20 Questions With Shi Davidi & Toronto Sports Media

By TSM

Happy Saturday and congratulations to both Mrs. TSM on 16 years of being tied to me and the Tampa Bay Lightning on winning game 7 at MSG last night! I can’t wait to see how Larry Brooks pegs the loss on Brian Burke.

Anyways….

Mike is away (no, not in Boston!) so I’m going back to our speaker sessions while I try to figure how and where to do restart the TSM Pressbox.

I asked for some suggestions on twitter and landed on Shi Davidi, who covers the Blue Jays and all things baseball for the Rogers Sportsnet family. Here’s a snippit from a bio of his I found:

“Shi’s also an accomplished editor who has overseen the national news agency’s coverage of major events like Olympic Games, Stanley Cup finals and Grey Cup championships. Additionally, he’s been a trailblazer in The Canadian Press’ innovative work with online video, seamlessly transitioning between mediums while on assignment.

Before his byline regularly appeared in newspapers and media websites from coast-to-coast, Shi served as a general news assignment reporter for the Jerusalem Post, covering everything from a diplomatically sensitive Jordanian military funeral in the West Bank to a scandal involving the Mossad’s alleged attempts to obtain Canadian passports. Later he worked as a foreign news editor for the Tokyo-based Japan Times, helping select, edit and lay out stories for the newspaper’s international pages.

Shi’s work has been recognized with three Canadian Press Livewire awards and the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Greg Clark Award.”

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls put your hands together for Shi Davidi:

TSM: What drew your to journalism?

SD: I have my parents to thank for that. They are avid news followers and we always read the newspaper in the morning, watched Peter Jennings on ABC’s World News Tonight in the evening with Time magazines scattered all over the house. So I developed a passion for current events at a young age, an interest in how news was gathered and turned around, and eventually I figured it would be a good way for me to turn my passion for sports into a career.

TSM: Did you play baseball at all as a kid? If so did you ever play at a competitive level?

SD: I started out playing softball with the Willowdale Boys Club, where I caught, and later played baseball with the North York Baseball Association, moving to the infield, mostly second base. I didn’t play at any sort of seriously competitive level.

TSM: You have worked in the “news” world in some pretty cool international markets, in your own opinion what’s the biggest story you ever covered?

SD: This one is easy — the biggest news story I covered was at the Jerusalem Post in 1998, when Ehud Barak announced during a Labour Party meeting that they vote in favour of the Wye Plantation Agreement negotiated by Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat. It was by no means a surprise, but it was a pivotal step in the process of the interim peace agreement’s passage through the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, so there was major local and global significance to the news. To be honest, I still can’t believe the Jerusalem Post let me, an unpaid intern, cover it. They gave me a lot of quality assignments.

In the sports world, I got to cover the Canada-US men’s gold medal final at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. That and Game 6 of the 2011 World Series are probably the two best sporting events I’ve covered. Canada’s win over the U.S. at the first WBC is probably No. 3.

TSM: What drew you back to Toronto and sports after your experience overseas

SD: My wife, then my girlfriend, and I went to Japan after we graduated from Ryerson in journalism. I actually had just come second for a writing gig at the Hockey News, and we wanted to do something different so we headed to Japan, where I worked for the Japan Times daily and she for Kyodo News. We left with no firm timeline but we planned to at some point return to Toronto. Eventually, a full-time job opened up at The Canadian Press, where I had worked part-time during school, and my wife got accepted into an MBA, so we came home after travelling the world. Amazing experiences.

TSM: With social media and free content everywhere, what do you think the the future hold for newspapers?

SD: As much as it pains me to say it, the dead tree version of the newspaper isn’t long for this world, but newspapers will find ways to exist online, be it in tablet-only form, behind paywalls on the web, or on free sites with ads covering costs (fingers crossed!!). At the end of the day, quality content is too valuable and the mechanisms of a newspaper are needed for the serious watchdog work that helps to keep societies in check. There’s a quality of journalism produced by papers like the New York Times, Globe and Mail and Toronto Star that simply can’t be replicated independently. The exact economic formula for success in this new world for journalism is still evolving, but it’s in a mobile/online platform.

TSM: Many have opined that Toronto is a difficult market to attract baseball (or basketball for that matter) talent to. Do you agree? What has to happen beyond winning for Toronto to become am attractive destination for free agents?

SD: Free agency is first and foremost about money. You have to be willing to pay more dollars/years than everyone else, and that may mean eating a crappy back-end year or two. But that alone won’t do it, because if the money/term is close, destination matters. So Toronto has to be a place free agents feel they can go to and win. Environment also matters. Natural grass will help, front office stability will help, but ultimately you need a core of quality players poised to win. It’s a combination of things that gets it done, and the Blue Jays haven’t had some or all of those elements in place for a while. But when you ante up, you get players, as J.P. Ricciardi showed in landing A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan in the winter of 2005.

TSM: When Paul Beeston left after his first stint, he left with the reputation of a winner. Assuming the rest of this season follows the first part, is his legacy any different after the lack of success on round 2?

SD: No, you can’t take away the two World Series titles and the fact he was a Day 1 guy who helped build the franchise from foundation up. The lack of playoffs in the second go-round doesn’t diminish that accomplishment, at least in my eyes, and over that time he helped reorganize the club’s business side, shift the baseball focus, and reset a base that had been badly eroded in the decade he was gone. He deserves credit for that, though I’m not sure he’ll get it.

TSM: With Beeston leaving after the offseason, many believe it’s playoffs or bust for AA:
a. Is that fair?
b. If he makes playoffs does he get a long extension?
c. If he doesn’t make the playoffs and is let go, what’s his legacy

SD: As I’ve written several times, it is playoffs or bust for him, and he will get an extension if they make the post-season. As for C, that’s a lot more complicated. My guess is that off the bat, people will view his legacy through the prism of the failed Marlins and Mets deals in the winter of 2012, and five years from now, it will be redefined based on the careers of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna, Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, Drew Hutchison and co. They’re the base for the next competitive window, and if they all fail, this franchise is in some major trouble. The other thing to consider is the Josh Donaldson deal. Dave Perkins, the great Toronto Star columnist who isn’t prone to hyperbole, was at a game recently and said Donaldson might be the best player the franchise has ever had. Obviously it has to play out over time and he needs to stay here into his free agent years, but I agree with him that Donaldson can make that type of impact, and that’s on Alex’s ledger, too.

TSM: Best player to cover

SD: It’s so hard to pick one. Here are some past favourites, in no particular order: Aaron Hill, John McDonald, Vernon Wells, Carlos Delgado, Mark DeRosa, Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, Matt Stairs, Casey Janssen, Frank Catalanotto, and Ricky Romero.

TSM: Easiest player to cover

SD: This is an unorthodox pick, but I’ll say Roy Halladay. A true pro in every sense. He was on the team when I first started covering it and it was only once he left that I truly understood how special he was beyond just being an ace on the mound.

TSM: Player you wish you had an easier time working with

SD: I don’t get offended or mind if players don’t want to speak with media. Their prerogative. BJ Ryan didn’t much care for media chats.

TSM: There have been players on the blue jays who’ve made it to the hall of fame. None are home grown blue jays. Do you think that changes?

SD: I’d expect that Roy Halladay becomes the first. He’ll have my vote.

TSM: Will the Toronto Blue Jays be able to keep Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion under contract for the long term with the team?

SD: That all depends on where the franchise goes from here. I think they’ll extend one of Bautista and EE, but that’s based on the circumstances as they stand now. Beeston’s successor may have a very different vision in mind compared to the one currently in place.

TSM: Where is payroll headed if the Jays don’t make the playoffs this year?

SD: My sense is that the payroll is staying at least around the $120m level. Again, based on where things stand now, my guess is the floor is in that range.

TSM: Any interest in hosting your own show?

SD: I’ve never really thought about it, to be honest. I have enjoyed the handful of stints I’ve done co-hosting various shows on the Fan. I also love what I’m doing now.

TSM: What differences, if any, are there between covering the Blue Jays for Canadian Press and Sportsnet?

SD: The main difference is that I cover the Blue Jays and baseball full-time for Sportsnet, while at The Canadian Press I covered all sports year-round, with the Blue Jays and baseball my main focus. I’m also far less anonymous with Sportsnet, where I have my own space on the website and do TV work, and I’m around the team a whole lot more so I’ve been able to get far more underneath the surface than I did at The Canadian Press.

TSM: How important is sabermetrics in your work? How do you handle situations in which peers, colleagues, Blue Jays (players, coaches, executives, etc.) use sabermetrics more or less than you?

SD: Well, I remember talking WAR on the air with Gregg Zaun one night and getting him interested in it, so I count that as a major victory! Seriously though, I don’t force anything on anyone with advanced metrics.
It would be irresponsible to not use sabermetrics in my work, but you have to be judicious with it when writing for a general audience. In the past year or two, I’ve started to use WAR a bit more often in copy, but I’m still not sure people generally get that. Same for stuff like FIP or WPA. I think we’re at a point where you can throw out OPS as a general summation of a player’s offensive contribution and most people know .600 is poor, .900 is elite. I like DRS for a simple but not all-encompassing metric to compare defenders. But the goal is to make your content informative yet easy to consume for as many people as possible. You can use wRC or wOBA to illustrate a point, but if only 10 per cent of your audience has any clue what you’re talking about, that kind of defeats the purpose.

TSM: Mark Buehrle, as indicated in spring training, is retiring at the end of the year. That would leave the rotation with Stroman, Sanchez, Hutchison, and Norris as the cornerstones for 2016. Are the Jays in a position next year to sign a free agent to add to the staff or is there another pitcher on the horizon in the system to add to the group?

SD: Don’t forget about R.A. Dickey, the Blue Jays have a club option on him. Jeff Hoffman will be knocking on the door and I know some people in the organization think Roberto Osuna is going to be a boss starter. Going after a free agent in this winter’s boffo class will be up to the next president, so there’s no way to project that right now. Based on past precedent, they’ll stick with what they have in house and see what the trade market presents.

TSM: Favorite mlb park? Mlb city?

SD: Favourite park is a tie between PNC Park in Pittsburgh and AT&T Park in San Francisco. Both places are perfect (and AT&T probably has the best pressbox in baseball, Camden Yards is really good, too). Another tie for favourite MLB city: New York and Anaheim/LA.

TSM: We’ve now seen a mlb game with no fans (Baltimore) any thoughts on theory this could become more frequent?

SD: As if owners would give up the revenue!

Thanks a million to Shi for spending some time with me doing this! He’s definitely on the list for a future Pressbox!!

Congrats on long time PTS producer Ryan Walsh on his last show last night on PTS sans- Mccown #awkward!! Blair, Brunt et all did a nice job sending him off to TV land.

If you have a moment, take a listen to two things.. One the Bob Mckenzie appearance on the drive home show with David Naylor and Steve Simmons and then around the 5pm segment on PTS when they round table is talking Blue Jays. Both are great segments and sports radio at their finest. It’s amazing to me how much better both drive shows are compared to their morning counterparts. It’s almost to the point of where I am going to listen to the previous night’s drive home show via podcast as opposed to the current morning shows on the drive in.

Happy Saturday!

TSM

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