Last week, I had the honor of sitting down with former MLB and Indians pitcher Paul Byrd for an exclusive interview before a talk he gave at Brown University. In the second half of our interview, Byrd spoke about sabermetrics, his use of HGH, the Hall of Fame, and what he would—and wouldn’t—change about the game.
Read the first part of the Byrd interview here.
From Wikimedia Commons, by Josh Hallett
The Indians and Red Sox are known for being among the most sabermetrically oriented teams in the game, and they both acquired you late in your career. Do you think you benefited from their focus on advanced stats?
Yes, I think so. They value WHIP, they don’t always put the most emphasis on a radar gun, and I’ve appreciated that and that’s where I was able to shine a little bit.
- What do you think of sabermetrics as a whole?
I think it’s good. You can’t place too much emphasis on it, but I think it’s good that people are starting to try to find new ways to bring value to players. So in that sense I do think it’s very good. When I say you can’t put too much value on it, what I mean by that is it’s always gonna come down to pitching, defense, and timely hitting. And I like the way they value players a little bit differently on getting the job done and stuff like that. But you take the greatest GM in the world at picking guys, and if he doesn’t have good pitching and make that his priority, he’s gonna struggle.
- What stats do you look at?
I like guys that, they don’t walk guys, they play the game. But here’s what I always felt like: They can’t put a radar gun on your heart. And you can just look at a guy, and you can know if he can play. You can, just like a dog, you know, a retriever. It’s just like, you can say “Man, that guy is hungry, he is gonna go get the ball, he is after it.” And so, I think when you really start to put together a team that’s hungry, that has those kind of characteristics, I’ll take those guys all day long over somebody that has great stats that is only gonna pitch when he’s 100 percent healthy. Or is he gonna be a team player or not be good in the locker room? So there’s other intangibles that I look for past stats.
But yeah, I do enjoy seeing the nuances of the different types of sabermetrics where people say, “This guy’s a little more valuable than you’d think.” It’s good.
- One of the biggest unanswered questions about the steroid era is just how much PEDs improved players’ performances. Do you have any idea of how much HGH helped your game?
I don’t really know. I’ll never really know the answer to that question. I know that when I began supplementing with HGH, at the time, I had no idea that I had a hormone pituitary tumor or anything like that. I just knew that I’d gone and seen doctors and they said, “You had a deficiency,” and so I began to supplement. And so it was a tough situation for me when all that came out. But I can say that I didn’t lie or I didn’t say anything that wasn’t on the up-and-up. Yeah, so it’s bothered me.
I wish I could share more about the way everything went down and give everybody intricate details but I can’t. I can say this: I even was allowed to take testosterone when I was playing, and one year where I had a TUE for that. And so I had issues, I believe. And if I didn’t, I certainly thought that I did and was told that I did by doctors. So I believe that I took it in the right way, and I believe that I took it in the amount that I was allowed to take it in. I didn’t all of a sudden start throwing the ball 95 miles an hour and things like that.
It’s something that’s bothered me. It’s bothered me, I mean I’m not gonna lie, I wish I could tell everybody the full story. And I can say I turned in my paperwork, I can say that certain people in MLB knew what was going on and I explained to them the situation, and knew that I had done everything that was asked of me for it to be legal.
The sad thing is, when all that came out—I’ll never know if that distraction hurt our team in that final [2007 ALCS] game against Boston. I’ll never know the answer to that. And that bothers me. It does. And so when I think about it from a team perspective, aside from me personally, it hurts. You know? It hurts. And they had that knowledge weeks prior, and I felt like they saved it to break it out on that game. And I felt that way. It may not be the truth but I felt that way. And I do know they had the ability to break it sooner and never did. And this has bothered me. Thank you for bringing that up though, man.
- So you don’t have a sense of, say, how many more games you won because of HGH?
Yeah, I mean I’ll never know the answer to that question. It’s a good one. Maybe I’ll find out when I die, but I don’t know.
- Do you think PED users should be allowed into the Hall of Fame?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. But I think Pete Rose should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. I think guys that cheated and threw spitballs and scuffed baseballs, they should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. Do I think there’s bad examples for kids in people that cheated? Yes I do. Do I think they should not be in the Hall of Fame? No I don’t. And that includes Pete Rose. I think you have to respect the way he played the game. You have to compare him to other people in his generation.
Do you keep somebody out of the Hall of Fame because of the way they treated their wife?
- I wouldn’t.
That’s what I’m saying. If somebody is a bad example and is a poor father.
- Ty Cobb stabbed a guy.
That’s what I’m saying. Does that make sense? They asked Pete Rose when he broke Ty Cobb’s record, they said, “Hey, you think Ty Cobb’s looking up there in heaven and looking down on you smiling?” And Pete Rose said, “From what I heard about Ty Cobb I don’t think he’s up in heaven.” (laughs) Isn’t that great?
So yeah, I mean I just think you have to compare players to the players of their own specific generation and let it be that. If you were to say this is the PED generation, and then you say that there’s the cocaine generation, if there’s a spitball generation, if there’s a generation—let me ask you this, what about the guys who are racist?
- Ty Cobb.
That’s what I’m saying. Is this now an ethical moral contest on the way you treated people and whether or not you cheated? Guys giving signs to second base so that the hitters know where it’s coming? First base coaches giving signs so that hitters know what’s coming? Are they no longer allowed to be in the Hall of Fame? So if somebody scuffed the ball and used sandpaper and used whatever—I feel like once you start doing that it’s hard to draw a cutoff line, it’s just hard to draw a point there. And then you have to say, “Okay, let me just compare these people to the people of their generation and decide whether they’re in the Hall of Fame.”
- Should home plate collisions be banned or are they part of the game?
That’s part of the game. Yeah, it’s part of the game. We’re not football—Johnny Estrada is a friend of mine, his career went downhill because of a collision, I love Johnny, and it’s part of the game. And I’m not in favor of somebody running somebody over when catchers give them half the plate or whatever, I’m not saying that. But yeah, hitting people, backing people off the plate, it’s all part of the game.
- If you could change one rule in baseball, what would it be?
And this is gonna hurt Travis Hafner’s feelings, okay? But I think the game is much more exciting when you don’t have the DH. Travis Hafner’s my buddy. Yeah, we play Chess with Friends.
- Who wins?
I win 60/40, and then we play this other thing called Scramble, and he beats me 90/10.
Yeah, he’s pretty good at that one. So we’ve stayed in touch. I’m a big fan of the way he plays the game. He plays hard. But being in the National League and the American League, the game is more strategic in the National League and I think it’s a little better game.