Jeff Cirillo Interview

Jeff Cirillo is Milwaukee's all-time batting average leader

Former Brewers’ third baseman Jeff Cirillo took some time earlier this week to chat with Right Field Bleachers. The fan favorite talked about his battle back to the big leagues in 2005, his tough but rewarding season last year, his new TV gig, the best pitcher in baseball (hint, he wears a sprig of barley on his cap), the best teammate he’s ever had (ditto) and how far this year’s Brewers team can go.

(Editor’s note: Unfortunately, some cell phone reception issues made the recording difficult to understand at times. When the recording was indecipherable, I put a “…” in the copy to represent the gap in the conversation. Usually it was only a sentence or two.)

I guess first off, how has the season been so far for you?

The season has been great. It’s been really fun to watch the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s just an exciting time. It’s just one of those things for the Brewers and for Milwaukee. I don’t think people anywhere around the country understand…It’s kind of similar to what the Rockies did last year, making the playoffs and just the buzz they created in the city. There’s kind of a community involvement created.

Can you talk a little bit about how the FSN gig came about? Did you ever see yourself in that role?

Yes. I always saw myself being involved in baseball whether it be in a front office type position or a TV type deal. I’ve been doing a lot of analyst work in years past for ESPN in the postseason…So, you know, I always thought I’d be coming out after I was done. I didn’t think it would be this year, but unfortunately there weren’t as many opportunities and this position came up. I probably jumped at it a little quick, but hey…

You touched on this a little bit. Before the season you said you still wanted to play, but couldn’t find a team despite being pretty productive over the last few seasons. How frustrating was that for you?

It was very frustrating. It was weird how people would say, “Hey Jeff, the phone’s going to ring.”…Last year I came back from knee surgery and I probably wasn’t ready to play. It wasn’t a very smart move…Maybe if I waited another month, maybe I’d have a job this year.

And you met with Doug Melvin and Gord Ash before the season, right?

I did…I needed a little closure…Unless you actually hear it from the horses’ mouth, it’s hard to believe. And we went there to Milwaukee…They told me they were right-hand dominant, Joe Dillon had a good year last year for them. Gord Ash was there and Doug Melvin was there…We talked about baseball and things and that was pretty much it. They didn’t offer me a job with FSN and they didn’t offer me a job within the organization.

So, are you officially retired now or is there still a chance you’d consider a comeback?

Well, as I like to say, “I didn’t retire. Baseball retired me.” So, I’m not going to retire.

What was your proudest accomplishment as a player?

I think going to the Mexican League back in 2004, or 2005, excuse me. Going to the Mexican League, getting out of a fundamental flaw, a toe tap, I had for a year and a half with the Mariners. A year and half with the Mariners and I could not break it. Oh no, it was two years, a year with the Mariners, my second year, and the next year with the Padres. I hit .207 and .212 or whatever I hit. I knew that I had to break a mechanical flaw and I went to Mexico for six weeks against everyone’s advice. I was like, “You know what? This is the only way we can get out of this.” And I did. And then I begged, borrowed and stealed to get into camp with the Milwaukee Brewers. Fortunately I was in good graces with that organization and I left on good terms. I think it was pretty much a long shot to make that team considering my last two years.

It was an uncomfortable feeling going into camp knowing that no one wanted you. It was very similar to this winter where I had to get on the phone. It was very tiring to have to sell myself again this winter. And thinking, you know I came back from a knee surgery last year and this year I had to beg and borrow to get into camp…Last year’s numbers weren’t as great on offense from a batting average standpoint, but if you look at isolated numbers, they were pretty good.

Can you talk about when you did come back to the Brewers? What were your emotions when you found out you made the team and you’d get to play in Milwaukee again?

Well, that was a very good experience, opening day in Pittsburgh where I hit a home run and opening day (in Milwaukee) when I was introduced and I got a standing ovation. I mean, the fans were very receptive and they definitely understood where I came from and knew that I never wanted to leave in the first place. I saw myself as a Paul Molitor, Robin Yount type player. I mean the kind of player that would be there for the bad and eventually the good. I was traded for the first time by Dean Taylor. I was pretty adamant in the paper about not wanting to be traded. And then when I signed last year with the Twins I was pretty adamant in the paper again that I didn’t want to leave.

The fans sometimes, you know, they got the real story, but sometimes they don’t get the full real story. Last year there were seven infielders on the 25-man roster and I was going to be the eighth one and that’s when Ryan Braun was in the minor leagues. So, I was like, “Well, I’m going to make this an easy decision. It’s not going to be an easy decision for me. It’ll make it easy for you.” But I’ve never lost sight that I’ve always felt my comfort zone was with the Milwaukee Brewers. That city and state always brought the best out of me as a player and a person.

And so when I did the FSN thing it was really with an open heart knowing that hey, there was no room for me. I made my own bed by signing with the Twins. But, at the same time, I’m still all for the Milwaukee Brewers getting to the World Series this year and I think they have an absolute, legitimate shot at getting there.

Can you talk about that? What has this season been like as far as watching it? How do you think this team compares to other teams in the NL right now?

Well, first and foremost, Ned Yost creates an environment in the clubhouse where all the guys get along. There’s a lot of great chemistry. It’s fun taking the field at the park every day. When we’re losing it’s still fun to show up because there’s such a good group of people, guys that get along…I mean, these guys are actually getting paid to show up to a full house where the fans sense something big is happening and the fact that everyone gets along with each other is great. It’s great synergy that they have. As a fan, you wish every fan could sit in the dugout for a game and just check it out and see what that’s all about. You can’t bottle that up.

Who’s the leader of the clubhouse?

I think it varies. I think the personalities are all different. Some are a little bit more boisterous and some are a little quieter and there’s some that people gravitate towards. I think guys like J.J., people gravitate toward him. And I think that CC and what he’s done, CC is starting to get a lot of pedigree. I mean, he was a Cy Young winner last year. So, in a way, they have a ton of guys that can lead at one point or another.

It seems like Mike Cameron has really taken a veteran leadership role on the team as well. Have you noticed that at all?

Mike Cameron is by far the best teammate I’ve ever played with. Last year when I was in Milwaukee with Doug Melvin, I told him he’s the best player I ever played with because rain or shine, good or bad, Mike Cameron still shows up every day with the reflection of he’s appreciative of where he’s at and that’s playing big league baseball.

And you mentioned CC Sabathia. Is he really as good as he’s looked so far?

Uh, what do you think? I mean, the numbers don’t lie. He was a Cy Young winner last year and he’s what? 12-0 since May with like a 1-something ERA. This is the Major Leagues, keep in mind. This is not like American Legion. He’s dominating at the highest level. There is no one better in the game right now. He’s the best pitcher in baseball.

You talked about last season as being kind of tough for you, but you did make the playoffs for the first time in your career. Was that special for you?

It was very special…It would have probably been something that I wouldn’t have regretted because I don’t regret anything, but it would have been something that would have been a big void if I had not gotten to the playoffs.

Speaking of the playoffs, can we get a prediction for this year’s Brewers team? How far do you think they’re going to go?

Well, I think that it all depends on who makes the playoffs out of the West. The Dodgers look good and they played very well this weekend. I think the Diamondbacks have great pitching. They line-up 1-2-3 with Randy Johnson coming back. They have Webb, Haren and Randy Johnson. And the Cubs, they’re very well rounded. If you were to handicap it, I think that the Brewers and the Diamondbacks have the best starting pitching when you get into the playoffs, bar none against anybody. So, there’s your handicap.

And can we expect to see you on the FSN broadcasts again next year?

We’ll have to wait and see. … You’ll definitely see me doing something in baseball.

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One Response to “Jeff Cirillo Interview”

  1. D'Amico's one good year Says:

    Cirillo!!!!

    I would want to talk to Jeff, but I’d end up a slobbering fanboy… Good get, guys!