The Art of the Interview and Erik Bedard
The issue of a player’s responsibility to give decent post-game interviews came up with Felix now that he’s been ducking the press, putting him in the same company as Bedard, who doesn’t care for that stuff at all.
There are two ways to look at this.
One, they’re paid to play baseball, and that’s their job. If they don’t speak English, don’t like talking to reporters, can’t be bothered to pretend they enjoy baseball particularly, don’t do charity work…. doesn’t matter. Judge them by their play on the field and leave them alone. If they want to give interviews, good. Always ready with a cliche, good. If they’re college graduates who can speak intelligently, even better (actually, no, they get pegged as nerds and mocked throughout their careers).
Or two, they’re in the entertainment business, and it’s part of the job. People pay to see a good game, and part of that experience is the ballpark, the press coverage, the parasite-infested mascot, the team’s community relationships, and so on. As part of the team, a player has an obligation there.
It’s like expecting movie stars to show up for grueling publicity where they give 5m interviews to every local entertainment reporter in the country for eighteen hours.
These are both entirely valid. If you’ve been around for a while, you know I generally come down on the first side, which is a little weird since I devour all coverage of the team. But I understand that the team’s selling a product, and those things help. It’s why friendly faces who will make themselves available to the press during the 7th game of a losing streak are valued by their teams beyond their value on the field.
There are two problems that affect this that we don’t often talk about.
First, only the “players need to give good interview” viewpoint is ever presented, because the people who cover the team are strongly in that camp. Their jobs rely in large part on that access and ability to cover the team. Players who have bad relationships with the press get ridiculously bad coverage uniformly. They don’t get to be anointed team leaders, their contributions are often played down compared to their peers, and when they mess up they get harsher coverage.
I’ll skip Barry Bonds to avoid starting that conversation, but look at the career of Eddie Murray, who refused to talk to reporters. Compare the favorable treatment Derek Jeter has always received in the New York and national press with that given to his more-guarded teammates. It happens over and over.
Whether or not you feel it’s a player’s job to talk to the press, no one should think that that’s fair. But it happens, and because it does, it contributes to the general lack of respect for the press by players. No one respects the boss that plays favorites, and it’s hard to respect the favorites.
Second, the quality of interview is absolutely atrocious. It’s no wonder that players give crappy answers, because the questions are almost uniformly awful. I have all the sympathy in the world for players who try and get out of the post-game interviews. Watch one post-game press conference from start to finish and see if you don’t agree with me.
Much of the interviewing that goes on, particularly on the TV side, goes:
1) Corner player
2) Stick mike in player’s face
3) “Tell me about the home run in the 7th.”
That’s not interviewing. It’s not even an interrogation. It’s laziness. There’s no context, no insight, not even really anything for a player to start with. No wonder they often just open their mouths and start talking in cliches. They’re being asked cliche questions by unprepared, annoying people over and over.
Seriously– if you asked me the kind of questions Bedard gets asked, you’d get a lot worse answers out of me.
“Derek, it looked like you really had the chicken cooking for dinner. Was the chicken cooking?”
“Derek, in your last post you said the defense is awful. Do you think the defense is awful?”
And it doesn’t have to be this way. If you look at the times Baker’s posted really interesting, pointed questions to players/coaches, the answers can be great (which, if I may — how many times did Finnigan ever take a controversial question on core fans’ minds and chase the manager around to get it? Never. Never, never, never. Be grateful for what we have, that’s all). Ichiro likes to give weird, cryptic remarks that need to be unwrapped like a little candy, but we’ve seen repeatedly that if you ask him something intelligent that requires insight, his replies can rise to the occasion.
From a player’s viewpoint, then — the bulk of their job is preparation for games or playing the games. Then they have an additional duty to talk to people, many of which they don’t have much reason to respect and who from all evidence appear to be totally bored with their jobs and lean heavily on the players to do it for them.
After the next game, watch the post-game press conference. I’m totally serious. Watch the whole thing. And then think “If I was a pitcher and I just had a really horrible game while trying to stop a bad team’s losing streak in a season that’s already lost, how would I feel up there?”
Because I find it’s made me a lot more sympathetic to the people answering questions than the people asking them. And if players are ducking interviews, the reason may not just be “they’re jerks” but something a little more complex that requires some recognition from the people wielding the cameras, micorphones, and steno pads that they’re not without blame for the state of relations.