KJR afternoon drive-time host Mike Gastineau covered almost every angle imaginable in the just-released The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists, which he co-authored with P-I sports vets Art Thiel and Steve Rudman. It’s an exhaustive compilation of more than 120 just-add-beer-and-debate countdowns presented in a way that sports diehards can digest. The biggest free agent busts? Check. Best seasons by rookies? Got it. Worst years in Seattle sports? Yes, unfortunately, it’s in there. Sue Bird’s favorite pick-up lines? (Wait, what?). But naturally, all that talk of lists got Left Field thinking: What were Gastineau’s strangest, most uncomfortable, most memorable, and funniest interviews?
Gary Payton and … Snoop
The L.A. Lakers had just knocked the Sonics out of 1995 NBA Playoffs in the first round, and Gary Payton was refusing to come out of the locker room and meet the several dozen reporters who were waiting for a post-series quote. Finally, he decided to talk.
Well, it was like throwing out a little birdseed around a bunch of pigeons. It’s the absolute gang interview. By sheer luck I happen to be one of the first guys there. So I’m right up in his face. And people are starting to press on me, and I’m starting to get pushed down. And all of the sudden, I feel some breath on the back of my head, and I hear a guy say, "Yo, don’t let ’em f—k witcha, dawg." I look up, and I turn my head slightly, and there’s Snoop Dogg. And then for the next two minutes, it’s, "I ain’t gonna let ’em f—k with me," "Well, they gonna try to f—k withcha," "Well, I ain’t gonna let ’em f—k with me," and "dawg, dawg, dawg." I don’t know if that counts as an interview, but it was a really funny moment. And you couldn’t laugh because it was this funeral-like atmosphere, because they’d lost the playoffs.
Gastineau co-hosted a radio show with legendary Huskies football coach Don James for three years, and the two made for a comfortable pairing on air. So comfortable, in fact, that James decided to good-naturedly ambush Gastineau in the middle of an on-air interview with fiery Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.
Don knew that I was a voter for the Heisman Trophy, so 20 minutes before the interview, he asked me who I was going to vote for. I said I was going to vote for Rashaan Salaam [of Colorado, over Ki-Jana Carter, from Penn State]. So I didn’t think anything of this, because Don is not a vindictive or mean person, but I found out he’s got a great sense of humor. Twenty minutes later, we’ve got Paterno on, and Don says, "You know, Joe, my co-host here has a vote for the Heisman. Mike, who are you going to vote for?" And I look at Don like, "I cannot believe you’re doing this to me." I said, "Well, I’m going to vote for Rashaan Salaam." And Don says, "Well, why are you doing that?" And I said, "Well, I think he’s played a tougher schedule." And Paterno just goes nuts. It was very, very funny. It was uncomfortable for me, but I think the listeners loved it.
Johnson was a sweet-shooting small forward for the Sonics for three seasons in the early ‘90s and was beloved in Seattle; Eddie A. Johnson also played for the Sonics, but was arrested in 2006 on suspicion of sexual assault of a minor. National sports commentators — including ESPN’s Skip Bayless — mistakenly referenced the former in reporting the arrest and instantly turned him into a sports-world pariah.
I’m thinking, "How does Skip Bayless not know there’s two Eddie Johnsons?" Anybody who ever covered the NBA for two minutes knew that. So I called Eddie, and he was distraught, as you can imagine. It was a very tough interview, but I thought it was a very important interview. It was one of my all-time favorites, because I wanted to make sure that at least people in Seattle knew that the Eddie we all knew and loved was a good man and would not be involved in this kind of crap.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In July 2001, Earnhardt won the Pepsi 400 at the same track where his father, Dale Sr., had died in a crash five months earlier. Two days after the win, Gastineau was one of a handful of local reporters who spoke to Earnhardt.
I really regretted this one for years, but I’m glad that I’ve been able to talk to the guy a couple times since then and move past it. There were a couple columnists who insinuated that the other drivers had let Dale Jr. win that race, that there was an organized thing. Now, I’m a big NASCAR fan, and I found those stories to be complete and utter bulls—t. NASCAR guys aren’t wired that way. So I said, "Look, there are some media reports that are insinuating that the other drivers allowed you to win Saturday night, and I’m wondering if you’d like to comment on that." And I think he felt I was insinuating that. I wasn’t, but I didn’t ask the question the right way. He could not have been more polite, but he was very blunt. He said, "I can’t believe you would say that." And I was sick about that, because I just think that guy has done a hell of a job handling what life dealt him. I would still ask the question, because I thought it was a valid question. But I would make sure that I would put it like, "Did you see the story in the Orlando Sentinel?" and have a copy of it.
In 1995, a KJR staffer spotted the Pearl Jam front man at the King Dome as he was hanging out with Jack McDowell, a pitcher from the visiting Chicago White Sox. Knowing that Gastineau was a fan, the staffer asked Vedder if he’d do a live spot on the show, and Vedder agreed — but only under the condition that he be allowed to remain incognito.
So me and my producer at the station have no idea who this guy is. He was having fun at our expense. I knew his voice, but I couldn’t place it. And he’s talking about, "I travel with Jack. I’m his personal backup catcher. But when I’m off, I live in a teepee in Fife." And as the interview’s rolling along, my producer says, "That’s Eddie Vedder." And I’m like, "Dammit, you’re right." So finally I said, "I’ve got one question I have to ask: If I guess who you really are, will you admit it?" And he says, "Well, yeah, maybe." And I go, "This is Eddie Vedder, isn’t it?" And he’s like, "Gotta go!"