An Interview with Scott Miller

An Interview with Scott Miller

An Interview with Scott Miller

“I think our site is exceptionally clean — you won’t get stalled in the clutter that slows you on some other sites as you’re searching for something in our corner of the Internet universe. Video or the written word, you can navigate through both very easily.”

“I think sometimes the fun part of it is what gets lost today, with everyone racing to be first not only with the important stories, but with even third-tier personnel moves that leave most people thinking ‘So what?’”

“Watching baseball for a living is terrific…”

Scott Miller: Interviewed on May 18, 2009

Position: CBSSports.com national baseball columnist.

Born: 1963, K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Marquette, MI

Education: Hillsdale (MI) College, 1985, B.A, English major

Career: Los Angeles Times, San Diego edition, 1987-1992; Los Angeles Times, Orange County edition, 1993; St. Paul Pioneer Press 1994-1999; CBSSports.com, 1999-2009

Personal: Married, Kim; daughter, Gretchen (12)

Favorite restaurant (home): Spirito’s, Carlsbad, Calif. “Terrific family-owned Italian joint, family originally from New Jersey, outstanding chicken parmesan pizza.”

Favorite restaurant (away): “Just one? One of the best things about baseball travel is restaurants. I love Il Vagabondo in New York, a great little neighborhood Italian place; the barbecue in Kansas City – I’ll take Arthur Bryant’s or Gates, love ’em both; Legal Seafood in Boston – the baked Scrod is simple but perfect; Geno’s East in Chicago – ah, the deep dish pizza with sausage; Faidley’s in Baltimore’s Lexington Market – best crab cakes there, gotta get the “lump” crab cakes; Tommaso’s in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood – great pizza, great Italian food, legend has it that Francis Ford Coppola drank espresso here regularly while working on the script for The Godfather… I’d probably better stop now.”

Favorite hotel: Dearborn Inn, Dearborn, Mich. “A great old brick building and the grounds are beautiful. Right across the street from Henry Ford Museum and you can still feel the ghosts from the glory days of the auto industry. Plus, having grown up in Michigan, I always enjoy going back, seeing friends and breathing some of that clean Midwestern air.”

Scott Miller, posted on CBSSports.com, January 5, 2009:

The natural tendency when a person passes away is to forget the faults and remember the good things.

Regarding the late Minnesota Twins
owner Carl Pohlad, this is not one of those tributes.

Pohlad is given credit for saving baseball in Minnesota when he purchased the Twins in 1984, and maybe that’s true. But during his time in the owner’s chair, the remarkable thing is that he didn’t kill baseball in Minnesota.

Lord knows, he tried.

His volunteering the Twins for contraction during baseball’s despicable 2001 scheme remains one of the most reprehensible actions of any owner in recent memory.

His misrepresentation of his financial “contributions” while attempting to get public subsidy for a new stadium in 1997 for a time killed the whole idea of a new ballpark in Minnesota — and at the very least delayed the entire project by several years.

Oh yes, this guy was a beauty. He got his start in the banking business foreclosing family farms during the Depression. Nice, huh? He remained a cold-hearted businessman the rest of the way, too.

He was worth more financially than Yankees
owner George Steinbrenner, yet he kept the Twins’ payroll low, Scrooge-like, in line with all of the other small-market owners. He was one of Commissioner Bud Selig’s chief lieutenants in the war to keep club payrolls down.

The two had an odd alliance, Selig and Pohlad, to the point where Pohlad even sent the commissioner suits and sports jackets at times when he thought Selig needed an upgrade.

As such, and because it’s what Commissioners do, Selig offered condolences in a statement issued by major league baseball on Monday: “His devotion to the Minnesota Twins, the Twin Cities and major league baseball was remarkable. In my long career, I have never met a more loyal and caring human being.”

Bull.

He wasn’t a caring human being when foreclosing on those families all those years ago. And he was ready and willing to kill the Twins — baseball fans of Minnesota be damned — when the citizens wouldn’t give him a sweetheart deal on a new ballpark.

He threatened to move the team to North Carolina. It was one of the most transparent scams ever concocted. The prospective “buyer” in North Carolina essentially was a hillbilly propped up like a scarecrow to instill fear in baseball fans throughout Minnesota.

He told the public during that ill-fated news conference in ’97 that he would kick in $80 million toward the new ballpark. It was only later that it was discovered that, surprise, what was advertised as his contribution really was a loan that the state would repay to him — with interest.

And that wasn’t even the most vile thing that happened. No, within the myriad scare tactics was a beauty of a television ad produced by one of his sons featuring footage of former outfielder Marty Cordova visiting a children’s hospital and autographing a baseball for an ill boy.

The voiceover intoned something like, “If the Twins move away, boys like this one will never have the chance to get Marty Cordova’s autograph.”

Too bad the sick boy had died even before the advertisement ran on television. Nobody had gotten consent to use the boy’s image, so nobody associated with the advertisement knew he had passed away until it was too late. It was another disgusting moment, and another embarrassment for Pohlad.

Yet instead of any remorse or apology after all of this, Pohlad took it to the next level when he failed to extort a stadium from the taxpayers. He joined Selig in baseball’s dirty scheme, volunteering to serve the Twins up for contraction.

The irony of it all is that Pohlad’s Twins remained one of the most respected organizations in the game. The one thing he did right was to put baseball people in charge and leave them there. And I will say this: The baseball people running the show, from Andy MacPhail to Terry Ryan to Bill Smith, have always said that they were treated fairly by Pohlad. I’ve never heard any of them utter a bad word about the man, and I suppose that says something as well.

In the long run, Pohlad did get his stadium. The new ballpark will open in 2010, and from what I’ve seen of the blueprints, the good people of Minnesota will be getting a ballpark that they deserve.

I can’t say the same for Pohlad.

Q. Tell us how you really felt about Pohlad.

A. The thing that really bothered me about Pohlad was when he volunteered the Twins for contraction earlier this decade. He had misrepresented himself to the people of Minnesota while attempting to sway public opinion for a new and largely publicly funded baseball stadium. When he couldn’t sell it, largely because he and his people whiffed on the sales pitch, he essentially resorted to extortion: “If you people don’t get me a new stadium, I’ll take your team away.” A lot of fans had supported an awful lot of bad teams he had fielded, and I just thought that was as cynical as it gets.

Now, I thought a lot about that piece before it was published because of the timing, and I did take some shots from a few readers for being cruel. It’s always delicate whenever you’re writing in the immediate aftermath of somebody dying. You know how that goes — no matter how someone is while he’s living, he’s usually sainted in death.

No matter the circumstance, I think the most important thing is to be honest. It would be hypocritical to be anything less. Most of that Pohlad stuff, I’d written before in various forms and places: When I worked in St. Paul, and at CBSSports.com, especially when baseball was considering contracting the Twins.

Q. Why should fans go to CBSSports.com instead of the other major sports websites? Sell us on your website.

A. For starters, you’ve got to go there during March now that we’ve got live broadcasts of every NCAA tournament game. You can control your own tournament viewing.

At CBSSports.com, you’re going to get a well-balanced combination of breaking news, opinion and analysis from a staff of what I think consists of – here’s where I’m supposed to brag, right? – some of the most entertaining, passionate and knowledgeable writers out there. You won’t get just breaking stories, you’ll get explanations as to what they mean, how they affect your team and what to expect next.

I think our site is exceptionally clean — you won’t get stalled in the clutter that slows you on some other sites as you’re searching for something in our corner of the Internet universe. Video or the written word, you can navigate through both very easily. I think as you do there’s a very good chance you’ll learn something or get a chuckle or two, and probably both.

I love the line from the late Jim Valvano’s speech a few years back, that there are three things we should do every day: Laugh, think and cry. Now, hopefully, we don’t have to cry too often. But I think if writers can give you some information maybe you didn’t know before, and strum your emotions here and there — make you laugh, make you think, make you angry — I think that’s the best of all worlds. And I think most of the time we deliver on that at CBSSports.com.

I think Mike Freeman and Gregg Doyel are as entertaining and provocative as any columnists out there. Danny Knobler, who we hired just last summer, long has been one of the most underrated baseball writers in the country. Gary Parrish is incredibly plugged in on the college basketball beat. Dennis Dodd is as good as there is on college football. Clark Judge and Pete Prisco excel on the NFL. Our new NBA guy, Ken Berger, is terrific. And I continually get compliments regarding our Fantasy sports — especially from major leaguers who play Fantasy Football through us.

Q. How do you rate the other major websites? Which ones do you pay most attention to? Which journalists do you keep an eye on?

A. You compare Web sites today vs. even three years ago, the changes are amazing. More writers, more video, more information, more bells and whistles. All of our sites are constantly evolving.

I pay attention to the big sports sites, of course: SI.com, ESPN.com, Foxsports.com. Covering baseball has become such a 12-month, 365-days-a-year proposition that I’m always watching other baseball writers. I think the best in the business remains Tom Verducci, the longtime Sports Illustrated writer who’s also regularly on the SI Web site now. Tom writes with such grace and depth. For news and rumors, you’ve got to keep up with Ken Rosenthal at Foxsports.com and Jon Heyman at SI.com. I’ve always loved what Jayson Stark (ESPN.com) does — he’s always had a terrific way of combining news tidbits with plain old fun.

I think sometimes the fun part of it is what gets lost today, with everyone racing to be first not only with the important stories, but with even third-tier personnel moves that leave most people thinking “So what?” There are so many great writers out there — more, I think, covering baseball than in any other sport. I read Jerry Crasnick, Buster Olney and Jim Caple at ESPN. Caple and I worked together for years in St. Paul, and he always comes at things from a very unique angle. Peter Gammons, of course. And Yahoo’s baseball guys are very strong. Gordon Edes, Tim Brown and Jeff Passan. Jeff is an extremely bright young writer with terrific ideas. His piece on Zack Greinke a couple of weeks ago was outstanding.

Q. What non-mainstream sports media – such as blogs – do you pay attention to? Do you use aggregating sites?

A. The people at Baseball Prospectus never cease to amaze me. They are so good. I read a blog at Baseball Think Factory (http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/newsstand/) that is a nice sampling every day of what folks are writing at newspapers, Web sites and blogs around the country.

Like every other baseball writer, I check MLBTradeRumors.com every day — more often during certain times of the year, like the winter and July trade deadline. Tim Dierkes does a real nice job with that. Hardball Times.com is a must read.

There are others as well. I enjoy Aaron Gleeman’s Minnesota Twins-based blog. The U.S.S. Mariner folks are really good. Athletics Nation. There is so much out there that it’s impossible to read everything.

Q. Describe your job – reporting and writing demands, competitive pressures, time and travel demands, etc?

A. I generally write 3-4 columns a week and several blogs in between. When I’m not traveling, I’m looking ahead 2-3 weeks at the schedules of the clubs near my home in Southern California. Which teams will be home, which teams will be traveling through the area? I try and make sure I see every team at least once before the All-Star break, then maybe toward mid-August start whittling it down to contenders.

I come up with all of the ideas for my columns. Breaking news is obvious — when Manny Ramirez was suspended, I wrote one column almost immediately from home that morning analyzing it, then drove to Dodger Stadium, attended a press conference, recorded a video for the site and then wrote two more pieces.

During the season, I’m generally scouring the box scores either at night when the games are finished or, more likely, in the morning over breakfast while updating my day-by-day book – logging each team’s games, who pitched, what the pitcher’s line was, who homered, etc. I know that’s all available online, but I find I notice things – individual game things, trends, etc. – when I log them that maybe I wouldn’t otherwise. I’ve got the MLB Extra Innings television package at home and XM radio as well, so when I’m not at a ballpark I’m generally roving between games on television or on the radio, always on the lookout for column ideas. Lots of phone calls and conversations at stadiums, too.

My travel varies. I can count on being on the road from mid-February to April 1 every year for spring training, roaming through Florida and Arizona. And I’m generally gone throughout October during the playoffs and World Series, though I can sometimes sneak a couple of nights at home if, say, the Angels or Dodgers are in the playoffs. The All-Star game is an annual trip as well.

Otherwise, during the first half of the season travel is hit and miss – not too much, generally, unless something dictates it – say, Bonds chasing a homer record a few years ago. Second half of the season, usually September brings a pennant race trip or two or three.

With so many Web sites and so many people breaking news, the competition factor is always there. I liken it to a doctor who is always on call. You never know when a story is going to break, when the phone is going to ring with a tip, when the phone is going to ring with an editor asking you to check something out. Especially now with newspaper deadlines being out the window, it’s a 24/7 cycle, almost.

Q. What are the pleasures of your job?

A. The best part of my job is the people. Watching baseball for a living is terrific. I got into the business because I’ve had a passion for baseball and writing since I was in about the sixth grade. What I didn’t know then, but have learned along the way, is that some of the greatest pleasures on the job come from the relationships made over the years. Writers whom you’ve gotten to know by sitting for hours with them in press boxes. Players you covered as rookies who, 15 years later, you still talk with. Same with managers and executives.

There are different people and different stories each day. That keeps it fresh and interesting. It’s a constant education as well. Seeing the game in new ways through the eyes of some of the people you have met – or through the eyes of a person you’re going to meet tomorrow – is a pleasure and a privilege.

Q. You wrote after Nick Adenhart’s death: “You looked for meaning here Friday night as the heartbroken Los Angeles Angels stepped back onto the baseball field because there’s got to be meaning in here somehow, somewhere, right?”

Were you channeling Albert Camus?

A. Well, I’m not French.

Seriously, that was a tough, tough night. Baseball is a game of numbers and statistics, but sometimes I think there is a tendency today to get wrapped up in that too deeply, sometimes at the expense of the human side. That night in Anaheim was a stark reminder that beneath the numbers and stats are human beings. To me, this is a people business and the most intriguing part of the game remains the human element. I’m more interested in why or how a player reacts the way he does in a certain situation, what makes him tick, how did he get from point A to point B, or in how does a team mesh than I am in crunching numbers. I’d certainly rather avoid any more columns like the one on Adenhart’s tragic death that night, though, I can tell you that.

Scott Miller, posted on CBSSports.com, April 11, 2009:

ANAHEIM, Calif. — You looked for meaning here Friday night as the heartbroken Los Angeles Angels
stepped back onto the baseball field because there’s got to be meaning in here somehow, somewhere, right?

So you searched, and searched hard, and all you kept coming up with was tears and choked off sentences and flowers, lots of flowers. They haven’t even buried pitcher Nick Adenhart
and the two other youngsters who were killed in the horrific traffic accident early Thursday morning, and yet it seemed as if there were enough flowers for 300 funerals in the makeshift memorial in front of Angel Stadium.

“The night before last we got beat, we gave the game away, and you’re pissed off,” Angels owner Arte Moreno said. “And then this happens and you think, ‘None of it matters.’

“Sometimes we get too serious about the game. It’s just a game.”

A few minutes earlier, during batting practice, Boston slugger David Ortiz
told Moreno he wanted to meet Jim Adenhart, Nick’s father. Ortiz had been watching television with his son when news of Adenhart’s death came across, and from across the country, it hit Big Papi hard. Broke his heart, he told Moreno.

Commissioner Bud Selig phoned Moreno twice on Thursday, wanting to know how the Angels and Adenhart’s family were doing. Several owners texted Moreno asking the same thing and informing him of their own plans for moments of silence.

“Everybody,” Moreno said. “Everybody’s touched by this. We’re one family. Whether you’re a writer or a player or a fan, we’re all tied together.”

We’re all tied together.

You leave the ballpark late one evening in early April, and the new season and all of its promise stretches out in front of you like a big green pasture.

You return two days later, and it’s like someone has fenced it off.

What possible sense is there to make of a man who blows through a red light at an intersection, ending three lives with a fourth hanging in the balance, a young man who is medically sedated at UC Irvine Medical Center … and then tests nearly three times the legal limit for alcohol?

“It’s one of the toughest things I’ve had to go through not only as a player, but as a person,” Angels pitcher Joe Saunders
said.

What possible meaning can you find while sorting through the wreckage of broken dreams and crushed hopes?

“He was one of the coolest, most unique people,” Angels pitcher Dustin Moseley
said. “He had style. He could do just about anybody’s mannerisms or voices. … It takes you out of the bubble that is baseball. To say, ‘Wow, tomorrow could be my last day … what kind of impact am I making?'”

As Moseley and Saunders spoke, outfielder Torii Hunter
and pitcher John Lackey
were downstairs meeting privately with Janet Adenhart, Nick’s mother.

Roughly 24 hours earlier, the broken Angels met privately in their clubhouse, manager Mike Scioscia addressing them and Jim Adenhart speaking as well.

“I haven’t cried since I was 11, I don’t think,” Saunders said. “That’s the first time I’ve cried since then. To see the sheer emotions on his dad’s face.

“It tears your heart apart.”

Said Moseley: “The things we were able to tell Mr. Adenhart, to give him a hug. I think, for a second, it brought Nick back. We’re big boys, and giving him a hug, I’m sure it felt like he was giving Nick a hug.”

We’re all tied together, and that’s the meaning when it seems there is none, and that’s the sense when it seems there is none of that, either. There’s a death in your neighbor’s family, you bring over a casserole. A new family moves in next door, you bring over a plate of cookies. It’s what we do. We pull each other through triumphs and we pull each other through tragedies.

When we’re lost or uncertain, we come together.

Outside Angel Stadium, 30 minutes to game time, probably 400 people ringed the makeshift memorial on the brick pitcher’s mound on the grand entrance to Angel Stadium. There were hundreds of bouquets. Signs. Dozens of balloons (“I’m sorry” read one). Easter lilies. Stuffed animals. Lighted memorial candles. Red Angels caps. Poems. A fielder’s glove. Framed photos. Funeral wreaths.

Two men walked up wearing red T-shirts reading, “Angels never die, they go to heaven.” A boy who looked to be of Little League age walked up and somberly dropped a medal it looked like he had won in some tournament onto the bricks. A woman quietly placed a bouquet of flowers.

“I lost a son before he reached 20, in a car accident,” said the woman, an Angels season-ticket holder named Laura Sandoval, 60, of La Puente, Calif. “I know how the mother would feel. It’s got to be real hard right now.

“It’s all family. It’s like a family, this organization.”

A little girl who couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 carefully, somberly laid a red Angels cap onto the memorial. Another woman placed another bouquet of flowers.

“Our neighbors across the street are die-hard Angels fans, and I recently lost my mother,” explained the woman, Marla Craig, 44, of Las Vegas. “I came here to mourn my personal family things and to see what actually happened here, and it’s been extraordinary. I’m overwhelmed. There are no words right now for how I feel.”

The memorial itself was extraordinary, fans streaming through the parking lot to pay their respects all day Thursday and Friday. What was so heart rendering 30 minutes before game time Friday was, when you walked out toward the stadium’s entryway, you heard the normal pre-game buzz of fans hurrying by. And then you approached the memorial and it was like you had entered a cone of silence. Fans encircled the large area, and without even the restraint of a temporary barricade, they knew. They respectfully stood back five or six feet, giving those who wanted to approach plenty of space.

“Driving by, I saw it,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think, as important as it is for us to see that and feel it, it’s there for the Adenhart family. I hope Jim and Janet have stopped by and taken a look. That speaks volumes for how people feel about their son.”

Inside the stadium, the flags flew at half-mast. The Angels wore a black patch with “34” in white on the left side of their chest, above the heart. They’ll wear that the rest of the year. They’ll also leave Adenhart’s locker as is in their clubhouse, uniform, glove, cleats inside, and they plan to set up a locker in his memory on the road as well.

There was an emotional moment of silence before the game following a video tribute, not only for Adenhart, but also for Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson, the other two kids killed in the accident. As the Angels and Red Sox lined up on the base lines, outfielder Hunter and pitcher Lackey stood on the mound and held an “Adenhart 34” jersey.

“His parents asked us,” Hunter said. “Janet was telling me everything Nick had said about me, telling her this spring that I had talked to him that day and how nice I was to him. I was like, ‘Me?’

“You wish you could do better. … It’s amazing, the effect you can have on people. I didn’t know the effect I had on him. That’s why you treat people like you want to be treated. You don’t know if they’re going to be here tomorrow, or if you will be.”

Adenhart’s parents were in the stadium for the ceremony, though not on the field. And as the heavy-hearted Angels took the field to start the game, Hunter trotted all the way to the center field fence and tapped a banner picturing Adenhart pitching right on the heart.

“I don’t think there are any words,” Moreno said. “You bring these young kids in and they’re family. You’re committed to the kids, and then there’s just a piece missing. It’s always here. If you have kids, if you’ve ever lost anyone, it takes a piece with you.

“Yesterday it felt like I got punched in the heart.”

We’re all tied together, one thread running through our human condition. And yes, sometimes that thread is the same red thread that stitches together a baseball.

“I had to bury my dad,” Moseley said. “I couldn’t imagine burying my son.”

You looked for meaning here Friday night, where the Angels won 6-3, and maybe you found a small bit of it in the smallest of places. Eye contact and a smile. A soft pat on the shoulder, or a hug. A stuffed animal in the heart-wrenching memorial out front.

The Angels made professional therapists available to their players but, Scioscia said, “I’ll tell you what. The best grief counselor is your locker mate.”

And, sometimes, your friends and neighbors. Because as much as we hate it, it takes a lot of tears to get through this life. And a lot of help.

(SMG thanks Scott Miller for his cooperation)

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