The Art of the Interview and Erik Bedard

DMZ · May 14, 2008 at 7:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.”
4) Wait

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?”

It’s horrible.

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.


57 Responses to “The Art of the Interview and Erik Bedard”

  1. msb on May 15th, 2008 9:03 am

    not to pile on Baker, but reading the piece about the clubhouse– he certainly makes it sound much more isolated than others have made it sound. As Drayer has mentioned, Washburn & Johjima have actually spent time together (those magazines Joh is reading are fishing magazines), Cairo may be hanging with Yuni & Lopez more because he has fallen into the mentoring role that Carlos Garcia used to have, a clutch of the guys hang because they have that hunting thing in common, and no where does he mention that they actually do go out as a team and eat on occasion …

  2. themedia on May 15th, 2008 9:22 am

    As my screen name would decree, I have an inside perspective on this issue (and if you watched a recent episode of Costas Now, you would have seen a segment dedicated to the relationship between the press and the players).

    It’s a difficult job on both sides — there’s no doubt about that. Both parties are constantly judging each other, and neither wants to come off looking stupid. That’s why there can frequently be a combative atmosphere.

    The key, on my side anyway, is to develop a working rapport with players and coaches. You don’t want to burn them unless you don’t have a choice, i.e. talking to Bedard in a friendly way only to turn around and slash him for a bad outing wouldn’t be a good idea. Players and press are vindictive. They’ll almost always hold a grudge.

  3. donger on May 15th, 2008 10:11 am

    This reminds me of the UFC post fight interviews. These have to be the worst example of lazy reporting, asking a breathless fighter to “take us through this knockout on the big screen.” The guy can barely string two words together much less give a realtime play by play

  4. Steve T on May 15th, 2008 11:03 am

    I don’t care whether the players “owe us” anything or not. They don’t ever deliver, so who cares? Seriously, I don’t think I have EVER heard an interesting or insightful comment from a player to a reporter, either on air or in print. Exceptions would almost entirely be flamethrower attacks, like Iverson’s, or ice-cold showdowns like Barry’s fantastic interviews (he’s as good an interview as I’ve ever seen; the more hostile the better).

    Whose fault is that? Reporters. Because they’re not really reporters at all. Their job is to present the illusion that you’re in the clubhouse with the guys getting the straight dope. But it’s all bullshit, 100% of it. It’s pure, undistilled cliche, rote formulas that were first written in the 1920s. It has nothing to do with the players and nothing to do with baseball and how it is actually played.

    I’m sorry, but anyone who wants to know how Player X felt after hitting the homer is a moron.

    It’s a boring and stupid ritual. I could go on about how it plays into exactly the kinds of problems this team has — questions about chemistry and grit and trying harder and slumps and streaks and all the other bullcrap that gets in the way of seeing how to win baseball games.

    Everything you need to know about baseball reportage and player responses is in “Bull Durham”. Everything.

    There is also a completely bogus assumption that it’s “inside baseball”, that talking to the guy who hit the home run gets you closer to the truth than, say, looking at the pitch data. Most fans aren’t interested in pitch data; they want fake drama — because a constant diet of fake drama increases the appetite for it. Insider baseball? There is in fact usually an inverse relationship between inside access and valuable baseball writing. Roger Angell was great when he wrote about being a fan in his car on lonely New England roads; since he’s become a grand old man who gets to wander around the clubhouse he’s the most boring writer on earth. He cares what players think. But players don’t think — they play baseball. You can’t know what that’s like.

    Now, if you REALLY want to see mindless repetition of identical cliches, watch the interviews with Premier League managers after English soccer games. Absolutely mind-numbing; makes someone like Edgar Martinez (the dullest baseball interviewee ever) seem like James Brown at the Apollo.

  5. Brady H on May 15th, 2008 1:51 pm

    36 – Great point. The same situations are bound to happen numerous times in a season, therefore the questions are going to be repetitive, bland now and then.

    …which makes me wonder what the question was that sparked Carl Everett’s “I dont believe in dinosaurs” rant.

  6. nwtrev on May 15th, 2008 4:44 pm

    46 – Well done sir.

  7. fermorules on May 16th, 2008 10:47 pm

    Great topic, as usual…..

    I don’t care if players speak to the media or not, but I must add this personal observation….

    The whole Erik Bedard thing….I just think the guy is extremely creepy….

    When he does speak, he’s such a jerk about the whole thing that I’ve gotten to wondering. I just find it hard to believe that somebody so dour could be a good teammate. A guy like Jack Morris, sure he was a jerk, but at least he showed some inclination to battle on the mound.

    And a guy like Mark Langston, yes he was more interested in his stats and his big contract than anything else.

    But at least they seemed like real people.

    Bedard’s behavior is condescending and creepy. I’m a huge Mariner fan, and usually I could care less about a player’s behavior so long as he played hard.

    This Bedard guy, I just can’t get behind him. He really, really gives me the creeps.

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