I’ve played the role of sports analyst and player, and I can attest that the relationship between the two is a tenuous relationship at best. Players see reporters as necessary evils. Reporters see players as sensitive man-boys who, if they could just check their egos long enough to string a few sentences together, would make everyone’s life easier. There are a lot of lost in translation moments, and it’s difficult to undo any damage once it’s done, or perceived to be done.
As a reporter/journalist/analyst/broadcaster, it’s your job to ask penetrating questions that get the information you need in order to understand why a player performed the way he did. Sometimes you have to dig, pry, poke. To you, it’s not being mean or personal, it’s just doing your job. Just like throwing up and in isn’t personal, its just part of your job, right, baseball pitcher? Care to give us a quote about that?
In all, it is a bit like those litte birds that perch atop crocodiles, picking at the gunk and debris lodged in their teeth. Every once in a while a crocodile snaps at one of the birds, causing the rest of the flock to squawk and screech as if the order of the universe had been violated.
Believe me, I know what it’s like to shoot my mouth off in a broadcaster/analyst capacity. Ask David Price. Ask Clay Buchholz. Ask JP Arencibia. I’ve pissed off my share of players, even ones that are so far beyond my ability, they should treat me as nothing more than the little, poking bird I am.
Oddly, when it happened, I was proud I could stir up so much drama. So were my bosses. It was good for ratings and it sure got my name out there.
But it was not without consequences. You should have read the string of texts I got from Price after I said he pitched a bad game in the 2013 playoffs. It was heartbreaking for me. The guy really trusted me to have his back, especially since he had mine (blurbing for Out of My League, and all) and I betrayed him.
Same goes for JP Arencibia, who thought of me as a teammate for two years only to have me crap on his poor pitch selection, lack of defense, and staggering K rate once I went bullpen to broadcaster. All those things were true, but still, it would be better if they came from someone who never player with him. Never crossed him up on a field. Never relied on him to stop a batter before he charged me…
I wont say I don’t feel bad about it. I do. I’ve tried to say I don’t in the past and, well, I do. I really do. The friends I’ve made in the sports broadcasting world will never replace the friends I’ve made in the baseball world—and I didn’t have many to start with, not with my penchant for writing books about the insider experience. In my defense, I was on the outside of the playing lines, trying to make a new life for myself, trying to get along in the broadcasting world wherein the first thing you must be equipped to do is call it like you see it lest you have zero objective credibility.
I say all this to say that, at great personal expense, I’ve learned to rely heavily on the sports reporter’s absolve-all line, “I was just doing my job” better than most. Its helped me get to sleep some nights.
Thing is, there are a good deal of reporters that genuinely suck at being tactful, and have garbage interviewing skills. They form bad relationships with the players—I’m somewhat of an expert on that—and mistake their role as the questioner/ information gather as a trump card to ask whatever they want, however they want, then utterly destroy any athlete that doesn’t take it in stride.
That’s no to say all reporters/analysts are bad. Some are awesome. Some are geniuses in their craft. And, even the best among them, who are always on their best behavior, could not avoid pissing off some of the fragile egos that populate pro sports. That said, I’m amazed at how many are shocked when players get upset, erupt, and take things personally.
Players are competitive. They are aggressive. They are cloistered. They are egotistical. They are laser focused and habitually annoyed that you are there, pecking at their teeth when all they want to do is lay low and focus on the next kill. They are, in short, the product of an occupation that only accepts the best in the world, with no exceptions or excuses.
You can’t ask a player to take the question concerning his failure impersonally. His performance is innately personal. It will always be personal. Even if he keeps his cool and gives you an objective answer, that’s just media training and self control putting a lid on the boiling pot of dissatisfaction inside. Their jobs define them. I know, it shouldn’t. But it shouldn’t for a lot of people—lawyers, actors, marines, cops, athletes turned author/blogger… If we’re honest, we all struggle with separating who we are from what we do and the last thing we want—even if we know it’s part of the business—is to explain why we’re not doing a better job of doing our job, or a better job right after we didn’t do our job.
I’m not saying reporters should stop fileting athletes who let their comments get out of hand. After all, how does that help the Reds? I’m just saying, at some point, we might want to stop being surprised when a player, who takes his occupation very seriously and personally, snaps at the person probing him for reasons why he’s blowing it out there.
Interestingly, as bad as players are at taking criticism, they are actually a hell of a lot better at it than some reporters. Seriously. I didn’t like it when I was lambasted as a suck-wad, roster filling, washout while I was playing (I still don’t), but I knew it was my role to take it. If you criticize a reporter—myself included—you will very often get a response, a justification, or well sharpened argument that is then turned into another article, compounding the effect. Why? Because that’s part of the business. Arguments are just doing MORE of your job. Even if a player wanted to rebut, they have to do through the mouth piece that just napalmed them, or turn to a Twitter rant, and, Christ, is there anything more self-destructive than a Twitter rant?
I read Trevor Bauer’s recent comments about how he does not want to be asked about giving up homeruns. I can understand why he got asked, why he got mad, and even why his mind went to the weakest portion of his performance without even being pushed.
“I don’t know. You can ask me, keep asking me about it, but that’s the answer. I don’t know. I’ll figure it out at some point, but right now, I don’t know, so it doesn’t make any sense to keep asking me about it. I thought the team did a really good job today battling back, so write about that. Write about the guys that went out and scored runs on a tough pitcher and were down really big early and battled and played well. Write about that. Don’t ask me about giving up home runs and personal stuff when it doesn’t matter. I gave up six. Who cares how they scored? We lost.”
So much frustration here. I can feel it. Really, like the many times I’ve been frustrated myself. The despair. The anger. The lack of a target—besides yourself—for that anger. The desire to take responsibility for it yet deflect it by praising someone else. The fear of what people are going to think of you, of what you are going to think of you.
Lets translate it:
You can ask me —because he can’t stop you.
It doesn’t make any sense to keep asking me — because he doesn’t know why, but also knows you want him to give you some explanation. He’s afraid that explanation won’t be good enough. I can tell you it won be good enough for him. He’s projecting here, afraid it will get completely destroyed by someone who looks at the stats and graphs and charts more closely then he does, then use them to destroy his offering.
Write about the team that scored runs against a tough pitcher—A little altruism never hurts anybody, but, if I’m a reporter, I’m not going to take kindly to him telling me what to write. I get that you’re upset now Trevor, and you’re projecting. I get that you think oI’m out for dirt here—all you guys think that— but, honestly, all I wanted to know is what you think is holding you back. I’ll write about the team, sure, but people want to know why you’re not performing and I’m giving you the chance to tell them. Don’t you want that chance, Trevor?
Don’t ask me about giving up home runs and personal stuff—Woa, woa, woa. Who asked you about personal stuff? You made this personal. We getting personal here? We just talking ’bout baseball. I’m was just doing my job.
Who cares how they scored?—Uh, we care. That’s why were asking. I mean, we know how <looks at scorebook> but, as I said, we want to hear your take. Please Trevor, give us your <salivating…> take.
On the flip side, you, dear player, HAVE to know this is going to happen. They’re going to come for you, with their questions and their need to know and their poking little geeks and white pasty bird bodies. Moreover, both you and your reporter counter part are equally driven by the need to keep sports entertainment engine running. For the players, it’s the sports part. For the Reporter, it’s the entertainment portion. Lost in translation is good for business.
However, before you go pointing your finger at the reporter, as if it was by their design fans think you’re a angry, whining, excuse maker, know that most fans are just looking for a chance to think that about you regardless. If you’re losing, they’re disappointed in you already. Hell, just because you make more money—way more—than they do is ground for them to hate you. No one, not writers or bloggers or broadcasters or even you, is good enough to control what fans are going to think of you all the time. They are your ultimate lords and masters, and they are, 99% of the time, both sports reporting and sports playing, idiots. Do you really want your self worth controlled by vociferous idiots?
If you’re a player, take a moment to reflect on the uncontrollable nature of public opinion and the process that guides it. The reporter you’re pissed at already has and he or she will cite this process when they rule-Nazi away all culpability regarding why your current social atmosphere.
The take away here is, for the fan, that players are neither as evil, wonderful, useless or amazing as you might think they are. They are humans, many with the same flaws you and I have. You’ll most likely never see them for who they are, so whatever you’re reacting to is essentially a caricature.
If you’re a reporter, know that you’re not as indispensable as you might think, and your work you put in to find the truth isn’t as nobel or detrimental as you might have yourself convinced. Just because you believe you have the power, do you really want to use it? Media power is funny, it can get you a name the faceless masses at the expense of destroying the one you have with friends and colleagues. Is it the name you want?
And, most importantly, to the player: smile your big crocodile smile and let them all pick away. If you focus on the task at hand, the rest become irrelevant. Don’t let little birds or faceless bystanders control your role in the food chain. Moreover, crocodiles have very thick hides. Use it.