Steve Sax was born in West Sacramento, California and starred on the diamond at James Marshall High School in the mid to late seventies.
In this exclusive interview, we talked to the standout second baseman about seeing himself on a baseball card for the first time, his memorable signature for Louisville Slugger, being heckled by young fans in the Bronx and much more.
Tony Reid–You were a five time All Star, a two time World Series Champion and the 1982 NL Rookie of the Year. What is the most memorable autograph experience during your great career?
Steve Sax-One of the first times I was asked for an autograph that made a profound difference is when I was asked to sign my autograph on a Louisville Slugger contract. They keep forever because that is the same autograph that they imprint on your bats. I had a contract like most other guys that were everyday players with Louisville Slugger. There weren’t many bat companies back then, just Louisville Slugger and maybe Adirondack but I don’t think that Adirondack was giving contracts. Louisville Slugger was who I had my contract with and they put that signature on the bats. To this day it is still there. That is one autograph that I certainly remember.
TR–You played in huge markets throughout your great career in Los Angeles and New York. What is the most memorable fan interaction over the course of your career?
SS-I loved playing in New York. The fans are very in tune to what is going on. They are very smart sports fans across the spectrum, not just baseball. They are all over it. We were in a rain delay and I came out to play catch. There was a guy with a really thick New York or New Jersey accent and he said ‘Hey Sax, trow me a ball.’ I was playing quick catch with Mattingly. We always did that before a game. I said ‘I can’t right now, man. I will get back to you in a second.’ This is my first year there. That sent this guy into a tirade. ‘I can’t believe you, man. You can’t trow me a ball. We got rid of Willie Randolph and got you. Your mama.’
I stopped, caught the ball and looked over. This was an eight-year-old Little Leaguer saying this to me…with a mustache. I thought ‘Wow, this is going to be a tough place to play.’ When in retrospect it turned out to be a much calmer place to play maybe much more than any other place I played. It’s kind of a dichotomy when you think of how tough New York is or whatever. I found the opposite. I found it a very welcoming place to play.
TR–Your very first card was a 1978 TCMA Clinton Dodgers card. Do you remember seeing yourself on a card for the first time?
SS-Yes. It was that picture that I took in Clinton, Iowa when I was 19 years old. I knew we were taking pictures for something. I didn’t know it was for cards. Then the first time I saw the card it was like ‘Oh, wow. I have a bubblegum card.’ I didn’t know if anybody would see it, being in the Midwest League but nonetheless it was my first entrée into having pictures and my own cards. Then they came in flurries. There were all different companies that produced cards and got them out there. It was an honor because when I was a kid we would put the ones we didn’t like in the spokes of our bikes to sound like a motor. The other ones you coveted. I always wondered which picture they were going to choose to put on the cards. It was always a shot in the dark. You never knew what pictures they were going to pick.
TR–That begs the question, who got put in the spokes and who made it into the collection?
SS– Anybody that was with the Giants was in the collection and anybody that was with the Dodgers was in the spokes. I grew up an anti-Dodger. I hated the Dodgers growing up. I grew up north of the line of indoctrination, which is Fresno. If you grew up north of Fresno you are indoctrinated to love the Giants and that’s the way it was.
TR–You spoke earlier of a flurry of cards, well you have had over 600 different cards produced. Do you have any of those or a collection of cards today?
SS-I didn’t try to collect stuff but when I retired and got home and tried to clean out my closets I realized I have a lot of stuff. I have bats, memorabilia, jerseys, cards and a lot of stuff. I don’t know where I got all of it. I guess it kind of jumped on me. Over the years you keep this and you keep that but you don’t realize until you are done exactly how much stuff you have. I do, relatively speaking, have a quite bit of stuff. I didn’t try to become a collector but I do have nice stuff.
TR–Do you have a room where you have these items displayed?
SS-I don’t really have that. I am a single man so I don’t really have to designate any space to get a man cave. My whole house is just wherever I want. I do have a little trophy case in one of my living rooms. It’s not very big. It’s in the corner. You have to search it out to find it. I have my World Series trophies there. Other than that I don’t really have a lot of baseball stuff in my house.
TR– What athletes did you gravitate to when you were a kid?
SS-Like I said, I was a huge Giants fan. Anything Willie Mays or Willie McCovey, I had to have. Those are my two favorite players. I was a big Chris Speier fan. I got to play against him and went up to him and sheepishly told him he was one of my favorite players growing up. He thought it was pretty funny. Anything Giants was good. I was just out of the Mikey Mantle era. He was another guy who was recently retired who everyone was trying to get a card of.
TR–Who would you go back in time and swap jerseys with during your playing days?
SS-Oh gosh, there are so many guys I could say. I would have swapped with Steve Garvey and Dusty Baker. George Brett and Tony Gwynn. Kirby Puckett is another one. I batted against Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins. I played in an era where there were so many great players, true Hall of Famers, that I would have gladly swapped out a lot of jerseys. They would have been on the worse end of the swap.
We’ll have a Card Back Q&A with Steve Sax in the coming days.