The Journal Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak caught up with Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Gio Gonzalez to discuss the trade that brought him to his new team, the importance of giving back, his fondness for shoes and his idol, CC Sabathia. Gonzalez is 2-0 with a 1.65 earned run average in three starts since being traded to the Brewers from the Washington Nationals on Aug. 31. In his 11th year in the major leagues, the 33-year-old Gonzalez is 126-97 with a 3.69 ERA in 311 career appearances (305 starts) for the Oakland A’s, Nationals and Brewers.
Q. How would you characterize your season prior to being traded to the Brewers?
A. I would say pretty much not the way I wanted it to go. I really wanted to do everything in my power to do as much as I could to help out the Nationals. It was an unfortunate situation that I put them in, and I carry a lot of that weight of what happened this year for the Nationals. I felt like I was better than what I was giving and I was just grateful that (Washington general manager Mike) Rizzo saw that and believed in me. I wanted to win so bad for him. He did what was the best opportunity for both teams, and coming here, this was an organization that was already making a push for the playoffs and I was happy to know that they were a team that wanted me and thought I could help out. It was a blessing in disguise and it wasn’t for the worse, it was for the better. These guys have welcomed me with open arms and the guys they went out and got, it showed they were pushing as hard as they can to get this (postseason) ball rolling. So on that note I really, really want to help out in any way possible for Milwaukee, and I want to show them that I can hold my own and I can do whatever they need me to do, I’m all for it. Anything to get us to the playoffs. And they welcomed me. This is hands-down an amazing group of guys they have in here.
Q. With three starts under your belt heading into St. Louis, do you feel like you’ve gotten back on track?
A. I’m just happy I’m still pitching. I’m happy I’ve been put in a situation where I can compete for a team that wants my competitiveness with the rotation we have. And the hands-down, lights-out bullpen we have – I think it’s definitely the No. 1 bullpen I’ve seen in a long time – you know it’s four innings, five innings and it’s onto the next guy. It’s a good feeling knowing anyone in that bullpen gives you the best that they’ve got. So that’s pretty awesome.
Q. You just turned 33 and you’re in your 11th year in the majors. Is the plan to continue playing next season and beyond if possible?
A. That’s the mind-set I want to have going into free agency this year. I always want to have that mentality. Any warrior that puts on a uniform, no one ever wants to leave the game without doing so on their terms. My kids are just at that stage now where they get to come to the ballpark with Dad. So I want to show them a little bit more of what Dad’s done for his life and show them what the sport is about. Maybe one day they can play on that field. I can show them that field, and I’m excited about that. I want to represent my family name and whatever organization I’m playing for in the right way. I want to be a team leader and play the game the right way, and everything that I’ve done in my career speaks for itself. I’ve always come to the field 100 percent ready to play, every time.
Q. You’re regarded as one of the most media-friendly players in the major leagues. Is that just your personality, or did someone impress upon you the importance of working with the media to convey your message to the fans?
A. You’re the messenger between us and the fans. That was something I developed with the Oakland A’s organization. They (the media there) took care of me, all of them, and I appreciated that being in that organization.They took care of me, they made sure I was all right. They taught me the proper way to respond. I was a young kid; it could have gotten ugly, but they never let me get to that point. I always found time for them because they always found time to find out who I was, and they showed Oakland and (the Washington media) showed Washington, “This is the young guy we helped groom.” I’ve learned throughout my career in baseball that it is your job and it’s my job, and I have to know that whether good, bad, ugly, pretty, it’s still part of the game. You learn from it. Sometimes you’re going to feel like, “Not today.” What we want you to understand, and what we want everyone to understand is, this game is not easy. You don’t wake up and say, “I’m going to hit five home runs today.” It’s very hard. There are a lot of superstars in this game that make it look a lot easier than it is, but even if you ask them, it’s not easy. They come to work and they work hard every day. It might look like it’s all fun and a fantasy, but it’s not. It’s hard work and we’re constantly trying to get better.
Q. You got to watch Bryce Harper play every day in Washington. You’ve gotten to see Christian Yelich play every day since joining the Brewers. How would you compare those two? Harper is a former MVP and Yelich is a front-runner to be named MVP this year.
A. It’s hard. I like to put them in their own categories because they’re totally different. They’re remarkable. I got to see Bryce when he won MVP and it was just flat-out dominance. He was a man among boys. He was playing the game right. It seemed like he was relaxed and he was having fun. And that’s what I see out of Yelich — he’s having fun and he’s played the game relaxed. He knows what he wants to do, and he has a plan. That’s what happened with Bryce. He came in ready, he had a plan and he wanted to improve. It was fun to watch. The guy played hard. He busted his tail every day. The funny part is, if this is Bryce struggling (this season), geez. This is what he thinks is struggling. That lets you the kind of player you’re dealing with — that kind of competitor, that kind of hard worker. Yeli is having fun doing it, and this is the organization he wants to do it for. The Marlins had three amazing outfielders (Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna). Amazing. Not even good. They were amazing. All of them were 100-RBI guys, all of them batting over .300. That’s the story. I got to see Bryce at his all-time best and I get to see Yelich for one month, doing what he’s doing. But it just feels like I’m seeing the same guy. The same exact hitter — hard contact, he’s not going to give up an out to you, and he’s not a guy you’re going to pitch around because he’s got protection in front and he’s got protection in back. You’ve got to face the music right now. It’s been incredible to watch.
Q. You were also a rotation mate of Max Scherzer’s in Washington. How incredible is he?
A. He’s unreal. He’s a smart man. He’s constantly learning, constantly trying to get better. There’s nothing I can say that he hasn’t done already. I saw 20 strikeouts. I saw the no-hitters. He’s almost had perfect games. The Cy Youngs…he’s been incredible. Two other guys are pitching incredible, too (Jacob deGrom and Aaron Nola). DeGrom has been amazing, Nola has been amazing. I can’t give anybody the edge (in the NL Cy Young race). It’s going to be tough and they’re going to have to go by the numbers because what Max is doing is stupid — the strikeouts, the innings, the wins, the ERA. His hitting is a separate conversation. What deGrom is doing, my gosh. Max is in a different category but I’m not going to take away the years that deGrom and Nola have had. They deserve all the credit in the world.
Q. You are a big sneaker collector and as a Jordan Brand-sponsored athlete you’ve been wearing some pretty incredible spikes in recent years. Do you subscribe to the adage, “Look good, play good?”
A. Jonathan Papelbon used to tell me that. You dress for the part. I used to get a haircut twice a week. I used to come out with brand-new shoes twice a week. That was my thing. Being a shoe guy with Jordan Brand, they make it easy. I know my feet always look good. And they take the pressure off because they give you outfits, stuff to kind of mix and match with the shoes. They’ve been fantastic. They make sure you are taken care of. As one of their brand ambassadors, it’s awesome to be part of that brand. Those guys have 100 percent taken care of me.
Q. Another former Brewers lefty, CC Sabathia, is also a Jordan Brand guy who kind of started the trend a decade ago. Wasn’t he responsible for you coming aboard?
A. CC is the big guy for the brand. He is the face of the brand, in my opinion. He’s my all-time favorite left-handed pitcher. All-time, No. 1. There is no other lefty that comes close to him. As far as who he is, what he does on the field, off the field, he’s a role model, and I hope that one day I can follow in his footsteps. He paved the way with everything. There’s not one category you can touch with CC where he’s left a mark on the baseball field. He’s helped out kids with his foundation and his charity events. His shoe collection is the best. He is the ultimate guy with that. If you can admire anyone’s collection of shoes and his line of work, he is The Greatest Of All Time — he is the G.O.A.T. I wish him nothing but the best and I hope he continues to break records. What he’s done for baseball and what he continues to do for baseball, I will always be his biggest fan. He believed in me when I was a young guy in baseball and he gave me an opportunity to be one of the brand members. He spoke highly of me. But even if he didn’t, I love CC. He’s one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game, and he’s still doing it and still showing the young guys how it’s done. And I love that about him.