Sunday Sit-Down: Former Colorado Rockies Pitcher Denny Neagle

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In our third edition of Sunday Sit-Down, former Colorado Rockies pitcher Denny Neagle joins us to talk front office, pitching in altitude and pitchers that can hit.

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Denny Neagle was one of the first big name free agent pitchers (alongside Mike Hampton) the Rockies signed.  Neagle pitched in the big leagues for thirteen seasons with six different teams.  He won a World Series after being traded to the Yankees in 2000.  We hope you like the honesty Denny brings in this edition of Sunday Sit-Down.

Rox Pile: Thanks for sitting down with me, first off how have you been?  How’s life after baseball?

Life after baseball is great! The fact that I’ve had time to spend my with kids, going on field trips, being a parent volunteer at their school for various activities, being able to attend all of their activities.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world!  I’m definitely at the point where I would like to get a job, preferably something involving baseball, but it would have to be something that didn’t take me away from my kids that much. You never get these years back when they’re in school, so I’m making the most of it with them!

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The past year and a half has been a whirlwind. We’ve had a two-headed GM, owner Monfort sending ill-advised emails and trade rumors galore. What’s your take on the culture of the Rockies?

The front office should handle constructing the team, trades, putting the team together and all that kind of stuff.  Once the team is put together they should let the manager/coaches coach the team and stay out of those decisions.  I can’t be and expert on their situation because I’m not too familiar with it, but if they have been making too many moves or if the owners are over stepping their boundaries, that breeds bad decision-making and only things can happen from that.

The greatest thing about the Atlanta Braves was as smart as John Schuerholz was with his baseball decision-making and pulling off some of the trades he did, he let Bobby Cox manage and they didn’t interfere with each other.  They had a mutual respect for one another and that goes for Ted Turner as well.  He’s a great owner who loves to win, but he also let his management and coaches do their thing.  That’s the right formula for success.

Whether it was Bill Geivett having an office in the club house or Dexter Fowler’s comments upon leaving, everyone just seemed to be confused.

When I heard about Geivett having an office in the club house, I thought if that’s true, like you said it’s too much micromanaging.  The players need to see a manager that’s in control and know that they can have full confidence in him.  When all of a sudden players see this guy has an office here, and this guy is supposed to be the manager, but yet he’s constantly getting stepped on or the GM is making choices for him, it’s too much.

I feel bad for Walt. If you look at this year the Rockies are using more shifts, even hitting the pitcher in the eighth spot a few times. That’s stuff that didn’t happen last year.  It seems like Geivett overturned Walt on a lot of stuff that I didn’t feel was the GM’s place.  I’m happy for Walt that he has some more freedom to do his job.

Absolutely, I played with Walt in Atlanta in 1998.  He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in baseball, Walt’s awesome.  He deserves a chance, he’s got a great baseball mind.  He played a long time, and is well-known, well-respected in the club house; that’s the kind of guy players want to play for.  One of the ways you let him be successful is to step back and let him do his thing.

One of Rockies fans biggest complaints is that they don’t go after big name free agent pitchers.  Mike Hampton and yourself are the last real big names acquired, are you surprised at this?

To be honest with you Jeramiah, I wish I could say yes, but I’m not really surprised unfortunately.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m a pretty straight shooter, I’ll tell it like it is and I’m not afraid to rip on myself.  For that being said I’ll be the first to admit that Hampton and myself probably have a lot to do with that.  Whether it’s because of guys like Bill Swift and Darryl Kile the guys before me.  The same thing happened to those guys, what happened to Mike and I.  We didn’t have much success and the numbers weren’t great and we end up getting hurt, which happens to a lot of us.

In mine and Mike’s cases we were both in our prime, healthy, both coming in at the same time it was made a bigger deal and rightfully so, we failed miserably pretty much.  I think that scared more guys away from coming here, and probably scared management as well.  I understand where the fans are coming from, I’d be upset too.  I grew up an Orioles fan and I get upset when they don’t sign guys or when they let Nelson Cruz go. With that said I don’t think that’s the right formula to win at Coors Field, trying to put all your eggs in one basket and try to get free agent pitchers.  If they can go out and land some of big name free agent bats, and load the lineup, but more importantly save your money for the back-end of the bullpen.  I think that’s the formula they need to have for success.

“I told everybody I’m not worried about the back of my baseball card and what my numbers are going to be.  That’s what you have to realize is that you’ll have to sacrifice some things to help the team win.”

Yourself and Mike Hampton don’t get enough credit, while you didn’t have the success you wanted you both did whatever you could to help the team.  Whether that was coming out of the bullpen, pinch-hitting, or pinch running you guys truly gave your all.

That’s what it’s all about.  I knew coming there my numbers would go up.  People would ask me why in the heck would want to pitch there?  It was really for two reasons, one I was married at the time and my wife at the times father was diagnosed with the disease PSP.  She wanted to be close to him and I wanted to do that for her. The second reason being I felt we did have a chance to win, I knew they were going to go after Hampton also.

That being said, I knew what I was in for. If you sign with the Dodgers or the Mets at the time, you know you have a pretty good chance to put up some good numbers because you’re going to be in some of the best pitchers parks.  Vice versa when going to Colorado, like I told everybody I’m not worried about the back of my baseball card and what my numbers are going to be.  That’s what you have to realize is that you’ll have to sacrifice some things to help the team win.

With that said, a lot is made of pitching at altitude.  How do you feel pitchers feel about it, are they afraid to throw strikes at Coors Field, or is it more the movement of the pitches?

It’s more the movement on your pitches, without a doubt.  I know even before I came over there, the first time I ever really noticed it was when I was still in Atlanta.  Darryl Kyle had signed with Colorado, and he had a great 12-6 curve ball.  Watching him pitch at Coors, you could see him struggle with it and he didn’t have the same snap to it like he did when he would just make batters look foolish and all of a sudden he was getting hit around.

What happens also which people don’t realize is, it affects you on the road.  Kyle would come into Atlanta and all of a sudden he would have to adjust his release point.  Now he was bouncing curve balls and hitters would just lay off of it.  I noticed that with myself as well, I was bouncing my change-up and slider more, I had to make that adjustment.

There was an article up on Purple Row saying that Coors Field may be more hurtful that it is helpful with the changes you have to make on the road.  Do you think Coors Field is more damning that it is a blessing?

I wouldn’t go that far, maybe more so for pitchers.  Here’s why: you have to factor in the physical part of it too.  Greg Maddux use to always say, he can deal with the fact that he had to adjust his pitches for not moving as much, but the worst part for him was how much of a toll it took on his body.  He used to say It would take him almost two full starts when he left Coors to start feeling better again.  Throwing one hundred pitches there feels like you’re throwing one hundred and fifty somewhere else.

You played in both leagues, do you want to see the DH come to the National League?

Hell no!  I’m a huge fan of the National League, I love playing in the NL.  Nothing against the AL, I just love the style of play in the NL.  It’s so much more exciting, so much more decision-making. Pinch hitting, double switches, not to mention I love swinging the bat.  I always took pride in hitting.  We always spent extra time in the cages.  Not to mention I’d rather face the other teams pitcher hitting .089 than David Ortiz.

You swung the bat pretty well, did you ever feel in competition with Hampton when he would hit one out?

Oh yeah, we always had competitions, he was always a great hitter.  He wasn’t really a power guy before coming to Coors.  I hit a grand slam before coming to the Rockies.  So once he hit eight that year, I felt I had to pick up my power stroke now (chuckles).

I’d like to thank Denny Neagle for sitting down and chatting with me.  This has been far and away my favorite baseball interview I’ve ever done.  It’s not often a big league player will tell it like is, and I appreciate the way he answered every question without hesitation.  

Denny still lives in the Denver area, so maybe he could bring that straight forwardness to the Rockies club house in the near future?  We hope you enjoyed this edition of Sunday Sit-Down. Check back in next week!

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