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Kevin Millar talks Astros, ‘Intentional Talk,’ and players being mic’d up during games

We’re less than a month away from the start of the MLB regular season, and this offseason has been more active than past seasons. Some of that has been unwanted, after everything involving the Houston Astros and the commissioner’s handling of that investigation.

Nevertheless, there’s much anticipation for the 2020 season. What will happen to the Red Sox, who have their own investigation by Rob Manfred? How will opposing players and fans react to the Astros when they play them? Which team will break through and win the World Series?

The Comeback spoke with 2004 World Series winner and Intentional Talk co-host, Kevin Millar. We discussed his show, the Astros and their sign-stealing scandal, and players being mic’d up after Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo had a bunch of fun on ESPN’s broadcast this past Monday. Kevin came to us on behalf of Goodyear Tire and their “March Deal Days” promotion, where they have various offers for customers running through the entire month of March.

*Interview was edited for clarity

Phillip Bupp: I wanted to talk to you about the Astros, since this has been, for better or worse, the talk of the offseason. Given you’ve played and you’re now part of the media, do you think this is going to remain a story throughout the year? Or, once we get a month or two into the season, everyone’s going to focus on the games taking place?

Kevin Millar: Yeah, it’s tough, Phillip, because this is something I don’t think anybody’s dealt with. And when you’re talking about the game of baseball, stealing signs had been around for a long time as far as players trying to see tips of pitchers and catching signs from second base.

That’s all part of the game and it’s been a part of game for a long time. Now, you add the device situation and you start crossing the line, this is not part of the game. And that’s when the whole dynamic comes out where I think it shocked everybody involved. Like, wow. And how do you handle this? Including what the commissioner’s had to deal with. And this is not going to happen overnight. And it’s very sad.

As much as everybody’s angry at the Astros players, I totally understand that aspect of it also, especially if you’re an active player playing against these guys and all of this information comes out and you feel cheated. There’s no doubt in my mind, I understand that side of it. But I also have taken a stance on this side, at some point we have a tough time to forgive in society and time is the only thing that can heal. So how long is this going to go on? I don’t know.

Is it going to be a rough year for the Astros players active? A hundred percent. Are pitchers going to drill them, drill the hitters, if they feel that strongly about it and they’re that mad about it? Yes. But I also understand that you know what, not our base, squeaky clean. And are there other organizations that were involved with something like this? And I’m just glad that Major League Baseball has put a stance and stopped, and hopefully get this over with, because this isn’t good for baseball. And it’s not good for the Astros’ organization and… Yeah, we’ll be talking about it ’til the game starts, until something else happens, because it seems like something else always happens.

PB: For sure. Now, you got into media after your playing career and now you’re on Intentional Talk on MLB Network. What is it about being an analyst that first spoke to you, that you wanted to do this? And how do you like being on Intentional Talk?

Millar: You know what, Chris Rose, who’s my co-host, who worked for The Best Damn Sports Show Period back when I was a player and I was on that show a few times, we always talk about it, “Hey man, we got to do a radio show one day.” And so he’s been a huge influence in my help, getting into television or… because you never know. I was just a baseball player and the network launched in 2009, and I went up and tried out for a “suit and tie” show in ’10, and you don’t know anything about an earpiece or microphone and all you know is baseball, so let’s talk some baseball. And thank God they gave us an opportunity to try our own show and make it somewhat down to earth.

I always said I wanted a clubhouse atmosphere on television to explain what really goes on behind the scenes, and not so much I don’t care if you have 30 home runs or you won 20 games. I think it’s important for fans to understand like, “Hey, who’s cheapest?” “Who drives the worst car?” “Who’s the worst dressed?” And stuff like that. So it’s been fun. It’s been awesome. And hopefully it continues because you never know [laughter].

PB: [Laughter] I definitely think it shows. Now, spring training can be a little bit looser for everybody. One thing that… Just last week, ESPN was mic’ing up players and talking to them during at-bats, and one clip that went viral was [Kris Bryant and] Anthony Rizzo guessing the pitch and getting a hit. You have the perspective of being a player and TV person. What’s your take on broadcasters talking to players during at-bats?

Millar: Yeah, I always was… I mean, Ricky Henderson was one of the best ever and he’s obviously one of the greatest ever. I was always joking around that I was a “poor man’s Ricky Henderson without the ability.” And what I mean by that, like with Jorge Posada, we had many battles at the plate and I was always talking a little smack, and I was always kind of trying to get into that pitcher’s head or catcher’s head because it’s a “cat and mouse” game. When’s he going to throw the curve ball? When’s he going to throw the fastball? When’s he going to throw a changeup? And so I kind of tried to talk my way into getting a fastball or getting a slider or something and half of that was just smack talking and having fun with it. But the other half of it was I had to play that way because I wasn’t as good as some of these guys. And so mentally I always felt I was a little tougher than the other guy and… that was my skit.

PB: Well, I remember your run in 2004 with the Red Sox and yeah, I really feel you would’ve had the personality that would’ve made that work and really brought the broadcast to a whole other level.

Millar: Yeah, I always tell players to have fun and enjoy every day that you’re there because it goes so quick. And I remember sitting in the clubhouse and players were coming in and talking and saying things, you sit back, you’re ready to go. But truly it’s an awesome lifestyle. You’re playing the game of baseball.

Sometimes we get so caught up in all the negative stuff and players forget like, “Hey, life’s good.” Go out there, you can compete with a smile. I’ll give you an example like Francisco Lindor. I mean, I really and truly enjoy watching him play the game of baseball because he does it with a smile and he competes and he’s trying to win. Mike Trout, there’s no tough guy, rah-rah. They just play the game and enjoy playing the game. And I think that’s what kids need to latch on to.

PB: Do you feel that it might be a distraction if they were to do it during the regular season?

Millar: Ahh, it depends, every player’s different. I never had a problem with that. It’s like the guy playing golf that can’t stand a sound or a noise. They step away. It doesn’t bother me. So if you’re around guys who talk and tell stories and you go over to a golf ball… No, no, bro, continue on. [Laughter] That’s not going to bother me on this swing. My swing is my swing and it’s either going to go left, right, or down the middle. So, for me personally, I’d be involved in it. I think it was great. I think it was unbelievable for the fans to kind of get a sense of what really is going on.

PB: Cool. Now in addition to your TV work, you’re also representing Goodyear. How did that come about to get you connected with them?

Millar: Because I love family trips and we love traveling, and we love traveling to spring training games. It’s called spring training, let’s get those vehicles ready all month in the “March Deal Days” promotion. So you head to Goodyear Auto Service and Just Tires, and get yourself big savings on different services, including oil changes and batteries and alignments or shock and struts or brakes and tires. So it’s that time of year you want your car running right. And I’m a big road trip guy and I love going with my family to take kids to spring training games, so I also need my car in shape too. So it’s a great time to head down there and do so.

PB: And this is the truth. I have Goodyear tires on my car, and when I think what many may not think about is Goodyear does more than just tires. And “March Deal Days,” like you said, they do way more, brake checks, oil changes and all that.

Millar: Yeah, tires are kind of what we think, we check for the tires and, okay, yeah we need some tires but oil changes, batteries. If you live in different spots and sometimes cold is not great for them and then they’ll do a full check there. You can book your appointment and head down to a Goodyear Auto Service and Just Tires and get all that stuff done because everybody likes their car running good.

PB: And final question I have to ask, who do you have winning the World Series this year?

Millar: Oooh woo! Okay, so this is a great question and I’m going to tell you, I was on a great streak when I picked the Dodgers and Astros in the World Series in ’17 and I picked the Astros to win it. And then I came back in ’18 and picked the Red Sox. And then in ’19 I did not pick the Nationals, Chris Rose picked the Nationals last year, so I lost…

Oh! In ’16 I picked the Cubs, that’s what it was. And John Lackey, my neighbor, signed a two-year deal so I picked the Cubs. So I had a nice three-year streak and lost last year to Rose and his Nationals. This year… it’s easy to kind of lean on the New York Yankees. I’m going to say Aaron Boone and his staff and this bullpen… I’m going to whisper the Yankees.

PB: Well, I kind of have to go with you. I mean, me being a Pirates fan, I don’t really have a dog in the race so I can go with whoever [laughter].

Millar: [Laughter] They’re going be all right, though. I love your new man [Derek Shelton] so it’s going to be…it’s just sometimes the fan side is hard to build.

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