Over the next few weeks Talking Chop will be interviewing former Atlanta Braves players who will be participating in the first ever Braves Fantasy Camp, January 25-30, 2011 at the Braves Spring Training facility at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex at Disney.
First up is the new Braves Senior Adviser for Alumni Relations, Greg McMichael. Greg was a part of those great Braves bullpens of the early 90's. He saved 44 games in four years with the Braves, but he was primarily a setup man, and a key member of the Braves 1995 World Championship team.
Talking Chop: In your new role as Braves Sr. Adviser for Alumni Relations (congrats by the way), will you be coordinating more events for the fans with retired Braves? What can we look forward to?
Greg McMichael: One of the things I've been working on are one day fantasy camps. We've done a couple of those so far and are looking to continue them. I'm also working on some potential trips - hunting trips, fishing trips, or just road trips to other cities to watch the Braves play. I'm putting together an email list of fans who are interested in these sorts of events with alumni, and whenever we schedule a new event I send out an email about it to the list. If people are interested in being on that list they can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org and just let me know they want to be included on any Alumni event emails.
Talking Chop: Since you retired from playing baseball, what have you been doing? Have you stayed connected to Major League baseball in any way?
Greg McMichael: The main thing I've been doing over the last 10 years is teaching. I just started w/ the Braves 4 months ago but before that I've been teaching young players how to pitch and how to play the game.
Talking Chop: What do you miss most about playing the game?
Greg McMichael: I probably miss the competition the most. It's hard to kind of reenact that adrenaline rush you get from competing at such a high level.
Talking Chop: You were traded four times, twice to the Mets, and twice by the Mets. In 1998, you were traded from the Mets to the Dodgers in June, and then back to the Mets in July. Could they just not make up their mind about you? What was that experience like?
Greg McMichael: Yeah that was pretty crazy, I think what happened was they [the Mets] had put together a very good bullpen... Mel Rojas, Dennis Cook, Turk Wendell, and there came a point in the season when we needed a starting pitcher. The Mets really wanted Hideo Nomo from the Dodgers, so they traded me for him, and when I got there [to LA], within 5 weeks the bullpen had collapsed in NY, and the Dodgers needed another starting pitcher, so they traded me back. And the very next season I had gotten hurt, and the Mets needed a starting pitcher again and the A's had Kenny Rogers, so they traded me and Jason Isringhausen for Kenny Rogers. I had mixed feelings about it all, I really liked the players I played with on the Mets, I had been there for parts of 3 years, and you always have mixed feelings about these things. I wasn't crazy about going to the AL, but nobody likes moving around that much.
Talking Chop: This baseball off-season has seen teams hand out several $100 million-plus contracts to players. Are these kinds of contracts good for the game? Do you see the money that's being handed out as an obstacle to competitive balance among all teams? Do you think the Braves can continue to be competitive in this kind of market?
Greg McMichael: Well I'm a free enterprise kind of guy, so to me, everybody has to manage their own budget. It's been that way for a long time, where the Yankees and teams like that have paid more but it hasn't always equated to winning a Championship so that doesn't bother me. I think there's been plenty of teams who have proven they can still win without those kind of payrolls - so I don't think it disrupts the balance but I know there's been arguments both ways.
Talking Chop: Last year the Braves used 17 pitchers as relievers. When you broke into the Majors in 1993, the Braves used just 9 relievers that year. What has changed about being a relief pitcher from the early 90's until now?
Greg McMichael: There has been a lot of change from the 4 starting pitchers that we had in the early 90's. There used to be a team, the Giants, in the early 90's where their starters would go just 5 or 6 innings, and then they'd burn through their bullpen because their starters couldn't go 7 innings. We were fortunate b/c we had pitchers going 8-9 innings, with Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz - 7 at the least. So I'd pitch the 8th and Wohlers the 9th, and if we were a little ahead or behind the other guys would get in, so that keeps a bullpen fresh. We had really good relief pitchers, we stayed healthy, and we had unbelievable starting pitching so that took the pressure off of doing it every single night.
Talking Chop: How would you compare the Braves bullpen from last year (2010) with the bullpen's you were a part of in the early 90's.
Greg McMichael: In the early 90's we had a dominant closer who picked up a lot of slack, kind of like when Smoltzy and Rocker were closers, you saw the same type of thing with Billy [Wagner] this past year. So when you have that, it has a trickledown effect and the other guys do really well. So I think it's similar, but there again we had guys [starters] who were throwing a bunch of innings, so you have to rely on more the bullpen when they don't do that. So if you have an older pitching staff they're not going to be logging as many innings, you're going to require more out of your bullpen on a daily basis, and it exposes more of the depth of your bullpen and you end up using more people.
Talking Chop: Have you participated in a baseball fantasy camp before? What do you hope to get out of the Braves fantasy camp?
Greg McMichael: I have - I was involved with Athletes in Action who had a Fantasy Camp one year that I participated in. As an organization, we want to continually reach out to alumni and get them back involved and the more alumni are involved, the better our brand is, so it all works together. Our alumni have been an unbelievable part of the success of the organization and we want the same winners that were a part of the Braves in the early years to be back involved because it makes us a better organization. The fans want to see them as well, so it all works together.
For the fans, the Fantasy Camp is going to be a unique experience of 5 days with guys who they used to watch play and cheer for. They get the chance and the time to understand what made them the great players they were. It's a laid back setting and a more extended period of time with the alumni, so they'll get a really good feel for who the guys are. And as far as the skill level... to be able to be taught by these guys - how to throw a baseball, how to field it, it's going to be great. We're staying at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort, and we're playing at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, so we couldn't have better surroundings. We've got a great mix of Braves alumni who are looking forward to it, and it's going to be a great fan experience they can't get anywhere else.
Talking Chop: What's your favorite Bobby Cox story? How did Bobby impact you as a player?
Greg McMichael: My greatest memory, well one of my greatest memories was the day that he called me and Steve Bedrosian and Jay Howell into his office and told me that I made the team, that's probably my greatest moment. There's probably a bunch of little stories but that one probably stands out among all of them. I think the greatest impact that he had on me and all of us is that he was consistent and you knew what he expected out of you - to treat him with the respect, your teammates and coaches with respect - if you did that he'd always go to bat for you. He always treated everyone the same and you hear that from everyone. You really felt that from him. Everyone knew where they stood and when you know where you stand there's a lot of peace that goes along with that, and you know how to respond day in and day out. That's why you hear so much praise from former players about Bobby.
Many thanks to Greg McMichael for taking the time to answer my questions. Coming up on Wednesday we'll present our interview with former Braves catcher Greg Olson.