Interviews

From Marty Lurie’s archives of thousands of hours of recorded interviews come these selected American Innings interviews. We hope you enjoy these stories about baseball, which demonstrate the tightly-woven connection between baseball and American history.

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JESSE JACKSON 

We all know the Reverend Jesse Jackson as an icon of civil rights leadership, but not many know of his amazing lifelong connection to baseball. As the son of an All Star centerfielder who played for the Greenville Black Spinners before baseball was integrated, he grew up knowing many of the great black players of that era. On the baseball field his entire young life, he calls it “my field of dreams.” Scouted for baseball his senior year in high school, he opted for a college football scholarship as being the wiser choice, instead of following his heart. In this fascinating and far ranging interview Reverend Jackson describes being a small boy listening as the radio announcer described Jackie Robinson’s exploits on the field. He talks about hearing first hand from those he describes as being in the “first generation” of black major league players, as they told the stories of what they went through, and how they retained their dignity. He shares a moment when Satchel Paige talked about what it felt like to never get to face Babe Ruth in the batter’s box. From his deep personal knowledge and connection to some of baseball’s greatest black players, Reverend Jackson draws a picture of how the integration of America’s pastime helped to catalyze the political transformation that followed.

LEE SMITH 

Lee Smith played 18 years in the major leagues. A right handed pitcher and one of the dominant closers in baseball, he held the major league record in saves from 1993 to 2006 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018. After he retired from his playing career, Lee joined the San Francisco Giants and today serves as their minor league roving pitching instructor. In this energetic interview, conducted before he knew he would be inducted into Cooperstown, Smith talks about whether that was going to happen. He shares how his career as a reliever began, what he learned from his mentor Buck O’Neil about how to carry himself and treat others, his admiration and respect for the great reliever Mariano Rivera and the example he set on and off the field, and his own efforts to impart wisdom along with baseball skills to young pitchers.

Mariano Rivera 

Mariano Rivera may well be the best relief pitcher of all time. During his career with the Yankees he racked up impressive stats, including being voted an All Star thirteen times and becoming a five time World Series champion, but it was after he ended his playing career that he received his most significant recognition. During his first year of eligibility, 2019, Mariano Rivera became the first player to ever receive unanimous election to the Hall of Fame. Mariano grew up in Panama, playing all sports but especially soccer with his cousins and friends. In order to avoid riding the bench during baseball games he learned to play all the positions, but at age 18 when he became serious about the game, he was all about pitching. Mariano came up to the big leagues as a starter, but in his rookie year he soon took his rightful place in the bullpen. Enjoy his childhood memories of idolizing Pele the great Brazilian soccer star, his love of the New York fans, and his way of focusing on getting outs as he prepared to work his magic in the late innings.

RON DELLUMS ON HIS DEEP LIFELONG CONNECTION TO BASEBALL

The late Ron Dellums served in the House of Representatives from 1971 to 1999, and later as Mayor of Oakland, California from 2007 to 2011. A lifelong baseball fan, he recounts what it was like growing up in post-War Oakland, watching the Oakland Oaks play ball, going to school with the great Frank Robinson, and the impact Jackie Robinson’s signing had on him and other young African American baseball hopefuls. Dellums’ connection to baseball was deep. His cousin, Curt Flood, was the player who challenged the major leagues and brought about free agency, allowing players to have a say in their own career paths and increasing their share of the mushrooming box office revenues. He heard the stories of the Negro League greats like Satchel Paige from his dad and others.  Ron himself dreamed of being a big league pitcher, only to have his hopes dashed when he didn’t make his high school team. In his own words he tells the story of how he got to have his own big league moment in this fascinating and far ranging interview.

JIM PALMER - POST SEASON MAGIC: SIX WORLD SERIES AND THREE DECADES

In 1966 20-year-old Baltimore Oriole Jim Palmer pitched his first shutout. But it wasn’t just any shutout. It was during the World Series against Sandy Koufax, and he was the youngest guy in World Series history to pitch a shutout game.  So began Jim Palmer’s amazing post-season career including playing in six World Series spanning three separate decades. His last one came in 1983 on his 37th birthday, when he got the win in relief. Hear him talk about how his love of baseball began, one rainy Tuesday at Yankee Stadium in 1954, or when at the age of 19 he struck out Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Elston Howard with the bases loaded in relief, or what it meant to play with the likes of both Frank Robinson and Brooks Robison, and many other greats. He tells us here of his life in baseball, coming up against the likes of Koufax and Drysdale in the World Series, and of beating the Yankees 30 times!

TREVOR HOFFMAN, 2018 HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE - HIS JOURNEY FROM INFIELDER TO LEGENDARY CLOSER

Trevor Hoffman wasn’t always an all-star relief pitcher. His early career was far from a smooth path to the Hall of Fame. Originally signed by the Cincinnati Reds as an infielder, it soon became clear that he wasn’t much of a hitter. Rather than face an early end to his career, he agreed to try his hand at pitching. Going to the Florida Marlins in the expansion draft, he was disappointed when his time with this exciting team was cut short. Not only was he traded to the San Diego Padres but he was taking the place of one of their beloved players, making it hard for the fans to welcome him. No one could have predicted that those early twists and turns would make him one of the greatest closers of all time, with over 600 saves to his credit. Listen as this seven-time all-star talks about teammates Rickey Henderson and Tony Gwynn, playing the Yankees in the World Series, and how his rocky career start led to a happy ending. Trevor Hoffman retired in 2010 with more games finished and saved than any other pitcher. In 2018 his adopted city of San Diego celebrated along with him, as his beloved former manager, Bruce Bochy, inducted him into Cooperstown.

Gino Cimoli on Being the First Major League Batter in California

Gino Cimoli, a San Francisco native, shares how he became the very first major leaguer to bat in the state of California. A character in the North Beach neighborhood of the City, Gino signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and worked his way up to the major league team. He had the honor of scoring the last run ever at Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, on September 24, 1957, just before the Dodgers moved West to take advantage of the booming Los Angeles market and the increased ability for teams to travel by air. With both the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers now resident in the state, the first California major league baseball game was played on April 15, 1958, in San Francisco. When Dodgers’ manager Walter Alston approached Gino and told him he would be the first major league batter in California, Gino protested. He wasn’t a leadoff hitter, why would he be the first batter? Walt responded, “you’re a San Franciscan, and we want you to have that honor.” And the rest is baseball history.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter Founder, on Revolutionizing Baseball and Returning it to its Roots

Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, shares in this 2010 interview what his vision was for his media and social networking tool that revolutionized the way people communicated—and how they communicated about baseball. Dorsey, a huge baseball fan, explains how it all started in 2006 and how he kicked off a social media revolution that found its way to the ballpark. At the time of baseball’s founding, players and fans mingled freely. As time passed, baseball players became distant and walled off from the fans. Now, fans can communicate with each other instantaneously and give man-on-the-street accounts from all over the stadium. And, athletes can update in real time, engaging with their fan community on a platform open to all. Twitter reconnects fans with players, connects fans from all walks of life, and returns it to its roots by making it accessible again.

John Madden, Hall of Fame Broadcaster, on Growing Up as a Baseball-Loving Kid in San Francisco

John Madden, an iconic sports personality and San Francisco Bay Area native, explains what it was like to grow up in San Francisco as a fan in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the post-World War II era and the innocent age of baseball. As a fan of the San Francisco Seals, the local minor league team, Madden went to games almost every day during the summer. He reminisces about the sights and smells of the ballpark, getting cherished autographs, and a most amazing day he spent with another legendary San Francisco native and local sports hero, Lefty O’Doul.