Welcome to The Quazcast – a weekly podcast that brings listeners a frank conversation between myself and a random person from the world of sports.
I might speak with a 90-year-old NFL kicker one week, the manager of a Major League Baseball team the next, and a bull fighter the week after that. The Quazcast is about digging deep and avoiding the cliché question and answers that too often plague sports interviews.
This week’s guest is former Major League catcher Sal Fasano. When I started covering MLB for Sports Illustrated I noticed a change in perspective from when I was a kid. The guys you start rooting for aren’t the stars. Very rarely are they the stars. Instead, the players you cheer for are the guys who are decent, who have a story behind them, who are willing to talk, and are mostly just nice guys. My favorite of all time was Sal Fasano.
Over 11 seasons, Fasano played for nine Major League teams, earning a reputation for his defensive abilities. Brian Johnson, a friend of mine, and another former Major Leaguer, said that Fasano probably had the best arm he’s ever seen on a catcher. After his fascinating career as a player ended, Fasano joined the Toronto Blue Jays system as a Minor League manager, and now as a roving catching instructor.
Below is an excerpt of our conversation, and a recording of our complete interview. To get future podcasts downloaded straight to your listening device, you can subscribe to The Quazcast on iTunes.
Jeff Pearlman: I teach college journalism, and I always tell my students, and they never believe me, that I would rather interview a guy like Sal Fasano, or a guy with your career, than Derek Jeter, or A-Rod, or whoever. I’ve always been fascinated by your career. So many nooks and crannies. I counted the number of stops in your career. You were drafted out of Evansville in the 37th round, 1993, by the Royals. Before your final stop in Colorado Springs in 2009, you had 36 different stops, that’s no misprint… 36 different stops. Could you name them in order, Sal? Is that even remotely possible?
Sal Fasano: I think I could, that would probably take up most of our time. I’ll just tell you a story about the funniest year that I had. I can’t remember exactly what year it was with Kansas City. I had just come back from the big leagues, I think it was ‘97. I’m sitting there… they told me I was going to go to AA, which is fine, because I’m still a young player. So I go to AA, I get my apartment set up. I get my phone, and my cable. A day later, we get rained out of our workout. Because It’s cold in Wichita at the time. A day later, I get the call that says I’m going to AAA… and I’m like wow, great. I just got set up here. And my wife is freaking out, mad. Because we’re going to have to do all this again. So I go up to Omaha, I’m there for one day. We get rained out of another workout, and I get called up to the big leagues.
JP: How was Omaha that day?
SF: Miserable. It hails every day in Omaha, or there’s a tornado somewhere. So in three days, I went to three different spots and didn’t even have a workout. And I’m thinking, I must have had a really good interview with the phone company.
JP: You impressed somebody! You were a special kind of player. They saw that in you immediately.
SF: Yeah, right.
JP: I thought you were going to tell one of my favorite stories ever from covering baseball. 2002, Sal Fasano spends the year…. you started in Salt Lake, then you played in Indianapolis, then you were in Durham. You played with the Angels… Do you wanna tell it?
SF: I started the year, I got invited to Tampa Bay for big league spring training. So I’m thinking I have a chance to make the team, and I don’t make the team, which is fine, and I go down to AAA. I’m having a pretty decent year, actually. And I don’t know if you remember Tampa Bay at the time, but they were really struggling financially.
SF: Well, I get a chance to get called up because they’re sending Toby Hall down. And instead they call up the guy who was backing me up at the time, Paul Hoover. And no disrespect to Paul, he was a good player too, but he was my backup. But they called him up, because he was making the major league minimum. So I get frustrated, and I talk to, I think it was Cam Bonife at the time, and I say I really want my release. He said, no, they weren’t going to do it. And I said, look, you’ve lied to me a couple times, let’s not make it a third, just give me my release. We go back and forth and eventually they do, they give me my release. And I get out… and about 12 hours later I get a call, and Milwaukee wants to sign me. And they say, you’re going to go to AAA for a couple weeks, then we’re going to call you to the big leagues. So I go to Indy, and I play for a day, and the next thing you know they sign another catcher and they send him right to the big leagues. I’m furious at this point… I feel like I’ve just gotten hosed by Tampa Bay, and now I’m getting hosed by Milwaukee. I’m calling my agent, and I’m like… I’ve had enough. I want to quit. And Barry Meister, he talks me out of it. He says we’ll find something for you. About three weeks later, I end up getting traded to Anaheim, and I go to Salt Lake City. This is all just in a couple months span, and I’ve been to all these places.
Well Barry calls me and says go to Salt Lake, and it turns out, we’re pretty good. We’ve got guys like Chone Figgins, Alredo Amezaga, Francicso Rodriguez, there were a ton of great players. Sure enough, we’re in first place. We end up going to the playoffs, and losing in the championships. They were so gracious, they called us all to the big leagues. So now we’re in the big leagues, and they’re in the playoff hunt, so now we’re in the playoff hunt… and we make the playoffs. We’re all getting ready for the playoffs to start, I go out and I want to try some touchy throws to second base, and I go out to throw ten throws, and on the tenth throw, my elbow explodes. My ulnar collateral ligament explodes. So I don’t play, but one game… And it was pretty cool. I threw out Ichiro Suziki and Willie Bloomquist back-to-back. So that was pretty cool, but I only played one game. They kept me on the roster the whole time, but because I was hurt in the playoffs, I wasn’t active, but I was on the bench the whole time and we won the World Series.
JP: What I remember, Sal… I looked it up. You played in two games, and had one at bat. You struck out. After a team wins the World Series, there’s a big brouhaha, and Tim Salmon is hugging Garrett Anderson, and Mike Scioscia is hugging Kevin Appier. And I’m standing in this clubhouse, and I’ve never covered the Angels before, and I’ve got my notepad out because I’m trying to write down what’s going on… and here comes Sal Fasano, who tells me he doesn’t really know that many people on the team, and he’s really happy to see me standing there. It was the longest conversation I’ve ever had with a winning player, who has just won the World Series. Because it was so unique for you… did you feel like you had won? What did that feel like?
SF: No… that was pretty awkward.
To hear the entire interview – including Fasano explaining the physical toll that catching takes, differentiating between PEDs and greenies and balancing winning with development as a Minor League manager - you can download the podcast here or listen below.
Jeff Pearlman is a former senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He is the author of six books including Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, The Bad Guys Won (a biography of the 1986 New York Mets) and Boys Will Be Boys (an account of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty from the 1990s). His newest book – Showtime (due to be released on February 11, 2014) - explores another famous sports dynasty: the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s.