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Chicagoist interviews Mr. T

By Chris Karr in Miscellaneous on Jul 24, 2005 11:45PM

Friday night, before the White Sox beat the Red Sox at US Cellular Field, Chicagoist was invited by Hanes to interview 1980's tough guy Mr. T and Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk before the duo threw and caught the opening pitch as part of the "Double Tough" promotion. We sat down in the Sox dugout and talked to both men as the players warmed for the game.

We spoke to Mr. T first.


Chicagoist: Do you get out and pitch often?

Mr. T: No, they remembered that back in 1983 when I threw out the first pitch for the White Sox when they played the Yankees. You know, that was the first and last time I pitched for the Major Leagues. You know, I'm honored doubly 'cause they invited me back after twenty-seven years, you know. And then, like I said, it's more meaningful because there's more emphasis on me pitching. Last time, I was staying at the Ritz Carlton and somehow or another, like I said, and Eddie Einhorn and uh, what's his name? What's the White Sox owner's name, you know…

Chicagoist: Reinsdorf?

Mr. T: Yes, yes, yes, yes. And I met him again, and he said, "Yeah, I still got that picture we took." So that made me feel good. It was good being up in the booth with him 'cause I met George Steinbrenner, you know. I remember eating cheesecake, you know and Eddie Einhorn was saying how proud of me he was 'cause I grew up and came up from nothing, you know. So that's my history there. I grew up six blocks from Comiskey Park. I grew up on Fortieth and State Street. At the project, we'd always hear the cannons go "Boom! Boom!" when they hit a home run and we'd say "Wow." But we didn't have enough money to come up to a game and so. But I still have good memories of it.

(More below the fold.)

Chicagoist: How does it feel to be back in the city?

Mr. T: Oh man, it feels good 'cause I get to see my mother. And matter of fact, after I get throw my first pitch, I'm going to get Carlton Fisk to sign the ball to Momma T. And I'm gonna give it to my mother. She's eighty-nine years old. So you know, I'm honored. I'm honored to see my friends and see people, you know and let them love on me and I love on them and kiss their babies and hug the grandmas, you know? I just feel good about the thing, you know. So it's, it's a super homecoming for me. It's a love thing.

And then, to meet Carlton Fisk – oh man. What a legend. I remember when he used to play for Boston, I remember when he came here to the White Sox, you know. I remember when he retired. I mean that's a tough guy. I always admired catchers 'cause you're down in that position. Your knees and stuff. You can throw a man out, you can block him from coming in, and stuff, you know. So I admire that, you know. Another thing I admire about him – any baseball player, to be able to sign these here baseballs. I sign a lotta autographs but I'm glad that I don't run into too many baseball fans, you know. A baseball is hard to sign – even for a short name like Mr. T!

Mr. T and Chicagoist: (Laughter)

Mr. T: Oh man…

Chicagoist: What have you been up to lately?

Mr. T: Well, I tell you. About three months ago I got the call from Hanes. You know, when they call and say that they want me to throw out the first pitch, you know and all that. I started training, and then I slacked off my training – not slacked off, but I lightened the load about three weeks ago because I didn't want my arm to be tight. I don't pump a whole lotta weights – I just do twenty pound dumbbells, which was too heavy because I was getting tight. So I bought me some five pound dumbbells. Just to loosen up, you know. I feel I had a pretty good warm-up, you know, with the manager's son, you know. He's a super guy. He helped me out for a few minutes and said, "My honor." It was like two guys appreciating each other and I said "Thank you. That you took the time to warm me up, you know."

So I'm just feeling good – all the fans, and all the radio interviews, and TV stuff I've been doing to promote that I'm gonna be here and what not. I'm not sayin' they were coming to see me – it was packed already before – it was sold out before people knew I was going to be the pitcher, you know. But I'm a White Sox fan. Always have been.

It's not that I hate the Cubs, but I've never been to a Cubs game. I've been in Wrigley Field once. You know what I was doing there? They asked me to kick out the first ball for the Chicago Sting. It was a gag. When I kicked the ball. It exploded! The guy didn't know what was happening and got scared! It was unbelievable!

Chicagoist: (Laughter)

Mr T: He said, "Thank you so much, Mr. T." That was a gag! It exploded! I said, "Man, that was something." That was fun though, you know.

It's like I said, I try to do things that are fun. I tell people that if the right part comes along, fine. But I'm not outright seeking stuff. Because all I want to do is done. I bought my mother a nice house and pretty dress. When I was nine years, growing up on the south side of Chicago, in the ghetto. The Robert Taylor Projects. I came home from school, I showed my mother a picture and said "Momma, that's you in the rocking chair. There's daddy over there." I said, "Momma, one of these days, I'm gonna be big and strong. I'm gonna be a football player. I'm gonna be a boxer. I'm gonna buy you a beautiful house and I'm gonna buy you pretty dresses." That's all I want to do in life. And after Rocky – thanks be to God – I made enough money. And then the A-Team started. So I bought my mother a house. I bought her pretty dresses. Helped my brothers and sisters.

Once a month I take food and clothes down to the mission, to the Pacific Guard here in Chicago and to the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles. I do it quietly. You won't hear about Mr. T feeding the homeless. I never try boost my career of the less fortunate somebody. Because if I gotta call and get press off of it – it ain't coming from my heart. You know, sometime I quietly go to the hospitals and I'm crying in my heart, you know. It's like I say, that's what the "T" stands for – for the women and children. It stands for "tender". For the bad guys, it stands for "tough". So, I'm tough and tender. I'm tender when I need to be. I'm tough when I should to be.

Chicagoist: You've been a bodyguard, a military policeman, and a boxer. When you go out and talk to kids, and they ask for advice, what do you tell them?

Mr. T: I'm glad you asked that. Here's my rap when I go out to schools, when I go anywhere. I tell people who I am. 'Cause they don't know me. You might have read something – this or that. Like all the interview people I've been talking to since this morning. They say, "Wow. He plays tough roles and whatnot, but he's really a nice guy." Same thing Carleton Fisk said – "Mr. T acts tough, but he's really a nice guy inside." I'm really honored because people are slowly finding out. They think I'm like, "Hey don't mess with me!" But it's like something I learned from Ali. He said, "I'll get you! I'll get you!" – putting up a tough front. It's like I tell people, I'm not a tough guy. There's baseball players bigger than me. There's a lot of guys who see me and say, "Wow, you're a small guy, Mr. T!" I never was tall – I was heavy at one time – about two fifty and then I trimmed down to two thirty and then two twenty and now I'm the same weight I was twenty-something years when I fought Rocky. When I fought Rocky, I was two nineteen. Right now, I'm two nineteen. I might be under 'cause it's been hot and humid here. (Laughs) So I feel like I'm two o'five. It's such an honor being here, I'm speechless.

Chicagoist: Any words of wisdom for our online readers?

Mr. T: Words of wisdom? Let me see… Tell them, I pity the fool who don't be nice to people. 'Cause my mother told me that niceness and kindness goes a long way. For my job, I act tough. I'm not tough. On the street, I don't go out beating people up and this and that. I used to joke one time on the television station that I never… Everybody that I beat up deserved it. I never beat up an innocent person.

Chicagoist: Good luck pitching.

Mr. T: Thanks man.

Chicagoist would like to thank Hanes for inviting us out to talk to their "Double Tough" spokesmen. Stay tuned for the second half of this set, an interview with Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.