Baseball Reflections

The Red Sox, the Manager, the Media

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As Ben Cherington, the new GM for the Boston Red Sox, completes interviews with all of the candidates for the new manager’s job, he and the Red Sox ownership cabal are faced with many considerations. The new skipper will have to be a master of numerous disciplines.


In addition to executing Sabermetrics, the manager will need to have the social and motivational skills to ride herd over what can be a very difficult clubhouse, and the baseball experience to gain the respect of the players. Last, but certainly not least, one of the primary considerations is how much experience the manager possesses managing the media.


When it comes to the media, there are not a lot of towns like Boston (Not to mention media spread out over six New England states that cover the Red Sox).


New York, of course, is the media center of the world, but its media and fans do not work themselves up into the fever pitch that always has existed in Boston about one, and only one, local nine. In Gotham, there are more newspapers, but there are also two baseball teams to cover and other innumerable distractions.


For sheer determination, in the Hub, the white-hot glare of the media is like no other place. There have been players and managers here, too numerous to mention, (okay just two—Edgar Renteria and Grady Little) who have simply melted under the pressure.


Ted Williams famously (and rather sarcastically) called the ink-stained wretches that followed the Red Sox “the Knights of the Keyboard.” Today the Monarchs of the Media that he would have to add would be the intrusive Lancelots of the Lens, The Court of 24-Hour Cable, The Royal Radio Pontificators, the Wolseys of the Web, and the Behemoths of the Blogosphere. There may not be the 10 Boston papers Williams had to deal with, all competing viciously, sometimes making things up and, as Ted would have it, carrying out a vendetta against him, but we have our own megawatt monoliths, in all of their modern incarnations (Regarding making stuff up:  It may have happened recently; think drinking in the dugout).


While discussing the cult of celebrity and connotations of Camelot, it’s interesting to note that Williams may have been the first celebrity to get paparazzi-like harsh treatment from the media, ushering in a new era of media scrutiny in the ’40s and ’50s. Why then, if this was already happening, did the press in the early ’60s give JFK the gloves-off treatment that Williams never received? Perhaps there was a double-standard when it came to politicians and sports figures. Or, in Boston anyway, Williams was not the native son, or not yet the fully adopted son.


Today, generally, the fandom and the public do not have much sympathy for modern athletes and, more recently, managers and coaches suffering from media scrutiny. The sentiment may be, if they squirm a little, so be it. It’s a small price to pay for the benefits that modern athletes reap. But do the managers and the coaches deserve it?


Indeed, the pressure can be enormous. You can criticize Terry Francona for losing control of the Red Sox clubhouse but not for mismanaging the press. He built a reputation for giving the media something, while protecting his players perhaps a little too much, and had the tough skin and right attitude to take it all. Occasionally it was fractious (Prime example:  not-so-subtly reminding a young reporter, probably whose knees were shaking, who made a mistake in referring to him, “I’m not the coach, I’m the manager”). Isn’t it ironic to think that if often Tito took that tone with his players more he might still have a job?


Of course, Francona probably extracted (as in pulling teeth) a few media lessons from the master himself, the wizard of the wayward deflection down on Route 1, the incomparable and incorrigible media savant Bill Belichick. Patriots’ owner Bob Kraft must think that watching Belichick stay on message (or avoid any messages) is worth at least $4 million of the five he pays Belichick annually. For those in the know, it’s a big part of the coach’s skill set and, some might say, his genius.


If you ask the media if they have the same opinion of Belichick you would get a different answer. While there are some that can objectively take a step back and admire his obvious obfuscations, the beat guys and gals can get very frustrated with the Belichickian banter. They have a job to do, and must answer to editors and producers, (and readers, listeners and viewers) who want more information. And Belichick, more often than not, will just not give it to them if it does not suit his purposes.


Woe is the occasional intrepid reporter, often a newcomer who shouts out a follow-up question to a Belichick non-answer, calling him on it, if you will. It can be great theater, usually ending with the curtains going up in flames.


So, as the Red Sox ownerships begins Act Two, and the new manager, whoever he may be, takes center stage, the media considerations are mighty. In Boston, unlike most other places, the spotlight giveth and the spotlight taketh away. Sometimes quickly.


In the immortal words of the head coach of the local football eleven, “It is, what it is.”

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