Q&A with Harold Reynolds

By JOE McFARLAND AND IAN WILSON

He’s a familiar voice on baseball broadcasts and a frequently seen face on MLB Network programming, but long before Harold Reynolds made a name for himself as an Emmy-winning sports analyst, he was another ball player trying to crack a major-league roster.

A second overall selection of the Seattle Mariners on June 3rd of the 1980 Major League Baseball (MLB) draft, Reynolds made his big-league debut in 1983. The second baseman bounced between the Triple-A and MLB levels for the next four seasons before becoming a fixture in Seattle.

One of his big stops along the way was with the Calgary Cannons of the Pacific Coast League, where he played 52 games in their inaugural 1985 season and another 29 games in 1986. The two-time American League (AL) All Star, three-time Gold Glove award winner, and 1991 Roberto Clemente Award recipient made time for us to chat about his time in Cowtown, how he ended up in the broadcast booth and the time he was almost traded to the San Francisco Giants:

Q: Take us back to 1985. You started the year with Seattle before making your way north of the border to Calgary to play for the Cannons. What was going through your mind at that time?

A: Obviously you’re disappointed you don’t make the big-league club, that’s the first thing. But going to Calgary I knew we had a loaded team, so it was going to be a good experience. I always loved being in Canada. I played in the (Pacific) Coast League and grew up in Oregon in the northwest, so I’d been to Vancouver before. You play in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, so I’d been through Canada before, so I was kind of excited about that. Being in the Pacific Coast League and near enough to the northwest, Tacoma was a team at the time, Portland had a team and then you go up through Canada, so that was going to be good and exciting.

I didn’t know much about Calgary, although (football coach) Mike Riley … had grown up with my older brother, Don, so I’d known Mike my whole life and followed his dad, Bud, and Mike’s success in the Canadian Football League, so I had a little bit of an idea what that was. I’d been in Calgary before with the Stampede, so I had a little sense of what Calgary was like.

Q: Were you surprised at all about the baseball feel in Calgary, because 1985 was the first year for the Cannons? Did you know what to expect when you showed up at Foothills Stadium?

A: We knew it was going to be cold in Canada at that time of year, in April, going up there. Our Triple-A team had been Salt Lake City before, so you get some turbulent weather in Salt Lake and we played in the month of April before a few times with snow on the ground and scraped it off to the side and played in Salt Lake City, so I was kind of expecting that.

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May 28, 1985 image of Reynolds in the Calgary Herald

But the difference between Salt Lake and Calgary, in Salt Lake we had a clubhouse and you could just walk right in, 10 feet away. Once you left the locker room in Calgary, you walked across the field to the stadium and there was no going inside. You were stuck sitting in the dugout along first base. It was freezing cold! So, that was the biggest adjustment of it all.

Q: You were challenging for playing time at that point. Was it difficult dealing with that?

A: It wasn’t necessarily about fighting for opportunity. I was so much a part of the big-league shuffle that they wanted to get Danny Tartabull at bats and they moved him to second base a little bit and then they moved him to shortstop and I think he ended up hitting 40-plus home runs that year.

When you go to the minor leagues and you’re a big leaguer, you want to play every day. That’s the last thing on your mind, thinking you’re not going to get playing time. But I did understand that I was going back and forth between Seattle. When I got settled in, I actually had a really good year up there (in Calgary). I think I hit .360 or something like that. I played great and it was a good time for me. I loved the city, I loved the people, and it ended up being a really good opportunity for me.

Q: You later admitted you grew up a little bit during your time here. What happened during that stretch?

1986ProCardsHRA: I think the biggest thing is you actually start to change your focus a little bit. I think the biggest growth for anybody who is a minor-league baseball player is you start looking at all 30 teams, not just the one you’re affiliated with. I was in the Mariner organization, I had come that direction, and with my personal timetable I should’ve been in the big leagues even a year earlier, but it didn’t work out that way. Once I got to Calgary, I started looking around and my eyes opened up. There’s 30 teams here. So, I think that was the growth.

It wasn’t like I was an immature person who needed to grow up – it was more basically expanding my vision of, I’m not going to be stuck worrying about just the Mariners. Actually, I started looking around. That spring that I got sent up there, the Mariners had actually tried to trade me to the Giants, and the day the trade was to be commenced, the pitcher they were trading me for broke his ankle, and so I ended up in Calgary, so that was kind of all part of it. That was part of the growth. I was ready to go somewhere else, I’m here, we’ll see how things work out.

Q: You ended up playing 52 games here over the course of the 1985 campaign. Any memories that stick out for you during your time here?

A: I stayed with a family up there. Forgive me, I forget their names now. They were the greatest people. They gave me a car and let me drive around, but I think the thing that stands out in any part of Canada, when you travel Canada and you get a chance to go up that way, is the hospitality. People, second to none, and I’ve traveled all over the world and it was the nicest group of people you will ever come across. Calgary was like that. People greeted you, open arms, treated you well, and that’s the reputation of Canadians and they lived up to it and then some.

Q: When I mention the name Russ Parker, what comes to mind for you?

A: Russ was the owner of the Cannons and it was a big endeavour for him. I remember him coming down to spring training and talking about being the guy who owns the team in Calgary. There’s no baseball in Calgary without Russ and what he did. He stuck his neck out and put his heart and soul into it.

I don’t know if you really know, but a lot of minor-league managers at that time, we’re talking mid-80s, now if you go to a minor-league complex in 2020, you may as well be walking to a major-league stadium. Back then, at most minor-league ballparks players weren’t taken care of that well, and Russ took care of us like champs. I think, being the first group, the first class that came through Calgary, it was new to the city and new to him, they threw the shiny toy on us like we were the firstborn and it was awesome to be a part of it. He made that happen.

Q: Any favourite teammates or road trips that you took that you look back and wonder how you lived through that, or those kind of fun experiences?

A: Well, Dave Valle and I did a lot of stuff. Pat Casey, who went on to be a college baseball coach at Oregon State – a Hall-of-Fame college coach, he was on that team with us for a while. We used to hit every day at batting practice, doing different drills, but Dave Valle stands out because we always hitchhiked together on the road. Stick our thumbs out, hitchhike down the road. It was really a close-knit group of guys, but Dave stands out because we went to movies together all the time.

Q: Any life lessons that you took away from that time, bouncing between levels of baseball?

A: I think the biggest life lesson for me was that I wasn’t going to control my destiny. I think it’s my timetable and it’s not. I really believe that God orders our steps, and it was just a time of quietness for me, to trust and believe in my abilities and talent, and that I was going to get to where I needed to get to. I guess the life lesson out of that is don’t keep trying to knock the wall down. Open your eyes and see what’s going on around you. Doors open and they’re going to open up for you at the right times.

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Reynolds, pictured here in a 1985 Calgary Herald image, wore No. 4 with the Cannons.

I learned a lot during that time and I think I learned a lot about work ethic, extra work, things like that, which I already had a pretty good understanding of but I think I learned how to work properly. It’s one thing to have a lot of work, it’s another thing to work where it’s going to be beneficial to you and your game, so all of that came out of Calgary.

Q: You mentioned doors that opened and closed. One of the doors that opened for you when your playing career was over was the broadcasting side. How did that door open up for you?

A: It’s a funny story. The Arizona Diamondbacks had become an organization, they started playing games in ’97 or ’98. But in ’96 I was at the Superbowl in Phoenix and Roland Hemond, who was my general manager when I played for the Baltimore Orioles in ’93, I ran into him and said, “What are you doing here in Arizona, Roland?” He said, “Oh, I’m going to be the new president here, running the new team, the Diamondbacks. You ought to come and meet with Jerry Colangelo, the owner, and Buck Showalter, the manager.”

So, I sat down with those guys and they asked me what I was doing now. I said, “Well, I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do. I might try to go back and play this year.” They said, “Well, why don’t you come and work with us?” So, I actually had a bunch of meetings with the Diamondbacks and they wanted me to work in their community affairs and then Jerry Colangelo said, “Look, we’re not starting for two years. Why don’t you go over to Arizona and I’ll set you up? Fly over to L.A. from Arizona and I’ll set you up with Fox (sports channel). They’re doing Fox baseball auditions. I think you’d be really good and it would be good for our ball club to have some publicity.” So, I went over and did that audition, next thing you know I’m onto the finals with Fox, I get a call from ESPN and that was the beginning of my broadcasting career.

Q: Did you ever imagine when you were a player that you would maybe one day be on the other side of the microphone?

A: I had a few different opportunities. I don’t think anybody ever thinks they’re going to end up doing what I did. My run on broadcasts has been great for me. I know I was going to do something involved with community and with people and I did a lot of interviews when I was playing, so I handled that.

But you don’t understand, there’s so much more to what you’re doing – asking questions and speaking into a microphone than just asking the questions and speaking into a microphone. There’s a lot of things that go on, and that’s why a lot of guys end up not being able to do it.

Two phases to your question: yes, I could see myself doing it, but also now that I’ve been in it a long time I understand why guys cannot do it. It’s not that easy. I’ve been fortunate to have people that were able to train me early on and I’ve been able to do this and do it for a long time.

Q: Was that transition difficult for you?

A: Um, no, I didn’t think so. I think it was more difficult on other people listening to me (laughs). I thought I was good, but I’ll give you a quick story. The biggest change for me was actually the second day that I was broadcasting. The first day I did a show … and it was okay, and the next day I was with Chris Berman and they had been telling me just make sure you enunciate and pronounce things right and sit on your jacket and all these TV cliches, things that you might see on some TV shows. And that’s what I was told for a week before I did my first show.

So, I do my second show, I’m sitting down and it’s like 30 seconds before we go on the air, Chris Berman turns to me and goes: “Look, you see that tube right there,” and he’s pointing at one of the cameras, “it’s me, you and the boys at the bar. You’re just talking baseball. All that other garbage they told you the last week and a half, just throw it out of your mind. Be yourself.” And next thing you know, he’s welcoming me on, he’s calling plays, spinning around in his chair, and all of a sudden I was like, one, stunned, and I was laughing through the whole show, but he made me realize that you’ve got to have fun, man. You’ve got to be yourself, don’t be somebody else, be you. That has been a life lesson in television for me. And that happened on day two.

Q: As you look back at your career – both on and off the field, and all you’ve accomplished – what are you most proud of?

A: I guess the longevity. When I look back at my baseball career and now, like I said, being on this side of the microphone, you see players come and go every day. Somebody’s in the big leagues for a week, a year, a season and next thing you know, he’s out and never gets back. To have played as long as I did in the big leagues, that’s one, and then in the broadcasting side this is my 20th season broadcasting. To have been able to do this for that long of a period of time, so you throw those two together, my whole adult life I’ve just been playing baseball and talking about it. That was nothing I trained for or planned on but it’s turned out great.

Q: I love asking this question of our guests: what does the game of baseball mean to you?

A: Well, I love it. It’s hard not to love the game of baseball. I guess what the game means to me is almost like a metaphor for life, in that, you can go 3-for-10 and you’re in the Hall of Fame but you failed seven times. What baseball’s done for me is put things in perspective. When you’re having a good day or a bad day, up or down, it puts it in perspective that you’re not as bad as you think you are, and you’re not as good as you think you are. It keeps you pretty much on an even keel.

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