photo credit: National Post
by mike in boston (@mikeinboston) / hatemailaccount a.t gmail
Hi Damien! Thanks for reading.
5 Questions with … Scott MacArthur (TSN1050)
If you have not listened to TSN1050 Jays beat reporter Scott MacArthur’s interview with Colby Rasmus, go do it now (iTunes link, I’d add a direct link to TSN’s website but I can’t find one). As you may know, Colby is almost certainly going to be a free agent after this season. His year has been a disaster and he has been relegated to being a bench player for the first time in his career. The interview is one of the most amazing athlete interviews I have ever heard. Colby is raw, emotional, honest, and blunt. I reached out to Scott to talk about how this came together and here are his answers.
Q: How much time had you spent talking to Colby prior to this interview?
Scott: I don’t want to say that you ever get to know a player really well, because all the time you have with them is the time together in the clubhouse. But I would say that I started to have pretty good conversations with Colby late last year and that carried over into spring training. One of the things I try to do to bridge gaps is to talk about things that interest the players. Colby is a huge Auburn Tigers football fan and I love college football as well, so that is something we have gone back and forth on, and it seems to have brought a barrier down. So over the course of the season we spoke about that, as well as getting in to other things like his hitting and other experiences this season here, as well as experiences elsewhere, and growing up.
Q: Could you tell that he was in the mood to talk when you sat down to talk?
Scott: I have a lot of experience talking to the players and then giving my opinion or analysis but it’s very different from just letting the player say what he wants to say in his words without interpretation. I have covered the Senators, the Leafs, and this is my 2nd year on the Blue Jays beat, and Colby is one of the most interesting athletes I have ever covered. I had no idea what he was going to offer me in that interview but my goal was to keep the questions as basic as possible … less of me, more of him … and see what he felt like saying in the moment. You can sense when a guy wants to get something off his chest, but that wasn’t what I was going for. The Colby that I have come to know just from walking up to his locker and shooting the breeze with him is far different from the Colby that most people perceive him to be. So the goal was as much about that as anything else, knowing that his time in Toronto is coming to an end. I just wanted to give people another opportunity to see the side of him that I had come to know.
Q: Colby mentioned his father several times in giving his answers. The “meddlesome father” narrative more or less was a non-issue during his time in Toronto, unlike in St. Louis. Did you get a sense of how Colby views that relationship?
Scott: I want to be very clear here that this is my opinion now. Colby never said anything on or off the record negative about his father. I do not have a psychology degree and I won’t pretend to play one, but in my opinion Colby’s difficulty with the sport of baseball goes back to his childhood. I think that at some point during his developmental years, his father – who was very hard on him – made his appreciation for the game more difficult. I think at some point the sport became associated with some of the difficulties he went through as a youth. He’s been given these gifts to play the game at the highest level, but I’m not so sure that under any circumstance – and this is what is sad about it to me – he’ll be able to truly maximize his enjoyment of playing the sport
Q: The parts of the interview where he talks about carrying weights up the hill and all the other training he did as a 15 year old were incredibly emotionally raw. It’s clear that he’s talking about something that is still an exposed nerve.
Scott: That’s right. I think at some point his ability to enjoy the sport was capped. So when he goes out there everyday, I think it’s hard for him because the sport and his hard father are fused. That’s strictly my opinion. He hasn’t said that to me, and I’m not sure how much time he has spent thinking about these issues. He’s a smart guy, which may surprise some people, because we up here in Canada sometimes have a tendency to view people from the South as bumpkins. He’s smarter than people give him credit for.
Q: You asked him about how he imagines his “dream season” and he said that last year was in many ways a dream season for him. Why did it go so well for him last year (amid a brutal year for the club)?
Scott: Well, he got along so well with the hitting coach Chad Mottola. And I think he gets along with Kevin Seitzer, but in a different way, and in a way that doesn’t necessarily work as well for him. Again, I want to be very clear that I’m only giving you my own opinions here. I believe that Mottola’s style was more to take what the hitter was comfortable with and to work within those confines. Kevin Seitzer, by contrast, is more of a true coach – “here’s what is going wrong, do this, make this adjustment” – and I still believe that Colby has other voices in his ear coming from home. Because Motolla was willing to work with Colby on those terms, I think it satisfied the other voices in Colby’s life and therefore made Colby’s life more peaceful. That’s a long conclusion to draw, but that’s how I view it. Just as an example, Seitzer had expressed specifically that he wanted Colby’s hands closer to his body. After the All-Star break Colby came back and his hands were right out over the plate. Where did he spend the break? Back home.
Q: How would you characterize the culture of the locker room right now? Has your job been harder since the losing set in back in August?
Scott: It’s been fine, you know. These guys have been no more or less accessible than when things were going great back in May. Now obviously the subject matter is a little different. And sometimes the answers are a little more touchy because they are sick of answering the same questions over and over again about why things aren’t going well. But this is a pretty accessible group. The top players have been accessible all year … you can approach almost anybody. Sometimes it’s hard to find them as they have a lot of space that is off-limits to the media in the home clubhouse, so you have to make a request for a PR guy to back and get someone. But when they are with you I’d say that not much has changed.
Q: What has been the most interesting aspect of doing your job over the last 2 years?
Scott: I covered hockey before but baseball is my first love and has been since I was in diapers. I played, I umpired, I coached … I came to a lot of Blue Jays games growing up. I remember the World Series years. For me, being in this sport where there is only one professional team in the whole country, and having the opportunity to be on the beat every day, I consider that a great fortune. And the personalities of the baseball players fascinate me too. Unlike hockey where most guys are small-town Canadian kids, in baseball you’ve got players you’re dealing with who come from poor backgrounds in Latin countries, or in Jose Bautista’s case, a middle-class background, Colby from the deep south, John Gibbons who has Massachusetts roots but is a Texan through and through. When you talk to them and how they came up through the game and they share their experiences, that sort of thing really fascinates me because they all have hugely varying stories.
Q: Do you think there is more value in having a beat reporter in baseball than in other sports?
Scott: No. I think there is tremendous value in having someone with the team daily in all major sports. My radio station TSN 1050 has Jonas Siegel on the Leafs and Josh Lewenburg on the Raptors … so we have the 3 big teams covered on a day-in day-out basis. One of the things that has really helped me maintain my relationships with players is that TSN has put me on the beat everyday. So, players see me both at home and on the road, they know that I’m with them through the daily grind, and they know where to find me if they want to talk about something I wrote or said. So I think there is a real benefit to being seen as often as I am. They know that I’m not going to come in, write something, and then disappear for 3 weeks and leave something hanging. I don’t throw darts from a distance. So, I think the daily aspect of the job is important.
Q: Do you find it difficult to have to talk about baseball every day, given that baseball is such a long season and no one game is going to matter all that much in the end?
Scott: I’ll be honest I have my days where fatigue sets in. You have a 6am wake up call to get to the airport after a night game. That’s tough. But I never get tired of talking about baseball. Maybe that’s a defect in my brain, but I truly love the sport and I wear it as a badge of honour that I get to do this. My deal is to do 162 games and assuming nothing bad happens in the next few days, I’m going to do all 162. You always find things to talk about and I look forward to it everyday. I love it.
A million thanks to Scott for his interview with Colby and for talking with me.
Here are a few observations:
- Why didn’t Wilner or Davidi or Griffin or Lott get this interview? Pretty amazing that the new kid on the block is the one to deliver.
- If you questioned the value of having a beat reporter, this more than justifies the expense in my opinion. For the dozens of inane “how important was it to …” questions and the predictable “110%” answers to which we have all become so accustomed, this is proof that the athlete interview is not always a waste of time
- Nice to hear that the Jays players are keeping a professional locker room despite the terrible end to this season.
ESPN suspends Simmons
ESPN suspended one of its most high profile personalities for daring the network to punish him for calling Roger Goodell a “liar” and describing the league’s claim not to have seen the Ray Rice video “fucking bullshit.” The always insightful Richard Deitsch reports, as does Andrew Bucholtz at AA. This is really dangerous territory for ESPN, who has already been criticized for cowing to NFL pressure by backing out of the League of Denial concussion documentary.
I have no idea what Simmons’ real motives were for this political action. Maybe he is sincerely morally outraged or maybe he’s trying to build up his brand as a rebel. I don’t really see how publicly calling out your employer serves much purpose when you could just address the issue in private. But he works there so he know the culture — it’s entirely possible that he was reacting to restrictions on journalistic freedom at the network.
ESPN has a credibility issue when it comes to reporting on its partners. The one thing that could drive viewers to Fox or Comcast or NBCSports would be a loss of trust with viewers. Or maybe viewers don’t care and just want to see the games. This will be interesting to watch over the next few months and years.
Newspaper Quick Hits
Cathal Kelly has a journalistically vacuous piece about the Jays’ failures that delivers a few good one-liners. If you’re into that sort of thing, I’m sure the Globe will be happy to see some returns on their investment in Cathal as their leading sports columnist.
Sean Fitz-Gerald at the National Post, in what I’m guessing is a first of its kind piece, profiles Twitter user Hope Smoke whose claim to fame is live-tweeting radio interviews.
Scott Stinson, also at the NP, is starting to shine. His piece on Simmons-Goodell is an excellent read.
- Good news no one! Buck and Tabby are back for another 5 years doing Jays TV on Rogers Sportsnet!!! The best thing about MLB.tv is the ability to listen to the opposing side’s announcers. There are a few duos who are worse, but plenty who are much much better. This doesn’t bode well for those of us hoping for positive changes on the radio side.
- TSN revamped its website finally. It’s better, but still needs a lot of work. Podcasts have disappeared for one thing. Another is that they list pretty much everyone who works for the company as a columnist, which makes locating the good writing rather difficult. Also, what the hell is BarDown?
- According to numerous readers, Stephen Brunt will not tolerate negative comments about the Jays on his Sportsnet opinion pieces.
- Bob and Brunt were discussing NHL relocation earlier this week. No topic as been covered in greater depth on that show, and listening to the two of them is like putting on your favourite sweater. It fits just right.
Thanks for reading and commenting,
Now get outside everyone!
mike (in boston)