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Interview: MSNBC’s Willie Geist on New York Baseball, His Jeter Love, His Desire to Drill Pedroia, and More

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We’re pleased to see that our Morning Joe favorite Willie Geist has finally been given his own TV show. Way Too Early With Willie Geist now leads off MSNBC’s morning schedule, airing (if one “airs” on cable) at 5:30 a.m. (That’s 2:30 a.m. Pacific time, where the show is no doubt known as Way Too Late With Willie Geist.) Among other highlights, Brian Williams, Maureen Dowd, and Donald Trump have all phoned in from their beds to chat with Willie. Rod Blagojevich is scheduled to call on Monday, perhaps from a bed in a country with which we share no extradition treaty.

On the occasion of his new show, we sent Willie some questions about our local baseball teams. His replies demonstrate yet again Willie’s well-deserved reputation as the Ring Lardner of morning cable news programming.

You’re a Yankees fan. If you ever got a pitching start for the Yanks and could bean one opposing player, who would it be?

Does throwing at A-Rod during batting practice count? If not, I’d go with Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox. I’ve never been big on the baseball tradition of throwing a hard ball 90-miles-an-hour at another person from a short distance, but I’d have no problem putting an offspeed pitch in Pedroia’s back.

He symbolizes the Red Sox’ completely phony “scrappy underdog” narrative. Last year’s Tampa Bay Rays were underdogs. A team with the second-highest payroll in the American League is not. The only odds the Red Sox franchise has ever defied is those that say that a team composed of professional ballplayers would almost have to win at least a single World Series title in a span of 86 years.

But back to Pedroia. You made it to the majors, dude. You’re the American League MVP. You just signed a $40 million contract. You can stop sprinting on and off the field like you’re trying to impress your high school coach. We get it: You hustle. Real major league stars loaf around the field with a sense of entitlement. Let this 77-mile-an-hour change-up in your back be a reminder to you.

Have you ever had to take off your shirt and challenge the Morning Joe crew to a fight, like Mets VP Tony Bernazard did with those Mets minor leaguers?

No, I’m not so sure the removal of my shirt would inspire people to do better. We do have a Morning Joe Fight Club that meets the second Tuesday of every month in the bowels of Rockefeller Center, but naturally, I can’t get into that. Pat Buchanan literally would kill me with a bicycle chain if I disclosed any of our secrets.

Would you rather be Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez?

Jeter, and it’s not close. I don’t know anyone who would tell you otherwise. He’s had the greatest city in the world in the palm of his hand for more than a decade, and he does it without appearing to try. You could make the case that he has the best life in all of New York City. Whose is better? Women love Jeter. Men love him more.

Confession: I thought very seriously last year about buying a Ford Edge exclusively because Jeter is in the commercials. It’s one of those crossover SUV things. I already had a very fine car and no real practical use for the Ford Edge. It was to be nothing more than a mobile shrine to Jeter. My wife talked me down as I regurgitated to her Jeter’s TV sales pitch about dual-side climate control and automatic sunroof. Apparently all cars have those things. Even the ones not endorsed by Jeter.

I guess my only complaint about being Jeter would be the accountability. If you get arrested for doing something illegal while partying with the Victoria’s Secret Angels, you let people down. Kids are disappointed. Gatorade lets you go. Your jersey doesn’t sell anymore. If you’re a rock star and you do that, it’s just another layer to the legend.

I will say A-Rod is a great player who gets more crap than he deserves. It’s just hard to envy a guy who kisses himself in a mirror while posing for a Details magazine photo shoot. A-Rod, ask yourself at a moment like that, “WWJD?”: What Would Jeter Do?

Who is your all-time-favorite obscure Yankee or Met?

He’s not really obscure because he was a good hitter, but Rusty Staub always fascinated me. I remember thinking as a kid, This guy is a professional athlete?! Maybe there’s hope for me after all. He was totally out of shape and pasty-white with bright red curly hair. He was exclusively a pinch hitter because he was so off-the-charts unathletic that there was nowhere in the field they could put him without putting the game in jeopardy. I always got the feeling Rusty was sitting at the Flushing OTB down the street when they called him to pinch-hit.

Dave Kingman was cool too because he either hit a home run that broke someone’s windshield in the parking lot at Shea or he struck out on three pitches and looked like he had no business playing professional baseball. I’d be shocked if he isn’t running a batting cage/Go-Kart track somewhere right now.

I grew up during the Yankees lean years of the mid and late 1980s when almost everyone on their team was obscure (except for Dave Winfield, to whom I used to mail postcards from our family vacations – true story). Steve Balboni was among my favorites. He was chubby, balding, and had a porn ‘stache. The pinstripes were not flattering on Steve. He seriously looked like he should have been the cleanup hitter on the beer-league softball team for a pizza joint in Staten Island. Luis Sojo will always have a special place in my heart too. He sucked, but he would always come up with some ugly-ass, pinch-hit slap double down the right field line to drive in a run in a huge playoff game. Yankee fans hold a special place in their hearts for Sojo.

What’s your view on the proper height exposure for a major league player’s socks?

I’m OK with the long pants. Melky Cabrera wears a nice full break on his. C.C. Sabathia’s baggy pants bug me a little bit, but he’s just trying to work with that frame, I guess.

I also don’t mind the full colored sock pulled up all the way with the pants just covering the knee. Kind of the Roy Hobbs in The Natural look. Brett Gardner pulls that off pretty well. Jesus, I sound like Tim Gunn.

The real uniform outrage is these third jerseys all the teams wear. They look like slow-pitch softball teams. Why exactly are the Mets wearing black jerseys and black hats? Perhaps they’re in mourning. I know everyone wants to sell more gear, but somehow the Yankees seem to make a couple of bucks every year with just two classic uniforms. It always disappoints me to see the Red Sox wearing those red jerseys. As much as I disapprove of everything that franchise stands for, they’re better than that. Do you think Ted Williams would have put on a red jersey? Of course not. He would have stood there and berated a little kid asking for his autograph in a nice clean white uniform.

Is it true that Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinksi is not allowed to sit near the visiting team dugout at Yankee Stadium, because of the barrage of abuse she hurls down on opposing players?

Oh, you heard about that? Yeah, Mika started jawing one night from her front-row seat with Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu about his misuse of the bullpen. She’d had a couple tumblers of Grey Goose in the Legends Lounge by the time Wakamatsu failed to bring in a left-hander to face the left-handed hitting Robinson Cano in a tight spot. Mika had seen enough. If there’s one thing that sets off the usually poised Mika Brzezinksi, it’s the mismanagement of a pitching staff.

Long story short, she eventually threw a fully dressed ballpark frank at Ichiro as he stood in the on-deck circle and then tried to make out with Mariners’ slugger Russell Branyan before security mercifully intervened. So, yeah, we’re going to lay low for a while before we take Mika back to The Stadium. Luckily she has no recollection of the evening. She thinks she was at the opera.

Your new show Way Too Early With Willie Geist starts at 5:30 a.m. That’s about the time Darryl Strawberry would get home after Mets games. Is the time slot an homage to him?

It wasn’t until you mentioned it. Now it is. I love Darryl. I met him a few weeks ago at a charity event. Great guy who’s overcome a lot. Having said that, the man knew how to party. Can you imagine being on that 1986 Mets team? They were the most dominant team in baseball and the toast of New York City at the height of the ’80s excess. That Mets team single-handedly put Pablo Escobar’s children through college. Some people have suggested that Keith Hernandez used to snort part of the first base line in between innings to keep his edge. That’s probably not true. I do know that Dwight Gooden, known to Mets fans as “Dr. K”, will forever be known in some circles as “Dr. Yay”.