On the Death of the Athlete Interview

On the Death of the Athlete Interview

One of the more enticing aspects of taking an entirely independent blog and affiliating it with a much larger media entity was the opportunities that would then present in terms of talking with the players we followed so closely from afar. As it turned out, said access is a whole lot better in theory than in actuality. That's not to say access is bad or of no value at all, it's just tends not to be what you might think or hope it to be before you actually have it.

ESPN's Tim Keown does a really nice job explaining why that is in a piece about the death of the interview in sports. His sentiments ring true, especially the "more information and less knowledge" aspect of today's media landscape.

Keown writes:

There is an abundance of information flying through the air, like
bits of paper in a whirlwind, but with a striking lack of context or
depth. The demands have no connective tissue, just 20 or 30 people with
separate agendas trying to get you to talk to theirs before the next guy
interrupts. There is no real interaction, no chance for them to follow
up or request clarification or elucidation or retraction.

You
attempt to answer the questions thoughtfully and honestly, but when the
media relations manager holds up his hand and says, "Thanks, guys --
that's it," you walk off the field toward your locker, trying to replay
your answers in your mind. Mostly it's a complete hash, and you reach a
resigned conclusion: You have no idea how anything you just said might
be interpreted outside that clustered cocoon.

It's interesting to see this take place in real time. As a greener member of the media, I tend to do a lot of observing on how things go when the crowd gathers around a player at Citizens Bank Park. You can tell by the question asked what each questioner's agenda is for that day. The radio guys want one good sound nugget. The TV guys want something they can throw on air in a nice 30-second clip. The beat writers like Jim Salisbury try their best to keep a real interview setting alive, attempting to dig a little deeper. The best questions always come from the beat writers or the longtime baseball writers like Jayson Stark or Tyler Kepner.

I often hear the seasoned vets of the press corps waxing poetic about the days of Pete Rose talking for hours after a game or how they'd run into the Phils' skipper at the hotel bar on the road and share some stories over a whiskey. It makes me wish moments like that were still feasible today.

But they didn't have Twitter!

This all leads to the question of "why is the interview dead?" Which isn't exactly easy to answer. Athletes, with the help of their PR handlers, know that they no longer have to be as open as they were in the past. Part of that is the media and fans alike place way too much importance onto the unscripted words of athletes. "OMG! Did you hear Jimmy Rollins said something about the crowd being quiet! How dare he?!?" We're certainly guilty. That turns players off from being open and honest. Things *are* blown way out of proportion and taken way out of context. And they can show up, not just in newspapers as back in the day, but on the Internet, on blogs, on sports radio, on podcasts, on ESPN, on MLB Network, on YouTube... and it never stops. Today's media consumer, for better or worse, lives for the headline-making moments.

There are plenty of those "gotcha" type stories these days where often times the question or conversation leading up to the player quote isn't even given.

What's also interesting is that while athletes are saying less and less of substance in the controlled environment of a locker room, they're flocking to twitter and Facebook to do everything from tossing up nonsense, talking music and not-so-subtly meeting girls, to criticizing each other and their own teams.

Embedded sports media used to be the gatekeepers of access via the access teams and leagues had given them. That's more limited than ever, but the fans have new access to players, so much so that the media are doing more and more stories on what athletes say on Twitter as compared to what they said in the locker room.

That's not to say traditional access is fruitless. There are still brief moments when the TV cameras and radio personalities walk away from Roy Halladay after a game and Doc will be standing in the middle of the clubhouse with only three or four writers remaining and will drop some serious knowledge on you about how and why he talks to an umpire between innings.

Cliff Lee has had a few of these moments as well, but for him, there's less mystique, less magic to it all. He's very matter of fact about everything. It's just "work hard and make pitches."

And then there's Charlie's pre game powwow in the dugout. But Charlie is old school. Perhaps that's what makes him so friggin' awesome. He'll open up about his days drinking with Mickey Mantle or dinner with George Steinbrenner in the 70s. He'll even tell you about his days as a kid winning state marble championships.

Still waiting for one of those types of stories from Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, or Jimmy Rollins though.

To someone who never knew the interview during its living years, its proposed death seems to ring true. But you can still get those priceless stories, knowledge, and moments out of players.

You just have to work a bit harder.

>>Death of the interview [ESPN]

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”