Metro’s Matt Burke recently spoke with Red Sox World Series champion and MLB Network analyst Kevin Millar on a number of baseball-related topics, including the Sox and their potential to repeat as champs, David Ortiz’s contract issues, why there aren’t any dynasties in MLB anymore and, of course, the famous shots of Jack the Sox drank during the epic 2004 ALCS win over the Yankees. Millar was busy in Ft. Myers, Fla. promoting the popular summer seasonal beer Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, which returned to shelves March 1 - just in time for baseball season.
Metro: You were the prototypical clubhouse chemistry guy during your playing career. How much does chemistry matter in an MLB clubhouse compared to talent? A lot of people have been pointing first to the chemistry of last year’s Red Sox team as to the main reason why they won it all.
Millar: I think it’s the most underrated aspect in the game of baseball. Everyone is so consumed with numbers and names. But at this level, everyone can play. You look at the World Series winners the past three-to-four years and they’ve all been teams that weren’t the best clubs on paper. The Giants in 2010 , the Cardinals, you see what Red Sox did last year – there were a lot of no name guys, a lot of scrappers like Daniel Nava, Stephen Drew, [Mike] Napoli. I just think [chemistry] is such an infectious thing and it’s very hard to come by. This year could be totally different [for the Red Sox].
Metro: You were on the 2005 Red Sox, a team that probably had the least amount of pressure of any defending World Series title team. Was it hard for the team to focus that year and just how difficult is it to repeat?
Millar: It just wasn’t right that year because we lost Pedro [Martinez] to the Mets. It was just different. You never have the exact same team, year-to-year, and the atmosphere was just differnet. Not saying that Matt Clement wasn’t that type of [team-first] guy, but things just felt different. A lot of things have got to go right when you win a championship. Guys gotta stay healthy, some guys have to have a career year … but 2005 was a dogfight. We didn’t have Pedro, I got off to a slow start and then there was the whole John Olerud situation at first with me, so it just never felt right.
Metro: What do you think are some of the main issues the Red Sox will face in 2014?
Millar: There are guys in key positions that don’t have track records. Will Middlebrooks at third - he hasn’t really had a track record. I like Middlebrooks as a player, a lot actually. But we just don’t know yet. Then at shortstop, you’ve got a fine looking young player in [Xander] Bogaerts, but no one knows what he’ll become. You see the potential of him being a star but you won’t know until he gets out there. Then you see a former star like [Grady] Sizemore. He looks wonderful in camp. There will be a competition between him and Jackie Bradley in center but there’s a chance that both might not work out. So, those are the three question marks people can put down. You’re pretty sure what Papi’s gonna do, what Pedroia’s gonna do. But there’s a bunch of other guys they’re relying on that don’t have that track record.
Metro: What did you make of David Ortiz and his public comments about his contract and the way the media talks about his contract?
Millar: Well, I love this man. This man deserves a lifetime contract with the Red Sox. He’s an ambassador for the Red Sox. And the guys that bought the franchise back in 2002, a franchise that's now worth about $3 billion, he’s maybe the main reason why they’re where they’re at today. So he’s just a once in a generation guy. He’s part of the family. You can’t argue with what he’s done. You know, there’s a lot of guys that come out with loud mouths in spring training, talking about contracts and not being paid enough - but there’s no foundation. There’s an absolute foundation with David. He’s a lifer.
Metro: What do you make of what Jacoby Ellsbury did in free agency? In your prime, if you were in a similar situation, with the rival Yankees being the highest bidder in free agency, would you have crossed enemy lines?
Millar: You know, free agency – that’s your opportunity as a player. You play the game to become a free agent and you’re only that age one time and there’s 152 million reasons why you understand that he made the move. Ya, it’s weird to go from team-to-team like that, but financially you understand at some point that there’s a business side of [baseball].
Metro: How much interaction is there between teammates and players during free agency. Would you ever just call up one of these guys in the offseason when they’re about to sign with a rival team and say, “What the hell are you doing?”
Millar: Ya, there are guys that you’ll always be buddies with. You’ll text them and ask about this contract and that contract and then they say they’re gonna get this much money and, boom, they’re out the door. The Yankees said 'we want to get younger and athletic' and they did [with Ellsbury]. There was the shock factor for the fans and there are layers to that rivalry, so I get that, too. But it’s like this everywhere. On the other side, with the Yankees – can those guys get mad at [Robinson] Cano for going to Seattle? No.
Metro: No team has won back-to-back titles since the Yankees in the late 1990s. Do you think we’ll see another dynasty in baseball anytime soon or is there too much parity now?
Millar: You said the word right there. Parity. The hardest thing thing to do in sports is to repeat. It’s hard to get that swag back. Look at all sports. The Heat, the Patriots, the Yankees – those teams did it but it’s very tough. It doesn’t happen all the time.
Metro: You’ve talked plenty about the Jack Daniels shots in the clubhouse in the ALCS in 2004 but it seems like a new wrinkle regarding that story comes out from time-to-time. For instance Pedro Martinez said last year that it was Mama Juana [a Dominican drink consisting of rum and wine] and not Jack Daniels? Was that just Pedro pimping a drink or is that correct?
Millar: I think it was moreso Pedro pimping the drink. I know what we drank. I don’t know what else was being poured into those cups at times when we were passing it around, but [Jack Daniels] is what we drank for sure.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS