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  • A Conversation with Cory Snyder...

    Click image for larger version  Name:	Snyder.jpg Views:	5 Size:	14.4 KB ID:	52510
    By Mark Liptak
    White Sox Historian

    White Sox fans may think the right field situation and the team’s inability to figure it out is a recent problem but history shows it isn’t.

    The hole in right field has been around off and on for years. For example, the Sox thought they had it solved when they made a trade with Cleveland for power hitter Cory Snyder before the start of the 1991 season.

    Alas it didn’t work out and shockingly Snyder was traded even before that season ended.

    Sometimes though the reason something didn’t work isn’t obvious and there was far more than met the eye in this one as I found out when I interviewed Cory in 2002.

    It showed the power of then White Sox hitting coach Walt Hriniak.

    ----------

    His stay in Chicago wasn’t a long one. It wasn’t by his choice, and to this day, Cory Snyder wonders "what if?" What if his opportunity with the White Sox had been longer? What if he had been able to play on the 1993 Western Division Champion and the team leading the division at the time of the strike in 1994?

    Snyder played nine years in the Major Leagues with Cleveland, the White Sox, Toronto, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He was a tremendous athlete with an arm that enabled him to tie for the lead in outfield assists in the American League from 1987 through 1990 with 61. He was an exceptional defensive outfielder only making one error in 310 chances in 1989. He had pop in his bat as well, stroking 115 home runs in his four and a half years with the Tribe. When the Sox got him in the off season after 1990, for pitchers Eric King and Shawn Hillegas, Sox fans thought the ‘black hole’ in right field was finally figured out.

    Unfortunately, Snyder’s stay on the South Side lasted only three and a half months when he was dealt to Toronto for outfielder Shawn Jeter. It’s a sad story of a good player being forced to do things that he wasn’t used to, by a coach who left no room for compromise.

    Despite Snyder’s short time in Chicago, he had a few good moments. In the "Crosstown Classic" game versus the Cubs on May 16, 1991 he ripped a two run home run off of Steve Wilson. He also launched a long blast at the Metrodome in late June to help beat the Twins. Cory hoped things were finally turning around...but he learned that baseball is truly a funny game.

    ML: I guess growing up in California with all that good weather is conducive to baseball. Did you start playing the sport early in your life?

    CS: "I did. I guess I started when I was about six or seven, it wasn’t organized, just play. I started in Little League when I was eight. My dad started me off with the sport. He was a pitcher in the Milwaukee Braves organization for three years until he hurt his arm. The Braves signed him out of high school and when he got hurt, my mom was pregnant with me so he felt he had to go out and find a real job. Baseball runs in our family."

    ML: Who did you root for as a kid?

    CS: "I grew up about 40 miles north of Dodger Stadium so I rooted for them. When I was a kid they had guys like Steve Garvey, Roy Cey, Reggie Smith and "Dusty" Baker. They had a real good team."

    ML: You obviously had talent for the game and signed to play college ball at Brigham Young. Is it true that in your first game, you hit three home runs in your first three at bats?

    CS: "That’s true. It happened against UNLV. It was a situation where it was one of those days, the ball looked big as a beach ball and it was the old saying, ‘See the ball, hit the ball." (Author’s Note: Snyder was first team All-America in his junior year batting .450 with 27 home runs and 85 RBI’s. Among his teammates with the Cougars were Wally Joyner, Rick Aguilera and former Sox pitcher Scott Nielsen.)

    ML: You also played on the first U.S. Olympic baseball team that took the silver medal in 1984. Some of your teammates were Mark McGwire and Will Clark. What was that experience like?

    CS: "That was great. I played nine years in the Major Leagues but that was probably the highlight of my career. Getting to know those guys, traveling around the country and then playing in the Olympics right near where I grew up in Los Angeles was terrific. We lost to Japan for the gold medal. I also had a memorable moment at old Comiskey Park. We played a series of exhibition games around the country before the Olympics, and when we at Comiskey Park, I hit a home run over the roof. Later that same night when the Sox were playing, Ron Kittle blasted a roof shot. I still kid him about that."

    ML: You got called up to the majors in June 1986 and in only half a season hit 24 home runs. Was it hard to make the adjustment to big league pitching?

    CS: "Like in college at first for me it was just ‘See the ball, hit the ball...’ but there is a learning curve in the pros. Pitching then was better overall and they remembered what they got you out on. I had to eventually adjust. Also, it’s a different atmosphere. I remember the first spring training I was at it, it was overwhelming, but the second spring training I realized that these are just other guys, that I had a job to do. I thought it was a good situation for me. It was fun."

    ML: After almost five years in Cleveland, you were traded to the Sox, a team on the rise. What was your reaction to the deal?

    CS:"I was sad at first. I enjoyed my time in Cleveland. I made a lot of friends and enjoyed the city. I wanted to stay, to give back something to the community. Cleveland though at that time was different. It seemed like whenever a guy hit his fifth season he was traded. It happened to Julio Franco, Joe Carter, Brett Butler. I guess that’s when I started to realize that baseball is a game but it’s also a business. My agent is the guy who called me to tell me what happened."

    ML: I know you and Sox fans were hoping that you’d take over right field but it just didn’t happen. You struggled mightily. Looking back do you have any idea why that took place? I mean you were an established big-league hitter by then.

    CS: "The problem was with the Sox hitting instructor, Walt Hriniak. Walt was a great guy, he worked very hard every day but he wanted to try to change everybody to hit a certain way...head down, off the front foot, drive the ball up the middle. I wasn’t used to that. It was an unnatural swing for me. I was a power guy who had some strikeouts but I drove in runs, I wasn’t a line drive hitter. The Sox organization expected me to work with him. He was a lot different from Charlie Lau. (Author’s Note: The Sox hitting coach before Hriniak) Basically it was Walt’s way or the highway.”

    “The other thing that really hurt was my relationship with Jeff Torborg. (Author’s Note: Then Sox manager) I had a good spring training and Jeff told me that I was the starting right fielder and at times, depending on the pitcher, I’d be moved to left field. I’d be playing every day though. So opening day comes, we’re in Baltimore and Sammy Sosa hits two home runs. I got a couple of hits as well. Almost overnight then, I’m told I can’t hit right handers and am only going to play part time. I needed to get my at bats; I needed to play through the slumps that happen during a long season. So now I’m coming off the bench and many fans don’t understand, but that’s the toughest job in baseball. You’ve got to come in cold and try to hit the other teams closer. The only guy I ever played with who could do that was Dave Hansen. (Author’s Note: 15-year Major League player) I didn’t want to complain, I always tried to play hard and do my job and I tried very hard. I’d take extra batting practice every day, play anywhere the Sox wanted me to but finally in Cleveland before a game I had it out with Walt. I told him I can’t hit like he wants me to. I was hitting .175 and it’s the middle of the year. I just can’t do it. A week later I was traded. I’ve never been with any club where the hitting instructor had that kind of power."

    ML: If you look back at the video from those days, it seemed the guys who did really well with that style were the smaller players, guys like Scott Fletcher, Ozzie Guillen and Craig Grebeck.

    CS: "Right. Even Robin Ventura didn’t really hit Hriniak’s way. It looked like he did, but he was making contact on his back foot, not his front foot. Sammy Sosa couldn’t do it either. The first year Tim Raines was with the Sox he had a lot of trouble with it. It was an embarrassing spot for me. The other guys on the team… Kittle, Carlton Fisk and Ron Karkovice they didn’t know what to say to me. I busted my tail every day but it just wasn’t working out. When they traded me, I was glad. I knew I wasn’t going anywhere in Chicago."

    ML: I know you consider yourself fortunate to play nine years but do you also feel unlucky? I mean you were with bad teams in Cleveland, and then you finally get a chance to go to a good team, a team that would win the division in 1993 but you weren’t a part of it.

    CS:"I felt like that. 1991 was just awful; it’s one of those years I try to forget. I was with San Francisco in 1992. They gave me a chance. I started to get my confidence back with Toronto but I didn’t play much because they were in a pennant race. I had another good spring with the Giants and went 3-4 for them on opening day in 92’ and played all over for them that season. I wanted to go back with them in 93’, but this was the time they were talking about moving to Tampa. That caused a lot of instability. The Dodgers made me a two year offer and I called the Giants to let them know that because they gave me a shot, I’d be loyal to them if they’d just match what Los Angeles offered. Because they didn’t know where they were going to play, they couldn’t. I signed with the Dodgers and played the outfield. I had a good season. In 94’ I was told I was going to play third base and that was fine. Then right before the season they signed Tim Wallach and I was back on the bench. The strike came; I had a few children by them and thought it was time to leave.”

    ML: Let me ask you about two great players who’ve also had their share of controversy in Chicago. First off, Sammy Sosa. He’s a tremendous power guy, but many fans feel he’s selfish, that what he does is contrived and that a lot of his home runs are meaningless because the Cubs can’t win. What was he like to play with?

    CS: "Sammy was a young guy when I was with the Sox. He was trying to establish himself; he was really talented. I liked him, he was a good kid and he always played hard. I respected that. He dived for balls in the outfield. He’s done a lot for the Cubs. I’d want him on my team. I think a lot of what some people say about him is because they are jealous of what he’s done."

    ML: How about the best player ever in Sox history, Frank Thomas? An incredible talent but a guy who fans and even some teammates have said is totally for himself and that he could care less about the team.

    CS: "I’ve heard he’s become like that. I don’t know why that’s happened to him. I know that when I played with him, he always busted his tail. He’s was funny, got along with the guys. His holdout last spring really bothered me because he wasn’t like that. Nobody likes to lose and maybe that’s the problem."

    ML: What do you do now?

    CS: "I have a baseball facility in the area. I run camps in the summer and also give private instructions to the kids in the area. I’ve got six children and one of my boys is now playing, so I coach a kid’s team as well. I really enjoy that, the teaching end of the game. I also got a call from former major leaguer Darrell Evans and I’m going to be participating in some weekend fantasy camps. We’re having one in Toledo in mid-August, and Darrell thought it would be nice having a former Indian on hand. We’re going to start having a number of them in minor league parks around the country. It’s also a possibility that I might get into coaching as a hitting instructor in the minor leagues. I’d enjoy giving back to the game and trying to help some of the kids on their way up to the big leagues."
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