Three years ago I did a series of short interviews, focusing on baseball in the decade of the 1980s, for a book that was never published. Starting today they will begin appearing here, perhaps on a weekly basis. First up is Chris Chambliss, who played 18 big-league seasons with the Indians, Yankees and Braves from 1971-1988.
Chambliss, on why was there so much competitive balance in the 1980s [nine different teams won a World Series]: “It’s hard to say, but maybe free agency, which began in 1976, had something to do with it. A lot depends on clubs’ payrolls, and maybe the payrolls were a little closer to equal compared to now, where there is a huge difference between the high-end clubs and the low-end clubs as far as revenue and how much money they spend on salaries. Sometimes that has a lot to do with the competitive balance.”
On how the American League and National League compared: “In those days, the strike zone was different. The umpires are the same in each league now, where before it used to be American League and National League umpires. Basically, when I played it was a low strike zone for the National League and a higher strike zone for the American League. That was pretty much the biggest difference. And, of course the DH made each league different, as it still does today.”
On the percentage of African American players being much higher than it is today: “There’s no doubt that‘s the case and my thoughts are that we’re not developing the young people at an early enough age to get them interested in the game. There’s much more glamour in basketball and football. There are programs that are trying to address that problem, but we need to reach them at a much earlier age than we do. When I was young, I played every sport there was. I played football, basketball, baseball, track – but baseball was certainly a part of it; I played baseball from about the time I was five years old. So it’s all about exposure to other sports. Today, parents are trying to clone their kids into a certain sport. To me, I got a complete variety of sports that I could have chosen; I played college football as well as baseball.”
On 1980’s attitudes toward drug use, especially cocaine: “I never used that stuff, but drugs have been wrong for sports for a long time, and everybody feels that way. If you get caught… it usually comes out in the end if you’re using that kind of stuff. What everybody thought about it was that it didn’t belong in the game. It’s just like it is now: drugs don’t belong in any professional or amateur sports, period.”
On the steroid era: “Steroids weren’t an issue, and weren’t talked about, when I played. They really weren’t a big deal. There have always been teams that police themselves and teams that don’t. The atmosphere of the game is completely different than when I played. The guys are different, but that’s because people are different. It’s just a different era. It’s a waste of time to go back and forth and compare, because you can’t put everything in the same perspective. You’re not under the same conditions as you were in my era.”
On playing for Joe Torre: “He was wonderful. He was a first-class individual and a professional, and he demanded that from his players. That’s what has made him a great manager. He did a great job with the Yankees, and continued to do a great job, because he’s the kind of guy that makes you take responsibility for what you’re doing on the field.”
On playing with Dale Murphy: “Dale Murphy was probably one of the nicest individuals I’ve ever been around. He was a wonderful teammate and a great player. Had his knees not hurt him as badly as they did late in his career, I think he had a chance to be in the Hall of Fame. He was a great ballplayer who hit for a high average and power, he was a clutch hitter, and he was an outstanding outfielder. I don’t know if you know his history, but he became an outfielder in the 1980s, and within a few years he was one of the best in the game.”