’s just the bottom line. If you look at a lot of these winning teams, they’ve played with each other for a long time and they’ve added a few guys here and there. But the core guys are there, and I think now that the core guys (in LA) have been there for at least a half a year, I think within a month or two you should be clicking on all cylinders because everyone knows each other. I’m looking forward to watching everyone gel and come together.
MM: You will be playing under an Ownership group unlike that of any other team in baseball. Does this have an effect on how the guys in the clubhouse approach the game or is it business as usual.
SS: No it’s business as usual. They’ve added a lot of guys who’ve been in the playoffs,who have won world series championships and knows what it takes to win. So when you have that it’s business as usual because you know what the ultimate goal, it’s not make the most money, it’s to win a championship, that’s the ultimate goal. When you have guys who have done that, obviously Beckett, Harrison, a few other guys have done that before, they know what it takes. I think the guys Iv’e seen on this roster the Ownership knows that these guys have done it before and it should be business as usual and I don’t see why there would be any other goals other than to win a championship.
MM: You played alongside the person many consider to be the class of a generation and one of the greatest right handed hitters in history so you’re no stranger to star power. What are some of the benefits of the star filled Dodger clubhouse?
SS: I was fortunate enough to watch Albert go about his work, and see him not take not only any game for granted but at bat for granted. He literally took every at bat like it was his last. I know it’s cliché, but he felt like he owed it to us, to put together a great at bat every single time he went up. And that’s an incredible thing, I don’t know if it can be taught or not, I doubt it. I just know it was inside of him. We have those guys on our team, I believe, I haven’t played with them yet but I think we have a few of those guys on our team. I was fortunate enough to come up with Scott Rolen, who I think was probably the toughest player I’ve ever played with. David Eckstein (is another), guys that are really good but are also tough mentally. I’ve learned a lot from them. What separates is not only are they very talented but the mental side, you’re not going to break them. We have that same type of quality in guys in our clubhouse.
MM: There is a new wave of advanced stats being used more and more by the mainstream – WAR, BABIP, etc. Do you use any of these to evaluate your own performance?
SS: I don’t. I’m kind of the old school baseball player type of mentally. The sabermetric stuff is all fine and dandy, but you have to know what a baseball player is. What other stuff do they bring to the table, other than the wins above replacement guy. I think you add a bunch of wins above replacement people but you don’t have quality baseball guys on your team. There’s more than just stats that make your team click. You have to have other people and other baseball guys to hold people accountable. I know Ryan Theriot was one of those guys, I don’t know what his wins above – I don’t even know what that stat is. But I tell you right now he has been on two championship teams in a row and there’s a reason for that. He’s good in the clubhouse, he’s a gamer, you know what you’re getting. He might not be the flashiest player in the world or get to every ball but he is a guy that you want on your team. I think you have to be very careful about how you look at this sabermetric stuff and don’t put all your eggs in that basket.
MM: I love that answer. It’s very frustrating when the sabermetric community takes away any personality and says there is no such things as clubhouse chemistry and all that other stuff.
SS: That’s just completely false.
MM: Yeah. It’s just taken as gospel amongst that community and there is no convincing them otherwise so it’s nice to hear an answer that gives some more insight about what really goes into it. I did release my own Dodger player projections for Lasorda’s Lair and I projected you to hit for the fifth highest average on the team. You’ve always maintained a line drive rate that is amongst the league leaders and one of the lower strikeout rates around. Last year you struck out and walked a little bit more often than years past and continued your line drive ways posting the second highest line drive rate of your career. The results were the highest OBP, SLG and OPS for you since 2009. Was this a conscience change of approach?
SS: I actually think I could have had a better year than that, I just kept getting hurt. The injuries really hurt me, my average and that type of thing. I felt really good going into the season and felt like it could’ve been one of my better years. I just couldn’t stay on the field for whatever reason and it was frustrating. What gets tough is when you’re a pinch hitter a lot, your strike out rate can go up. You have a goal of either getting on base or driving a guy in, it depends on the situation when you have that one key at bat. Sometimes you face the closer a lot or the set up guy a lot. It’s a very difficult job to have when you’re that late inning guy. But it’s something that you have to take a lot of pride in and get that job done or a guy like me won’t have a job anymore. I have to get on base and I know that, I’m not a guy that’s going to hit a ton of home runs so my job is to get on base and hopefully I can continue to do that.
MM: I know you’re viewed a lot – even by the sabermetric community as somebody that had signed a team-friendly contract, so right now you’re under that category of a guy who signed a friendly contract, which is a good fit for a lot of clubhouses.
SS: The thing is when you have a good thing you want to stay there. When contracts come up for me and my idea of contracts, you have to realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. When you have a good clubhouse, a good community, good people, why would want to screw that up? That’s just my take on that – go ahead, I didn’t want to interrupt you.
MM: No, no, that’s great, I’m adding that in. Lastly, you are one of the most versatile players around but that wasn’t always the case. Can you talk a little bit about when you first learned you would be moved to second base, and what adjustments you had to make, both physically and mentally?
SS: Yeah. It was the toughest time of my career no doubt about it. After 2008 I had a very good year in the outfield, I hit .300 again. I got a call from LaRussa in late January, almost Feb 1 of 09’, that they needed to make you a 2nd basemen, because we had at that time Colby Rasmus, Ankiel, Ludwick and Duncan. So we needed to find room, we had a bunch of outfielders that just didn’t fit with everybody. So he asked what I thought about it. I said “I’ll try, I can’t guarantee you anything, I’ve never played, never taken a groudball at second base in my life. So you have to give me a long leash”. He promised me that and he held true to that. It was a ROUGH spring training. Rough. Rough. There’s nothing worse than being uncomfortable on a baseball field. We had Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, bidding for Cy Youngs. The ultimate competitor in Chris Carpenter, he expects every ball to get caught and every double play to be made. That’s a big league mentality anyways but Chris Carpenter may be a step above that. So there’s a lot of pressure. And we had a ground ball team, a ground ball pitching staff I should say. So it was tough. Luckily I had Jose Oquendo and Joe Pettini to really help me out. I’m not going to be the best second basemen no doubt about it. But I feel like I can be average. And I feel like I’m at least average if not above average in the OF just because I’ve been there so long. So it was tough, no question. I think the more reps the better and there is definitely a mental grind, no question.
MM: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me on your drive out to camp. Here’s to hoping you have a strong camp. We are happy to have you, we needed someone with that versatility on our bench, it’ll still be interesting to see how the pieces fit together. I don’t think that Uribe will be around and we don’t really have that backup at 2B or 3B and we don’t have a real deep outfield. We don’t know if Gwynn Jr. is coming back and all these other things so we lucked out with getting you.
SS: I appreciate it, thank you, I’m looking forward. Thanks very much.
MM: Thank you Skip.