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Episode 03: Eric Karros

LIFE ON TOUR  

It’s an early March day in Phoenix and the sun is already beating down onto the dirt infield of Camelback Ranch Stadium, the spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. This morning, a few dozen members of the Dodgers organization have taken the field, going through drills before that afternoon’s game. A crack of the fungo bat echoes through the empty stadium and shoots a hard grounder to the shortstop, who cleanly fields it and fires it into the glove of the first baseman across the diamond…except it’s not 2017 National League Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger on the receiving end.

Instead, it’s the 1992 National League Rookie of the Year Eric Karros picking the ball out of midair into his first baseman glove. Despite wisps of grey hair poking out from the sides of his Dodger hat, the 50-year-old Karros, in full practice uniform, looks like he could still take the field with the rest of the active roster, many who were born after he broke into the big leagues in 1991.

“I love the Dodgers,” says Karros, who nowadays is a fixture on Fox as a baseball color commentator. “My two sons and I went to every World Series game last year to watch the team. The Dodgers are who I am. It’s who I still represent.”

It wasn’t always this way with the New Jersey-born Karros. “My dad was born in Brooklyn and was a huge Dodgers fan. My parent’s honeymoon was a trip to see Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitch, for crying out loud!,” Karros says with a smile. But despite the Dodgers being a presence in his home growing up, Karros was a huge Cincinnati Reds fan. “Man, I loved watching those Reds teams. There was no one I wanted to emulate as a ballplayer more than Pete Rose…sprinting down to first base, helmet flying off. That was my guy, that was my team,” recalls Karros.

It’s no surprise the player known as “Charlie Hustle” was Karros’ idol growing up. Karros, perhaps without the same panache as Rose, was all about hustle and grit. “I may not have been the most talented player but there was no way I was going to be outworked,” Karros says, “No one.”

At an early age, Karros and his family moved from the east coast to sunny San Diego. Karros played on the baseball team at Patrick Henry High School where he called himself “maybe the fourth or fifth best player on the team.”

“I really had no aspirations of playing professional ball,” Karros says with brutal honesty. After high school, Karros applied and was admitted on academics at UCLA. Once on campus, Karros met with then-baseball head coach Gary Adams who gave Karros the opportunity to try-out and walk onto the baseball team. Karros earned a spot on the team and made the most out of the opportunity, resulting in All-American honors his junior year.

eric-karros Eric Karros says legendary Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda played a huge part of his life and was a second dad to him. “Tommy shaped me as a ballplayer and as a man. He used to tell me to believe in myself and there’s no reason not to dream.”

With the 1988 Major League Baseball draft around the corner, Karros was hearing rumors that the Pittsburgh Pirates were considering drafting the first baseman in the first round. The first round came and went without Karros’ name being called. So did the second and third round. It wasn’t until the sixth round that the Los Angeles Dodgers selected the hometown college slugger.

“I was pissed when the Dodgers drafted me. I thought I should have gone higher and I was upset that the team I didn’t like drafted me.” Karros even considered not signing and going back to UCLA to play out his senior year. “The irony is, it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I’m forever grateful to the Dodgers.”

Karros ended up putting together a very successful Major League career from 1991 to 2004. Aside from his Rookie of the Year Award, Karros earned the Silver Slugger Award for National League first basemen in 1995. To this day, sixteen years after his last game as a Dodger, Karros still holds the Los Angeles Dodger record for career homeruns with 270 (Duke Snider holds the franchise record with 389 homeruns.)

Despite all the homeruns and awards, Karros was never voted onto an All-Star team and never made it to the World Series, but he’s not shy in expressing his feelings on those shortcomings. “Not making an All-Star team? Yeah, it bothers me,” Karros says. “I would have loved to experience that opportunity. Same with a World Series. I feel like I missed out on that.” Karros was painfully close to making to the Midsummer Classic in 2003 when he was playing first base for the Chicago Cubs in the now infamous Steve Bartman interference game. “But I wouldn’t trade my career for anything. I had a blast and it game me so many opportunities,” Karros is quick to add.

In addition to his Fox commentator duties, Karros finds time before each season to help out the Dodgers, anything from guest appearances at fantasy Dodger camps to participating during spring training as an instructor to being involved with corporate sponsorship opportunities. “I feel like I have a sense of responsibility to help out the organization that gave me all the opportunities to achieve what I did,” Karros mentions. “There’s something real special about being a Dodger. There’s a bond and it goes back to the Brooklyn days. Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax, Tommy Lasorda…they all have played roles in my baseball life. I could never imagine I would be a part of that fraternity and to this day, I still pinch myself.”

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