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October 1, 2010

Talkin' Baseball with Mather Zickel

This weekend marks the end of some great managerial careers as future Hall of Famers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre and Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston will be patroling their respective dugouts for the last time.

All told, the three accounted for more than 5700 wins, a combined .542 winning percentage, 34 playoff appearances and seven World Seried rings.

On August 22, another pretty successful manager, Chicago Cubs skipper Lou Piniella abruptly called it quits. A few summers ago, "Sweet Lou" was portrayed by Mather Zickel in the ESPN original series "The Bronx is Burning".

I recently had the privilege to talk with Zickel about the making of the series and after what was possibly one of the most awkward segues every committed to's what he had to say.

HOVG: How familiar were you with Lou Piniella before you were cast to play the former Yankee outfielder in ESPN's "The Bronx is Burning"?

ZICKEL: I remember Piniella from when I was a kid. I grew up in the New York area and basically the first baseball team I ever really knew was the Yankee team depicted in "The Bronx is Burning". They seemed like heroes. And obviously they were a very talented and tough team. I was very young at the time and I remember being confused about why sometimes Piniella was in left field and other times it was Roy White.

HOVG: I’ve gotta know…was that your real hair or a wig?

ZICKEL: That was my natural hair. Plus a little extra to give it that shaggy proto-mullet look.

HOVG: How did the casting process go? Were they looking for actors that could play baseball...or were they just looking for actors who resembled the players they portrayed?

ZICKEL: Casting was definitely looking for physical resemblance in the actors. We all read scenes from the script; many scenes which actually never made it into the final draft. They did want us to have some baseball competence as well. We all had to bat, run, catch and throw for our auditions. I spent an afternoon at the batting cage, getting ready. After we were cast, they sent us to baseball camp for about two weeks before shooting. We got to work with professional players, most of whom appear in the series. Unfortunately, when we finally shot the baseball stuff, they barely used us. They didn't really use the pro guys either. They wound up using a great deal of archival television footage. It was cool to look at that old footage, but it was disappointing to not be able to play for real.

HOVG: Who had the best skills on the field?

ZICKEL: Some of the actors were pretty good athletes. I think the best actor/player was probably Evan Bryce Hart, who portrayed Bucky Dent. Evan had played in college and it showed. It was too bad that they never showed him bat in the series because Evan really got Bucky's stance down; he would get in a low crouch and choke way up on the bat. It was very distinctive. I think Alex Cranmer did Graig Nettles proud, as well. He could stop a mean grounder at third.

HOVG: And who was the worst?

ZICKEL: I don't want to go into the worst. It's better to maintain the illusion of greatness.

HOVG: What is your background with sports? Were/are you an athlete?

I played some sports in high school, mainly football. These days, I mostly box for exercise. I never really had a true athlete's agility and timing, so I always tried to compensate with blunt physicality. I really enjoyed the baseball camp for the show because they taught me how to actually bat properly. I hadn't picked up a baseball bat since I was 13 years old and almost always struck out as a kid. Nobody had ever taught me the right way to do it. By the end of baseball camp, I could at least put a respectable blooper into shallow center field. Smacking a ball with the sweet part of the bat is a very fun and satisfying feeling.

Switching gears to you have a favorite baseball movie?

ZICKEL: I will always have a sweet spot for "Bull Durham" and the original "The Bad News Bears".

HOVG: I saw that you've recently joined the Adult Swim show "Delocated". What's next?

ZICKEL: "Delocated" is my latest news. It's a very funny silly show and I had a great time making it. Although, I also appeared recently on "Children's Hospital". Somehow, I am becoming a regular presence on Adult Swim. I'm not sure what that says about me. Or Lou Piniella.

Mather Zickel is keeping pretty busy thanks to "Delocated". You can check out some awesome behind-the-scenes pictures of Zickel and others over at Jon Glaser's blog DE(B)LO(G)CATED.

Lou Piniella has been discussed here at The Hall of Very Good at length both HERE and HERE.

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