"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Observations From Cooperstown: Lame Ducking the Press

Over at Baseball Think Factory, a heated debate has centered on Rafael Soriano’s decision to leave the clubhouse early on Tuesday night, before he could be grilled by reporters about his eighth inning blow-up at the hands of the Twins. Some posters have defended Soriano, saying that they do not want to listen to the media whine about the difficulty of doing their job. The Soriano defenders sympathize with him, saying that it’s understandable that he didn’t want to talk after such a poor performance. Others have criticized Soriano for failing to “face the music” after walking three batters, all of whom scored during Minnesota’s rally from a 4-0 deficit.

As someone who has worked in the media and has had to conduct interviews in locker rooms and clubhouses, I’ll always take the writers’ side on this issue. First off, those that think it is fun or glamorous to conduct interviews in a losing clubhouse, talking to guys who are probably not in the best of moods, are horribly mistaken. Reporters who venture into clubhouses do so because they are expected to by their bosses, whether it’s to pick up a good quote or two for the next day’s newspaper, or to come up with a sound bite that can be used on radio or TV. To me, it’s one of the least pleasant aspects of being a reporter/writer. So I figure that if I have to go into the clubhouse to do an interview, then athletes should shoulder a similar responsibility and make themselves available with a reasonable degree of civility.

Players who don’t stick around after wearing goat horns also place an unfair burden on their teammates, who are left trying to make explanations for the players who avoid the media. Do you really think that Russell Martin wants to sit there trying to explain what Soriano was doing wrong on the mound, or speculating about how he felt after blowing a four-run lead and essentially the game? A report in the New York Daily News indicated that several of the Yankee players were indeed upset with Soriano for leaving the clubhouse early and making them have to do the talking for him. We can be sure that at least one Yankee player pulled Soriano aside the next day and informed the temperamental reliever that he had made a bad choice. So it wasn’t just the Yankee front office that expressed its displeasure to Scott Boras, the agent for Soriano.

I’m not saying that it’s the law, or even a rule, that players must do this: I think it’s just the decent and ethical thing to do. Joe Sheehan and other Sabermetric Internet writers don’t care about players making themselves available because the kind of writing they do doesn’t depend on player interviews or quotes. They’re writing as analysts, and their writing is largely dependent on statistics and the evaluation of what they mean in regard to player performance. So how would Joe Sheehan and other writers react if teams and leagues didn’t make statistics available to the mass media? How would they feel if boxscores were not printed and statistics like on-base percentage or WHIP were not released to the public, but were instead treated as proprietary information? Would they be as quick to give teams a free pass for such a policy? After all, there’s no law or rule that says teams have to make this information available to the public for free. But once again, it’s the right thing to do.

As a fan, I don’t feel that I absolutely have to hear from the players after every game. A lot of what they say is clichéd and trite balderdash. If I hear “It is what it is” one more time, I may not be held responsible for my actions. But if a Yankee player screws up a game, I’d like to hear why it happened, or at least how it happened. And if a Yankee player blasts a game-winning home run, I’d like to hear him talk about it, even if it’s just for a moment.

The Yankee players seem to agree with that philosophy. For years now, their players have made a policy of always talking to reporters, even after losses and even after they themselves endured bad games. Yankee players believe in being accountable, and being willing to answer tough questions after difficult defeats. And they’re absolutely right about it. It’s called being a professional.


Last night on the MLB Network, Mitch Williams called for the Phillies to replace injured closer Brad Lidge, who could be out until the All-Star break with a rotator cuff strain, by aggressively making a trade. His suggestion? Go get Joba Chamberlain.

A few years back, the idea of trading Chamberlain would have been preposterous, but at this point, he’s become a mid-level reliever who happens to throw hard. So if you’re the Yankees, whom do you want in return for Chamberlain? I could see the Phillies offering Joe Blanton, and that’s simply not good enough. At best, Blanton is a No. 4 starter, a mediocre journeyman who would likely not fare well against the lineups of the American League East. He’s also 30, and not likely to encounter a career renaissance. No, I’d have to have either a package of at least two prospects, or someone else from the 25-man roster who can help right now.

Obviously, the Phillies won’t give up Roy Oswalt or Cole Hamels for Chamberlain, not unless Ruben Amaro, Jr. has decided to concede the NL East to the Braves. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a good match off the Phillies’ major league roster, unless the Yankees have interest in a Placido Polanco as a super utility man or want to take back an older reliever, like Ryan Madson. So that leaves the Yankees asking for prospects? But how likely are they to make such a trade in the middle of the season? I can’t remember the last time the Yankees traded a veteran for legitimate prospects during the season.

At this point, I just don’t see a suitable match involving Chamberlain and the Phillies.

Bruce Markusen also writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.


1 The Hawk   ~  Apr 9, 2011 10:39 am

As bad as Burnett was last season, he always answered questions after a game. I think that's commendable. Soriano would be commended for doing the same, and I think it's pretty lame to run out. But it's also understandable. These are human beings after all. He should allow interviews but people who are making a big deal about this are just going to far. They act as if some terrible sin has been committed and it's ridiculous.

2 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 9, 2011 10:46 am

see, I think being a "professional" means respecting an interview subject's desire not to talk to you. Why not give athletes a little space and time to clear their heads after a bad outing? Did the world stop spinning while we waited to hear from Soriano? Certainly not. I think sports writers are being unprofessional when they gang up on a player, bashing him in their reports when he refuses to talk to them on their deadline.

How about a little patience from the beat writers and producers? Soriano didn't take a phone call from his mother after that game, but he has to talk to Joel Sherman, or whomever? That's nonsense. Why can't Soriano say, "I have no comment tonight, fellas, see you tomorrow." Why can't his teammates simply say, "ask Soriano, he'll talk to you when he's ready."

Other factions of the media don't make a federal case when their requests for an interview are refused. They keep making requests, and wait until their interview subject is ready to talk. Investigative reporters and producers are especially patient in this regard.

The sports media needs to get over itself and stop whining when athletes ignore their deadlines. And let's face it, when Soriano finally got around to explaining his performance, did it really shed any light on what happened? Did it really make a difference? Was it worth 48 hours of whining from the sports media? I dont think so.

3 Mike K   ~  Apr 9, 2011 11:03 am

I'm 100% with Sheehan et al. Bruce, your analogy is absurd. The difference is that statistics are simply reports of what happened on the field, in front of everyone's eyes. If MLB didn't make them available, undoubtedly baseball-reference and other fan sites would take care of it themselves. Don't forget, baseball stats originated from a newspaperman, not MLB (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Chadwick_%28writer%29).

I think the management of a team has the right to put pressure on its players to speak, but ultimately that's the only obligation players have in this situation--they don't owe anything to the media. Personally, I could care less about the clubhouse stuff, but I get why the league wants its players to put up with it--it generates revenue down the road.

4 Mike K   ~  Apr 9, 2011 11:03 am

Also, +1 to everything Sliced Bread wrote.

5 The Hawk   ~  Apr 9, 2011 11:08 am

I think a key here is also that 99% of interviews with athletes are useless.

6 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 9, 2011 5:26 pm

Why pick on Joe?

7 Bruce Markusen   ~  Apr 9, 2011 5:37 pm

Mike, the analogy is not absurd at all. The Negro Leagues did not keep complete statistics throughout their entire existence, from 1920 to the early 1960s. And no one stepped in to take an active role compiling those statistics, not even the black press of the day, even though people were attending the games in person and covering them for their newspapers. It takes a great deal of effort to tabulate and compile statistics. It is only in recent years that a retroactive attempt to make those Negro Leagues statistics more complete has taken place, and even still, there remain gaps in the record.

Does Baseball-Reference have someone at every game, or watching every game on TV, in order to keep their stats up-to-date? Of course they don't. They rely on the official statisticians, who rely on the written reports coming from the official scorers at each game.

Sliced Bread, reporters don't have the luxury of waiting until the next day, or until two days later, to get quotes for their stories. They're working on tough deadlines, and in today's neverending news cycle, the pressure to produce written material is even greater on the beat writers. Tomorrow just doesn't cut it.

It wasn't a case of Soriano refusing to comment. He wasn't there AT ALL. That's what upset the media--and it seems, a number of Yankee players, too. They were no more impressed with Soriano's disappearing act than the writers.

I often hear talk show hosts from the non-sports world complain that someone won't come on their show, or won't make themselves available to do an interview. This happens all the time on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. It is hardly restricted to the sports world.

Man, I know some of you guys hate sportswriters, but your unwillingness to expect even a minimum level of courtesy and cooperation from professional ballplayers is stunning.

I do interviews with players, too, although they are usually with retired ballplayers. I guess you have as little regard for me as you do for the mainstream press.

8 Bruce Markusen   ~  Apr 9, 2011 5:38 pm

Alex, I'm not picking on Joe. You mentioned him the other day in your post about the subject.

9 Raf   ~  Apr 9, 2011 8:19 pm

Yankee players believe in being accountable, and being willing to answer tough questions after difficult defeats. And they’re absolutely right about it. It’s called being a professional.

I think it's more "playing ball" so that the media doesn't put a hit out on them. :-)

I understand the media's gripe, but at the same time, I've seen the NY media consistently make mountains from molehills. Also should be noted that Soriano probably didn't think it was that big a deal; Waldman alluded to that during today's broadcast.

10 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 10, 2011 8:41 am

7) no, Bruce, tomorrow DOES cut it. Your response exemplifies the impatience, and entitled attitude of the sports media. Why is it okay for the political media to wait for answers from the president, senators, governors, mayors, etc. But the sports writers HAVE to hear from a relief pitcher by their deadline or it's unaccceptable?

Don't take it personally though. I think I speak for most Banterers when I say your writing and reporting is highly regarded around here.

11 Mike K   ~  Apr 11, 2011 4:15 pm

"Does Baseball-Reference have someone at every game, or watching every game on TV, in order to keep their stats up-to-date? Of course they don’t. They rely on the official statisticians, who rely on the written reports coming from the official scorers at each game."

I don't think the league releases stats because it's "the right thing to do," I think they do it because it drives interest in the game, and that brings in more money than it costs for them to pay for 32 official scorers.

I don't see the connection with the Negro Leagues. According to wikipedia, MLB didn't hire official scorers until 1980. We have stats for all of early MLB but not for the Negro Leagues because people--fans and especially news organizations--kept those stats, not because of MLB. It's a different age we live in now, anyway. Do you think the equivalent of the Negro Leagues would exist today without someone tracking their every stat, regardless of whether they were released by the league or not? There are plenty of 4th-grade soccer leagues that have full stats posted online these days--what are the odds that no one would track an major league game? Football Outsiders has multiple volunteer game charters for each game. I have little doubt that BR could crowdsource game stats (a much simpler task for baseball) without much trouble. More to the point, if MLB didn't release the stats, the local news organizations surely would, and so would at least one blog for every team.

I think courtesy is owed, just because I think everyone should be decent to each other. But cooperation? I don't see how players have that obligation *to the media*. To their owners, sure. To their fans, maybe. But no one is obligated to cooperate with the media in and of itself.

12 Mike K   ~  Apr 11, 2011 5:06 pm

By the way, you see at least one owner's reaosning for allowing print journalists into his team's locker room here: http://blogmaverick.com/2011/04/04/whats-the-role-of-media-for-sports-teams/. Hint: it ain't because he wants to do the right thing.

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