Kelly Gruber: ‘I didn’t know what the cycle was’

Kelly Gruber played all but 18 of his career 939 games with the Jays. Never afraid to get dirty, the Texas native manned the hot-corner for Toronto during the glory days of the late 1980s and during the World Series in 1992. A true fan favourite, with or without that elusive triple play.

Look out Toronto, Kelly Gruber is back. The iconic third baseman with the sweet flow is popular as ever, too—he might’ve posed for 1,000 pictures during Wednesday’s tilt at Rogers Centre.

The ’92 World Series champ, now 52, calls Austin, Tx, home, but he’s in Toronto this week for the annual Joe Carter Classic Golf Tournament. He’ll also spend July touring around Eastern Canada, putting on his Kelly Gruber Silver Slugger baseball camps.

Sportsnet caught up with Gruber between his many photo requests to talk baseball, hair, and being the first-ever Blue Jay to hit for the cycle—even though he didn’t know what it was back in 1989.

Sportsnet: Good to see you’ve kept your hairstyle.

Gruber: Tried to. I’m just lazy, that’s all. In baseball, this is how it was honestly: If I got my hair cut, I always felt different. You know, if you cut your hair you feel different. If I’m going good in baseball, I don’t wanna feel different! When I was going good for a while it started getting really long, it’s gettin’ in my eyes and I can’t see the ball now. But I’d wait ‘til I’d go bad, then I’d cut it. I just actually got it cut before I came. I figured, clean my image up a little bit.

You look exactly the same!

You need to get your eyes checked! [Laughs].

What’s a typical day like for you these days?

Well, when I’m at home, sleep ‘til I get up. I love my bed. Obviously I’m a bit of a night owl. Back in the day we’d start games at 8, 8:30 p.m. sometimes, we’d have four, four-and-a-half hour games, we’re not off the field ‘til 12:30 or 1, we don’t get home ‘til 2 or 3. That tends to throw your schedule out of whack. So I became a night owl. Some nights I’ll go to bed at 10, other nights at 3. Depends what’s on TV, what’s goin’ on, I got some buds over, you know, or whatever. Other than that, it’s ‘Honey do this,’ always doin’ stuff around the house, trying to get the kids out of the house.

How many kids do you have?

I have four, and I re-married, so there’s two more, so 6. Two are still in high school so we have to wait, I guess. One of them is 12. I’ve got about five years I figure ‘til I get my life back. [Laughs.]

Are they all third basemen?

The 12-year-old girl is into softball, she’s really good. But she plays catcher, mostly.

What’s your fondest memory as a Blue Jay. Aside from the obvious…

Well the obvious, obviously, is winnin’ the World Series. That’s what, as far as I know, every child plays for. To have that come true is just remarkable. There’s not much that compares to that. Any others that come outta my mouth are a distant second. The cycle was very special, even though I didn’t know what the cycle was.

What?!

No, I didn’t know what it was. And thank goodness I didn’t because I’d a probably choked it. But I found out I hit for the cycle after my last hit, when I was on first. Everybody’s standing up and is giving me a standing ovation. I’m like, ok, it’s the worst hit of the afternoon. What are these people thinking! I’m not gonna be able to hang here, man, these people are whacked. Before that, I’m on deck, I’m gettin’ loose, and I hear, ‘Ok Kelly boy, all we need is a single!’ And I’m thinkin’ to myself, Really? Did I just hear that? Is he serious? I might ask for a trade! If I can’t please them with a home run, double and a triple, I’m not gonna please them! But seriously, it was good that I didn’t know. I wasn’t concentrating on, all I need is a single.

So who finally explained the cycle to you?

Well, I found out I hit for the cycle from the first baseman. He goes, ‘Congratulations man, you did it!’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Hit for the cycle.’ I thought, what the heck is a cycle? I didn’t say that out loud – I didn’t want to look stupid. I just played baseball, I didn’t know nothin’ about the game. I said, ‘Ok, great, thanks.’ Eventually I ended up finding out, played some quasi mind games and found out somehow through a buddy. But that was special, obviously.

Obviously. Do you miss Toronto?

Oh sure, I love Toronto. Love Canada. Any chance I get to come back—in the summer. I have the best of both worlds: Canada during the summer and Texas in the winter.

Do people recognize you everywhere you go in Toronto?

Yeah, but not everybody like in the day. Obviously I’ve changed a bit. I haven’t been in the spotlight a whole lot, outta sight outta mind. I’m paranoid when I walk the streets.

Why?

I’m gonna have to stop, not get where I’m goin.’

You don’t like the attention?

No, I never really did.

You’re a wall-flower? Who knew?

Yeah, I mean, this is the loudest thing I’ll ever put on [He’s referring to his blue and white striped shirt.] I put the pants on the same way as everybody else, one leg at a time. The adoration, all that stuff, I could care less. I’m honoured, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a little embarrassing to tell you the truth.

Wow. What do you think of the Blue Jays this year? 

They got a good team. Obviously if they can stay healthy, it’ll be a good thing. This is halfway there, it’s a long way to go. I want everybody to gear up and I want everybody to get excited, but I don’t want to be unrealistic. What they’ve done this half of the season they gotta at least do the second half. Number one, stay healthy. Pitchin’s gotta come through. It gets tougher and tougher because your body breaks down and gets tired. Everybody’s gonna be fightin’ the dog days. It’s gonna be grueling and it’s gonna be hard. But I’ve got confidence in Beeston and the boys to go out and find them help like they did us, when they got Jack Morris and Dave Winfield and put us over the top.

That was the turning point, eh?

Yeah, we struggled for a long time trying to fill Dave Stieb’s place. He was an integral part of the Jays, for many years. We were strugglin’ trying to find us an ox like that. That’s when they went out when we were in the thick of things, they knew we were one pitcher away, one DH, somebody with the bat, somebody with the leadership, like a Dave Winfield. We were two players away, right there, and they pulled the trigger. The Jays have to do that. If they can prove they can hang and they’re healthy and they’re winding things down and all they need is a little help here or there, I’m confident they’ll go find it.

When’s the last time you saw highlights of the ’92 World Series?

A long time ago. I’ve got tapes, but I’m not one to live in the past. But I would like to say, it sure would be nice to see—and I’m sayin’ this for the fans, not for me, you know I’d rather stay home and do nothin’—but the fans have expressed to me many times, they’re disappointed in the Jays for not celebrating success a little more, the two World Series wins. Only twice we’ve done it. ‘92 and ‘93. Now that Beeston is back, we got a little more going on with our past. I’m the mouthpiece for fans and what they’ve expressed to me. They’d like to see more of us come to the park and celebrate that. And I think they’re right. Again, it’s not that I really wanna come up here and be in the spotlight, on TV. I don’t like that, couldn’t care less. But they want it, the fans do.

Then you’ll have to pose for a lot more pictures.

Yeah, true.

What’s your place like back in Austin? Do you have a ranch?

I’d love to have horses, cattle, sheep, everything. I don’t have the time. Ok, I got the time, I don’t wanna put forth the time. I’ve got two dogs and two cats. That’s enough. And my children. Those are animals, too.

Thanks, Kelly. 

Thank you.