Thursday, August 7, 2008
Q&A with Dave Mona
Public Figure and Minnesota Sports Historian
Good morning to everyone! I can't begin to tell you how excited I am to bring you this Question and Answer posting today. In the past, I have done a lot of Q&As with current and (maybe) future Twins on the site. Today, I have the opportunity to do a Q&A with someone who has followed the Minnesota Twins since they came to the Twin Cities in 1961. You likely know Dave Mona as the host of The Sports Huddle with Sid and Dave on WCCO radio. Maybe you know him from his work on the Minnesota Gophers football radio broadcasts with Dave Lee and Darrell Thompson. If you've been around long enough, maybe you remember him as the Twins beat writer for one of the Minneapolis papers in 1968 and 1969. Maybe you have attended one of the many fundraisers or public speaking events that he has participated in. If you've heard him through any of those venues, you are really going to enjoy this Q&A. And if you haven't heard of him, I still have a strong feeling that you will instantly become a big fan.
A couple of months ago, I got an e-mail from Dave Mona. When I saw his name, I thought it was pretty cool! I have been listening to him on the radio for years and think he does a great job. He was just writing to tell me that he reads my site most every day and really enjoyed it. He told me that when he was a beat writer, he would have definitely appreciated my site for all the minor league content. At that time, I was unaware that he had been a beat writer for the Twins, so I asked him a couple of questions. He told me that he was finishing up a book that would be out in a couple of months and he had several stories on his time covering the Twins. Of course, I had to ask about doing a Q&A on those years and about his upcoming book, Beyond the Sports Huddle, Mona on Minnesota (Voyageur Press). He was more than happy to do that. In fact, just over a week ago, I received a copy of the book in the mail.
Now, I will fully admit that I am not one to sit down and read books. When I flew to Orlando in February, I read Chris Coste's book, The 33 Year Old Rookie, on the flights down and back and loved it. Well, when I flew down to Orlando for work last week, I read Beyond the Sports Huddle and could not put it down. I read 100 pages on the flight down and 120 pages on the flight back. I finished it up over the weekend. I absolutely loved the book. If you're like me, you may not have a real long attention span. The make up this book is perfect. It is really a series of short stories from his experiences. Dave Mona has experienced so many events and has so many stories. Seeing Willie Mays playing for Minneapolis Millers. Playing high school sports with several athletes that went on to play for the Gophers or even at the professional level. Writing for the Minnesota Daily (he was the Sports Editor, I wonder if he would have hired Aaron Gleeman?) at the same time as Garrison Keillor was working for the paper as well. Spending time with WCCO-TV, and with the Minneapolis newspapers. His time on the beat with the Twins. His work with a group trying to bring the Super Bowl to Minnesota. All the celebrities that he was able to meet through one of his businesses, Field of Dreams. There are some incredible stories about some of the greats of sports over the last half-century. His experiences with Bob Feller and Muhammed Ali. George Mikan and Michael Jordan. He's got a couple of great stories about Kirby Puckett, and about flying with the Blue Angels. I don't want to write about it all, but I promise you that if you are looking for a book on Minnesota sports history, this is definitely a book you should get.
I could go on and on about how much I really enjoyed this book, but I am going to leave you with a comment from Twins President Dave St. Peter that is on the back of the book:
"It's difficult to imagine there is anyone who loves Minnesota more - or knows Minnesota better - than Dave Mona. With that reality in mind, this book provides readers with a revealing, dynamic, often lighthearted history of the region's sports and pop culture scene. From baseball card collector to newspaper beat writer to business owner to civic leader to radio host, Dave Mona has done it all and Minnesota has been the beneficiary."
So again, imagine my excitement when Dave Mona said he would do a Q&A for this site! In fact, he said, "It'll be an honor to be up there with the likes of Jeff Manship."
WHERE CAN I GET THE BOOK? The official release date of Beyond the Sports Huddle is August 15th, but it has been made available at some Barnes & Noble stores, and will be showing up in more. You can order it through amazon.com (click on the book cover picture above) and BarnesandNoble.com. Dave has many scheduled appearances and book signings at several events around the Twin Cities Metro area through the rest of this year.
And hey, I know Dave checks out this site, so feel free to drop him a note or ask him a question in the Comments section. Maybe he will have a little time to respond, and if not, I will take those questions and send them to him.
Let Your Questions Begin!
SethSpeaks: First of all, I want to ask several questions about the book itself, starting with What was it that made you decide to write this book?
Dave Mona: Over the years Iíve done a fair amount of public speaking. I tend to use a lot of personal stories and anecdotes. People would often come up to me after the talk to ask if I had ever thought to write down any of these stories about people they knew and admired. That was part of the inspiration. I also love to write and my family was telling me it was about time I had something to show for it. My older son has written or edited about 15 books and he was getting too far ahead of me.
SethSpeaks: What was your process to complete the book and how long did it take to put it all together?
Dave Mona: It took a little less than two years to complete the book. It started with an outline and a couple of sample chapters. I sent them to several potential publishers, and Voyageur Press got back to me in less than a week to talk about a contract for them to be my publisher. I knew of them because they had done two of Sidís books. In terms of writing, I actually did a lot of it while on vacation. I would discipline myself to write every morning. I would start about 8 or 8:30 and finish whatever chapter I was working on at noon.
SethSpeaks: The book begins in your youth, growing up in Minneapolis. What was life like growing up in Minneapolis during that time?
Dave Mona: It was a great place in which to grow up. I rode my bike everywhere and never worried about locking it. I pretty much lived on the playground at Lake Hiawatha. From 7th grade on I played basketball at Sibley Field about 300 nights a year. A lot of that is in the book.
SethSpeaks: I have to ask... do you consider this book an autobiography or a book on the history of sports (and more) in Minnesota over the last half century
Dave Mona: I suppose it is somewhat autobiographical, but I think of it more as a series of relatively short stories about the interesting people Iíve had a chance to know and work with. Many of the chapters are quite short, and itís an easy book to read in short bursts.
SethSpeaks: Sports are obviously a huge part of your life and always have been. What was it that drew you to being such a fan of so many sports?
Dave Mona: I canít remember a time when I wasnít enamored with sports. My father was a pretty well-known coach, but he certainly didnít push me into sports. As I point out in the book, I got much of early learning from the backs of baseball cards.
SethSpeaks: In your high school days, I know you talked about playing basketball for a very strong high school team. What other sports or activities did you participate in?
Dave Mona: Our high school, Minneapolis Roosevelt, was very largeÖI believe the biggest in the state at the time. My graduating class was 777, and the school offered a huge variety of activities. I was sports editor of the high school newspaper which came out every week. I also punted and played some wide receiver for the football team and pitched for the baseball team where our coach was none other than the soon-to-be ďBadgerĒ Bob Johnson. Basketball was probably my best sport, and it was painful to write about how our team got kicked out of the Minnesota State Basketball Championship the day before it began.
SethSpeaks: Before the Twins came to the Twin Cities, there were the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints. What are your recollections on baseball before the Twins?
Dave Mona: My dad was a close friend of George Brophy who was an executive with the Millers at the time. We went to a lot of Millers games and I saw Willie Mays play with them in 1951 although I have no real memories of the game. My first ďheroĒ was a slugging Millers first baseman named Jack Harshman who later became a pretty good pitcher with the White Sox. The Millers played their final game in Nicollet Park in winning the Junior World Series in 1955. Rance Pless led the American Association in batting that year as the Millers third baseman. After the final game, Pless left a well-worn fielders glove in his locket. Brophy gave it to my father with instruction to give it to me. I used that glove until it finally wore out in my senior year of college. I was a vendor at Met Stadium. I used to hitchhike up and down Cedar Avenue before and after games.
SethSpeaks: Growing up, I was a big baseball card collector, as were you, and you've chosen to include several great stories and experiences about sports cards. Like you, I spent hours organizing my cards by part number or by team or alphabetically. You're still involved in the collectibles market. Are as many kids today into baseball card collecting as back when I was a kid in the mid-80s or when you were collecting as a child?
Dave Mona: Card collecting as a hobby is in deep trouble. Kids have so many options today. Itís hard for baseball cards to compete with video games. In a way the card companies deserve what happened to them for massively overproducing their product in the 1980s and Ď90s. Iíve been able to reduce my collection from a high of about 4 million cards to a little more than 2 million. At this rate, theyíll be gone by 2077.
SethSpeaks: You are involved (own?) Field of Dreams. What got you into the autographed collectibles and such?
Dave Mona: We got into Field of Dreams partly as a way for me to sell some of the things I had accumulated over the years. At our peak, my wife and I owned seven Field of Dreams stores around the country, including locally at the Mall of America, Galleria and Ridgedale. We still have an investment in the three stores in Las Vegas and we sell products at the Mall of America, but we got out of managing that business about three years ago. It was a lot of fun and gave us a chance to meet and work with a lot of sports celebrities, but it wasnít a very good investment.
SethSpeaks: You wrote a lot in the book about Dave Moore at WCCO-TV. Clearly he was someone you admired. What did you learn from him that has stuck with you?
Dave Mona: I loved working with Dave Moore. He was one of the most remarkable people I ever met. The thing I liked best about him was a sense of humility. He was one of the best-known people in the region, but he truly didnít think he was anyone special. When people would stop him on the street to say how much they admired him, he would point out that all he did was read words that other people wrote for him and that if they wanted to really admire someone, they should go find a teacher or a cop.
SethSpeaks: Halsey Hall and Herb Carneal are a couple of legendary Twins announcers. Can you describe each of them and what they were able to do that made them so great?
Dave Mona: Halsey was flat out the best storyteller I ever met. He was a great student of history and would have been one of the all-time great bloggers. Wherever we went he attracted a crowd. There is a fair amount about him in the book and I could have written so much more. I think itís a shame heís not in the Twins Hall of Fame, and I vote for him every year. Herb had a great voice and a wonderful way of calling a game. I couldnít wait for spring to start every year so I could hear that voice. He was also a very nice guy and a true Southern Gentleman.
SethSpeaks: Likewise, talk about Ray Christensen, who you listened to for years before joining him for a year in the Gophers football booth.
Dave Mona: I had known Ray since I was sports editor of the Minnesota Daily. There is a chapter in the book about how got a chance to work three years with him in the Gopher football broadcast booth. I loved his way of calling a game, and he had a perfect voice for radio. One of my not-so-secret wishes is to have Ray join us in the WCCO Radio broadcast booth for that first game next September in TCF Bank Stadium. How great would it be to hear that call just one more timeÖif only for a series or two?
SethSpeaks: You became the beat writer for the Twins in 1968. As a baseball fan from Minnesota, what was it like to get that job responsibility?
Dave Mona: I was stunned. I had been on the city desk for a little more than two years. Larry Batson, who I had worked with on the City Desk, knew of my love for baseball. He became the sports editor. A week later he called me in and asked how I would feel about covering the Twins. I accepted before he could change his mind.
SethSpeaks: I used to think that beat writer for a big league team would be the ultimate job. I don't necessarily think that any more for many reasons, but there are also plenty of reasons that it would be very enjoyable. In general, what were your thoughts on the job?
Dave Mona: It was a great thing to do for two years. At the end of that time, however, I knew it was not what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I had gotten married. My wife was a school teacher. My work day was pretty much 3 pm. to midnight, and I was on the road about 10 days a year. When I think back on it now, all I remember are the good parts. Iím glad I had a chance to do it. At the time I was the youngest beat writer in major league baseball. Getting a chance to work the 1969 season with Billy Martin was a priceless experience.
SethSpeaks: The 1968 Twins finished 79-83, but clearly there was a lot of talent on that team, just three years removed from the World Series. In 1969, Billy Martin became manager and the Twins went to the playoffs, losing to the Orioles in the AL Championship series, with many of the same players. And yet Martin lasted in the job just that one year. Can you explain that?
Dave Mona: Martin was a great manager and a terrible employee. He went out of his way to make life miserable for Howard Fox, the traveling secretary and close friend of owner Calvin Griffith. Billy could bring out the best in a lot of people, but he was his own worst enemy with his finger never far away from the self-destruct button.
SethSpeaks: Speaking of Martin, you have a couple of great stories about him in the book, one regarding some comments he made before a game the Twins were playing against a Washington Senators team managed by Ted Williams. There is obviously a perception of who and what Billy Martin was as a player, as a manager and as a person. How would you summarize the Billy Martin that you got to know?
Dave Mona: Billy was very tightly wired. He loved to win and took losing personally. He had a deep love for baseball and its history. He also was smart enough to know that the media would play a role in his reputation as a great, young manager. Although we had a pretty good relationship, I always though about how I would phrase questions to him so as not to set him off.
SethSpeaks: There were some incredible players on those Twins teams that you traveled with and covered. I'd like to ask about several of them. Harmon Killebrew, by all accounts, is one of the more genuinely nice and good people out there. Share a little about your thoughts on Killebrew as a player and as a person.
Dave Mona: On my first day at Tinker Field at spring training in 1968, Harmon came up to me, put his hand out and said, ďHi, Iím Harmon Killebrew. You must be the new guy from The Tribune.Ē If there was anybody in camp who did not need an introduction it was Harmon, but he was just such a nice person. He was not what is known in the news business as a ďgreat quote,Ē but he actually had a nice sense of humor, and I was able to work with him on a couple of situations that I talk about in the book. Heís remained a friend for all the years since I stopped writing, and we still send each other Christmas cards.
SethSpeaks: Bert Blyleven frequently talks about when he came up as a 19 year old in 1970 and was mentored by the likes of Jim Perry and Jim Kaat. Both were terrific pitchers. Jim Kaat has had a distinguished post-playing career as a TV analyst and authored a great book himself. Can you talk about those two pitchers as far as how good they were and the types of people they were and the type of leadership they could provide?
SethSpeaks: Kaat was very impressive. He was very bright and a real student of the game. He was not one of Martinís favoritesÖprobably because he had such a strong personality of his own. Not only was he a great pitcher, but he was a fine hitter and maybe the best fielding pitcher I ever saw. He had a perfect follow through that always left him in a position to field anything hit up the middle. To this day I see shots go past a pitcher and think, ďKaat would have had it.Ē Jim Perry always lived in the shadow of his brother, Gaylord, but Jim was a great competitor. He also was a good athlete who could hit and field well. He was fairly quiet and didnít do much to draw attention to himself, but he was widely respected by his teammates as someone they could count on to keep the opponents under control.
SethSpeaks: One Twins player that I think I would have enjoyed watching was Cesar Tovar. I know in one of those years, he played every position in one game, and even struck out one batter as a hitter. That seems to be what he is remembered for, but a look at his numbers tells us that he was really quite the player as well and a key cog to those teams in that era. Tell us a little more about him.
Dave Mona: Not only did he strike out one batter, but that batter was Reggie Jackson. Cesar never let him forget it. Tovar was incredibly popular with his teammates and fans. He played middle infield and multiple outfield positions equally well. Although built like a jockey, he had good line-drive power and ran the bases every bit as well as Rod Carew. He spoke limited English, but always had a smile on his face. I think Calvin thought getting Tovar for Gerry Arrigo was one of the best trades he ever made. Itís hard to overstate his value on Martinís 1969 team, and MartinĎs faith in Tovar made him a much better player.
SethSpeaks: Rod Carew came up in 1968 and won the Rookie of the Year award. He also participated in the first of 18 consecutive All Star games. I know speed was a big part of his game, but tell us a little more about the Hall of Famer.
Dave Mona: Rod came up in 1967 and made some base running and fielding mistakes. He took some heat in the newspaper and was very suspicious of reporters by the time I got there the next year. He was quite unfriendly toward the press and once interrupted an interview I was doing with rookie outfielder Herman Hill to warn him about reporters would stab him in the back. He had a fabulous year under Martin, and his seven steals of home in 1969 were something Iíll never forget. After I quit covering the team I got to know Rod a little bit better and found him to be very bright and fun to be around. I think he would have emerged as a bigger star even sooner if he had gotten off to a better start with the media.
SethSpeaks: Bob Allison's career was kind of winding down a little bit. But he hit for a low average with a lot of power. He unfortunately passed away way too early, but his catch in the 1965 World Series is still discussed as one of the great defensive plays in history. Can you tell us a little more about him?
Dave Mona: Bob was a major presence in the locker room. He was a born leader whose size and good looks made people look up to him. His skills had diminished quite a bit by the late 1960s, but that World Series catch alone assured him a place in Twins history. He was one of the first Twins to make a year-round home in the Minneapolis St. Paul area, and he did a lot for the community after retiring from baseball.
SethSpeaks: Can't forget about Tony Oliva who is still greatly involved in the Twins organization. He seemed to be so full of talent and energy, with incredible skill both offensively and defensively. From what I see now, he probably had the personality to be liked as well. What more can you tell us about Tony Oliva, or any stories that would explain him better?
Dave Mona: I got to the ballpark early just to watch Tony take batting practice. He loved to hit and constantly talked to whoever was around as he was hitting. He would swing at anything within reach and could hit with power to all fields. I was covering the game when Reggie Jackson hit his homerun off the Midwest Federal tree next to the scoreboard. I think it was the hardest ball I ever saw hit. I remember looking at Tony to see him take his hands off his knees and look straight up. Years later I reminded him of my observation and he laughed and said I had gotten it right. ďIt got over me so fast I didnít have time to move. I just started laughing. It was the hardest hit ball I ever saw.Ē
SethSpeaks: Now almost 40 years later, do you look back at your time on the Twins beat and think about what an incredible era of baseball you got to cover? Some of the game's best players of all time played at that time and you got to cover many of them.
Dave Mona: Absolutely. Although itís hard to compete with 1987 and 1991, the 1969 season under Martin was probably as interesting and as fun as any in team history.
SethSpeaks: You still follow the Twins as a fan. As you have watched the 2008 team, do any of the current players remind you at all of any of the Twins players you covered?
Dave Mona: I think Mike Redmond would have fit perfectly with that 1969 team. This might surprise people, but Punto was the kind of guy that Martin really likedÖprobably reminded him a little of himself. Gomez would have thrived until Billy. He really connected with the young Latin and South American players. Mauer, Morneau and Nathan would have fit in just fine. One other guy who would have thrived under Martin was Kent Hrbek. That would have been a great combination.
SethSpeaks: How would the greats like Carew, Killebrew, Oliva and Kaat have done in the game today, and then how would the stars like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan have done in that game?
Dave Mona: As I talk about in the book, Washington was on fire when we got there to play the Senators. We had armored vehicles outside our hotel. There was an orange glow in the sky when he met for breakfast the next day. When I said I had never seen anything like that before, Tony Oliva quietly said, ďI have.Ē He went on to describe the streets of Havana as Fidel Castro came to power. The next year, while flying back from a game in Seattle against the short-lived Pilots, the Northwest pilot over Montana gave us a step-by-step description on manís first landing on the moon. Pretty cool stuff and clearly a major part of American and World History.
SethSpeaks: Not to get too deep, but aside from the simple economics of the game, what are a couple of the biggest changes you have seen in the game of baseball in the last 40 years.
Dave Mona: I was excited about covering the Olympics. Not only was it a great assignment, but I had gotten married in June and it was like a company-paid honeymoon.
SethSpeaks: So much beyond baseball was happening in 1968. Bob Gibson has his incredible 1.12 ERA. Denny McLain won 30 games. The Tigers won the World Series and Detroit rioted. Of course, many major cities saw rioting that year. The racial and political landscapes were changing. Not only was it an exciting era for baseball, but for the entire country. Can you put into context at all how it all came together at that time?
Dave Mona: I would have loved to have something like ďSeth SpeaksĒ available to me. I tried to write about some of the great prospects in the minor league system such as Bert Blyleven, Steve Brye and Eric Soderholm. In order to do that I had to call writers in those cities about every three weeks. The media notes for each game seldom, if ever, even mentioned the minor leagues and I was always fascinated about the next generation of players. There is no doubt I would have had a blog if Al Gore had invented the internet a couple of decades earlier.
SethSpeaks: Mike Lynn will forever be remembered in Vikings history for the Herschel Walker trade which certainly did not go as planned. However, it was interesting to read about many things he did do, especially his role in bringing the Super Bowl to Minneapolis. Do you think people should be more aware of all the good he did do?
Dave Mona: Mike was a true character. Very smart. Very cocky. Very funny. He was very aggressive and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Once I got a chance to work closely with him I got an entirely different view. He was very strategic about how he approached things, and he was one of the most tenacious people I ever worked with. Itís easy now to see how he rose so quickly through the ranks. He had a good plan, and he was totally dedicated to its success. He wasnít the only one who thought at first that the Walker trade would make a difference in Viking history. We just didnít know how true that was.
SethSpeaks: Working with Sid Hartman - I really tried not to dive into this, but since it is a nice section of the book, it's an important topic. The story of your first Sunday morning broadcast with Sid was priceless and to think that you're still working together 27 years later is remarkable. So just one question, what is is like to work with Sid?
Dave Mona: Working with Sid is both a treat and a challenge. He is the hardest-working and most competitive person Iíve ever met. He may lack some of the social graces, but he has made a major imprint on the sports history of this community. I hope to have a fraction of his energy and drive when Iím 88 years old. There will never be another one quite like himÖfor better and/or worse.
SethSpeaks: You've met so many people through the autograph memorabilia business. You've spent time with the likes of Muhammed Ali, Bob Feller, some of the greats of the NBA, NFL, MLB and other celebrities. You have experienced politics up close, and even got to invent your own voting results. You have experienced the Olympics. You've worked with incredible and talented people in TV and the print media. You've met some very positive people and even known a serial killer. Your book seemingly encapsulates an incredible journey that has presented so many great opportunities. Have you been able to sit back and enjoy it? Has writing this book allowed you that opportunity?
Dave Mona: Writing the book was good for me. It was a real relief to get it done, but Iíve already started collecting stories that didnít make it into this book. Remind me to tell you the one about Early WynnÖÖÖ
SethSpeaks:: Overall, are you happy with the book and what it means to you and those around you?
Dave Mona: Iím very happy with the book. I really like the cover design, and I got some very good editing from my sister, Judy Schell, my editor son Erik, and Josh Leventhal at Voyageur Press. Itís been a treat to get out from under so many of these stories and finally make them public in a very visible way.
SethSpeaks: What do you hope people who read your book get from it?
Dave Mona: I hope they get at least three stories they can share with their friends. Iím a storyteller at heart, and I think one of the great things about sports is the way it flows from parents to kids via stories.
SethSpeaks: Dave, one final question... What is keeping you busy these days? I know you keep active with your job, with Sid and with several community boards and events.
Dave Mona: Linda and I were the co chairs of the recently completed U.S. Womenís Open at Interlachen. Now that itís over Iím working four days a week here at Weber Shandwick, the regionís largest PR firm which I founded in 1981. Iíll do the Sports Huddle every Sunday, and we start Gopher football later this month. I also do the press box public address announcing at Viking games (for past 30 years). I serve on a number of boards including chairing the Minnesota Vikings Childrenís Fund and am still pretty active as the immediate past chair of Meet Minneapolis (the Convention and Visitors Bureau). In terms of writing, Iím doing a history of the Twin Cities Dunkers which includes a description of the more than 700 meetings in the groupís 60-year history. Throw in the promotion schedule for the new book, a little golf and a little sleep, thatís about it.
Again, I can't begin to thank Dave enough for taking the time out of his obviously busy schedule to answer all of these questions. Do you have any thoughts or questions for Dave Mona or me? If so, please feel free to e-mail me.
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