I was able to sit down with Toronto Blue Jays great Kelly Gruber during an event at the Northern Lights Casino. Gruber was the everyday third baseman for the Jays team that won the 1992 World Series, defeating the Atlanta Braves. Gruber was also the first Blue Jay ever to hit for the cycle, was also a two time All-Star, a Gold Glover and a Silver Slugger.
Jeff D’Andrea: The World Series you won with the Blue Jays was back in 1992. Baseball fans across Canada still talk about that, it means a lot to Canada and obviously Toronto. What does it mean to you to be a part of something like that?
Kelly Gruber: I truly count it a blessing. Every team thinks their America’s team, you hear it from the New York Yankees, the L.A. Dodgers, Atlanta Braves. They’re the ones who speak the loudest of it, ‘we’re America’s team.’ We’re the only team of any of those people that actually know the truly meaning of that. We played for a whole country and that’s very, very special. That’s like no other team that’s out there. Montreal, they were doing it for a while but it was a very special time. To be able to do that is truly a blessing and I was very fortunate to have played for the Blue Jays, just in that sense of the meaning of playing the game of baseball. Of course, all of the different coaches that were involved in the team, the front office, I was blessed to have that on my side as well.
JD: Against the Atlanta Braves, you gave them their famous tomahawk chop back at them (after winning Game 2 of the World Series). Have you gone back? Have they barred you from the city or the state?
KG: No, I haven’t back and they probably have (banned me). They didn’t like it when I did that chop. I still don’t understand. I mean, you there’s 50, 60 thousand fans in the stands and they’re all giving it to us, but one guy giving it back and they can’t—listen, I’ve always been from the school of ‘if you can’t take it, don’t dish it.’ So I don’t understand their way of thinking. It was all in fun and (being) caught up in the moment. Actually, I think it helped me. It fired me up to have all that tomahawk chop and everything going on. I think that spurred me on and drove me harder to try to put forth a better showing in the game, there. It was very interesting. Every team and stadium and city and state have their own way in supporting their teams and this was very unique. It was fun.
JD: In Game 3, there was the infamous missed call during the phantom triple play fiasco. Although you went on to win that game and the World Series that year, does that particular play still sting?
KG: It doesn’t really. The thing that stung the most was I blew out my shoulder when I dove for him. I didn’t know it at the time. I still had the rest of that game and two more games to play after that. That was pretty tough to sustain that and stay on the field. The whole hype and the adrenaline flow and everything else really helped that situation to help me put that pain someplace else where I wasn’t really aware of it.
The bottom line is, it would’ve stung a little bit more, in your sense of the meaning, if we hadn’t won that game or better yet, we continue and not have won the series. The fact that we won that game and we won that series, it’s just a personal feat and could have been attained and that’s all fine and dandy. I would trade all that in any day for that ring, and that’s what we won.
JD: You mentioned your shoulder injury, but you hit a home run in that game in the eighth inning. How the heck did you do that with a blown shoulder?
KG: That was the true test and meaning of adrenaline—that’s when I truly understood. I’d heard all these stories of women and their babies, picking cars up off their babies and somehow inheriting all this truly, He-Man kind of strength in a moment, in an instant. I think I learned what that was all about and how strong adrenaline could truly be. I couldn’t lift my hand eight inches off the side of my thigh of my leg. (Braves pitcher Steve Avery) happened to throw me a pitch, probably the only pitch I could hit. It was an inside changeup. I didn’t have to reach out for the ball, I didn’t have get any kind of separation. All I had to do was get the momentum of the bat rollin’, and twist and put the meat part of the bat on the ball. It so happened that I did. I was very fortunate.
JD: In your playing days, you received a lot of attention not just for you play, but also for you big blonde mullet. Did you have the best hair in the major leagues when you played?
KG: Well, don’t tell Dave Stieb that. That would hurt his feelings.
No, you know, I always wore my hair really long and I didn’t go to the barber chair and ask for the mullet cut by any means. I didn’t even know what the mullet was. I made sure, because I wore my hair long, I always cut the front and cut the sides so it didn’t keep banging in my eyeball. The other was to tuck it in the hat and back, which most of it was outside. A lot of what you actually saw was all the hair inside the hat, and once I took the hat off, then I shook it real hard and it was like I had a big, unruly bush on my head. I couldn’t play that way, because it would be in my eyes and I couldn’t see to play ball. I think the first true mullet I had cut, and I knew what it was and I proved to everybody that ‘this is a mullet’ was when the Toronto Blue Jays traded me to California and I went to Vancouver for Triple-A. I think in disgust and part of being upset about being traded, I cut it into the mullet. For some reason, I don’t know what it was or really why I did it, it doesn’t make any sense to me now. But that was the first mullet that I really look at into a picture and say ‘yep, that is a mullet’ because the other ones, when I’m playing or it’s on the field, it’s all tucked in except the link in the back. But like I said, I always wore it long.
On Twitter: @jeff_dandrea
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