This is the time of year when the people who like this website thank me for what I’ve done over the season and the people who don’t like this website decide it’s not worth paying for an online subscription just to tell me I’m a horse’s rear end.
If you’re part of the latter crowd, don’t worry. I have plenty of friends who have made me aware of my propensity for behaving like the south end of a north-bound horse.
This is also the time of year when I thank the people who make this website possible: the players, coaches, managers and front office people who are willing to talk to me and share their knowledge.
As I’ve said before, no one should come to this website to hear my views. You should come to this website to hear what people like Jason Kendall and Rusty Kuntz have to say. They say it to me first and then I drag that information back here.
So thanks to Jason and Rusty and Chris Young, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, J.J. Piccolo, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Alex Gordon, Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, Mike Jirschele, Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, Drew Butera, Danny Duffy, Edinson Volquez and every other major league baseball guy who spent some time trying to educate me.
If I said anything smart or worthwhile, it’s because someone else said it to me first.
But there’s one guy who deserves a giant thank you and that’s Tim Bogar. I’ve mentioned him on occasion, but I don’t think I’ve ever fully explained his role in creating this website.
Back to the beginning
When the Star gave me this blog and very little instruction on what to do with it (which was one of the smartest things we’ve ever done) I knew what I wanted to do; write about the game from the participants’ point of view.
I’d been lucky enough to hang out with a lot of baseball players, coaches and managers and I always thought the way they talked about the game was fascinating.
But those players, coaches and managers talked openly precisely because I wasn’t reporting on the game. If I started quoting people, how would that change things and how would I avoid getting the stream of clichés that ballplayers offer up whenever a camera is on?
So I called my buddy, Tim Bogar.
I first met Tim when he was playing Double A ball in the Mets system. He made it to the majors and snuck in nine years in the big leagues playing for the Mets, Astros and Dodgers. He then went on to a be a coach and has worked for the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and is slated to be the bench coach for the Seattle Mariners in 2016.
So I figured Tim had spent plenty of time dealing with the media and I wanted to hear his advice on how to cover baseball correctly. If I was going to write about the player’s point of view, I wanted to hear from a player.
So I now present Tim Bogar’s rules for covering baseball.
Watch the game
That's the first thing Tim said to me.
He’d spent some time in the press box as Tampa Bay’s “quality assurance coach” and had seen the press in action. (A quality assurance coach is a made up thing that basically meant Tim watched games, took notes on what he saw and gave those notes to manager Joe Maddon.)
But back to the media.
A lot of people in the media pose as experts but don’t actually show up to watch the games. And the guys who do show up might have a tendency to goof off.
And even if the reporter is conscientious, the demands of the job — writing during games, Tweeting, keeping score, taking notes — means that the reporter might not spend all his time watching the game he’s writing about.
If you don’t watch the game, you can’t ask good questions and are then stuck asking how-does-it-feel, what-does-it-mean, take-me-through-that, what-did-you-see questions that reveal your lack of knowledge.
Ask a cliché question, get a cliché answer.
But ask a pitcher why he threw David Ortiz a first-pitch slider and you might hear something interesting.
Make your first encounter positive
Tim said that if a reporter had never talked to him, but then showed up for an interview after Tim had made two errors in a game, that interview would not go well.
But if a reporter had already written something positive about a player, that player would be more open to criticism. The player would understand that the reporter was not there just to be negative.
I added to this rule when I realized the more obscure my first positive question was, the more a player would respond to it.
The first time I talked to Mitch Maier was after he broke up a double play to keep a rally going. The guy who got the game-winning hit (and I don’t remember who that was) had a crowd of reporters around his locker. Mitch had me and I wanted to know the correct way to break up a double play.
If Mitch hadn’t hustled down to second base and flipped the middle infielder, the next guy wouldn’t have had a chance to hit that game winner. Mitch appreciated me recognizing that and we got along great from then on. If I had to write something negative — and all ballplayers mess up — Mitch knew I wasn’t out to get him.
I was writing the positive and the negative and most ballplayers think that’s fair.
Conversations, not interviews
Stick a microphone in someone’s face and it’s an interview and players will turn on the cliché machine. Nobody ever got in trouble for saying his team plays hard for 27 outs.
Get a player by himself, and if he trusts you, he might tell the truth. He’ll then count on you to sort through that truth and not use anything that will hurt him.
That’s why it’s irritating when you’re talking to a player one-on-one and a TV guy suddenly sticks a microphone between the two of you and turns on a camera; the flow of truth dries up and the player goes into cliché mode.
I don’t use a digital recorder and I rarely take notes during a conversation because then it’s not a conversation. After I talk to someone I go off somewhere and then take notes on what was said and if I quote someone, the quote is short.
Having conversations, not interviews, makes for better information.
And talking to a player when you don’t need something is highly recommended. If players feel like the only time you want to talk to them is when you need something, they notice that and will respond in kind. You give me the minimum and I’ll give you the minimum.
This is a sub-rule of conversation not interviews: You don’t have conversations when a crowd is listening in. So if everyone is gathered around Ned Yost for his pregame interview, I figure 20 people are covering that — I’ll go find Rusty Kuntz or Mike Jirschele and hear something unique.
Bogar pointed out that there is a lot of reporting from 20,000 feet; we tend to give fans the overview of what happened during a game and that means we usually don’t have time to get into the details.
But the details are what players like to talk about.
So if a reporter focuses on the small stuff — when do you straddle a base when tagging a runner out and when do you come out in front of the bag to take a throw — players will tend to respond. But you can’t focus on the details unless you watch the game. That’s where everything starts.
Now here’s one last rule:
Do not get fat
This rule was actually given to me by Jason Kendall and he gave it to me between handing me Bud Lights, so I’m not sure how seriously I should take it, but Jason does have a point.
We’re dealing with highly trained athletes like Bartolo Colon (OK, maybe that was a bad example) and if we show up with a belly that makes a mirror a necessary part of finding out whether our shoes are tied, athletes tend to dismiss us.
Jason Kendall works out every day. I do not. One of us needs to lay off the Bud Light and it ain’t Jason.
I’m not going anywhere
So now you know Bogar’s rules for covering baseball and all you have to do is get a press pass, show up for spring training, during the regular season get to the park at 2:30 or so for a game that doesn’t start until 7:10, sit through batting practice every day, be there for 81 home games, watch the other 81 on TV and then — if you’re lucky — cover the postseason and postseason workouts for an extra month.
Nuthin’ to it.
Not to whine — which is exactly what I’m about to do — I’ve had about two days off since mid-March. If the Royals weren’t playing I drew a cartoon, if it was the weekend and I wasn’t drawing cartoons the Royals were playing.
Everyone is asking me what I plan on doing now.
I’ll probably take a few days off, but I’ll soon be drawing cartoons and writing about baseball again. I’ve got a couple projects to work on, but this off-season I still plan on posting something at least once a week if not more often.
Keep checking the website.
If you don’t follow me on Twitter @leejudge8, do so and I’ll let you know when I’ve posted something new. Same thing on Facebook; send me a friend request and I’ll make sure you get alerted to anything new I put online.
Bottom line: I’m not going anywhere. I just need to spend the winter writing and drawing and drinking less Bud Light.
Maybe I’ll switch to Michelob.
Talk to you soon.