An Interview with Michael Silverman

An Interview with Michael Silverman

An Interview with Michael Silverman

“You have to have repeated exposure to these guys so they know your face. Or in the case of an executive, repeated exposure to your phone messages. You need good people skills and sometimes you have to talk to them when you’re not looking for anything – get to know them as people – shoot the shit.

“Uggie Urbina – he was a scary dude. You couldn’t go near him. Now that he’s in prison in Venezuela (for murder) I can say it. I barely interviewed him. If I did I’ve repressed the whole experience. I didn’t enjoy him at all. He was a grunter.”

“When AP picks up stories it will say “as first reported by the Boston Herald”. Papers take great pride in that – it’s the way you keep score. Editors and higher-ups care about it…. It all comes down to the work the beat reporters do.”

Michael Silverman: Interviewed on January 23, 2008

Position: Red Sox beat reporter, Boston Herald

Born: 1962, Kansas City, Mo.

Education: Columbia, 1989, MJ; Michigan, 1984, English

Career: Harvard University Gazette 1985-88; New York Post 89; Boston Herald 1989 –

Personal: Married, three children

Favorite restaurant (home): JP Seafood Café, Jamaica Plain, Boston, “fresh sushi close to home”

Favorite restaurant (road): Bryant’s Barbeque, Kansas City

Favorite hotel: Harbor Beach Marriott Resort, Ft. Lauderdale

Michael Silverman, excerpted from the Boston Herald, October 18, 2007:

CLEVELAND – Three years ago, a gang of idiots clawed out of a 3- 0 ALCS pit and went on to win the whole thing.

Tonight, Josh Beckett will lead the 2007 Red Sox – comprised mostly of gentlemen with a couple of whack-jobs thrown in – onto a brand new battlefield. Down 3-1 to the Indians, they will find out what they are made of, having to win three straight games to stay alive.

Q. Who are the whack jobs?

A. Manny is a whack job. Papelbon qualified after his Irish jig dance. Pedroia can be interesting but he’s not a whack job. Tavarez is certifiable.

Q. Did you worry an editor would ax it?

A. Sure I did. But I guess it wasn’t offensive enough. It’s colorful. Idiot is on the verge too.

Q. But ‘idiot’ was a label they gave themselves.

A. True. Whack job was in a gray area. I took some literary license.

Q. Covering the Red Sox, who were your best interviews?

A. Mo Vaughn and Pedro (Martinez) were the top two. David Cone, for one year, was great. Bret Saberhagen. Mike Lowell. Gabe Kapler. David Ortiz.

They understood why we were there. As long as you didn’t catch them when they were trying to get on the field or do something, they didn’t mind sharing whatever the issue of the day was, or sharing nothing at all but being able to talk about non-baseball things. They all had a sense of humor and realized that the relationship between media and players does not have to be tense and adversarial.

Are you going to ask me who was the worst?

Q. Who was the worst?

A. Uggie Urbina – he was a scary dude. You couldn’t go near him. Now that he’s in prison in Venezuela (for murder) I can say it. I barely interviewed him. If I did I’ve repressed the whole experience. I didn’t enjoy him at all. He was a grunter.

Carl Everett had his moments where you understood after talking to him awhile that you could never communicate on the same level. He wasn’t an evil man – just different from most baseball players.

Q. What about Schilling?

A. I like him for the fact that he’s articulate and intelligent and always has opinions and isn’t afraid of voicing them. On the surface he should be every reporter’s dream to cover on a day-to-day basis. I have about zero relationship with him, pretty neutral, for whatever reason I’m not sure. But he’s an interesting guy and the source of a lot of stories in his four seasons here.

Q. Do you read his blog?

A. Sure. I wish more players kept blogs. I love the blog. It’s the source of stories. We’d have more interesting stories if players were more open about these things and whatever is going on in their lives. With Schilling sometimes it’s more than we care to know and sometimes it’s really interesting. He puts himself out there. That’s not a bad thing.

Q. As an organization how easy or difficult are the Sox to cover?

A. They’re certainly more enjoyable since the new ownership group came in. It was really difficult at the end of the John Harrington-led days. The environment was just miserable – there was a lot of distrust for the media up and down the organization – it was difficult to get information from the team. The media was the last priority of that administration and the fan base was taken for granted as well. When the new owners came it was liberating, almost like night and day. You didn’t have to walk on egg shells around the players and coaches and front office people. It made a huge difference in getting excited about your day.

Q. How do you cultivate sources?

A. It’s quantity and quality. You have to have repeated exposure to these guys so they know your face. Or in the case of an executive, repeated exposure to your phone messages. You need good people skills and sometimes you have to talk to them when you’re not looking for anything – get to know them as people – shoot the shit.

If there’s a slow moment at spring training talk to them about what they do in Fort Meyers. Some of the time you’re looking for something to write, but you don’t want them to think ‘why is he coming up to me – he hasn’t all year?’ You’ve got to schmooze some and sometimes you’ll be told something off the record. You have a choice to use it, but if you burn that bridge you’re sunk. That player will never trust you again and he’ll tell others – it can be a real mess. You have to be clear about what’s on and off the record.

Q. What’s hard about the beat?

A. Be prepared to sacrifice your personal life to a great extent. You work nights and weekends and summers in addition to a ton of time at home. You have to accept that. It’s a 12-month-a-year job with maybe January being the lightest month.

Q. What are the competitive pressures?

A. They’re real in a market like Boston and I assume New York and a couple of other towns. I love it because it makes the job edgier and more fun. No one is perfect but you take pride when your paper gets a scoop and your competitor doesn’t, and when they do you try harder next time. It just makes it more fun, and the readers are rewarded when the outlets competing to be first produce real news that’s accurate and important.

Q. Scoops you’re proud of?

A. When the Herald reported that Theo Epstein had not accepted the job to come back after the ’05 season, and we were also the first to report that he had left the job. The competition reported he was coming back – sort of a ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ – it was a good day for the Herald.

I had Damon coming to the Red Sox first, and some good one-on-ones with Pedro Martinez.

Q. How do you keep up with baseball news?

A. (groan)

I’ve been on the beat for 13 years. The first nine I spent a lot of time going to Spanish papers on the Internet. I’m not fluent, but sometimes the small Dominican papers would have scoops and I would follow up.

Then I went to individual sites, which seems so laborious and time-consuming now that we have feeders that update you instantaneously. There are some great fan sites like ‘Son of Sam Horn’. I go to ESPN, Fox, SI, CBS SportsLine. There are some great sites with contract numbers – Cot’s Baseball Contracts, mlb4u.com. For trade rumors there’s mlbtraderumors.com. Prosportsdaily.com contains news nuggets and a pretty complete list of trade rumors.

So it’s harder and harder to establish and maintain a scoop before everybody else has it – the lifespan of a scoop is shorter. The internal debate is whether to post it immediately or save it for the print edition. The print edition comes online at 12 or 1 a.m. at which point it’s hard for anybody to chase for the morning paper. But it’s rare that a scoop survives until morning. Your competitor can put it on their website as long as they credit it. We do that but first we verify it on our own.

Q. Is a scoop less valuable than it used to be?

A. When AP picks up stories they’ll say “as first reported by the Boston Herald”. Papers take great pride in that – it’s the way you keep score. Editors and higher-ups care about it. It gets repeated on the wires and local radio stations. Further out from where the scoop takes place they care less when it’s reported on ESPN or a national outlet that the Boston Herald is reporting this.

It all comes down to the work the beat reporters do. If some Boston columnist has an outlandish opinion it doesn’t really get picked up nationwide. But if we report that Tim Wakefield is going to be on the DL or has suffered an injury it will be reported nationally and credited to the Boston Herald.

Q. Are outlets honorable about crediting?

A. Some are – sometimes. Mostly, yes.

Q. Are beat reporters appreciated?

A. Depends how you define appreciation. Anyone in the business understands that the life of a beat reporter involves a lot of grunt work that just isn’t done by columnists. I think every columnist appreciates us – many were former beat reporters. Anyone who doesn’t is probably some sort of prima donna or windbag.

Q. Is there a skill to asking a good question?

A. Depends on the kind of story – feature or straight game. Try not to ask yes-no questions or you’ll get yes-no answers. Ask open-ended questions. And listen to the answers. Don’t go in with a preconceived list of questions and not be open to hearing something that is a better story than you thought you’d get. Be open to the unexpected.

Q. Which questions make you cringe?

A. I love it when someone calls Francona “coach”, as in “coach, can you explain this”. You know he’s just waiting to figure out first of all how to rip you to shreds or to bite his tongue that day. He has no patience for that. Sometimes people ask questions that you can’t go down the road with this manager. He won’t blast a player and he’ll always jump to their defense, so if someone asks a leading question to try to get him to rip a player and he has to dance around, I cringe. I know he’s not going to answer it and you wonder how he’ll turn it on the reporter.

I ask my share of stupid questions, too. Sometimes you ask someone how they feel after giving up five runs in the eighth inning, and they say, “how do you think I feel.” It’s never a good moment. We know the answer but sometimes we need the quote, even if the comments are rote and predictable.

Q. Does it annoy you if someone horns in on your interview?

A. It’s it pre-game in the clubhouse and I’m speaking to a player one-on-one in front of his locker and someone comes up and lingers over my shoulder I’m not shy about saying ‘I need a couple of minutes do you mind’. By the same token if I see a reporter one-on-one with a player I tell myself ‘forget it, I can’t go over there’. These days it’s harder and harder to get players to come to their lockers at all. After the game it’s a different story. Anybody involved in the story is fair game – we’re all on deadlines. You have to give people a little bit of time but eventually you have to ask a question of whoever made the important hit or important play.

Q. How did you vote on the new ‘bonus-clause’ rule of the Baseball Writers Association? (which disqualifies players for writers awards if their contract links cash incentives to an award)

A. I voted for it. Part of the catalyst was the incentive clause Schilling received from the Red Sox. I don’t blame Schilling for asking for it. It seemed to crystallize what the flaw is in our voting process. When I saw some of the ridiculous votes people made in the Cy Young vote this year it was easy to see a bad situation down the road where there could be an appearance of a conflict of interest. There actually could be a conflict between a reporter and a player he covers.

Q. Is it far-fetched to imagine a cash payment for a vote?

A. I can’t even imagine a player of that ilk existing and the same goes for baseball writers. But it was too easy for that to happen – the fact that I can’t imagine it means nothing – those types tend to find each other and make each other happy. I understand why the players’ union hates the new rule but I’m sure they can be creative and come up with some other incentive. I believe they’ve held an emergency summit since we voted for it. It’s now been tabled until the writers’ executive committee meets with the union. They want us to reconsider

Q. Why does the union care?

A. Incentive clauses were hooked to the writers’ awards. It was a way for agents to get more money for their clients. The teams can’t give incentive clauses – they’re illegal. It puts the player above the team. It drives players to achieve individual goals and puts pressure on the managers for playing time. Appearance clauses are allowed, but nothing directly pegged to wins or offense.

Q. Does the Herald allow you to vote on awards?

A. We’re allowed. One reason the writers association went down this road is more papers are not allowing their writers to vote. It feared this would become a sweeping trend and nobody would be left to vote on awards. The (NY) Times is the most prominent paper that doesn’t allow its writers to vote. One or two others have crept into it.

I don’t have any problem with it. Personally I haven’t voted for an award – it’s the way they pass out ballots in Boston.

Q. Does award voting affect relationships with players?

A. I hope not. It wouldn’t with me. I like to believe I could just vote for who deserves it and put aside all personal and professional relationships.

Michael Silverman, excerpted from the Boston Herald, November 1, 2005:

Once Theo Epstein finally decided that his dream job was anything but, the Red Sox were left wondering if this was all just a nightmare.

Epstein walked away from his general manager’s post yesterday, dealing a stunning blow to the heart and soul of an organization that had reached the ultimate pinnacle with a world title barely more than a year ago. That honeymoon period ended abruptly with Epstein’s decision to decline the club’s three-year contract extension offer worth $1.5 million a year.

Epstein’s decision seemingly came out of the blue, as many considered his return before the midnight deadline to be a done deal.

As it turned out, Epstein’s dismay with his job and his work environment overrode all other concerns.

The decision by Epstein was an agonizing one. The Brookline native weighed the job he always coveted against the intra- organizational politics, power struggles and lack of privacy issues that increasingly were becoming a burden to him.

The negotiations began late in the summer and intensified after the Red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs. At first, money and length of contract were central issues for Epstein, who had lobbied hard for an annual salary of more than $1 million a year. A private and almost shy person to begin with, Epstein had handled himself well in the spotlight but did not enjoy the sometimes oppressive media demands that came with the job and the intrusions in his personal life away from the ballpark.

Still, by Saturday evening, he had come close to agreeing to a deal, although he still had not officially accepted it. On Sunday, he began having serious misgivings about staying on. A key factor that ultimately soured Epstein on the job, according to sources close to the situation, was a column in Sunday’s Boston Globe which revealed too much inside information about the relationship between Epstein and his mentor, Larry Lucchino, and slanted the coverage in the team president’s favor. Epstein, according to these sources, had several reasons to believe Lucchino was a primary source behind the column and came to the realization that if this information was leaked hours before he was going to agree to a long-term deal, excessive bad faith existed between the two.

Epstein had not made up his mind about accepting the job before going to bed Sunday night despite a report in the Globe citing “multiple major league sources” that said the Red Sox and the GM had agreed to a contract extension. The Globe’s parent company, the New York Times, holds a 17 percent ownership stake in the Red Sox.

(SMG thanks Michael Silverman for his cooperation)

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