In a series of interviews, Apt613 contributor and local sports fan Kiersten Vuorimaki speaks with the Ottawa Champions, Ottawa’s CanAm baseball team, as a way to introduce the team to Ottawa, and Ottawa to the team.
Hal Lanier has two major rules: “Be on time, and hustle.” A second generation major leaguer with an illustrious career both on the field and off, Lanier has spent the last 20 years managing independent baseball, and the past four with the Ottawa Champions.
As an infielder, Lanier spent ten seasons in the MLB: eight with the San Francisco Giants and two with the New York Yankees. He was an all-star rookie for the Giants in 1964, batting .274, and in his fifth season, Lanier led all National League shortstops in putouts (282) and fielding average (.979). Following his playing career, Lanier managed in the minors and served as third base coach for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1981–85, including the 1982 World Series and 1985 National League championship teams. He was manager of the Houston Astros from 1986–88 and bench coach of the Philadelphia Phillies from 1990-1991.
No stranger to independent Canadian baseball, Lanier managed the Winnipeg Goldeyes from 1996 to 2005, reaching the playoffs eight times in those ten seasons. Winnipeg is retiring his number 22 this season.
Lanier has been a respected powerhouse in independent baseball all over North America for the last two decades.
Independent baseball can be an interesting mix of talent. Some players went undrafted out of college and need a second shot at getting noticed. Others have had opportunities throughout affiliated ball and have found themselves on the outside battling for a way back in. Lanier has been a respected powerhouse in independent baseball all over North America for the last two decades. In addition to regular game day roster management, Hal is also the brains behind the team’s scouting and development. His Florida winters are spent hunting new talent to bring back to Ottawa, and making calls on behalf of the players he already knows and believes deserve a shot in the show. “My number one priority as a manager is to try to get them back into an organization, or to get an undrafted kid an invitation to spring training.”
This man lives and breathes baseball. He is a friendly encyclopedia of baseball minutiae and has probably already forgotten more about the game than any of us will ever even know.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: Who was your favourite player growing up?
Hal Lanier: It would have to be my dad (Max Lanier). He pitched 14 years at the major league level, and growing up I was always around the ballpark. He taught me the right way to play the game.
If baseball wasn’t your profession, what would you be doing?
In highschool, I had more scholarships in basketball than I did in baseball. I probably would have been too short to play in the pros back then, but my dad left it up to me. The baseball contract was there out of highschool, and I got my dad back into the game, he’d retired and we got to enjoy it together. When I was knee high I wanted to be a baseball player.
Who is the best player you’ve played with?
Willie Mays. When my dad was playing for the Giants, I was 10 years old, I became very close with Willie Mays. He used to take the kids out to centre field and play catch with us. He was my idol. After I signed with the (San Francisco) Giants out of highschool, I played 8 years with him.
Who is the best player you’ve played against?
Roberto Clemente. He played the game the way that superstars should play. He was a 5 tool player, and he was a very nice guy. There were some other great ballplayers: Willie McCovey, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, I was very blessed to play in the era I did.
Do you follow an MLB team or is this enough baseball for you on a daily basis?
I follow the Giants, I follow the Astros, I follow the Cardinals. Being in Florida, I watch Tampa, and the Marlins. I do watch the World Series. I really was happy that the Astros won, because they hadn’t won a World Series in a long time.
What is your pre-game meal?
Every morning I eat breakfast at Bigg’s Deli & Bar. If I’m going to have a big breakfast, with eggs and everything, I go there. After batting practice right before the game we all have a light dinner in the clubhouse with fruit, and veggies, and sandwiches, it’s a good spread.
If you were batting today, what would be your walk up song?
I like “My House” by Flo Rida. I also really like The Chainsmokers’ “Closer”, I know every word to it.
Which team in the CanAm league is hardest to beat this year, and why?
Because we’ve played them more times than anybody, it’s Sussex. They have a very, very strong club. They don’t strike out a lot, they have hitters who put the ball in play and they have speed like us, but probably a little bit more of an abundance of speed than we do.
What’s your drink in the clubhouse after a win?
What is your favourite sports movie?
Bull Durham. It is just so like minor league baseball. I can remember that bus that they had. I remember playing in Fresno California [San Francisco Giants minor league team] we had a bus just like that. No air conditioning, all the windows open and it was hot travelling in that league. That’s what minor league players go through.
What do you like to do in Ottawa on a day off?
I try to relax, but managing in independent baseball, even on a day off, you’re still working. I like to go out and have a very, very good meal on a day off. The best steaks in town are at Delicious Steak House – I eat there a lot. If I want a special meal, I’ll go to Robbie’s on St Laurent for veal marsala, and have a nice glass of merlot.
Is there anything you think you are missing out on in Ottawa? What would you like to do more of?
I would like to do more for the ball club in the community. I want to attend more events, and talk baseball with more people in the city. I’m a pretty good speaker, and I have a lot of good stories to tell.
Key take aways: Invite Hal Lanier to your next house party, just be sure to have some Michelob Ultra. He will entertain everyone for hours, educate you about all things baseball and be your newest best friend. If you are feeling swanky, invite him for a steak dinner.
The Ottawa Champions play home games at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park (300 Coventry Road) directly off the 417 with access to the Max Keeping pedestrian bridge. Tickets are $14 for adults, $11 for seniors and students, and $5 for youth. Parking is $5, making it the most affordable professional sports event in town. For more, follow @ottawachampions on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.