Price incident exemplifies tricky manager-media relationship
Outburst by Reds manager shows how constant access can cause tensions to elevate
We shuffle in quietly, heads down and form a loose semi-circle around the desk. On this night, there will be no awkward waiting around for someone to ask the first question.
"Just line us up and shoot us!"
And so begins Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver's postgame news conference during the 1986 season. He speaks these words loudly, in a raspy voice. He is not done.
"That's what we deserve," he adds, loudly.
We scribble in our notebooks. We are relieved. There will be none of those uncomfortable first questions, no taking of the manager's temperature. There won't really be any questions at all. When we throw out a topic or begin to ask a question, Weaver takes off.
"Earl, the defense had a tough night …"
"Defense? We can't even pick up the baseball and throw it to first base."
"Earl, it looked like Scotty struggled with his curveball."
"He's trying. OK? He's trying."
On it goes. Short, snappy answers. The truth is that Weaver is in the process of doing what a lot of great managers often do in tough times. He's entertaining us. He's letting us know he's angry. But he's not really saying anything.
He's certainly not throwing his players under the bus. He's simply venting. He knows we will eat it up. Only later, maybe after the morning newspapers come out, will it occur to us that we've gotten zero substance.
Funny thing about Weaver: When the Orioles were playing their worst, he was at his best. He saw it as his responsibility to grab the spotlight away from his players and to make it about him. When the club was playing well, he'd cut things off and say, "Go talk to the players."
One night in one of these scrums, he sees a young reporter taking notes.
"What are you doing?" he says. "Don't write any of this down. Wait for the good stuff."
Moment later, he's offering a long opinion about team speed or bunting or one of the many topics that set him off.
He looks over and the reporter is frozen, not writing.
"Hey, get this down," he says. "This is the good stuff. This will be on all the wires in the morning. Your sports editor is going to want to know why you missed all this."
This is some variation of the game that is played in every Major League ballpark before and after every single game. Managers face the media twice a night for about 10 minutes, and emotions are often raw, tempers short, particularly after a loss.
One of the reasons the men and women who cover Major League Baseball love it so much is the access. They throw the clubhouse doors open before and after games. Some players like us just fine. Some only tolerate us. But they all acknowledge that we are part of the process, and many of them position themselves in front of their lockers after games to answer questions and get it over with. They understand that this is the way to communicate with the fans, to set the record straight, etc.
Back to access.
Managers answer questions before games and then again after games. They discuss lineups, update the injury situation and offer thoughts on an assortment of topics.
Can you imagine an NFL coach opening himself up to this kind of examination? Their access is tightly controlled, sometimes scripted, always limited.
Baseball managers do this every single day, from the opening of Spring Training until the last out of the season. They understand it's as much a part of the game as umpires and airplanes.
The best ones use it to their advantage. That said, there are good days and not-so-good days. There are days when the pressures of the job, the second-guessing, the questions, the doubt, build up to a point where they have to be released.
This brings us to Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price, who is in the news for something he'd rather not be in the news for.
Price is bright, engaging and a joy to be around -- in short, a good man. This may not be the portrait being drawn of him at the moment.
He did something on Monday that managers have done hundreds of times through the years. He lost his temper, letting loose a world-class string of profanities. (He apologized via Twitter this morning for the language, but not the substance of his message.)
Price was upset about a report that Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco wasn't with the club on Sunday, thus leaving it a man short. Price believed the story had been helpful to Reds opponents as the club debates whether to place Mesoraco on the disabled list.
No one is at fault here. That's the bottom line. Not the reporter. Not Price. One was doing his job, the other was expressing his displeasure at that job.
Price's unhappiness came at a time when his club was losing seven of eight, so his frustration surely extended beyond one story. There's pressure to win everywhere, but that can be particularly acute in a place like Cincinnati, where the past can loom over the present.
The Reds may never have a team that measures up to The Big Red Machine -- but the comparisons and the expectations will always be there. Injuries are a tricky area for a manager. He doesn't want to outright lie about a player's availability. He also doesn't want the opponent to know if his late-inning options are limited.
Beforehand, managers may say: "We'll check with him during the game and see how he's feeling." After the game, he'll follow up with something else vague. Maybe the right situation never presented itself.
Reporting on injuries is tough, because we don't know. Players attempt to grind through the season, sometimes even if they know they're headed for surgery. They many times aren't honest about this. They believe that at 60 or 70 percent of normal, they should still be able to contribute to winning.
Once when Lance Berkman was struggling, I asked, "Why won't you just say you're hurt?"
"I can play," he said.
"Are you going to have surgery after the season?" I asked.
"I can play," he said.
He ended up requiring a full offseason of rehabilitation to get his legs strong again. In the middle of the season, though, he was going to grind through the best he could and offer nary an excuse.
Because other sports don't offer this kind of access, there's much less information, way more speculation out there. And yet it's part of the culture of the sport, one of the best parts.
When Red Sox manager John Farrell sat down in front of the media on April 15, he knew to be ready for anything.
"John, two questions. One, did you pay your taxes? Two …"
Farrell smiled: "Yes, I paid my taxes."
Managers and reporters need each other. Managers surely tire of being peppered with questions twice a day, every day. On the other hand, this is their chance to get their message out, to provide some context and background for the season, to explain what they did and didn't do.
Reporters need the manager. It's that simple. They need information.
Some managers clearly love this part of the job. Joe Maddon will take reporters down winding roads, touching on topics ranging from books to wines to travel.
He's a curious man, a brilliant man, and he's completely at ease behind a bank of microphones. If it seems like an act, it's not. People who've known him for 30 years say he has been pretty much the same man every day he has been in the game.
Buck Showalter loves the give and take with the media. He loves his players, too. He loves their commitment and work ethic, and he wants reporters to understand some of what goes into making these guys great.
Showalter uses his 10 or so postgame minutes with amazing efficiency , both in putting the night in context and setting a tone for the next day.
Go ask any manager about his first Major League job, and they'll almost all tell you the same thing. They were surprised by how much time they spent with the media. Brad Ausmus played 18 seasons in the Majors and was a media favorite because of his insight and wit.
But this guy who'd spent hundreds of hours with reporters was taken aback by the media requirements of a manager. He slipped one time, too, last season, making a joke about beating his wife after a tough loss.
When did you know you'd said something awful?
"Before my words were out of my mouth," he said. "I knew it. I tried to go back to it. By then, it's done."
He was caught up in a 48-hour news cycle that threatened to engulf him. He's still not sure why he used those words. Looking back on it now seems like an out-of-body experience, a moment when his entire life passed before him.
Tommy Lasorda unleashed a torrent of profanities a time or two. In one of the more famous ones involving a three-home run game by Dave Kingman, reporters can be heard laughing in the background as Lasorda is taking apart one poor guy.
They were laughing because Lasorda was so emotional, so unvarnished in his opinions that every day could be a roller coaster of moods. Lou Piniella, Sparky Anderson, Jim Fregosi and a long list of others had their moments, too.
Tony La Russa walked out of a postgame news conference on occasion. Whitey Herzog told one guy he was about to take his microphone and do something unpleasant with it.
Once when Phil Garner managed the Astros, he summoned me to his office moments before a game. There he began to scream about something I'd written that he believed hurt his relationship with a player.
As he did it, he had his door open to make sure every player heard what was happening and got the message that their manager would always have their back. That session ended with Garner saying something like, "Now get out of here!"
The next day when I showed up, we started over. He needed me. I needed him. Same as it ever was.