Q&A: Angels Pitcher C.J. Wilson on Steroids, Screenplays, and Star Wars

“He’s a guy who likes to communicate,” Nolan Ryan once said of C.J. Wilson. That’s reason no. 1 why Wilson, the Angels lefty, is my favorite working baseball player. Reason no. 2 is even more important. C.J. Wilson is a guy who likes to think.

Wilson and I met two years ago at spring training. I told him I’d like to talk to him about writing (Wilson had a well-known writing interest) and a day later we spent an hour and a half at a Starbucks, talking about novels and screenplays and magazine articles and how they came together. I felt inspired. I really did. It was like attending Robert McKee’s Story Seminar with Jim Bouton.

I got ahold of Wilson after he’d made his first exhibition start. We said our hellos. And then, with the utmost sincerity, he asked, “So, what do you want to talk about?”

Your arm was hurt in the second half of last season, but you didn’t complain about it, or even really discuss it.

We’re paid to go play baseball. If your arm is sore, nobody cares. They’re still trying to hit homers off you. Nobody feels bad for you. I get my surgery, I try to refine my mechanics so that my arm doesn’t hurt and I don’t injure it in poor mechanical positions — that’s really the best I can do.

It’s difficult watching guys on TV that, in the first half, I’m like, I’m out-pitching this particular guy. And then you see him pitch well the whole season and you pitch like crap … That’s where it sucks individually. From a team standpoint, it sucks because you feel like you want to go out there and win the game. Then you don’t and you’re like, I’m just not that good right now.

Did sportswriters try to get you to talk about the injury last season?

No, they weren’t smart enough to deduce that there was something going on.

It’s profoundly surprising sometimes how little the sportswriters are actually able to get inside your head. As much as they try to play sports psychologist, they truly have no idea what it’s like to step on the field. And what it takes to prepare to step on the field. It’s just funny sometimes.

They’re the ones that are shaping public perception. Which is why some players are so standoffish with the media. Because they’re constantly being misrepresented. That’s why guys take to the airwaves to go on Twitter and speak their minds. Because if you’re a fan, you’re much better off reading the guy’s Twitter account than you are reading the sportswriter, even the local guy that supposedly knows the team really well.

You say we’re bad at getting inside your head. I think we’re probably bad at noticing a slight change in your arm motion. Or noticing you grimace in a way that any coach could spot from the bench.

Yeah. It’s funny. One of the raps that I got in Texas was, “You’re really trying to aim too much.” I’m like, that could not be further from the truth. I’m literally trying to throw the ball as hard as I can right down the middle. And the ball has a lot of movement on it and it would just, like, sail. I know this is a hard concept. But sometimes guys have so much movement that even when they’re wild they can still be good.

There are 18,000 people trying to figure out what a guy’s projections are going to be and all that stuff. We have WAR. We have UZR. We have these statistical analysis tools. But sometimes it does actually take baseball knowledge to figure these things out.

It’s easy to say, “Mariano Rivera’s really good,” because I know the results. He wins every time. He’s awesome. But every year, Rivera would blow a save in April and people would say, “He’s done! He’s completely done!” It’s like, really? Really? [Laughs.] The best closer of all time is done because he blew a save? The only people who think that are the fans who are overreacting to their fantasy league drafts.

Or the sportswriter who has a column due in three hours. “Mariano’s done!” fills the slot.

Yeah.

And for the next column — after he gets a save — it’s “Mariano’s back!”

It’s riveting.

I’m Josh Hamilton. What’s the biggest difference between playing in Anaheim and playing in Texas?

Baseball is baseball, you know? The only difference is he’s trading one hostile environment for the other.

Did you agree with Hamilton’s assessment that Arlington isn’t a “true baseball town”?

There are so many different ways to slice that. I’ve been editorialized [against] plenty, so I can relate to the reaction that he got.

If you really look behind the quotes, what he said was: Texas is a football state. Everybody loves football in Texas. That’s never going to change. The Cowboys are always the biggest show in town. Always.

Now, [the Rangers] draw a lot of fans — at least, they have the last couple of years, but that’s because the team has been so good. When I was a rookie, when I first came up, we were not drawing 3 million fans a year. It wasn’t like the Cubs.

More people get turned on to baseball because the team’s winning. The quote might be a little bit weird, but if you step back and take a look it, it’s like, well, yeah, every city whose teams wins, more people go to the games.

Let me take you to another controversy. Did you hear more about the 2012 presidential election in locker rooms than you did four years ago?

Oh my god. I thought I had to be politically correct on the last answer, let alone this one.

I’m just curious to hear what you think.

There’s always something in the election that hits home for us, in one way or another. Someone’s got a family member experiencing one thing, so then they take up … not quite a crusade, but they feel for that cause. But by and large, baseball players are focused on winning baseball games. And if we weren’t focused on winning baseball games, then I don’t really know what we’d be focused on. I don’t know why we’d be getting paid so much.

We talk about other teams, other players. We don’t necessarily say, “Oh, man, did you see that press conference last night?” It’s not like we have a big group e-mail session: “Hey, guys, let’s vote for this because I saw the primary last night.” That’s not how it goes. I don’t know if that’s how it goes in regular jobs. But that’s definitely not how it goes in baseball locker rooms.

Do you feel comfortable saying who you voted for?

Yeah, I feel comfortable saying I didn’t vote. Because I didn’t think I was represented by either candidate.

What issue did you feel wasn’t getting represented?

I’m an economist. My main concern is the economy and global macroeconomics. Economic policy, debt, exchange rates — these things and how they play out are my chief concern. I feel the geopolitical exploitation of weak countries and weak economies by strong economies … that’s the stuff that interests me. Because if you really think about it, that’s what shapes the world economy. And what shapes the world economy and world politics sort of trickles down, in its own way, to your normal life.

I’m not a political science major. I went to film school. But I just pay attention to that stuff.

There have been a lot of stories recently about how some players, and not just the league, want stiffer penalties for steroid users. What do you think about that?

We’ve had discussions, and it’s something we’re going to continue to talk about. Because it’s just like anything else: There’s some guy that’s going to try to ruin it for everybody because the incentive to cheat and get away with it is still relatively high. When you have a guy get caught and get a raise … [It] blows my mind that teams would give a guy a raise after he got caught.

But I sort of take a step back and take it from my own spiritual perspective, which is, What is human nature? How much are we really trying to police human nature? Some people are just stupid. You know? Some people just make stupid decisions and big mistakes. And they will continue to do that, because they’re acting super, super selfishly. They feel no bad consequences are going to happen to them. So they go out there and do something and get caught and it’s like, “Oh, sorry.” It cracks me up that people forgive these guys for cheating.

The guys that hit a home run off you because they’re on steroids, or the guys that strike a bunch of people out because they’re on steroids, those are the dudes that are costing you money in arbitration or in free agency. I mean, in a roundabout way.

You guys lost two games to Bartolo Colon last year. That must have pissed you off.

Yeah. Totally. Anybody who didn’t see that coming …

Our season did really come down to a couple games. At the same time, we also blew a bunch of leads in the bullpen, and our offense was stinky for a while, and I pitched like crap for a while. So we could have made up for that on our own.

But obviously that doesn’t make you any happier. It’s like, wait, what if he just forfeited those wins?

So Colon and Melky Cabrera shouldn’t get new contracts?

If I’m a GM, I’m not signing a guy who takes or took [steroids]. We’ve been having testing since, what, 2005? So theoretically it should be out of everybody’s system.

You see a lot of different angles on it in the media. But the bottom line is, let’s go play baseball. If you only hit .290 and you’re only a .290 hitter because you don’t want to work in the cages to hit .300, deal with it. If you don’t want to lose weight because you’re fat and you eat cake every day, that’s your own damn fault. Accept the fact that you’re fat or stop eating cake. It’s very simple. Live the rules everybody else lives by.

Let’s say there’s a ballplayer everyone knows is using steroids. Do you just wait till he gets caught? Or is there anything you can do affirmatively?

I mean, snitches get stitches, you know? You can’t really rat him out.

You can go out there and hit him. You can take him out. If he plays in the infield, you can crush him on a slide. If you’re a pitcher, you can walk him or drill him or whatever. Obviously, there are ways the game can sort of police itself.

But if you throw at a guy, you get ejected and suspended. There are diminishing returns with any kind of retaliation.

What are you writing these days?

Um, a lot of PR releases. Quotes about my race team. [Laughs.] I haven’t had a chance to do much writing lately. I’ve been doing more much photography-related stuff and editing.

Writing is something that I like to do when I can sleep in a little bit. Because having to wake up before 6 a.m. gets a little bit tiring in the afternoons, and the last thing you want to do is just sit there and think about stuff. It’s a lot easier just to take a nap and then figure out what you’re going to do for dinner.

Do you need the quiet of the offseason to write?

It’s not so much that. Inspiration comes from all over. I’m still working on my TV show idea, like, in my head. I come up with notes and stuff. But the reality sets in that even if you sold the pilot for a TV show, how do you let go of the writing process, you know? That would be very difficult for me to do.

If, theoretically, best-case scenario, I write this great pilot, it gets picked up, then from there it’s another host of alternatives of what’s possible. I could ghostwrite or I could consult or produce or whatever. Or somebody could come in and write it and do a terrible job. And then the show sucks and it’s canceled right away.

I think writing a movie is easiest because you just sort of let it go. But a TV show is an ongoing process.

It comes down to the fact that for six months out of the year, you’re a baseball player. You don’t have time to manage a TV show.

Yeah, exactly. Even living in L.A., it’s not like the studio is going to come to me. I’m just a regular joe off the street.

I deal with reality. And reality is, baseball is a fantastic job. And all this other stuff is post-baseball stuff.

Is the show you’re imagining like Entourage? I think you told me that before.

Yeah, kind of. Generationally, it’s in the same ballpark. It’s not Everybody Loves Raymond.

You told me that, as a kid, you were inspired to write when you read the Lord of the Rings books. What did you think of the Hobbit movie?

I mean, I thought it was all right. I thought it was weird-looking, in the sense that it was filmed in 48 frames per second and the makeup looked a little bit over-colorized. But I liked the story. I love the characters. I love Middle-earth. I think it’s a great yarn, it’s a great universe. I enjoyed my time. I’m looking forward to the sequel. I just hope they get it all wound up, because Ian McKellen, the guy who plays Gandalf, he’s getting pretty old. So hopefully they get all the stuff wrapped up pretty soon.

I love Lord of the Rings and any of the epic adventure movies like Indiana Jones. I never understand why they didn’t make Indiana Jones into a James Bond thing, where there are just constantly new adventures. They should do that. George Lucas, you’re welcome. That’s a great idea. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a James Bond, constant roll-through phase on Indiana Jones.

What kind of Star Wars movie do you think J.J. Abrams is going to make?

You know, I don’t know. I have no clue. J.J. has done some really great things with some of these franchises, and he’s done average to above-average stuff. As the audience evolves, I think they’re looking for new characters and they’re looking new connections. I’ve spoken with [Lost executive producer] Carlton Cuse, who’s kind of my mentor. He’s always telling me the characters are what drag you in. The story only takes you so far.

I just hope that the characters are good … I think this last generation of movies, the recent ones, the acting was pretty subpar. Ewan McGregor was good. Natalie Portman was good. But a lot of the other characters were kind of bootleg. Because of that, I felt the stories lacked punch.

This interview has been condensed and edited, and a few of the questions have been reordered.

Filed Under: Baseball, Bryan Curtis, MLB

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Bryan Curtis is a staff writer for Grantland.

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