In Part I of my dialogue with Chris Heisey, the former Reds outfielder and I chatted about him speaking to the Little League World Series runners-up; how he originally wanted to play baseball and basketball at Messiah College; what he has in common with Pirates reliever Tony Watson, Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick, and White Sox closer David Robertson; and just how unusual the last year has been for him.
Today, Heisey and I cover his tenure with the Reds’ organization, with the topics including his three-homer game in 2011; the Tao of Scott Rolen; whether he thought Dusty Baker was coaching for his job as the 2013 season wound down; Bryan Price’s April blow-up; Mat Latos’s negative comments about the Reds in spring training; his feelings on baseball’s data revolution; and whether he would consider a return to Cincinnati.
RN: Once you made the Reds in 2010, you were playing with a lot of guys around your age and quite a few of the guys that came up in the minors with you. That must’ve been an enjoyable time. And not only that, but you guys started winning really quickly.
CH: Yeah. Yeah, it was awesome to play in Cincinnati with guys that were mostly homegrown and weren’t expected to do much. Then to make the playoffs three out of five years, that was pretty cool.
RN: I was doing some research, and I had forgotten you hit three bombs in a game vs. the Yankees in June 2011. Where does that rank as far as individual accomplishments for you?
CH: It’s probably the highlight of my career. Maybe right up there with my first hit and home run coming in the same game my rookie year in Pittsburgh. Yeah, probably my best game ever. I think I only hit three home runs in one game in college one time, so that was only the second time in my life I had done that. I don’t think did that in little league.
RN: You touched on this, but 2010-13 was a period of sustained success the Reds hadn’t experienced in a long time: two division titles and three 90-win seasons. I can attest that as guy who grew up in Cincinnati, the group you played with brought some much-needed joy to the city. Did you guys pick up on that, how much the city was little reenergized from you guys starting to win?
CH: Yeah, it was really neat to watch. In 2010, my rookie year, we went from being picked to finish fourth in the division to winning the division. The fans started to really come out and get behind us. Yeah, it was really cool to see the city come together. They hadn’t had a playoff team in awhile, so it was an exciting time for sure. I wish we could have obviously advanced past the first round and got to the World Series, but you know, getting to the playoffs was very unexpected for that group of guys we had there.
We had a really good locker room that year, and we just came together and started winning. We kind of started to realize that we had a chance down the stretch and we all bought into winning and doing what it took to win. We had a good mix of young guys and veteran guys that had been there and done it like Orlando Cabrera and Scott Rolen. It was really neat to get to the playoffs, especially in my first year.
RN: I talked to Bill Bray about this a few months ago, but he was the biggest Scott Rolen proponent ever, and a lot of people, even now, fall back on the idea that a portion of the Reds’ struggles the past two years is due to lack of leadership. Was Rolen that big of an influence on the clubhouse?
CH: Yeah, for sure. He didn’t always say a lot, but just his presence, his work ethic, and the way he played really hard at his age when his body was banged up — he still played a way-above-average third base — it definitely motivated the guys. From what I’ve seen in my career so far, the good teams have had that leadership from an older guy — whether they were vocal or not — who can take a guy aside and say, ‘Hey, you need to get it going. You need to straighten up. This is unacceptable.’ [Rolen] was definitely a guy that had that leadership.
RN: Can you actually put into words what playing in the postseason is like and how different the feeling is from playing in the regular season?
CH: The cool thing about the playoffs is that it’s different from the regular season because how you do individually doesn’t really matter. If a player kicks a ball you hit to shortstop and you get on base, you’re happy. You’re not like, ‘Dang it, I didn’t get a hit.’ Stats are irrelevant; it’s all about winning.
Baseball, with the all the money that is thrown around, (often times) guys want to do well for themselves so that they can continue their career, continue to be successful, and make money. When you get to the playoffs, all of that goes by the wayside and everybody just wants to win. I think that’s what makes it special. Guys put their selfish (tendencies) aside, and everybody has one goal, and that’s to win no matter what happens. If you win and you went 0-for-5, it doesn’t matter because you’re winning and it’s the playoffs.
RN: Toward the end of the 2013 season, did you get a sense that Dusty Baker might’ve been coaching for his job?
CH: I mean anytime when you…Cincinnati threw out some big contracts and brought in some guys. We were expected to win, and it’s tough when you have those winning expectations and you don’t [come through in the playoffs]. You can always read between the lines and know that something like that could be happening. We didn’t have the greatest season; we got in, but it was the second Wild Card and we had to go on the road in a tough environment in Pittsburgh.
Yeah, I guess you could see it coming a little bit. I knew that being a small-market team, the Reds had to win to keep some guys guys around, including the coach. And because we didn’t, they had to start getting rid of some guys.
RN: How was Bryan Price’s managing style different and/or similar to Dusty’s?
CH: Being a pitching coach for multiple years under Dusty, a lot of things stayed the same. It was mostly the same coaching staff. He brought in some other guys. It was pretty similar. Everybody’s different. The way he handles interpersonal communication with guys is different just because everybody has different ways of doing it.
I liked [Price]. I think he did a good job given the hand that he was dealt. He’s definitely doing everything he can to get a winning team on the field and to make the right decisions to win ballgames. The last couple of years, injuries have made it tough on him. Now, obviously getting rid of (Johnny) Cueto, (Alfredo) Simon, (Mat) Latos, it’s tough to be dealt a hand like that. When your organization is getting rid of your best players, that’s tough — not only for the coaching staff and the players — but for the city. It’s just the way [the game] is designed. You have to take your shot, and they did. We couldn’t come through with a World Series, so they had to start selling guys off because they couldn’t afford them anymore.
RN: Did you see Price’s comments back in April when he blew his top? Was that surprising to you? Had Price ever gone off on you guys like that? That seemed so out of character for him.
CH: Yeah, it was definitely out of character, but knowing the situation and what happened, I could understand why he was upset. I’m sure going back, he may wish he handled it differently. We all have certain things that can set us off, every one of us, and obviously he was disappointed about how the media handled the situation. He took his frustrations out. Who is to say that any one of us in the same situation would not have been upset as well?
RN: I was a little impressed with how many F-bombs he was able to drop in such a short amount of time.
CH: [Laughs]. Yeah, he would very rarely lose his temper, so I knew it was something that really bothered him.
RN: What was your reaction to Mat Latos’s comments in spring training? Those seemed out of left field, too.
CH: Yeah, I obviously didn’t love his comments. But, like I said, everybody is different. Mat says what’s on his mind, and sometimes that’s not always the best thing to do. Again, maybe he would handle it differently if he could go back. I don’t know. I have nothing bad to say about Cincinnati or anything; it always stinks when guys feel like maybe they were mistreated or they say things that can not look well for them. He said it, and like I said, maybe he would like to go back and take it back, but obviously it’s been said, and with the way the media is today, everything is on-record. You have to be forced to deal with your comments.
RN: Segueing totally in a different direction here: There’s been a data revolution in baseball over the past decade or so. Have the new stats helped you at all with preparation? I know with talking to players about this, some are a little scared of data overload. Do you like heat maps? Does any of that stuff help you out?
CH: No, I honestly don’t love all the new stats. I think some it, frankly, is irrelevant. I understand with all the technology out there, it’s just what the world does now. They overanalyze and try to come up with these stats that maybe they think make sense. In certain instances they do, but I’m not always a big fan of some of these numbers they’re throwing out.
In my opinion, there’s no intangibles thrown into that. You know, there’s no ‘how hard the guy plays’ or ‘what kind of clubhouse guy he is.’ It’s all based on what you’re doing on the field. Sometimes that’s great, but there are other factors that go into making a winning player, and it doesn’t take any of that into account.
RN: The sabermetrics, the analytics…was that emphasized when you were with the Reds? I’m curious because there’s this new book out about how the Pirates successfully integrated their stat guys, and (manager) Clint Hurdle has been big about making sure the stat guys are comfortable in the clubhouse and brings them on road trips. I’m wondering what the Reds’ view on that was.
CH: I couldn’t really tell you, to be honest. I think why we won in Cincinnati was that we had a great group of guys and we had that leadership from the older veterans, even when they maybe weren’t at the top of their games. They picked everybody else up. When you don’t have that, it’s really tough to win. Those are the things, like I said, that don’t get taken into account. But, I think this is going to be a phase, and you’re going to see teams reverting back to what kind of guy the player is, and what they bring off the field equally as much as the talent on the field.
RN: I think the ideal scenario is a perfect marriage of the [stats and intangibles], right? I think the smart teams can figure out a way to balance it out and make sure everyone is comfortable with it, but it’s easier said than done.
CH: No doubt. No doubt.
RN: I’m not sure what your contract situation is, but did you hear from the Reds when the Dodgers released you last month? And would you be interested in coming back to Cincinnati?
CH: Like I said, I loved my time there. At this point, I just want to get back to the big leagues. Wherever that situation would arise, I’d be more than happy to take advantage of it. If that would be Cincinnati, sure, I wouldn’t hesitate because I still have some good friends there.
This interview has been lightly edited.