Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2004-07-19 13:33
by Alex Belth

My label-mate Will Carroll was one of the first Internet writers that I developed a relationship with after I started Bronx Banter in the fall of 2002. (Carroll contacted me in the spring of 2003 after I wrote a short piece about Roberto Alomar.) For a year-and-a-half, Iíve enjoyed many rambling conversationsóvia e-mail and over the phone--with Carroll, who writes about injuries for Baseball Prospectus. Heís a thoroughly engaging guy, passionate, self-deprecating and slightly out-of-his-bird. I had the chance to hang out with Will at the winter meetings in New Orleans last December and found him to be even more entertaining in person than he is in print. I have long thought that heíd been a fun guy to interview and with the publication of his first book, "Saving the Pitcher" we found the ideal opportunity to chat. So without further ado, here is our conversation. I hope you enjoy.

Bronx Banter: Hey, youíre a Will Jr. right?

Will Carroll: Second.

BB: Youíre, Will Carroll Second. No one ever called you ďjunior?Ē

WC: Nope. No, my name is actually a legal mess, but there is no ďSecondĒ in my name, so I had to add it. Like when I was 18 so that I could get my student loans.

BB: Really?

WC: Yeah, it was just, one of those things.

BB: Thatís random. Now, how did your father get into sports medicine?

WC: You know, heís always been an athlete. When he was at the University of Illinois he wrestled and played football. He couldnít figure out what he wanted to do in life, but he knew he wanted to be around sports.

BB: Did he grow up in an athletic family?

WC: No. My aunt. I canít imagine her being athletic and sheís never talked about it. I know she was in the band, and stuff like that. So it was just one of those things. He got into it the way a lot of people do. He realized at one point, my athletic talent is only going to take me so far, but I still want to be around it. So he got into medicine. And then sports medicine. He just happened to be at the University of Indiana working on his Masterís Degree--this must be the early seventies--when there was an amazing confluence of people. There was a guy named Spike Dixon, who was the head of the training program there. And Dick Martin who was with the Twins forever. Guys like Jimmy Warfield who was with the Indians forever. A guy named David Craig, who is the only trainer the Indiana Pacers have ever had. They all were at school there. And those I just the ones I know personally. It was like the worldís center of sports medicine.

BB: So you grew up in Indiana.

WC: No, I grew up all over the place.

BB: How many different places did your dad work when you were growing up?

WC: He was at Northeastern University in Boston, he was with the Indianapolis Racers in the WHA, the team that debuted Wayne Gretzky. Where else was he back then? Private practice, all over the place. At some point, when I went to college, I had never lived in any place for more than a couple of years. I lived everywhere.

BB: Where is your mom from?

WC: Chicago.

BB: And she didnít mind traveling all across the country like that?

WC: Nah, they got divorced when I was young.

BB: Did you stay with her?

WC: No, I went with my dad.

BB: Has your mom lived in one central place all this time?

WC: Yeah, she still lives here in Indianapolis.

BB: Is that why you live in Indianapolis?

WC: No, I moved here because of my grandmother.

BB: On your momís side?

WC: There is no momís side to my family. Itís really just her and my half-brother.

BB: Huh. So your grandmother is from your popís side?

WC: Yeah. Sheís from here. When I left school I had a choice of jobs either here or in Vegas. And I said, ďOohh, Vegas. Thatís pretty cool.Ē But I had seen ďLeaving Las Vegas,Ē and I canít say I wouldnít end up like Nic Cage in that one. Or I could come here and help take care of my grandmother, who had always taken care of me. She lives on a farm. Sheís 86 now. She wants to be real independent and she is. Sheís sitting there on the front porch and Iím always calling up, worried, about whatís going on. Iím like, ďWhat are you doing?Ē And she says, ďAh, Iím out there clearing the back porch. Burning trash. Running off skunks.Ē Itís always something. Iím like half an hour away from her, so I can get over there quick if she needs something. Go up there and make sure sheís got everything. You know, if something needs fixingÖI can always call somebody up to come over and fix it. (Laughs)

BB: Did growing up around a father who was involved in sports encourage you to get into them yourself?

WC: You know I donít honestly know how I got in; it was just always there. It wasnít even an option I donít think. It wasnít like I was forced into it; it was just always there so you might as well do it. Some of my earliest memories are of me playing hockey.

BB: Did you play all kinds of sports growing up?

WC: Oh yeah. I stopped playing hockey just because we moved south. And places like Texas and Alabama, Louisville and Florida didn't have hockey down there. But hockey was my first love and I still love the sport. But you know I played baseball, I played football, I ran track. I was never any good at basketball because Iím short and Iím white.

BB: Did you get interested in sports medicine at all as a kid? Was it impressed on you that this was the family business?

WC: No. It was never anything like that. ButÖI donít remember what your dad did. I donít know if you ever went to the office with him or anything like that. But if your dad is an accountant, you might have gone to the office with him.

BB: My dad was in the TV and movies business.

WC: Thatís right. So okay, perfect. You know how this goes. Youíre just always around it. It just becomes part of the language. When I decided I had to go back to college and figure out what the heck I wanted to do with life, all I knew was sports medicine. So in trying to figure out a major I thought, sports medicine why not? I can pass these classes without even blinking.

BB: Wait, let me backtrack. Where did you go to high school?

WC: I went to three high schools. I started off in Texas, god-awful west Texas. Freshman and most of my sophomore year and then back for my junior year. I came to Indiana for four months so I could wrestle here. Texas wrestling is kind of a joke. So I came up here, lived with my mom for a few months and then went back.

BB: How did you do?

WC: Made the semi-states. I wasnít as good as I thought as I was, but I was pretty good. Then in my senior year I wound up in Birmingham, Alabama playing baseball for a small, evangelical Christian school.

BB: Were you a pitcher?

WC: Catcher. I pitched but I was a much better catcher at that point. Graduated there in a class of 23. Went from a school in Texas that had a graduating class of 1,800 to 23.

BB: What was Alabama like for you?

WC: Interesting. I was a mess as a teenager. I was a flat-out mess. I didnít know what I wanted to do; I didnít know what I wanted to be. I had no direction in life. I got into too much trouble. I drank too much. I smoked too much. Your typical screwed-up teenager.

BB: Did you leave high school looking for a college where you could play baseball?

WC: I did, but I was under-sized. They were like, ďYour too small to be a catcher, youíve got to find another position. Except you donít hit for enough power to be an outfielder and you donít throw well enough to be an infielder. So why donít you go to a small college and we think youíre going to grow..." I was 5í5 when I graduated high school. And I was sixteen. They wanted me to have a way to catch up. Some schools said take a year off, go travel, but I didnít want to do that.

BB: Why where you so young when you graduated?

WC: I had skipped a year in school. Not because I was smart, [but] because I hated France. We went to France for a year when I was in third grade. I didnít want to go. So instead of going to French schools or learning French or making use of any of the culture, I just had a tutor. And I didnít have any friends so I just took my classes all the time. Well by the time we went home at Christmas, I was done with the third grade. They didnít know what to do. They said, ďWell he canít have six months off, let him skip to fourth grade.Ē

BB: What college did you eventually go to?

WC: One of the places I ended up going was a small school in West Virginia called Bethany where Ken Brett consulted.

BB: And had you ever been seriously hurt before going to college?

WC: Well, no, but I had to stop playing football because I was getting concussions all the time.

BB: This was before your growth spurt, when you were 5í5?

WC: I weighed a buck twenty, buck thirty. I had wrestled at 106. I wasnít a good football player. I wasnít fast enough I wasnít tall enough. I didnít like the whole idea of me being crushed. You can get away with it in junior high cause when they hit ya, itís not that big of a deal. But in high school, here are these guys that are 300 pounds, and theyíre killing you. This is in Texas. And football is the end-all, be-all in west Texas. Halfway through my sophomore year I realized that I donít like being hit. What can I do about this? So I decided to learn how to kick. But it didnít work out. Plus, when I came back from my stint wrestling in Indiana, we had a pretty good kicker. So I ended up being the holder. I liked it much better. I never got hit once. Didnít have to practice, it was great.

BB: Was baseball big in Texas too?

WC: Not as big as it is around Dallas or Houston. Itís a smaller community. But there was a minor league team out there, the Midland Angels. Now theyíre the Midland Rockhounds.

BB: If youíre moving around all the time growing up, what major league team did you root for?

WC: I started rooting for the Cubs in í83 because of cable.

BB: Because of WGN.

WC: Yeah.

BB: Thatís funny, because we got WGN in the eighties in New York too. From Iíd say 82 through 87 I saw a lot of games because theyíd always be playing in the afternoon when we came home from school.

WC: Thatís exactly right.

BB: Did you play ball during your first year of college, at Bethany?

WC: No, I ended up leaving school after a semester. Mostly girl problems. It was a bad scene. I was too young to be at college and I didnít know what I wanted to do. There was nothing good going on in my life and I had no direction. I had no mentor to tell me, ďYou need to this or you need to do that.Ē I was just kind of flailing.

BB: Where was your dad in all of this?

WC: We just didnít get along at that time.

BB: What? Classic son-father strudel?

WC: Yeah. So I took four months off and then a buddy says, ďLetís join the army.Ē

BB: When was this?

WC: 1986. So he says, ďLetís join the army,Ē and I say, ďThatís a good idea.Ē So we take the physical to join the army reserves and it turns out that I have flat feet. So I couldnít join the army. Iím like, "Crap, what am I going to do now?" I ended up talking to a guy, and he told that that I could join the Navy. Iím like, ďOK.Ē So I did. I was in the Navy for five years.

BB: And you obviously continued to travel and move around.

WC: Yup. You name it; Iíve been there. Any place that sucked. Join the Navy, see the world. Yeah, well three-quarters of it is water. I was out of West Virginia, and we went to places like Ireland, Scotland, Israel and then the Gulf.

BB: Did you continue to follow the Cubs while you were in the service?

WC: Not as much, but it never really went away. I remember the Cubs in í89, and that got me back into it. I followed it in the USA Today.

BB: Did you miss your family?

WC: The Navy was my family. I had a best friend in the Navy at the time. I thought that was going to be the rest of my life.

BB: Did it give you the focus and structure that you had been looking for?

WC: No, it ruled out things more than anything else. "I donít want to be one of these people." Hey, the Navy was a very good experience for me, but there are a lot of stupid people in the Navy. Sometimes itís easy to get into the Navy for all the wrong reasons. For some people the Navy is a big step up, and thatís fine. Itís a great place for them. But there are a lot of people in there who are like, ďI want to go to college. I donít want to be a cook for the rest of my life, or an electrician.Ē So I didnít know yet what I wanted to be but I had a better idea of what I didnít want to be. I was like John Cusak [in ďSay AnythingĒ], ďI donít want to buy anything, I donít want to sell anythingÖĒ

BB: Did you serve in the Gulf War?

WC: Yeah.

BB: How scared were you when you found out that you were going?

WC: Very. We didnít know what was going on. Nobody told us what was going on. We were just there and doing our jobs. I was there in August of 1990 until February of 1991. I took apart bombs.

BB: What did you think, ďLet me do the most dangerous thing I can possibly think of?Ē

WC: Essentially, yes. Itís like, "How can I put myself in the most harms way?" It was one of those suicide-by-ordeal kind of things. I wasnít going to actually kill myself but I was going to put myself in the position where I was going to have that chance a lot. I was thinking, ďIf it happens, OK. If not, then Iíll come through this experience, this whole ordeal with some mystical knowledge." And you never get that. I donít feel too comfortable talking about it. People died over there that I was with. You know people read this kind of stuff all different ways. I donít want the brother of somebody that I was there with to read this and say, ďOh, what a jerk.Ē I mean, I donít think we happened to have any heroes...I ran into the sister of a guy I had served with and she had this whole complex of, ďWhy did you survive and not my brother.Ē And Iíve never really been able to get away from that. And this is yearís ago, about two years after I got back.

BB: How did you stay whole mentally?

WC: I donít know. It's just one of those things were you get going and start thinking about, ďWhat do I do next.Ē I could go back to the Navy but I couldnít do the things I did before.

BB: Where did you go when you left the Navy?

WC: I was 21...I ended up going to the University of South Alabama. You can take classes when you are out at sea and for whatever reason, the University of South Alabama had the contract with the Navy. So they would professors on board ships. So I figured, hey, Iíll go there. I just showed up. Never been to the campus, didnít know anything about the school. Went to school there for a year and then went to Texas A&M. Decided that I wanted to play baseball again. South Alabama had a really good team. Jon Leiber was there when I was there. Luis Gonzalez is another alumni. I wasnít in any position to play baseball at that point. But when I went to A&M I got in good with the coach and got to be the last guy at the end of the bench. I was healthy enough to play in my junior year. Played three games and tore my shoulder up. Tore my rotator cuff, labrum was in there but it was secondary. Had it rebuilt. Took a year off.

BB: Who rebuilt it?

WC: Frank Jobe.

BB: Was that a connection you made through your father?

WC: Most of the guys my dad knew werenít in baseball. The guy everyone would know is Jim Andrews. Joe Randolph and Terry Trammell, those are guys Iíve known since I was four years old. I knew of a lot of the other ones. Theyíd go to conferences when I was growing up and Iíd meet them there. You know, my dad and I didnít get along for a while, but it was never like estrangement. He was at Texas A&M while I was there. That was the reason I got to play ball. They didnít have to throw a scholarship at me.

BB: And your dad was the trainer.

WC: Right.

BB: So youíre out for a year. Did you rehab with your dad?

WC: Mostly. They told me that Iíd never be able to pitch again. So I learned how to throw a knuckle ball.

BB: When in doubt, rightÖ"I ainít quittiní dammit!"

WC: No doubt, thatís really what it was. Do you remember when Joe Neikro was going around with the womenís baseball team, the Silver Bullets? They were barnstorming. I stalked him for three games. I mean literally. There could have been restraining orders involved. And all I wanted to know was how he threw his knuckle ball. And finally on the third night I say, ďShow it to me,Ē and he turns around, shows me the grip, throws it at me, I catch it. It stings my hand and thatís how it started. I just needed to know the grip. I came back in my senior year throwing it. I was the late-inning mop up guy. If weíre up by ten in the last inning, I can throw. Down by ten runs, I get to throw. I pitched in like 20 games.

BB: And thatís your career.

WC: Yup. I had an internship at a money management firm during school. Basically, I was supposed to take their mail and pick up their express mail packages. But it was air-conditioned and thatís a big thing in Texas during the summer. During that time, I started talking to them, and got interested in the business. And they wouldnít just brush me off; theyíd actually answer my questions. I worked there for two years while I was still in school and when I was done I had a few job offers. I went to work for a firm here in Indianapolis called Jefferson Financial. They ended up getting bought out three weeks after I started. But I stayed on; a year later I was running the office. And if you were a broker in the late nineties and didnít make money then you donít deserve to make money. I had a couple of jobs after that, and then I was going to take a year off to write a book, in 2002. A novel about a guy like Steve Dalkowski.

BB: Were you into computers and the Internet early on?

WC: Yeah I remember having a copy of Mosaic. I was always geeky. In 96 I got into a fantasy league with Kevin Goldstein who does the Prospect Report for Baseball America. Great guy. In that league, we had guys like Matt Olkin, Jim Callis from Baseball America, Jim Hensler, guys like that. It was a really interesting league. People knew I had this sports medicine background and so they would starting asking me questions like, "When is so-and-so going to be back?" to help them in the fantasy league. Or, "How bad is this?" So Iíd answer them. In 2002 I read something about injuries that was technically wrong and I realized that there was never any good injury information. I said, "I can do this better.' I put together an e-mail and sent it to three people. My friend Rob Miller, Jim Callis and Lee Sinins, who was already doing Around the Majors. I sent it out as a test case for these three people. And Callis told some people and Lee told some people and by the end of the week I had ten people I was sending it to. Lee put it on his list and John Hunt of the USA Today put it in his column. By the end of two weeks, I had about a hundred people. I had no idea. About two weeks after that, Gammons mentions me. And the funny thing is that he mentions me wrong. Heís on the Kornheiser show and he says that heís been reading Under the Then I get this flood of people. Even though I donít have a website at this point. So now Iíve got like 500 people. This is in May of 2002. Then Fox says, ďHey weíd like to run your column once a week.Ē So, I say, ďOkaaay.Ē We worked that out. By June, Neyer had made me the link of the week and by the end of the season Iím on the radioÖit was insane. I had about 3,500 people by the end of the season. I thought maybe 100 people would be interested in it. In October, I got an instant message from Gary Huckaby who asked if I would be interested in writing for the Prospectus book. Of course, my answer was yes, and it went from there. Later, I would meet Joe Sheehan at the winter meetings in Nashville.

BB: And the two of you hit it off?

WC: Yeah. Whatís kind of funny is that Joe and I kind of look alike.

BB: I could see that. You could be cousins.

WC: We tend to have different worldviews. He tends to be a little bit negative; I tend to be a little bit insane. We just clicked. At first, it was a hero-worship thing for me because he was literally my favorite baseball writer.

BB: You talked about how between the ages of say 17 and 22 you felt directionless, when all of your experiences during that time informed what you do now. What makes it interesting to me is that you are being true to what you know and yet youíve accomplished something that very few people have been able to do on the Net and thatís create your own niche.

WC: The two big jobs that I held after leaving school were in risk-management and then as a consultant to an insurance company. The second job was for a disability company and we tried to reduce their reserves. What we figured out is that if they could spend money and get people back to work quicker, they wouldnít have to put so much money in reserve. Just being able to deal with the number crunching of the insurance industry helped me do what I do now. It all came together. I donít want to make this more than it actually is, but it was like there was some grand purpose to everything. It wasnít all completely random. If I had initially planned to become a baseball writer I would have screwed it up somehow. I mean Iím not that good a writer; I just have this interesting little niche.

BB: How did this lead you to write a book about pitching?

WC: I think I was just the right person at the right time. I got people thinking about injuries. Again, not trying to make more of it than there actually is, I can see more people taking injuries into consideration. Rany Jazayerli has recently talked about how heís taking injuries into account in prospect rankings. Iím even starting to hear the injury angle creep in with some mainstream journalists.

BB: Now that you have a platform, what is this book about?

WC: Itís basically taking all the best research out there, and there is a lot out thereÖ The work that Tom House has done for twenty years, the work that Mike Marshall has for more than twenty years. Guys like Glenn Fleisig at the American Sports Medicine Institute. The problem was that the information was scattered. Marshallísí work is available on the web. Tom House has done probably ten books and videos. Glenn Fleisigís stuff can be found in technical journals. Iím just glad that they never found out a way to get it out there in a mainstream form.

BB: Did you see your job then as primarily being a facilitator?

WC: Exactly. Whatís out there? What do we know? Things that are out there like Rany and Keith Woolnerís PAP. How do I tell a high school coach about PAP?

BB: Is the book more directed to coaches and parents?

WC: What I tried to keep in mind was that I wanted to be for as many people as possible. Really where I think we can save arms is at the college and high school level. In the proís itís a million dollar question. You know, "If I can keep Greg Miller healthy, then maybe I have a ten million dollar pitcher on my hands." Keeping Mark Prior healthy is very important to the Cubs. Maybe they donít know how to do it but they really donít have any excuse for that. At the high school level and even at the college level, they donít have the same resources. So maybe this book helps them. The other thing, using Greg Miller as an example: the Dodgers didnít hurt his arm. I donít know how much he was used in high school. Maybe he was one of those kids who played on three travel teams. There are a ton of reasonsÖMaybe he just has bad genetics and his arm was never going to hold up. But what happened? Letís try to determine that. There is some kid out there today who is the next Prior, the next Greg Miller. If I can help get one of those kids to the major leagues, I may never know it, but then it was worth ever bit of effort writing the book.

BB: If the book is an instructional tool, what does it have to offer the average baseball fan like me?

WC: I think it offers a different way of looking at pitching. It adds a little bit to your understanding of pitching, especially if you know something about injuries. The book tries to explain the pitching process: why do pitchers get injured, why do half of all pitchers end up on the DL? Mechanically, itís very complex, and we donít understand the process so well because we havenít explored it. Itís just in the last five to ten years that weíve seen an explosion of technology that has allowed us to look at it. Things like high-speed cameras. The whole prehab program. Why is this just getting out there when the term was actually trademarked in 1984. Itís a matter of getting this stuff out there, and I think this is the right time to do that. Weíre progressing past the point of pitch counts. Itís amazing how all of this new work is starting to take hold and I was in the right position to collect a lot of stuff that is out there and put it together.

BB: You mentioned earlier that you donít consider yourself a good writer. Given that, how do you feel about it now that itís finished?

WC: I feel really good. My editor made me look like a really good writer. Iím not an original thinker like Joe Sheehan or Tom Verducci, who can pop something out every day and make it interesting. Iím not a guy who can just write and make people want to read it. Itís the quality of my information more than the presentation that makes me worthwhile. I can talk. I have the radio show. But Iím like the opposite of Jim Rome: the less of me, the better the show.

"Saving the Pitcher" is out in stores now. Head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy.

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