Ballplayers and reporters: can’t we just all get along?
Last night’s postgame situation in the Cardinals’ clubhouse created almost as much news as the actual game itself, which is what happens when the players the media need to talk to cannot be found.
From what I have gathered through various media reports online this morning — and let me be clear, I was not in St. Louis and am not covering any part of the postseason — there was seemingly a divide among Cardinals players after Thursday’s game: those with less than three years of Major League experience who spoke at length with reporters, and those who have a combined 30 or so years of experience and are being paid enough to feed several third-world countries who were not available for postgame comment.
Several reporters lambasted the veteran crew — namely, Albert Pujols, the center of a late-game fielding snafu that allowed the Rangers to take the lead and ultimately led to the series evening at one game apiece. While it’s valid and fair to hold Pujols responsible for not being accountable postgame, the real issue here is not that he wasn’t there to give a few benign quotes. It’s that his younger teammates — most of whom have not been through the postseason, let alone have ever sniffed a World Series before now — were left to carry the media load themselves. And it should have never happened that way.
From a distance, a 25-man roster consists of equal ballplayers, all of whom are contributing to the team in some capacity and who are capable of giving their own insight before and after games. But the dynamics of a baseball team are much more complicated than that. You’ve got your veterans, and you’ve got your “young guys.” The young guys will slowly learn how to handle the media side of this profession. They do so by watching the veterans, and eventually, they themselves become veterans and take what they observed and become fine spokesmen in their own right. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and certainly, during a World Series when the media contingent increases from approximately 10 writers to more than 200 reporters from all over the world, the “kids” aren’t necessarily qualified to speak on behalf of the team, yet, on a stage that large. Especially when having to address a game-changing fielding gaffe committed by the greatest player of this generation.
Let me take a step back for a moment and recall a story I read when Jeff Bagwell retired. The author of the story — I believe it was Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice — told of an incident postgame in the Astros’ clubhouse after an important game. If I remember correctly, it was a regular season game, but it carried a lot of significance for one reason or another. The point is there was three times the number of reporters there for this game, and after it was over, they were all waiting in the clubhouse looking for interviews.
On any given day — and by that, I mean 162 out of 162 game days, Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Brad Ausmus were at their lockers in a reasonable amount of time after the game ended, ready to speak on behalf of the team. For whatever reason, on this particular night, the three were elsewhere.
Adam Everett, a young player with very little time in the big leagues, happened to walk over to this locker. And the media pounced. Bagwell soon walked into the locker room and saw Everett, cameras and lights in his face, attempting to speak on a subject he was not particularly equipped to handle.
When the media had cleared, Bagwell went over to Everett and said, “I promise you that will never happen again.” And it didn’t. There was never a time, at any point, where the veteran players left it up to the kids to pontificate after an important game that was drawing a lot of attention, locally or nationally.
This cannot be stated enough — reporters can live with or without quotes from players who were involved in a key play that lost a game. Most are on some kind of deadline, they watched the game and they can use manager quotes and their own commentary to pull together a game story or a sidebar. It’s not the preferred method, but it’s doable. In the spotlight of the World Series, however, with so many reporters needing something, most media will track down someone, anyone, for some insight. If it’s a young player, and he doesn’t know exactly what he should say, so be it.
That’s where the veteran players come in. There’s an old phrase in sports that is somewhat apropos for this situation: act like you’ve been there before. And dealing with the media is part of being a ballplayer. It’s not always enjoyable, but it is indeed part of the job.
And it’s not just the superstars that need to shoulder the load. During a couple of collectively rough stretches by the bullpen in 2006, Russ Springer was constantly at his locker, inviting reporters to come over and talk to him. It took the onus off the others and he spoke on behalf of his group. He did so because he was the oldest, he had been through it before, and as far as he was concerned, this was simply part of his responsibility as a professional.
Additionally, it truly is in the player’s best interest to be available, if only to provide clarification. During my years as a reporter, I can’t count how many times I’d draw my own conclusions during a game only to be given a completely different view of the same exact play after asking the manager and players about it. Reporters — and I’m talking about the beat writers, not the TV people looking for short, painless (and often boring) soundbites — want to get it right. The best way to do it is to ask the player directly for his insight. If he chooses not to offer any, that’s his decision.
Many years ago, an Astros middle reliever was going through a pretty rough stretch and I asked to talk to him about it a couple of different times. He didn’t want to discuss it and I left him alone. Then finally I said, “I have to write about you today. And I am writing about you today. I’d really like for you to participate.” And he did, willingly, understanding that either I was going to draw my own conclusions or I was going to at least get his side of it. And it should come as no surprise that his side of it made a lot more sense than what I had deduced on my own.
In 2005, Brad Lidge stood at his locker for a full 30 minutes after giving up the home run to Pujols during Game 5 of the NLCS and answered the same questions over and over and over again as more waves of reporters made their way through the crowds gathered at his locker. It was an amazing thing to watch. He was so upstanding that at one point one out-of-market reporter said to another, “He doesn’t deserve this.”
Not everyone can be Brad Lidge, or Jeff Bagwell, or Russ Springer. And they don’t have to be. But when veterans don’t take over, they’re not hurting the media. They’re simply doing a disservice to their own teammates.
And that, as they say, is my $.02.
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