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Interview - Steve Lyons - Broadcaster PDF Print E-mail
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The Biz of Baseball - Interviews
Written by Maury Brown   
Sunday, 05 March 2006 12:00

Steve LyonsIn this interview Lyons debunks some urban legend about his nickname, “Psycho”, his former Red Sox manager, John McNamara, the situation in Montreal with the Expos, and situation as it now stands with the Washington Nationals, playing 9 positions during a 1990 exhibition game, the recent World Series Championships for the Red Sox and White Sox, how he transitioned from player to broadcaster, the best games he’s been involved as a broadcaster, being part of the Dodgers broadcast team, how he preps for games as a broadcaster, new broadcast technologies, and where he might like to possibly broadcast in the future.
It used to be that sports broadcasters were just that: Broadcasters such as Red Barber were schooled in prose with some form of journalistic background but had not played the sport they covered, or if they did, it was not at the high levels that the players they were reporting on were. That, of course, changed with the likes of Joe Garagiola, the former Cardinals, Giants, Pirates, and Cub catcher, paving the way and entering the broadcast booth.

Since that time, the player-turned-broadcaster has now become part and parcel of the television world, and Steve Lyons continues in that tradition.

Steve Lyons played nine seasons in Major League Baseball. Born in Tacoma, WA., and a former utility player from Oregon State University, Lyons was drafted 19th in the first round of the ’81 draft by the Red Sox, and played from ’85-’93 bouncing from the Red Sox to the White Sox before pinballing back and forth between the Red Sox, Braves, Expos, and eventually back with the Red Sox between ’91 and ’93 when he retired. He was the starting outfielder for the White Sox for two years. His career numbers breakdown as follows:

853 G, 2162 AB, 264 R, 545 H, 19 HR, 196 RBI, 156 BB, 364 SO, .252 BA, .301 OBP, .340 SLG

He gained the name “Psycho” from Marc Sullivan, son of former Boston Red Sox executive Haywood Sullivan, while Sullivan and Lyons were teammates at the Double-A level. How the name has come about has become urban legend. To see how that can be, look at the first Q&A below.

As this interview outlines, not all former players land in the lap of luxury. Hard to imagine former major leaguers selling hot dogs at a golf course. In 1995 Lyons landed a gig as a Chicago radio sports talk host. He then passed an audition the next year with Fox. He started doing the Saturday Baseball Game of the Week studio show as an analyst, and transitioned to Fox’s game coverage. He worked as a primary anchor on the Fox Sports Net News Desk, and was a color analyst for 50 games of the 2003 Arizona Diamondback season. He is now part of the Dodger broadcast team.

Lyons has earned an Emmy and two additional Emmy nominations during his tenure with Fox.

In this interview Lyons debunks some urban legend about his nickname, “Psycho”, his former Red Sox manager, John McNamara, the situation in Montreal with the Expos, and situation as it now stands with the Washington Nationals, playing 9 positions during a 1990 exhibition game, the recent World Series Championships for the Red Sox and White Sox, how he transitioned from player to broadcaster, the best games he’s been involved as a broadcaster, being part of the Dodgers broadcast team, how he preps for games as a broadcaster, new broadcast technologies, and where he might like to possibly broadcast in the future. – Maury Brown


BizBall: You had the nickname “Psycho”. There have been some rumors that you actually snacked on dog biscuits in the dugout at one point. As strange as that seems, is this correct?

Lyons: Uhh, nope. In fact I never heard that, so you’re the first.

BizBall: What was John McNamara like as a manager, and can you give me a sense of what that ’86 Red Sox team was like?

Lyons: It’s hard for me to say anything bad about McNamara because he’s the guy who really gave me my first chance in the Big Leagues.

 The year before that, 1984, I was in Major League spring training camp and Ralph Houk was the manager. A lot of people had great things to say about him, but I had a really bad experience with Ralph. I played two innings of the very first game of spring training, made an error and grounded out to second base and then I never played again and I got sent down.

When I came back for spring training in 1985 I think I got about 60 at-bats and played a lot. There were a couple other guys-- Boggs had some back problems, a former utility player Ed Jurak hurt his foot, so I got a lot of playing time and I got to make an impression on John McNamara and he said “I gotta have this guy on my team.”

After I made the team I found out that he was kind of a veteran’s guy. There were only two rookies on that entire ’86 team, myself and Mark Sullivan, so it was kind of tough. He would make his example for everybody else by using me. If I did something wrong he would chew me out, if one of the veteran players did the same thing wrong he wouldn’t say anything. It was kind of tough playing for him, but at the same time he was guy who gave me a shot.

BizBall: You’re infamous for dropping your pants after sliding into 1B while cameras were focused on you. What was the reaction from Jeff Torborg after you dropped your pants after sliding into 1st base that day in 1990 against the Tigers? Did you hear about it from opposing teams when you’d reach base?

Lyons: That happened in 1990 and I’ve heard about it everyday of my life since then. Jeff was a real easy guy to play for but he was upset because he thought that I did it on purpose. He thought that for some reason I was trying to get some attention or do something. He didn’t really see what happened I guess. He told me later that he didn’t actually see what happened, but then heard about it and thought that I was messing around. I was one of those guys who used to like to have a lot of fun, would like to smile and mess around a little bit, but never during a game. I think he thought that maybe I carried over my pre-game attitude into my game attitude and he thought I was disrespecting the game, but that’s not what happened. It was totally accidental and I didn’t know I was going to do it. Actually if I knew I was going to do it I should be a marketing manager, because that was one of the smartest things I ever did for my career. I had no idea that was going to be a highlight.

BizBall: You played for the Montreal Expos during your career. The Expos were relocated to Washington, DC last year, what did you think of Montreal and what are your thoughts on the relocation of the club?

Lyons: Montreal was a great city to hang around in, but it was a bad city to play baseball in because nobody cared. My favorite line was that we could win games 8-2 and nobody would  really cheer because we didn’t score any goals. When you play baseball in a hockey town it gets a little bit tough.

They had to move and now that team has to eventually sell, too. They have to find an owner considering that Major League Baseball still owns that team. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and it’s not really good for the game. They need to find an owner for Washington and move along with that. It was a good thing that they moved and it was kind of great that they actually had a pretty good year last year. Nobody expected anything out of them and they kind of surprised everybody. I think the city of Washington really embraced the team. It’s their third chance too I think, so they better support that team because it’s crazy for Washington to get that many opportunities and let it die again.

BizBall: Can you go over the White Sox v. Cubs exhibition game in April of 1990 when you played all 9 positions?

Lyons: It’s something that I wanted to do and I actually wanted to do it in a game that counted.

Playing for Jeff Torborg at the time, he was worried that people would think that we were making a farce out of the game again. Jeff was always a guy that really respected the game of baseball and didn’t want anybody to think that he wasn’t taking it seriously. So he always told me that if ever won the division that he would let me do it after we clinched. Of course, we were one of the worst teams in baseball during the time I played for the White Sox.

I kept telling him “how about after we’re mathematically eliminated from winning the division” that I could do it, so the compromise was that I did it in that exhibition game. There were only two other guys in the history of the game to have ever done it so it was important to me that I got a chance to do it. It really came out of a desire to showcase all my defensive talents, because I really didn’t hit that well. I was a guy who could play every position on the field and I wanted everybody to know that.

BizBall: We’ve seen two of your former teams win World Series Trophies, as of late. First, in 2004 with the Red Sox, and last year with the White Sox. What are your thoughts on those two series?

Lyons: Well, I think basically I was the reason why they never won before. As soon as any team gets rid of me they start winning. Both clubs hadn’t won a World Series in more than 80 years and then as soon as I go away they both find a way to win.

Both times it was just an amazing ride, look at the way the Red Sox came back and won eight straight games after being literally an out or two away from being eliminated from the League Championship Series. And then coming back and winning four straight and then just flat-out sweeping St. Louis the way they did... It ended up being a pretty dominating performance from a team that called themselves “the idiots” and all that stuff. You get something like that going and it can carry you right through a World Series.

 The White Sox did it almost as impressively with their starting pitching. They played eight games or something like that, and only used one relief pitcher the entire time, which to me is just amazing. That starting staff showed no real signs of having that ability in that type of a situation to do that. I think they only had four complete games the entire season before the playoffs, and then every guy went out there and threw a complete game. Ozzie didn’t have to do a whole lot. He sat back there and managed the team and told his hitters to go get some hits because he knew his pitchers were going to get a lot of outs, so it kind of an easy gig for him. Outside of two sweeps in a World Series considering now that I’m broadcasting and I work for FOX, we’d like to see the Series go a little farther than four games, but it was pretty great for the teams that played there.

BizBall: What did you do after retiring from playing the game and what were the particulars surrounding how you went from player to broadcaster?

Lyons: I always wanted to be a broadcaster, I just never thought I would get a chance because usually they want big name players and I certainly wasn’t that.

My two claims to fame I guess were that I pulled my pants down and that my nickname was “Psycho” and then after that it was like well okay, who is this guy? But I knew that I had something to say and I got a shot with FOX.

As soon as I retired I actually sold hot dogs at the Tournament golf course because I was still trying to get a chance to hook on with some team. So in the winter time I went out to the golf course and they fired a couple people and they asked me if I could help out and I  said sure. I said if you let me play free golf I would. As time went on it ended up being really my only job at that point, because I couldn’t find a baseball job and I was looking to see what the next part of my life was going to be. So I just hung out there and sold hot dogs for $3.25 and hour and played free golf after I was done. Then I got a broadcasting job with a radio show in Chicago and that evolved into the work at FOX.

BizBall: What’s the best game you’ve worked as part of a broadcast team?

Lyons: There’s a bunch of them, and I’m not great at the history of the game and I’m not great at my own history. I seem to be one of those guys who will take it in stride and do it when it’s done.

I broadcasted the very first interleague game, I’ve broadcasted Hideki Irabu’s very first game for the Yankees and that was kind of a big deal at the time.

Maybe the best game I’ve been a part of, I was a sideline reporter for a lot of the World Series.

I was a sideline reporter on Mac’s (Mark McGwire) 500th home run and his 62nd, 63rd, and 64th home runs when he broke the record. But I think the best game I ever broadcast, I think it was 2001; it was Game 2 of the Divisional Series between Arizona and the St. Louis Cardinals. It was Curt Schilling going up against Matt Morris and neither pitcher was hittable. They were totally on top of their game and I think Schilling ended up winning the game 1-0. The night before or the night after that it was Woody Williams against Randy Johnson and that was as outstanding, two great pitching performances and someone had to lose, but I just remember that one being a lot of fun to call.

BizBall: You’re now working with the Dodgers as a broadcaster. Can you give me your thoughts on working with Vin Scully?

Lyons: The funny thing is, I don’t get to see him that often because generally what I do is that I do all the games that he doesn’t. I travel with the team and I go to the ballpark every  day because I do the pre and post game show, but that’s generally down on the field. Not to say that I don’t see him around because I do, but I don’t spend a lot of quality time with Vin. He kind of keeps to himself. He doesn’t come down on the field very often anymore. When I’m down on the field doing my pre-game show he’s getting ready to do the game upstairs. When I come upstairs to have something to eat or watch the game, he’s doing the game. When the game is over I’ll do a post-game show so I have to go back down to the field. Then the games I actually do for the Dodgers are the ones that he doesn’t, so I haven’t had a chance to spend a whole lot of time with him.

BizBall: Walk me through a game day for me. What do you do to prep for a game?

Lyons: A lot of guys will read the reams of information that they give you. I can literally see stat after stat after stat, and scenarios and stories and all that kind of stuff. I look at it because I think I need to know the basics of “what is this guy hitting right now” and how has he been hitting.

But to me, the biggest part of my job is really three hours before the game starts. I get down there and I’m on the field, I go down for batting practice and try to talk and see how  guys have been. I’ll go into the locker room, talk to guys and see how they’re feeling, see how they’ve been swinging the bat, see how the pitcher has been throwing the ball and that kind of stuff. That’s my most valuable information because anybody can tell you that a guy is hitting .325, but not they might not be able to tell you that in last night’s game he bruised his finger and didn’t tell anybody about it and it might hinder his swing today. The only time you get that kind of information is you go down and do your homework on your own and talk to guys. They are the players. They are the ones who are going to be playing the game, and they’re the ones that I should know the most about.

So, I’m not generally a stat guy, I’m much more interested in the human interest of the guy himself. Then my job is to tell you what’s going on in the game right now. So, what happened three days ago and what’s going to happened three days from now doesn’t interest me much because my job is to tell you what I think is going to happen and why things did happen.

BizBall: What are your thoughts on the technologies brought into broadcasting baseball? Do you think we’ll see more use of things like lipstick cameras on the field?

Lyons: I think the addition of much of the technology is great. The use of cameras in and around the infield has added to the overall viewing experience. QuesTec is one facet of technology that I don't like, however. The Telestrator that allows me to write on the screen and show the action is something I enjoy.

BizBall: Outside of LA, if you had the choice to work in any market, where would you like to work?

Lyons: There are a few.

I did 50 games with the Diamondbacks prior, and liked Phoenix. I'd like to go back to Chicago. It's another city that would be interesting, although with me having kids in school right now, it's not really feasible. And the other place that I'd like to work would be back home in Portland. I think that it would be good to go back home and work there, and I think Portland deserves a team.


The following interview was originally published on the SABR Business of Baseball website, and can be read here: SABR Business of Baseball Interviews Page

Interview conducted by Maury Brown on 2/28/06.
Transcribed by Galen Antle and Maury Brown

Edited by Maury Brown
Graphics and layout by Maury Brown

 
 
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