If you’ve ever watched a Dodger game in person or on television you’ve seen him. And though you may not know his name, he is every bit as important to the success of the Dodgers as anyone on the 25-man roster.
His name is Mitch Poole and there isn’t a player on the team who will argue that he is not the Dodger clubhouse leader – not as a player but as the Dodger Clubhouse Manager, and as you might imagine he is quite a character; you have to be when your very job is to orchestrate a clubhouse full of some of the biggest names in all of baseball.
I recently had an opportunity to interview the 49-year-old West Covina resident about his illustrious and even historic 29-year career with the Dodgers.
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RC: Mitch, you’ve been with the Dodger organization for 29 years now, how did it all begin?
Poole: I was playing baseball at Pasadena City College in 1985 and halfway through our season one of my teammates, Jon Scott who worked for the Dodgers as a clubhouse attendant, asked me ‘Mitch, how come you never ask me about getting you a job with the Dodgers?’ I told him that I knew what he did and knew that everybody was always asking that and I didn’t think it was right, so I never did.
Jon said that the Dodgers were coming home from a road trip tomorrow, from Houston I believe it was, and he asked me if I’d like to help him unload the equipment truck at Dodger Stadium. I told him ‘sure’ and I did. They asked me to come back the next day and suit up and I was the ball boy down the left field line. I played catch with Pedro Guerrero. That was my first day there.
RC: As the clubhouse manager, what are your daily activities?
Poole: In the morning when I get here, I’m pretty much helping my crew sort things out for that day. We’ve got some towels and things that need to be folded still, we’ve got mail that comes in that we’ve got to pick up and deliver, I’m doing some errands… getting toiletries and stuff together for the bathroom. I used to have to get all their food together but now I have it all brought in by truck. I actually have a chef now who does all the cooking so all that’s taken care of. Any odds and ends we need to get, like today I was picking up razor blades and stuff for them to shave with.
RC: When you say in the morning, what time do you get here?
Poole: I’ve actually got a guy who gets here at 8:30 in the morning so it makes it easier for us. I’m usually in around ten.
It gets to the point where you get pretty much close to done and all of a sudden your first guys start showing up… your bullpen catchers, your coaches start showing up, and then players show up. They go in and get some treatment done, some of them come in early for that. You’ve got lunch being prepared. Pretty much it’s clean up all day, you’re always picking something up all day long.
And then I go into my office and I do a lot of ordering because on the east coast it already one o’clock in the afternoon. I’m doing ordering from my house too. Actually my day starts at home.
RC: When you’re talking about ordering, is that ordering stuff for road trips to the east coast?
Poole: No, we’re talking about uniforms, shoes, spikes, gloves… you name it, whatever these guys need – we’re calling all those companies. It’s an all-day thing.
We also run errands for the players too. I have to actually keep my own insurance just to keep anything liability-wise from happening to any of my guys while they’re out there working.
RC: I bet that’s something that nobody ever thinks about.
Poole: Ya. I mean I’ve got guys out getting cars washed for players, getting laundry at the dry cleaners picked up. Today is one of those days because we’re going on the road tomorrow.
We’ve got guys coming up and down… a guy gets sent out and we’ve got to make sure he gets his stuff out and on his way and the next guy that comes in that day. A lot of that stuff can happen on a day that you’re leaving, too. You’ve got to make sure that they’ve got a name and a number on their back. Weekly that kind of thing goes on.
They wear out their pants and you’ve got to get them repaired, one of my guys actually sews pants, but when it gets to the point where a guy doesn’t want to wear them anymore and you retire those and order another pair. All of these guys have a pair of pants and a jersey that’s been tailored to their needs.
RC: Is that something that you guys do here?
Poole: We can do some things here but not everything.
RC: Do you always travel with the team?
Poole: I travel most of the time but my assistant Alex Torres will also travel. In fact, I’m not going on this trip to Philadelphia, he’s going. We always have a big competition on who finishes better coming off road trips. Right now I’m running on a 17-1 streak.
RC: What about family? This has got to be tough.
Poole: It’s tough on them. There are a lot of interruptions. My daughter just graduated high school this year. I’ve been able to be there for them during the off season. We do a lot of traveling and I get to go to some exotic places. My daughter was home schooled so my wife and daughter and I can go on some road trips so she could see some of the places she learned about. They went to Toronto with me and got to see Niagara Falls and checked that out, they had never been there. They’ve seen pretty much everywhere I’ve gone, so if they’re at home watching a game they can imagine the area that I’m in.
RC: What is your greatest memory?
Poole: My greatest memory has to be Kirk Gibson’s home run. I have a bat at home that’s signed by him that says ‘Mitch, Remember the home run, you were part of it.’
I’ll always be forever linked to Kirk Gibson. A lot of people get mad at that fact because he is on the other side of the field against us and he’s one of our foes, but I have no choice, I’ve been linked to him forever.
RC: That’s one of the greatest moments in L.A. Dodger history.
Poole: But the two teams hate each other, especially now.
RC: It was well documented in Josh Suchon’s recent book ‘Miracle Men’ about you being the messenger between Kirk Gibson and Tommy Lasorda before what is arguably the greatest home run of all time. How did all of that go down?
Poole: It went down only because I was yelling at Tommy from one end of the dugout and he was at the other. Gibson had asked me to go… or told me to go tell him that he could hit. So when I got Tommy’s attention finally, you know, we were behind (4-3), so he came towards me and says ‘What is it? What do you want?’ I said ‘Well Gibby just told me he could hit, he wants to talk to you.’ So (Tommy) ran up the ramp and talked to him. Gibson talked about how Mike Davis had walked and that he can hit.
RC: What was you actual job at the time?
Poole: I was an assistant… a bat boy slash assistant at the time. It was 1988, I did bat boy for four years.
RC: Were you in the clubhouse at the time?
Poole: I was. I was in the training room at the time.
RC: Did you just happen to be there?
Poole: I was just picking up some towels there. I guess God had me go through there and pick up some towels.
RC: That’s an incredible story – a bat boy trying to get the attention of the manager during the World Series when he certainly can’t be bothered.
Poole: Ya, I mean, he’s a legend. I got his attention and he came over and talked to (Gibson) then he went back, and Kirk and I kept doing our thing. I was tossing baseballs to him and doing tee work with him. He was talking about the backdoor slider and where he wanted me to toss the ball and set the tee. We were halfway done with it and he stopped and said ‘You know Mitch, this could be the script,’ and I just looked at him and said ‘Wow.’
RC: What was you’re personal opinion at the time? You saw him walking around and actually pitched to him and set up the tee for him. Did you honestly believe he could do it?
Pool: At that point I did. He was always a guy that really visualized everything and I know that’s what he did, he visualized himself hitting it out, I know he did. And I visualized it when I went down to the dugout and then watched it happen exactly as I had visualized it – right down to the path that the ball took.
I can’t imagine I’ll ever having a greater memory than that.
RC: What about your bobble head collection here, when did that start?
Poole: It’s only been in that case for the last five months or so, the Dodgers had it built for me, but I’ve been collecting for 23 years. It’s changed over the years through trading with other clubhouse managers. The Mets came in and their guy gave me some of theirs and I handed off some of ours to them and that’s how we do it. A lot of them just know that I collect them and they just give them to me. If there’s anybody out there that wants to give, go right ahead, that’s fine with me.
RC: Twenty-nine years at anything is a long time, what are your future plans?
Poole: I would like to stay here as long as I can. I’ve got a very capable staff behind me that can totally handle the situation, but I’d like to be here for a while… I’d like to win a few more of these.
RC: You and I are connected forever through the movie ‘Bluetopia – The L.A. Dodger Movie.’ Have you done any other movies or anything else like that?
Poole: No, that was pretty unique. When Manny was in the locker room that was unbelievable. He’s a joker. I enjoyed my whole time with him. That year was really special. Even though we didn’t win it, it was an incredible year.
Manny’s reaction to the number that we gave him was a big joke. I was going to give him 28. It ended up he wanted 11 then he wanted 34, which we’ll never use that number, it went to 66 and then finally to 99.
RC: In the movie you had to sell him on 99, did you really have to do that?
Poole: No, he was just screwing around. He knew what number he was getting. His agent wanted 99 because it was a good marketing scheme.
And now Ryu is wearing 99 because that’s what he wore in Korea and that’s fine with me.
RC: Isn’t that the same reason why Puig is wearing 66? Didn’t he wear 66 in Cuba?
Poole: Puig is wearing 66 because we felt like he is a little devil so we used 66 – without the last 6.
RC: He wore 66 in spring training…
Poole: …that’s when we gave it to him, but Major League Baseball asked me ‘Is he going to be using that number?’ I told them ‘As far as I’m concerned, yes. He enjoyed using it in spring training when he hit five-something (.517).’ That’s why he feels that it’s a lucky number for him.
When we left spring training he goes ‘Papi, when I come up I want to wear 66.’
And the rest, as they say, is history