GOOD AS GOLD
Paul Goldschmidt has never taken a day in the majors for granted. Now all those days have carried him to 10 years
By Jerry Crasnick
Paul Goldschmidt is a six-time All-Star with four Silver Slugger Awards, three Gold Gloves and a track record of durability and achievement for the Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals. Since 2015, he ranks second to Manny Machado for most games played in the big leagues with 952. He also ranks among the game’s top 10 with 183 home runs and 583 RBIs in that span.
On July 22, Goldschmidt checked a major item off his list when he reached 10 years of MLB service time. The Cardinals recognized him with a social media post and a message on the Busch Stadium scoreboard, and Goldschmidt’s parents flew in for an off-day celebration. Then he turned off the “pause’’ button and went back to work.
“We all know how hard it is just to get to the big leagues,’’ he said. “I guess that's where my mind has been. It still feels like yesterday I was in the minor leagues and I was trying to make it or survive. It’s hard to produce, year after year and for such a long time, so it's pretty special.’’
At age 33, Goldschmidt plays the game with an earnestness and a commitment that transcend age gaps. He’s a role model for young teammates and a favorite of veterans with more of a “throwback’’ mindset.
“He’s a pro,’’ said former MLB outfielder Lance Berkman, a friend and fellow Houstonian. “I don’t know if that’s still prevalent, but we used to talk about that among the players, and it was the highest compliment you can receive. Being in the majors makes you a professional, but it doesn’t make you a pro. He’s a professional in every way.’’
Goldschmidt, who joined Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Salvador Perez and Alex Cobb in the 10-year club in July, recently sat down with the MLBPA to reflect on his road to the milestone. Some of the interview questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
"It's more a credit to the people around me than even me. I had such great mentors and coaches and teammates, everything I learned was from someone else. "
It's easy to forget now, but you were lightly recruited out of high school before going to Texas State, and you were an eighth-round draft pick in 2009. Does that give you a different perspective on your longevity in the game?
“I think I was pretty realistic about my expectations. I got drafted and I was going to give baseball a shot, but by no means did I think getting to the big leagues or making a career of it was guaranteed, so I always had a backup plan. I went back to school to finish my college degree. I never took it for granted, and I still don't. Every year, you have to go out there and prove yourself. There are a lot of great players, so you have to keep adapting and trying to find new ways to produce and help your team.
“That storyline of me being an eighth-round pick . . . I don’t know if 'crazy' is the right word, but it was a longer shot. But I don't care if you’re the first overall pick: It’s hard to get to the big leagues and have a long career, so I think I'm in the same boat as everyone else. That's what makes being able to produce over a decade so special for so many players, because anything can happen. There are injuries and so many different things, so just being able to do that is a big honor.’’
In 2011, Baseball America wrote, ‘There's no denying Goldschmidt’s legitimate power to all fields.’’ But some scouts thought you might wind up as a platoon player. Did that give you any extra motivation?
“I'm very focused on blocking out any distractions, so I never concerned myself too much with what the scouts or other people said. It’s not like they’re coming up to you and telling that to your face. If you buy Baseball America, I guess you can find out what people think about you. Even now I purposely don’t read what's out there about me or our team or really a lot of teams. It just allows me to focus each day and not get distracted.
“When you're good, everyone wants to tell you how great you are, and when you're struggling, they tell you you're worse than you really are, so trying to be consistent is a big goal of mine. It's not like I thought, ‘I’m surefire going to get to the big leagues and have a long career.’ My (attitude) was, ‘I'm gonna work as hard as I can and play as hard as I can and see how good I can be.’ If that was Single A ball and I got released, then I’ll know I gave it my all. And if it was a cup of coffee in the big leagues or anywhere else, whenever my career ends, I want to look back and not have any regrets.’’
A lot of 10-year players look back and recall an injury or a low point when they found out what they were made of. Does anything spring to mind for you?
“Not being a high pick, there is more failure built in at the amateur level. Even though I had success, you’re playing with guys who get drafted higher than you or go to bigger colleges or have more success. As I got into pro ball, I think that really helped prepare me. Probably the biggest thing I learned in the minor leagues was how to deal with failure, because you just can't perform like you did at the college and high school level.
“If there was one time (in the big leagues) it was probably my last year in Arizona in 2018. I got off to a really bad start, and I was under .200 the first couple months of the season. I kept working and working, but I wasn’t performing, and you’re like, ‘Man, this game is really hard.’ I still had confidence in myself, but you know some things are out of your control. It’s ironic, because I followed up the worst two months of my career with maybe the best two months. It’s funny how the game works out like that.’’
How important has it been to embrace the pressure without letting it overwhelm you?
“I think on the outside everyone is like, ‘Oh well, these guys just go out there and perform.’ I remember speaking at Texas State and being asked, ‘When did you know you’ve made it?’ And I was like, ‘I’m scared every year this could be my last year.’ It’s a healthy fear and I think it keeps you motivated to get better, because you know how hard it is.’ There’s always this adjustment. If you do the same thing every year, it’s impossible to have sustained success or keep getting better. Every year is a little different.’’
You mentioned going back for your degree in management. Can you reflect on that period, and your thought process?
“It was all online, which is why I chose to go back to the University of Phoenix. I was on all the planes with my laptop and my iPad doing homework and reading and writing papers. For most of 2012 and ‘13 on almost all the road trips, there was a lot less hanging out with the guys because I had to get that done. But I'm very proud that I did that. It was something I really wanted.
“I had three years of college and I took my studies seriously and I didn't want those three years to go to waste. I wanted to finish up and not be denied any opportunity outside of baseball, whether my career was a short one or a long one. I wanted to set the example for my future kids. It was something that was important for me and I'm very glad that I did.’’
When Rhys Hoskins was breaking in with the Phillies, he was a bit awestruck over meeting Paul Goldschmidt. Was there a veteran who elicited a similar response in you as a young player?
“When I first got called up, I had been watching every guy in the big leagues on TV, so they're all guys you look up to. In order to perform, I had to trick myself that they weren't these guys I was watching on TV. I remember doing that a lot -- pretending they were someone else.
“There was maybe only one time I was nervous. One of my favorite players growing up was Lance Berkman. He got to first base when he was with the Rangers, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is a really cool moment.’ I grew up in Houston and he was with the Astros for such a long time and I watched him almost on a daily basis. I took that moment in and I was like, ‘This is really special.’ I never thought this would happen -- and he even knew who I was. He knew I was from Houston, so it turned out to be really cool. We’ve become friends since he retired, with him playing for the Cardinals and just having mutual friends around the game.
“I remember when I made the All-Star team in 2013, Joey Votto was starting and he was one of the best first basemen in the game and he said, ‘Do you want to take groundballs?’ I’ll talk to guys at first base. If a guy comes over there and I like the way he hits, I'll try to ask him some questions and try to keep getting better.’’
So you’re a guy who’ll engage in conversation at first base?
“It depends where the game is. If it’s a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, you're not over there chit-chatting. It’s not like I’m striking up a conversation with everyone who gets over there. But you build a relationship with some guys. Maybe it’s guys in your division that you see all the time, or you know from the World Baseball Classic or the All-Star Game. Even if there are guys you’re together with in the locker room for one or two days at the All-Star Game, there’s a connection."
Now that you’ve reached 10 years, do you think about people who influenced you along the way?
“I'm really glad you asked that. It's more a credit to the people around me than even me. I had such great mentors and coaches and teammates, everything I learned was from someone else. It starts out even before that. I just think about my parents, my dad, and the lessons they taught me.
“Turner Ward was a huge mentor to me. He was my manager in Double-A and then eventually one of our hitting coaches in Arizona, Alan Zinter was a hitting coach I had in the minor leagues. When I got called up,
Kirk Gibson was our manager and Don Baylor was our hitting coach. Matt Williams was there. These guys had really long and successful careers. We had a lot of veteran players on the team that took me under their wing. Lyle Overbay was another first baseman, and he was great to me even though we were kind of competing in a sense. I had my locker between Willie Bloomquist and JJ Putz. Geoff Blum and John McDonald were there, and Aaron Hill and I would work out together every day in the offseason at 6 a.m. So he helped mentor me in the offseason.
“When I got called up, there were six or eight guys who all had 10 years. That doesn't happen as much anymore. Those guys showed me how to be a big leaguer, and they made the learning curve so much quicker than I could ever imagine. I think that's the great thing about experience. If you use it the right way, even though it doesn't show up in a stat line, you're helping the team or helping other players perform -- which helps a team. A huge amount of any credit that I get goes to those guys I mentioned -- and many, many more.’’
Now that you’ve ascended to that mentor role, what lessons do you try to convey to younger teammates?
“It's so easy to get caught up in the moment, which is good: We have to be present. But if you want to have longevity, you need to have a little longer view of things. Sometimes it means not taking as many swings or groundballs because there are 162 games. You want to save your body, but it's hard in the moment.
“I think a big thing is dealing with failure. This game is really hard. There are a lot of ups and downs, and everyone's gonna go through it. I don't care who you are. I try to share tips that were taught to me and help speed up that learning curve. There were things that would have taken me five or six years to learn, and (the veterans) told me in my first or second year and made me a better player.
“I remember making an error or striking out and guys saying, ‘Hey, it’s all right. You'll get it tomorrow.’ In your rookie year, you can really get down on yourself and you're not sure what tomorrow's gonna look like, or if the guys in the locker room are disappointed with you. Those little sayings or encouraging (words) were the biggest things for me. So I want to be encouraging to all the guys in our locker room to the best of my ability.’’
You're going to be around a while, but have you given any thought to what you want to do when your playing career is over?
“I'm not really sure. I definitely have some thoughts in the back of my mind on ways to give back and help out. We’re going to do a baseball camp this year for a bunch of kids in St. Louis and talk about baseball as a way to develop life skills. I was in their shoes when I was 10-12 years old, so that's an idea I'm kind of working on right now.
“Sports are just a metaphor for life. There are so many great things about sports. Baseball is my favorite, but with any sport, you’re dealing with failure. Teammates. The humility of dealing with success. How to work with others. Hard work. Sports really bring out all these life skills we value so much. For me, the idea of exploring and spreading that idea is something I'd like to work on over the next few years and kind of see where that takes me when i'm done playing.’’