You may not have heard, but former Devil Rays star, Aubrey Huff has written a book titled Baseball Junkie and is in the process of publishing it. Huff agreed to an interview with DRB and allowed us to preview a book chapter; we sent him questions and he responded to them via email. Below we’ve shared this exchange, edited for length and clarity.
The book, which should be available at the end of the year, is about Aubrey’s path to the major leagues, his triumphs, and then his personal struggles as he suffered from depression and severe anxiety. His willingness to speak frankly about these adversities sets this apart from the usual player memoir.
He also shares anecdotes from his playing days with the Rays, Astros, Orioles, and the Giants. His recollections of a very business-like Jose Canseco (who just manages to rouse himself from the clubhouse in time for his at-bats as Rays DH), for example, will be amusing for long time Devil Rays fans.
Originally drafted by the Rays in the 5th round in 1998, Huff quickly advanced through the minors and made his major league debut in 2000. He’d eventually become one of the best offensive players in franchise history before his trade to Houston in 2006. That trade began a seven year trek across four major league cities. It also included two World Series titles.
Although it was reported last off-season that Huff was hoping to mount a comeback, at this point his focus is on becoming an agent. Having dealt with some personal setbacks himself he feels he is well-positioned to guide young athletes.
AS: Aubrey, first off let me just say that when I was growing up, the Rays didn't have much going to inspire happiness as a fan of the team, so thank you for being one of the lone bright spots on the team. I made it a point to never miss one of your at-bats and the off chance I did, I was livid with myself. Are those early years of your career detailed in the book?
AH: Thanks Adam. I truly appreciate the kind words..... Obviously there is ...detail about Pat [Burrell]; one in particular covers my years [at University of Miami] titled Pat’s Johnson. I detail what it felt like getting on a real team for the first time ...and I think Tampa fans will enjoy the chapter. It was a grind. But I will never forget Tampa or the fans.
AS: The Rays traded you in 2006 to the Houston Astros. Obviously being traded is a huge inconvenience as you as it changes your entire life, but the trade seemed to be a lot better for your career. Did you harbor any resentment towards the Rays for the trade?
AH: Getting traded is a mixed bag. It was definitely a move in the right direction for me. The Astros were in the thick of a playoff race when I arrived, and I held my own during my time there hitting .250 with 56 hits, 10 doubles, 13 home runs, and 38 RBIs. However, it wasn’t enough. We finished a game and a half behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central title. I filed for free agency immediately after the season. No resentment whatsoever towards the team or front office. But my time with the Rays was a lot more enjoyable than my very short stint in Houston.
AS: What was your favorite memory from your days with the Devil Rays?
AH: Getting ready for my first game. Meeting one of my favorite veterans of all time by far, Fred McGriff aka “The Crime Dog.” He called me over to his locker and said, “Hey kid, you okay? Looks like you’re gonna puke.” I told him I was just nervous. He chuckled, “Well, I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Huffy. If you suck, you’ll just go back to Triple-A.” He was right! I felt better right away!
AS: Tropicana Field gets slammed all the time whether it be by the fanbase, opposing teams, or the media. The Rays are in the process of building a new stadium in a possibly a new location, do you think this will solve their attendance woes?
AH: The problem you have is like the problem they have here in San Diego. Too much sunshine to compete with. People just head to the beach, or anywhere else, instead of the game. The only real way to cure attendance is to win. The stadium doesn’t really matter as much. Fans will come in droves once you start winning. I don’t know how to fix that, because I am a simple slugger. Guys that get paid way more than me figure that stuff out… right combination of guys… right culture to help them thrive. I talk a little about my thoughts about the organization there but I don’t bury it too much. It’s part of what pushed Pat out in my opinion. And you see what he was able to do once he came over to the Giants with a truly supportive, nurturing culture.
AS: Do you have any behind the scenes memories that you'd like to share from those days that might not be public knowledge?
AH: A bunch in the book.....!
AS: What inspired you to want to write this book?
AH: I felt a nagging feeling for a year, telling me “Aubrey, you’ve got to write a book. You have to share your story.” To be honest, a little voice inside my head kept telling me my story would not be interesting enough. That no one really cares about some washed up junkie ex-ball player. I feel that even today. I mean what if the book tanks and we sell 100 copies? But I felt I had to get it down on paper… to just vomit on the page… once I got started writing I found it pretty therapeutic.
Stephen Cassar got involved and helped me piece it together. But there was so much material to work through. The toughest part was to tell it in a way that made sense. Making something out of my ramblings. The end result is not bad.
My hope is to offer hope to people struggling from the same feelings of anxiety and depression. People say I gave them courage to speak about their own struggles. That also played a role in me wanting to write Baseball Junkie. I would be asked to speak at high schools, and church groups and what have you, and so many people would come up to me afterwards and say “Man, I could really relate to your story.” They identified with my struggles with Adderall, and the anxiety and depression that sunk in once I stopped taking the stuff.
AS: As an aspiring agent, do you have any thoughts on minor league wages, which has come under scrutiny this past year?
AH: I don’t know if I know enough about it. I know that when I played Minors, I was just happy for a chance to play. You haven’t made it once you get to the minors. And guess what… there are a hundred other guys happy to take your job if you don’t want it! You will see ...how I felt when I got that first per-diem allowance! I am not sure bumping up minor league wages helps anything. You have to have something to strive for in life. For me, it was never really about the money. If you do something just for the money and spend years getting defeated and beaten down, you will quit way before you make it to the bigs.
AS: How different is the culture of the Rays from the days that you used to play there?
AH: it’s hard for me to answer that one. Once you leave a team, you sort of lose that connection. You don’t really chat with your old teammates that much. You don’t feel that connected to them anymore. It’s like when you move up a grade in grade school. You have different classmates. You still see the other guys, but you don’t do battle with them every day. That sense of brotherhood is diluted. So, I honestly can’t comment on the culture at the Devil Rays now. It was definitely Old School back then.
AS: Your career had the perfect arc as you went from playing for the lowly Devil Rays to winning two world series rings with Giants, now that you are retired, are you happy with how your career played out?
AH: You spend your life chasing what you think will make you happy. Then you get it. And you feel let down and disappointed. Winning the first World Series was amazing. It was a true dream come true. You can read about my vision as a kid, hitting a homer in Arlington, and how it came true, with a twist. But honestly, life is about a lot more than winning. It took me a very long time, and a lot of pain and heartache to realize that.
AS: What was it like during those two world series when the Giants won?
AH: There was a huge difference between the first ring and the second. Winning the first World Series was amazing. The second was absolutely miserable. The book covers that in detail. Being part of a team that went all the way for the first time in so long is indescribable. I know how those Cubbies feel.
AS: Now just some general questions about the book: When and where will it be available, and also do you know what the price will be?
AH: Early Advance Copies available on kickstarter now, delivered before Christmas. General Release, February 2017 available through Amazon and bookstores everywhere.
Paperback is in the $15 range. Hardback will be in the $25 range
AS: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, good luck with the book and in all of your future endeavors
AH: THANKS ADAM! - A.H.
Huge Thank you to Aubrey Huff for taking the time to do this interview and and Stephen Cassan who helped set it up. I know whenever the book comes out it’ll have a place on my shelf. Here is a link to his kickstarter campaign for those interested.