Two of the most successful MLB managers of the past 15 years found an ESPN reporter to be an indispensable friend and counselor when they faced potentially devastating personal and professional challenges.
Journalists can be friends to the people they cover without compromising their journalism. But ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez, who died suddenly on Super Bowl night in February at age 58, was a breed apart. In a new book, Remember Who You Are, a diverse array of household baseball names write about how Gomez impacted their lives away from the TV lights and media headlines. The contributors range from Max Scherzer to Dusty Baker to Scott Boras to Peter Gammons to Keith Olbermann.
Gomez, perhaps known most widely as ESPN's Barry Bonds correspondent during Bonds' chase of Henry Aaron's all-time home run record in 2007, began his career as a beat reporter in the '80s and covered a variety of topics for ESPN after his Bonds chapter. The excerpts below are from essays by AJ Hinch, who managed the Astros to the 2017 World Series title, and Ron Washington, who managed the Rangers to two AL pennants. Remember Who You Are, from Wellstone Books, is available to order now, with a publication date of July 13. For more information, visit TheGomezRules.com.
From Deep Down a Tigers Fan
by AJ Hinch
During the difficult time before and after I lost my job as Astros manager in January 2020 and was given a one-year suspension, I had to lay low. I wasn't answering a lot of calls, but when Pedro reached out I picked up the phone. That illustrates how much trust he developed with me. I shared a lot of details with him about how I was doing that I would never have done with anyone. I trusted him. I knew he had a genuine interest in me. He wasn't looking for gossip. He wasn't looking to break a story. He wasn't looking for the details of a huge investigation.
We talked a lot about what my path would be. He was interested in ESPN getting the first interview and in doing his job. He was also interested in my family and in my well being. He was as much my advisor that day as he was a reporter calling to see about an interview.
He could simultaneously support me in what I was going through while also standing firm that sign-stealing had no place in the game. It bothered him that it stained the game, and it was a topic that too many people were investing a lot of time digging up ugliness within the game. He loved baseball so much, he hated what had happened, but I felt like he had empathy. He understood what I went through without even being in the clubhouse with me.
"How bad is it going to get?" I asked him. "How difficult a situation is this going to be?"
He was very straightforward with me, and I think emotionally that made me more attached to him. This was the hottest topic in the game, he warned me, and it was going to be super-emotional for a lot of people. He gave me one of the best pieces of advice I've had, which was that I needed to take responsibility. He told me: AJ, the only way that people are going to forgive you is if you forgive yourself and then you show yourself to them.
We'd just lost Game 7 of the World Series. The manager takes it the hardest, and bears the brunt of the criticism, which is fine. The heaviness of the sign-stealing situation just took a lot out of me. Pedro's empathy helped fill my tank back up. He was genuinely sad for me and that was a morale-booster, just a reminder that not everybody is rooting against you and celebrating your downfall. He kept telling me baseball needs me back in the game.
Then he followed up with an article for ESPN.com in December 2020 when I got the job in Detroit with the headline How AJ Hinch and the Detroit Tigers need each other to get back on top in MLB. He talked to my boss, Al Avila, about the old-school connection he and I have.
"Within minutes of Hinch finishing his suspension on the night the Dodgers dispatched the Rays in the World Series, Avila had him on the phone, enticing him to fly to Detroit for an interview," Pedro wrote. "Hinch was on a flight the next morning. One day later, he agreed to become the Tigers' 39th manager." And he quoted me on Al saying: "I know he believes in me, and that was important to me."
After Pedro died, I read that story again, and it was hard. He was such a transformational person in the sports industry. If you polled all the managers in the game, they'd all tell you Pedro made a huge impact.
I know for me he was the guy you wanted to see. When you came out on the field in the World Series, and you walked out of the tunnel, and you'd been pulled in every single direction, you'd gone and done this interview, talked to your team, had a coaches meeting, your GM has come down, maybe the commissioner's office people have come in, and you walked out on the field for BP with hundreds of people around the batting tunnel, on the warning track, if you saw Pedro Gomez, you stopped for that moment of normalcy amongst all the chaos to check in and say hello. He would squeeze in a story about Rio [Gomez's son Rio is a minor leaguer in the Red Sox system]. He would ask about your family. Then he would ask if you were enjoying it all, flashing that smile, and you'd answer.
It hits you how certain people in your life and in the sport can have such impact, and then they're gone. It's made a lot of us take a deeper dive into how we can be a little bit better at some of the small things Pedro did that made us all feel really good.
From He Listened
by Ron Washington
Pedro gave me some of the best advice I've ever gotten in my life from anybody. He called me when I was having problems in Texas. He stayed on the phone with me and talked it all through. Mostly he listened, but he also cared enough to tell it to me straight.
This was when I was manager of the Rangers and made a mistake and used cocaine. I did wrong, and I had to deal with the repercussions. I thought we had handled it in house. I went through Major League Baseball and confessed to the organization what I had done. I offered to resign, if that was best for the team. I saw psychiatrists. I went through all of the things that recovery entailed. The Rangers organization supported me and we moved on.
Then almost two years later it came out in the press and I had to deal with it all over again, this time in front of the whole world. What Pedro did for me was stay on the phone trying to guide me on how I should handle it. At a time like that, when it feels like the whole world is turning on you, you need to talk to people who care about you, and this is what Pedro expressed to me:
Even though we all have flaws, I care about you, man. I've always cared about you. And if I didn't care about you, I wouldn't be making this phone call. But I'm going to tell you what I think is the right thing: You can't avoid anything, Wash. You've got to face this head on.
Sometimes you have to accept the truth, even though it may take you down a little bit for you to get back up. It's not as bad as you think it is. It may hurt, but that's just life. You'll get over it. People are very forgiving. When you run from things, they continue to follow you, but when you take it on and you deal with the repercussions, it makes you stronger and it keeps you happier. At least you have truth on your side.
And when that day is over of facing the truth, guess what? It's over.
Those were the thoughts Pedro shared with me during that period of time, when he called me. That's the way I've lived my life. That's my character. But at a time like that it helps when someone cares enough to talk you through it and remind you what you already know. That's who Pedro was. He was showing you the human being first, and then he had to do his job, and that's what I loved about him. I followed his advice, and I was glad I did. It all played out exactly the way he said.