Interview with Former Major League Pitcher, Aaron Sele
Here is the dialogue from an interview I conducted with former All-Star Aaron Sele. Sele pitched 15 seasons for the Red Sox, Rangers, Mariners, Angels, Dodgers, and Mets, in that order. Sele was named to 2 All-Star teams and accrued a 33.6 life time fWAR, or Fangraphs version of wins above replacement. Sele is currently a special assistant to Dodgers GM, Ned Colletti, as a roving minor league pitching instructor.
Justin Millar: Being born in Minnesota, but later moving to Washington in your youth, which area do you associate yourself more with it?
Aaron Sele: “It’s definitely Washington. I left Minnesota when I was 5, so I really grew up in Washington. I lived there for 30 years, went to school there and my parents and sister are still there and we visit often. I still have lots of extended family in Minnesota and visited quite a bit as a kid but not as much as an adult.”
JM: In your freshman year at Washington State, former All-Star John Olerud was finishing up his junior year. What advice did he give to you, and how big was his impact on your fellow underclassmen?
AS: “John is a great person. Just by having a person like that on your team, it impacts in a positive way. Not to mention he was arguable one of the best college players, ever. Just the way he went about his business, handling the college lifestyle the right way, working at his baseball skills, never letting the emotions of the game interfere with him and just being positive rubbed off on everyone.”
“He hit .424 with 24 HR and went 15-0 on the mound his sophomore year. Finished 2nd to Robin Ventura in the Golden Spikes Award. Robin had a 50 some game hit streak that year. He also had an aneurysm in the fall going into his JR year when I was there.”
JM: What was the draft experience like to you?
AS: “It definitely was much different from todays world with all the information at everyone’s fingertips like it is. I originally got drafted by Minnesota Twins in the 37th round out of high school. We knew there were scouts in the stands but there were probably more college guys than pros and we really didn’t understand the whole process. When I got the call I was in shock. Minnesota made a great offer, more along the lines of 10th rounder, but I knew Washington State University was going to be a great thing for me and it was. I got a chance to grow up, mature physically and mentally and enjoy the college experience.”
“I got drafted in the 1st round out of college by the Red Sox. I had talked to lots of scouts that year and heard I was going in the 1st round by all of them. Draft day came and I was really a mix of emotions, I just couldn’t stick around the house. We got lots of phone calls from media wondering if we’d heard anything yet and we didn’t. I was in a little shock because of everything I’d heard all year. The next day was the same thing, no calls from a baseball club. I was pretty disappointed. Around 9 pm on the 2nd day, finally got a call from a media person who said I can’t believe you haven’t been told yet and he told me I was taken by the Red Sox 22nd overall on day 1. Red Sox call the next morning.”
JM: In 1993, you were involved in a brawl with White Sox slugger, George Bell. What went through your head when you saw Bell charging at you?
AS: “The first thought I had was, quit dropping your elbow and drive it in there. George was a big time pull with power guy and was on a tear at the time. We knew we had to double up in on him to open up the down and away slot. I had just thrown a quality 2 seam fastball in under his hands the pitch before that he didn’t like and I was going to throw a “better” one. Instead of focusing on the location I tried to throw it harder and dropped my elbow causing the HBP. After that things happened pretty fast.”
JM: You were the Opening Day starter for the Boston Red Sox at the age of 25, how did it feel to be on such a large stage at such a young age?
AS: “That’s one of the highlights of my career. We were coming off the strike shortened spring training and Roger Clemens had a sore groin so they were going to give him a few extra days so they gave the start to me. Your first start every year gets you really excited but opening day in Boston is a really big event. The fans are excited, Fenway is decorated with all the bunting and it is absolutely electric. Great experience and we won.”
JM: What was the experience like to be a member of the 2001 Mariners team that won 116 games? How was the atmosphere in the clubhouse? And how disappointing was it to win so many regular season games, but not the World Series?
AS: “A ML player really should only have 1 goal and that’s to win a World Series. The 2001 team had 25 guys who all had that goal. Selfless ab’s to move runners, guys accepting their roles and playing well in them, quality people on and off the field. Just a once in a lifetime group that played good, solid baseball everyday. It was fun to go to the field to work everyday with those guys.”
“We were all very disappointed to not win the World Series that year because we knew how good we were. Those opportunities don’t come around very often in a player’s career. We were proud of what we accomplished but not satisfied with the season because of the WS. I only realized how close it was, winning the WS, after the next year when I was part of the 2002 Angels that did win.”
JM: You made 2 All-Star teams during your 15 year career. What’s the All-Star experience like from a player’s perspective?
AS: “The All-Star game is a great experience. I think it’s a game that gives the players a chance to give back to the fans who support baseball throughout the year. It’s a chance to go show everyone who the best players in the game, for that year, are. It’s an honor to be chosen.”
“The process of getting to the game, getting family to and from, planning out tickets and all of those details can be overwhelming. MLB and team traveling secretaries really help with this process but it can be difficult. Especially, if you have already made plans to do something else during that time. It’s well worth all those inconveniences to go.”
JM: In 2006 and 2007, you pitched mainly out of the bullpen. What was it like to transition to the bullpen after starting for nearly your entire career and how did your mindset change?
AS: “In 2006 I started up until the July trade deadline and then we acquired Greg Maddux. I was moved to the pen and pitched out of the pen for the next year and half. It was a difficult adjustment for me. The biggest issue I had was, for 13 years as a starter, I was able to set the pace of the game and really control how the game unfolded. As a reliever, you jump into the middle of something you have no rhythm with and just go. That’s why relievers usually have more “stuff” than a starter. He can go all out with his 2 best pitches and get outs.”
JM: In 1998 and 1999, your strikeout rate was nearly 2 strikeouts per 9 innings higher than your career average. What was different those 2 seasons, and did you consider yourself more of “pitch to contact” or “swing and miss” pitcher?
AS: “I got traded over to Texas in 1998 and for a variety of reasons the strikeout rates jumped. I was mentally freed up from a few years of grinding in Boston with injuries and pitching coach transitions. Our trainer, Ray Ramirez, (now the Mets head trainer), got me on a great shoulder program so I was healthy all year. Dick Bosman, pitching coach, was a very solid, low-key personality that I clicked with. In that ballpark you also had to go for strikeouts because of the way the ball flies there. After 2 years there I went to Seattle and played “pitch to contact” because of the park and our defense. After that, my shoulder surgery really took away my best strikeout pitch, my curve.”
“When I first got called up in 1993, I was asked a very similar question. Are you a power guy or a location guy? In 93′ I probably maxed out around 91-92 mph. That may be stretching it too. (Look how far arms have come) I really was pitcher. I had to mix speeds and use different locations. My stuff really played out to about 1/3 strikeouts, 1/3 ground ball outs and 1/3 fly ball outs.”
JM: What was your favorite city to play in?
AS: “As a home park, Seattle was the best. We had a great team, the city supported us so well and it was home. The perfect storm for a baseball player.”
“As a visitor, I loved going to Chicago. Great restaurants, nice people, perfect weather in the summertime.”
JM: Who was the toughest opposing batter you every faced?
AS: “Probably Ken Griffey Jr. I struggled against left-handed hitters because I didn’t have a change-up and he was arguably the best in the game at the time. He had power, speed and the ability to hit for average. Not a good combination for me.”
JM: Could you give us a quick scouting report on Dodgers pitching prospect, Garrett Gould?
AS: “Garret is a young pitcher from Kansas who is currently with our Ranch Cucamonga affiliate. He is a great competitor with a plus curveball and above average fastball. He is a great teammate and really focuses on winning games for his team. He has continued to get better every year we’ve had him and is having another very solid year again.”
JM: When evaluating a young pitcher, what are some specific things you look for? Also, who would you say had the best “stuff” of any opposing pitcher you’ve seen?
AS: “When looking at young pitchers I really look at the whole package. Since there is no 1 formula for being able to pitch in the big leagues you really have to consider everything. Does he command? Does the breaking ball have an edge or bite to it? Is there room for the throw to get better? What is his role in the ML going to be? Who have I seen like him before who has been successful in the ML’s? What does this pitcher do well and not as well? How can you improve those areas? Does he handle himself like a professional, on and off the field? And many more of those types of things.”
“The best stuff of any opposing pitcher has to be some of the guys I played against in the minor leagues. Most of the “stuff” guys didn’t make it though. No command, not professional and things like that. There’s a reason they say the best “stuff” is usually in A ball. Those guys have to try to figure out how to make it work as a package.”
“As a teammate in the big leagues, Scot Shields, with the Angels, had the best stuff. We had a closer in Troy Percival, who saved over 300 games and should be a Hall of Famer and Frankie Rodriguez, who went on to have some very solid years as a closer and every one on the other team would say, “Oh man, I hope I don’t have to face Shields”"
JM: How much value do you put in statistics when evaluating one of your players?
AS: “As long as the numbers are in a decent range, not much. It’s tough to say a guy with a 6.00 era is good but the one with a 1.20 era isn’t always the best either.”
JM: What was it like to adjust from playing to coaching?
AS: “For me, it was fairly easy adjustment. I always loved to talk the game and that’s really what I do now. Pitchers and I talk about situations, pitch selection, routines and all aspects of the game. It’s the one area I just don’t see enough of anymore. If you talk about things and have an idea of how you would handle it then when it comes up in the game your better prepared to handle it. You also never know whose information is going to help and when. Some of the best advice I ever got about pitching came from players and hitting coaches.”
JM: What was the best moment of your big league career?
AS: “I was lucky enough to play with some amazing teammates, have some great coaches and be apart of great moments. I’m not sure really. Opening day starter in Boston, 2 All Star games, 7 playoff teams, a World Series winner, 116 win season were all very special. I saw John Valentine turn an unassisted triple play, saw Andre Dawson get his 400th home run, Troy Percival get his 300th save, Tom Glavine get his 300th win, played with Mo Vaughn, Pudge Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki during their MVP years and so many other milestones for teammates.”
JM: Ultimately, how would you categorize your experience in the game?
AS: “It’s been the most amazing time anyone could ever dream of and continues to be.”
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