Gregg Olson Interview: Talking Ball with One of the Greatest Closers in MLB History
Friday April 6th, 2012
MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen: As a big fan of baseball cards growing up (weren’t we all), one of my favorite memories was opening up my first pack of 1989 Donruss. For those of you that never saw that particular baseball card set, it is longer considered one of the ugliest cards of all time. The choice of colors was interesting to say the least. But for those that grew up with it, the cards were beautiful to us and we loved it! In that first pack of cards, I got a Gregg Olson “rated rookie”. The set featured many great rookie cards, including Griffey, Sheffield and Tom Gordon. But the Olson was my fave. The close-up on his wind-up. The intense competitor’s face. That card was forever burned in my mind. I became a huge Gregg Olson fan and watched his career from his MLB debut in 1988 and ROY season to follow in 1989. It all started though from that first pack of baseball cards. Thank you Donruss…wherever you are…
Being based in Toronto, I had the pleasure of watching Gregg Olson pitch on many occasions as a member of those Baltimore Orioles squads. From 1989-1993, Gregg rang up 160 saves in one of the dominant runs I had ever seen from a MLB closer. The most saves at the time for a closer under 27-years of age. In 1989, Gregg won the AL Rookie of the Year award and finished 6th in CY Young voting. He was named an AL All-Star in 1990 (the only All-Star game nod in his career). Elbow issues unfortunately set back his career and Gregg did not get the chance to jump back into the closer’s role in 1998, while a member of the Diamondbacks. After 14 years in the big leagues and 217 career saves, Gregg Olson had a career that most players could only dream of. Had things played out differently health-wise, we would have seen him in Cooperstown one day, along with the other top closers of the modern-day, including Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera.
Known for his fastball and devastating curveball nicknamed “Uncle Charlie”, Gregg Olson was as good as they get in his prime. It was very difficult in my mind to see him outside of a Baltimore Orioles jersey, but so goes the business of baseball. Gregg ended up playing for 9 major league teams, with a playoff appearance with the aforementioned Diamondbacks coming in 1999. Today on MLB reports, we had a chance to catch up with the Baltimore Orioles Hall-of-Fame pitcher and talk some great baseball. Gregg was at home watching the Masters, but was kind enough to take some time for us. Following his retirement, Gregg Olson has been one busy cat. A Scout for the San Diego Padres. Published Author of the baseball book “We Got to Play Baseball”. Part Owner and President of “Toolshed Sports“- a leading manufacturer of high performance undergear. Gregg has his hands in many facets of the game of baseball! He spoke to us about all parts of his career, from getting drafted and playing with the Orioles to his current ventures and roles (and everything in-between). Gregg is a great personality to speak with. He is funny, sarcastic and extremely knowledgeable. He tells it like it us and doesn’t hold back. Much like the dominant closer in the 9th inning that went straight after top hitters in tight ballgames- Gregg Olson approaches life with the same vigour and intensity. One of my personal favorite baseball players of all-time, baseball fans are in for a treat as I spoke exclusively one-on-one with one of the greatest closers in MLB history. Today on MLB reports, I am proud to feature my conversation with the one and only, Gregg Olson:
Welcome to MLB reports Gregg. First question: A 1st round pick (4th overall) in 1988. Did you expect to go that high in the draft? Did you always know you would be heading to Baltimore?
I actually did. I was told that it was down to Andy Benes and myself for the 1st pick, so it was going to be 1-5. Baltimore wanted me- so it was either going to be San Diego or Baltimore.
It didn’t take you many games- only a handful until reaching the majors in 1988. How did you get the call? Tell us about that experience.
I really don’t remember how I was told. I had it in my contract that I would be there by September 1st. So it wasn’t a surprise. I do remember flying from Charlotte to Seattle with Curt Schilling (my roomie) for our first trip as big leaguers.
Tell us about “Uncle Charlie”…
I love that name. I’ll start from the beginning. My father taught it to me when I was 13. I was only allowed to throw 1 a game when I was 14 years old. It wasn’t until college that I learned that if I shorten my stride, I could throw it harder. The shorter I landed, the harder I threw. That was it. I just felt for it early, trying to find the release, walking a hitter or 2 so I could get the feel of my CB.
Walk us through the 1989 season. AL Rookie of the Year, CY Young and MVP votes. It must have felt like a dream.
I wasn’t supposed to make the team out of camp, most of the organization wanted me to go to AAA to be a starter. Frank Robinson wanted me and I stayed. Slow start, but was setting up in late April and we went to play the A’s. I had a good 8th and they left me in to start the 9th with a 2-1 lead. I went on to strike out D. Henderson, McGwire and Parker in order. From that moment on, I was the closer. After that, my fear of failure drove me to my success. I hated losing. I hated letting my team down and it drove me to succeed.
How did you prepare yourself for games and facing hitters?
I hated losing. I also studied the hitters charts, even made a computer program to chart every AB against me (I guess I should have patented it). I knew how I wanted to face everyone.
You were an All-Star in 1990. Where did that rank on your list of baseball accomplishments?
Might be my highlight. I was told after I was left off the list in ’92 and ’93 that there will be plenty more opportunities… NOT!!!
“The Injury” – 1993. What happened? What was the recovery like? If you had the same injury today as a player…different result?
In hindsight, I would have focused on my mechanics during my rehab. I struck out Mo Vaughn to end a game on my best cb EVER and there was a lot of pain. I threw for the next 7-10 days with my stuff going down 81mph on my fastball. Found it was torn by Dr. Jobe who recommended Tommy John surgery. Much longer story involved…
After leaving Baltimore, you played for 6 other teams until you landed in Arizona. How difficult was it to leave the Orioles- the only organization you ever knew? Did you ever feel comfortable in other cities?
I loved it. I felt like Baltimore ditched me when I got hurt. I was due for a big contract raise or extension. They didn’t think I would come back, so we broke up. I got to play with so many good people- but at the end of the year, I wasn’t worth the money to re-sign so I was off to the next team. Arizona got me cheap and I had a great year with a bad 2-year deal (for me). I loved Arizona. What a great team!
“The Comeback”. From 1998-99, you rediscovered your form. What clicked during that time period for you? Was it the desert air?
It was the first time since Baltimore. that I was given the ball in the 9th. Detroit did it and I did a good job but we never won any games (my ERA was bad because I gave up 6 runs in an inning that year). I loved the 9th. The 8th was okay, but I wasn’t a good mop-up guy. I needed my hair on fire going mach-2 to pitch well.
Your only playoff appearance was in Arizona (NLDS loss to the Mets). How difficult was it to hang ‘em up having never made it to the World Series?
Nothing I can do about it. I did my best but it didn’t work out. I’d probably lose the ring anyway.
Looking back on your career- proudest accomplishments?
(1) The no-hitter vs. Oakland. (2) All the saves. (3) Having a winning record for my career when most of the time I came in, we were winning. (4) Best might be the 41 scoreless innings in 89 -90. 13th longest streak (I think).
Do you still keep in touch with any of your ex-teammates?
Some. I just wrote a book and called all my boys to get stories.
There is a Gregg Olson…and a Greg Olson. How well do you know the ex-Braves catcher? You must have met yearly to exchange wrong mail all the time!
I don’t know him very well. We met at the All star game in ’90 to take some photos, exchange laundry and phone messages.
Which closer did you most admire during your career that you looked up to?
I loved watching Goose Gossage. Here it is… hit it.
Pitching coach that had the greatest influence on your career?
Hal Baird, my college coach. Just an amazing man.
Best closer you have ever watched? From the current crop of MLB closers…who will be the next “big thing”?
Hoffman and Rivera are the best 2. Just took care of business and didn’t beat themselves. The new guys? Wilson in SF, Bell in Miami.
Since you left the game, you became an author. What inspired you to write “We Got to Play Baseball (60 Stories From Men Who Played the Game)”? What was it like to write the book and what has the activity been like to promote it?
There are so many great stories to tell, it was a blast just hearing them. The activity hasn’t been very good though. My publisher needs to get on the ball and get some more interviews. I think people will love it. It’s clean, tells you about the players and all the fun we have on and off the field.
You are also a scout for the Padres. Why scouting…and why the Padres?
I wanted to get back in the game and scouting is a good way to get home once in a while. The Padres offered me a job a few years ago. I have some history with the men there.
Where will find Gregg Olson in 5-10 years? Any plans to go into managing/coaching? Perhaps the front office or broadcasting?
I’d love to do some broadcasting, maybe start at the college level. If the right job came in a front office, I enjoy the game, getting on the field and helping the players.
Final question Gregg: everyone at the end of the day wants to leave a mark on the game. What do you most want to be remembered for as a professional baseball player?
I’d like it remembered that I played the game the right way and that when the game was on the line, I was my best.
***Thank you to Gregg Olson for the opportunity to talk ball with swap stories! Learn more about Gregg’s new book “We Got to Play Baseball (60 Stories From Men Who Played the Game) by clicking on its Facebook page and purchasing this book for your baseball collection or for the baseball fan in your life! Also learn more about Gregg’s company Toolshed Sports and the amazing high performance undergear it produces. You can also follow Gregg on Twitter (@GreggOlson30) and tweet him on baseball, life or any subject of your choice. Just make sure you tell him that MLB reports sent ya!!!***
Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
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Posted on April 6, 2012, in Interviews with MLB Stars and tagged arizona diamondbacks, baltimore orioles, baseball, baseball scout, closer, cy young, detroit tigers, goose gossage, gregg olson, mlb, reliever, rookie of the year, san diego padres, saves, we got to play baseball. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.