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Mudville: July 29, 2021 9:29 am PDT
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Mt. Everett: Adam Everett

"If you’re not evolving, you’re dying in this game."

adam everett feature

Word spread fast in the early morning hours of January 8, 2021 that Tommy Lasorda passed away.

Social media was quickly flooded with the familiar scenes of Tommy in champagne celebrations, ranting about Kurt Bevacqua and beating up the Phillie Phanatic. It was both sad and fantastic to see a Twitter feed filled with Tommy.

Although Lasorda spent 71 years wearing Dodger Blue, one of his proudest moments came wearing red, white and blue. In 2000, a 73-year-old Lasorda led a ragtag group of Americans to an improbable gold medal in the Olympics, beating the heavily favored Cuban team in one of the biggest upsets in American team sports in the Summer Games.

Adam Everett was the shortstop for Lasorda in the Olympics before going on to an 11-year career as a defensive wizard at short, mostly for the Astros, and joins us for this week’s Spitballin’.

The 2000 Olympic baseball team roster hadn’t even been finalized until 10 days before the games began and Lasorda didn’t know a single guy on the squad. The Cubans had never lost an Olympic game and were expected to romp to the gold, especially after beating the US in pool play, 6-1.

The Cubans returned 11 players from their 1996 gold-medal team and their players were mostly a decade older than the minor leaguers on the US team – notwithstanding Pat Borders, who was 37 and playing for the Durham Bulls.

Lasorda called the win over Cuba the best moment of his career. He said that about many things, but when you see the image of Tommy crying with the American Flag draped over his back on the field after the game, you can take him at his word.

Everett was a 23-year-old AAA shortstop at the time and had not broken into the Majors yet. He starred at the University of South Carolina and was the 12th overall pick by the Red Sox in the 1998 draft. He moved quickly through the minors, debuting with the Astros as a September callup in 2001.

In 2003, Everett took over the starting shortstop role and by 2005, he and the Wild Card Astros upset the Braves and Cardinals in the playoffs before being swept in the World Series by the White Sox. Each game was decided by two runs or less and the loss still stings a bit for Everett.

It was 2006 where Everett made history with his glove. He turned in one of the best defensive seasons for any player at any position since World War II according to some metrics.

That year, Everett became the first position player to reach 40 Total Zone Runs since 1952, which is as far back as the data goes. By comparison, Ozzie Smith’s best year was 32 and Brooks Robinson only got to 33 at his peak.

Everett played 11 seasons in the Majors and to this day, the only infielder to accrue more dWAR while playing 11 seasons or less is Hall of Famer Joe Gordon.

The man brought the leather in a big way.

In 2005, Everett almost became the first player to win a gold medal and a World Series ring until a hot White Sox team got in his way. Lasorda remains the only person to manage a team to a gold medal and World Series title.

Let’s go Spitballin’ with Adam Everett as we remember his big-league career and what Tommy Lasorda and his Olympic experience meant to him.

Adam Everett

“Tommy didn’t have to say much because we knew what we were up against. The bottom line is we punched them in the mouth, and they were surprised.”

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Everett. You’re the first gold medalist we’ve had on Spitballin’. Before we get into that, let’s start out when you were young. How did you develop your love for baseball as a kid and what was your favorite team growing up?

As my parents tell it, ever since I could walk, I had a bat and ball in my hands. My dad didn’t play and nobody in my mom’s family played, so I guess it just came natural to me.

I grew up in the Atlanta area and was a Braves fan growing up. I loved baseball in general, but Dale Murphy was one of my favorites. Also, someone that became a mentor to me, believe it or not, was Bruce Sutter. He has a son that is my age, and we went to school together. He had a lot to do with my development and the type of player I became.

Wow, that’s a pretty great mentor to have! You were always a great player growing up and through high school, at what point was it where you thought you might be able to make it to the Majors?

I guess I had tunnel vision and I didn’t think about it too often. I always knew I wanted to play in the Big Leagues, but I didn’t think about it seriously until I was a junior in college. That was when it became surreal. I had teams, scouts and agents calling me all the time and that’s when I thought, “Hey, I might have a shot at this.”

You mentioned college and you had a great career at South Carolina, but you were also drafted in the 4th round out of high school. Was it difficult to make that decision to go to college instead of the minor leagues?

I wasn’t physically, mentally or emotionally ready to sign professionally. You know, I was a high pick, but I think I got over-drafted. I had a great senior year, but there’s so many other factors that play into it.

I had a really good advisor who later on became my agent, and he told me that I needed to go to college. He told me to enjoy my time there, get a little stronger and a little bigger and grow up a little. You know, it turned out to be great advice and it worked out well for me.

Adam Everett and Tom Lasorda

That’s a great perspective and one you don’t see a lot. You were drafted by the Red Sox then traded to Houston for Carl Everett. You were up with the Astros as a September callup not long after. What was that like to be a young guy on a veteran team led by Hall of Famers like Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell?

It was definitely surreal. I got called up and it was like everyone on the field had been an All-Star at one point. There were a couple of MVPs too. So anytime that happens, it can be a little intimidating. At the same time, I was getting plugged in in the middle of a playoff run and it was a lot of fun.

You were known as a great defensive player and in 2006, you had one of the great defensive seasons ever. We see so many players struggle with hitting as they get used to the Majors. Does defense translate any easier from the minors to the Majors?

I just figured that I knew my strengths and would really work on my weaknesses. At the same time though, you have to keep working at everything if you want to stay and you have got to excel.

I always thought there’s five tools and you have to really excel at two of them in the Majors if you want to stick. I was very fortunate to be able to run, throw and play defense on a high level, so I felt like I had three of the five.

I wish I could have hit more and had a little more power, but that’s water under the bridge. I think I would have been a better hitter if I had some of the technology out there today. The excuses are less and less these days because of the technology available. There are so many ways to better yourself.

That brings up a great question. As a former player, what do you think about the way the game is evolving with analytics playing such a large role?

Well, you look at the World Series and analytics got the better of the Rays. You look at it and they’re looking at the numbers instead of looking at what you’re physically seeing in the game at times. But then again, you could second guess things all day long.

Analytics has always been in the game and I think people are using numbers in a way they have never been used before, which is great. If you’re not evolving, you’re dying in this game. I commend these guys for doing everything they can to further their careers and to try to better their teams. I think as an older generation you get caught up in the idea of doing things the way we’ve always done it as opposed to trying to find a more efficient way of doing things.

Adam Everett

Makes a lot of sense… I always think of it as you have to find the right balance between tradition and analytics. That seems to be what most players I interview have to say.

You can always take things too far and that’s been happening too. Like driving a car, your car might be able to go 150 miles an hour, but it’s not meant to go that fast all the time. You have to find the right speed.

You have to change the brake pads, change the oil, fill it with gas. Sometimes they just want to use analytics and forget about all the other maintenance. All the stuff that really makes the car and the game go. I think if you combine both the right way, then you’ll have a pretty spectacular product.

That’s an awesome analogy and one that I can’t say I’ve ever heard before! In 2005 the Astros had an amazing run as a Wild Card team. The White Sox were the best team in the AL by four games that year and had won seven of their eight playoff games. What were you thinking going into the World Series?

We absolutely thought we could win for sure. If you look at those games, they were mostly all one-run games and extra innings. It was such a blur though because it went by so fast. One of these days I am going to go back and watch the videos and go down memory lane, but I am not quite there yet.

So, that World Series still hurts like that?

Absolutely. You always think you’ll have a chance to get back and we never had that opportunity.

Well five years earlier you had the chance to do something not many people can say they ever did and that’s win a gold medal at the Olympics. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get to be part of that roster?

You know, I really don’t know! It’s a good question. In 1997 when I was in college, I played on a USA summer team. What I believe they did was select a bunch of guys that were eligible based on the rules at the time. And you have to remember, you had to have guys who were going to pass an Olympic drug test and that was before they started testing for certain supplements in baseball. Olympic drug testing is really stringent; you can’t even have a Sudafed.

But they took a group of guys and just meshed us together. They flew us out to San Diego where we picked up our gear and it was off to Australia. I didn’t even realize it, but we were still going through the tryouts in Australia because they sent some guys home from there. It’s one of those times in my life I’ll never forget and to be the only U.S. baseball team to win a Gold medal is the highlight of my career.

2000 US god medal baseball team

I wanted to talk to you about Tommy Lasorda’s role in all of this as we are still reflecting on his passing. I have heard him say that was the highlight of his baseball career. He’s known as such a great motivator. What role did that play considering you were big underdogs?

I’ll tell you one of the things he did before we played. We were in North Coast and we were working out at some high school field. We were in some trailer as a team with all the media and whatnot. He ran all of them out of there, so it was just the players and staff.

He said, “Boys, nobody has even picked us to medal. We didn’t come here to lose. We didn’t come here for a bronze. We came here to win a gold medal.” He spoke to us for about 30 minutes and we could have run through a brick wall when he was done.

He’s always been known to get his teams to overachieve. Amazing that he could still pump you guys up like that at 73 years old.

Absolutely. And one thing people don’t realize is Tommy Lasordayeah, he likes to exaggerate things and put on a show, but he was such a tremendous manager. Every move he made in the Olympics worked. Whether it was a hit and run or pitching change – or if he decided to keep some guy in to pitch to a lefty, every single move worked. When he made out the starting lineup, it worked perfect.

The amazing thing was he was able to do that with the little amount of knowledge he had about us. It was phenomenal and crazy that every single button he pushed was right. It wasn’t always the same button and sometimes it wasn’t even on the same keyboard. He was pulling things out of his hat to win that gold medal. I think he did a hit and run three times in a row, and it worked each time.

He managed by his gut and it worked. It was so neat to be a part of.

You guys lost to Cuba 6-1 in pool play in a tough game. They hit your cleanup hitter and I saw a replay where one of them went out of their way to spike Pat Borders at home. It was one of those games where you just felt like a fight was going to happen. How did Tommy get you guys to refocus when you faced them in the Gold medal game?

They tried to intimidate us. They were an older team, and they knew that we were a threat to them. They played that bully type of role. They were really good, don’t get me wrong. Tommy didn’t have to say much because we knew what we were up against. The bottom line is we punched them in the mouth, and they were surprised. They were a different team when we didn’t roll over.

Adam Everett Astros

You were just 23 and hadn’t made the Majors yet. I read some quotes from Tommy in the paper where he spoke of you as having a great future in the Majors. Did your Olympic experience and your relationship with Tommy increase your confidence?

Without a doubt. Every time I saw Tommy after that, he lit up, as did I. That was the greatest thing about Tommy. He was always so positive and motivational. It wasn’t forced either; it wasn’t hot air. What you saw was what you were gonna get from him. There was no part of him that was fake and that was great.

You knew when he told you something, he meant it and he wasn’t going to sugarcoat it.

In the Gold medal game, you were in the middle of a rally in the 5th inning and you guys took a 4-0 lead. You had Ben Sheets pitching a gem and a four-run lead probably seemed pretty big to most fans. What is going through your mind those last few innings?

We were all so young that I don’t think we realized the magnitude of it at the time. It was a close game, and they brought their best guy in. His first warmup pitch was 97 and he was throwing 98 to 100. They started trying that intimidation thing they did in the previous game. That was right when we took it to them and basically beat them in the fifth inning. We scored those runs against their best guy and took the wind right out of their sails and they realized we were for real.

We put our foot on the throttle even more and just kept going. We never eased off. That was the best thing. And I’ll tell you what, Ben Sheets did a great job in that game.

I haven’t been able to ask this to many people, but what is it like to have that gold medal put around your neck at the Olympics?

It’s the best feeling in the world. There’s nothing like representing your country when you’re standing up there and they’re playing the National Anthem. That’s what it’s all about and that’s what makes this country great. It’s what makes these games so great. It was so satisfying to look over and you saw South Korea just elated to win the bronze and then you had Cuba hanging their heads with the silver.

We did it with a bunch of young guys who were nobodies at the time with a tremendous manager that everyone knew. It was about all of us together. Not just Tommy, and he realized that. But he brought us all together and taught us how to win that big game. He knew how to talk to us and how to handle those big moments, which isn’t easy to do and what made him so great.

This is all fantastic and now you have me all fired up too! But we’re wrapping this up, so one more question for you. Open topic, do you have any final thoughts you’d like to leave our readers with?

Baseball is such an awesome game. I have so many great memories and have had so many great experiences. I’m honored to be part of the Major League Baseball fraternity and also the Olympic fraternity. I am so honored and do not take it lightly. It’s such a special game.

I think we’ll get back to that feeling again one day. I think we got immersed in the game developing at a really fast pace and there’s so much money in the game, but I think we’ll get back to the beauty of the game. I really hope so, because it’s such a beautiful game.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book will be out in April 2021.

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