An Interview with Tracy Ringolsby

An Interview with Tracy Ringolsby

An Interview with Tracy Ringolsby

“One of the most important things is to learn to talk to people with the notebook closed. Deal with people like they’re people. You can’t make them feel like every time they talk to you they have to be on guard.

“A lot of guys get in trouble because they think of themselves as athletes and coaches. Most guys are frustrated athletes – I realized in the second grade I wasn’t an athlete. I’ve seen guys trying to give tips in batting practice about mechanics. Stay out of that. Players know we’re not coaches.”

“You’re around the individuals so much in baseball that they know you. I think it’s why the beat guys in baseball like it better and the columnists and TV guys don’t. It’s the one sport where the beat guys really have an advantage.”

Tracy Ringolsby: Interviewed on June 12, 2007

Position: Colorado Rockies beat reporter, Rocky Mountain News

Born: 1951, Cheyenne, Wyoming

Education: enrolled at University of Wyoming, social sciences

Career: UPI, 1971-77; Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram, 77-80; Seattle Press-Intelligencer 80-83; KC Star 83-86; Dallas Morning News 86-92; Rocky Mountain News 92 –

Personal: married, one daughter (Laramie)

Favorite restaurant (road): Waffle House “hash browns scattered smothered chunked and diced”

Favorite restaurant (home): Little Bear Inn, Cheyenne “old steak house”

Favorite hotel: Stanford Court, SF “quiet and comfortable”

Honors: J.G. Taylor Spink Award, 2005

Tracy Ringolsby, excerpted from his notes column, Rocky Mountain News, June 7, 2007:

ARIZONA had a solid opening day, including taking a fifth-round gamble with North Carolina High School OF Tyrell Worthington, a raw baseball talent who has a scholarship to play football and baseball and East Carolina.

ATLANTA followed a familiar path, taking Georgia prep in the first round, OF Jason Heyward. With the 33rd pick in the draft the Braves selected Jon Gilmore of Iowa City High School, the highest an Iowa prep player has ever been selected. The previous high was when the Dodgers took Zach Hammes with the 51st selection in 2002. Atlanta used its fifth round pick on Dennis Dixon, projected starting quarterback at the University of Oregon, who hasn’t played baseball since high school.

CHICAGO scouting director Tim Wilken got an up-close look at No. 1 pick Josh Vitters as a hitter when Wilken threw Vitters batting practice two weeks ago. Vitters’ father, an auto mechanic, the only hitting coach he has ever had.

CINCINNATI No. 1 pick Devin Mesoraco of Punxsutawney Area (Pa) High School underwent reconstructive elbow surgery as a junior, but did not have any problems throwing this spring.

COLORADO took potential relievers with three of its first five selections, including No. 1 Casey Weathers, a senior from Vanderbilt.

FLORIDA selected 3B Matthew Dominguez of Chatsworth, Ca., with the 12th pick overall, 10 behind his high school teammate, SS Michael Moustakas, who went to Kansas City. It was the highest two high school teams have been chosen in the same draft.

HOUSTON paid the price for signing free agents Carlos Lee and Woody Williams. The Astros did not have a selection until No. 111, losing the first rounder choice to Texas for Lee, and second-round choice to San Diego for Williams.

Q. What are the ABCs of the baseball beat?

A. Buy a gun, put it in your mouth and pull the trigger.

Seriously, one of the most important things is to learn to talk to people with the notebook closed. Deal with people like they’re people. You can’t make them feel like every time they talk to you they have to be on guard. The Rockies picked up Jason Hirsch – he went to Cal Lutheran. The Cowboys trained at Cal Lutheran when I covered them. We could talk about that. You look for something to have a thread to a conversation. You have to understand that they’re human beings, too. You’re going to be around these individuals for a long time and you need to get it to that level. Let them understand you’re a person, too.

Second thing. A lot of guys get in trouble because they think of themselves as athletes and coaches. Most guys are frustrated athletes – I realized in the second grade I wasn’t an athlete. I’ve seen guys trying to give tips in batting practice about mechanics. Stay out of that. Players know we’re not coaches. They want to show the people involved they have insight into the game. I don’t think the people involved give a shit. Guys will start talking about arm slots and throwing terminology around. The players know we’re writers – that’s what we are.

Q. What happens if you try to strike up a conversation with Barry Bonds?

A. Nothing. I’ve known him since 1977 – whatever his age was then. I covered the Angels and his Dad was on the Angels. He has no idea who I am.

Q. Why?

A. I don’t know. He would have a better explanation than I have. He’s never been someone, from my standpoint, that you could get to know. I’ve talked to him off and on over the years. He has his world he lives in and I have mine. There’s no real acknowledgment.

Q. What will you write when he breaks Aaron’s record?

A. That he broke it. He’s been a great player on the field. Even before his steroids issues he was a great player. As a player he was a better player – more agile and quicker. I don’t think you can take away from what he was as a ballplayer.

Q. Should Bud Selig show up?

A. Yeah. It’s part of the game. Bud’s in a situation where it doesn’t matter what he does – it’s going to be wrong. For the game’s sake he needs to be there. Public opinion will be strong both ways. This a time where the game has to be the number one concern.

Q. How do you develop sources?

A. Treat people how you want to be treated. You want people to talk to you as a human. Not just athletes, but with different people in the game – you try to develop a rapport. You develop sources if they like you and trust you and realize you’re not just in the game to try to create a name for yourself. I learned this the hard way.

It’s a lot more important to be factual than first. I had a player get upset at me. He said, “When you have it people believe it.” You want to be first – you want to break the news – but when you break it you want people who read it to feel this must be true. I’m not saying it always happens that way. I’m not saying I’ve never been wrong on anything. But you have to strive for that.

Sometimes if you’re not sure you have to take a step back and suffer the short-term consequences. That’s your credibility. In the long run that helps you deal with people. You get to the point where if you wrote something somebody doesn’t care for, and your reputation is you don’t write stuff off the cuff, they have a little more faith in what you wrote.

You can be critical of people. If they want to come back and be upset they have a right to express displeasure. You’re one person. You just wrote for 500,000 people. They have a right to say something in return if I have a right to criticize.

I didn’t have a good relationship with the Rockies’ original General Manager, Bob Gebhard. We barely spoke. When he got fired, a TV guy said to me, “You have to be disappointed to lose a guy like Geb.” This TV guy didn’t even know we didn’t get along, which was good. If you’re a beat guy and you become too much of a crusader your credibility can disappear.

Q. You’re saying a beat reporter should walk a middle line?

A. You have to keep your emotions out of it. As a beat guy you can present the information and trust the public for being intelligent enough to digest it. I can present information that makes a reader think that guy’s not a very good manager. I don’t have to go on a crusade. We’ve all seen that.

Q. Leave the crusades to the columnists?

A. That’s what columnists do. You’re trying to cover the team day in and day out and if it looks like you have a vendetta your objectivity disappears. It’s like the one guy (David Gregory) who covers the White House for NBC – you know he hates Bush. He’s always in confrontations during press conferences. I’m thinking, ‘how balanced is he going to be?’ And I’m not saying that to make a political statement. My grandfather was John L. Lewis’ vice-president.

Q. Do columnists make your job more difficult?

A. They can create uneasiness. I’ve had a pretty good relationship with most columnists. I’m not going to tell them what to think. One thing I’ve always said to them, if you call me up with an idea you want to write about the Rockies, I will bring up the opposite points for you. I will bring up the counter-arguments, so they might understand what the other side is if they’re going to write it. I’ve had a pretty good rapport with (Mike) Littwin or (Dave) Krieger or (Randy) Galloway. They put a good effort into what they’re doing.

Every now and then they create a stir, but it doesn’t affect my job that much, particularly in baseball. You’re around the individuals so much in baseball that they know you. I think it’s why the beat guys in baseball like it better and the columnists and TV guys don’t. It’s the one sport where the beat guys really have an advantage. A TV guy in Denver once told me the baseball players don’t even know who he is. Think of it. Baseball players usually don’t stay in the winter – they go to a warmer climate. And when the TV guy is on at 5 and 10 o’clock they’re not at home watching. They don’t have the lifestyles football players do.

Q. Will the Stray-Rod story affect players’ trust of writers?

A. I think a lot of that is based on individuals. I’m talking as an old guy now. It used to be that you started out with trust and you had to lose it. You were welcome when you got there and you could wear out the welcome. Now it’s a situation where you have to earn it. It’s more like ‘who are these guys (writers) and what are they here for?’ It takes longer to earn it, but you can.

Q. How do you do a weekly notes column?

A. It’s a collecting thing all week. I’ve changed the approach a bit, because of the Internet and notes networks where so much stuff got passed around. I do one page of opinion stuff. For the notes I pick a single subject and try to touch on that with every team. Last week I took a look at the first five rounds of every team’s draft. I did a paragraph on each team. One week I might do something on what minor league player is closest to coming up to help out. One week it was on money paid to players not playing for the team.

You’re always collecting – sometimes you ask other reporters for help. Or you go through rosters. It’s kind of an amalgamation – an ongoing thing. You talk to front office people or scouts or other players. I’m always having three or four different ideas and slowly putting them together. Without a Sunday paper our notes go on Friday. I’m in by noon on Thursday.

The Internet has changed the whole business. I think to survive papers have to improve local coverage. The national type stuff slowly gets eaten away. The Chicago papers cover the Cubs every day – what can I write about the Cubs that a Cubs fan would want? What can I write about Barry Bonds that you haven’t found in the Contra Costa Times or the San Francisco Chronicle or the Oakland Tribune? I think what we have to do is go back to our roots. Two springs ago there was a lot of Bonds stuff going on in Scottsdale. We had Jack (Etkin) in Florida doing Shawn Chacon. The wires gave us all the Bonds stuff we could use. But Chacon was from Greeley, Colo., so we had a double reason to do him. That’s what we need to do to make readers read us. I guess you get more provincial.

I could come in and write the Red Sox for a day, but the real Red Sox fan is going to know what I’m writing. Fifteen years ago you could write something on the Red Sox a guy in Denver hadn’t read, but the Internet changed that.

Q. What effect did “Moneyball” have on baseball?

A. It was a bit of a fad. The owners got caught up in it and thought it was something new. It was such a simplistic view. What I couldn’t get over was the man who invented OBP was Branch Rickey – the same guy who invented the farm system – and suddenly we’re acting like it’s a new tool for baseball people to use. It’s just one of many tools you use. (Oakland GM) Billy (Beane) liked it because it was undervalued – it was like buying a stock you feel has an upside. Once Moneyball became the big thing Billy got away from that.

What upset me was that it was a surface look at things and that it made strong value judgments and demeaned people who put their lives into the game.

I don’t think it’s much of a factor anymore. I thought it was an oversimplification and I wrote a column on it. I didn’t think there would be that big of a reaction. Work-wise it never really affected anything. I’ve always been involved in different scouting groups as far as trying to help those guys – they’re probably the lowest paid guys in the game. It wasn’t like suddenly I became a defender of scouts. It didn’t change my relations with those people – I really don’t think it changed much of anything. It didn’t change anything with Billy, who I’ve known since he was a player and always got along well with. The whole thing got blown out of proportion.

Q. Are you a voice for the old guard?

A. I got characterized as the keeper of the pressbox or something. I’ve been in SABR for the last 25 years. I’m a statistical guy, that’s the irony of it. I can analyze things statistically – that’s why I know there’s a lot of weakness in it. I was in the 99th percentile in math on the college boards. I can’t tell you if a guy is throwing a fastball or a slider, but I can do a statistical breakdown. I know you can make stats come up with what you want them to come up with.

Because of the rotisserie leagues people came up with the idea of putting statistical things together. That’s fine, if you’re not working with personalities. Having covered the ‘85 Royals, not the most talented team in baseball, and understanding the thought process of those guys, and what it took to win, I realized this is a people business like any other business. Dealing with people just can’t be done statistically. Any business you can do statistical analysis but if that’s all you do you’re in trouble. People have to fit together.

(SMG thanks Tracy Ringolsby for his cooperation)

A Hall of Fame Chat with Tracy Ringolsby

By Rich Lederer

My Dad’s and Tracy Ringolsby’s careers overlapped in 1977 and 1978. My father was Director of Public Relations/Promotions for the California Angels from 1969-1978, and Tracy covered the Angels for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram from March 1977-July 1980.

Ringolsby subsequently covered the Mariners for the Seattle Post-Intelligence from July 1980 – July 1983, the Royals for the Kansas City Star-Times from August 1983 – February 1986, and the Rangers for the Dallas Morning News from March 1986 through the 1989 season. He was the national baseball writer for the Dallas Morning News during the 1990-91 seasons and has been covering the Rockies for the Rocky Mountain News since April of 1992. Tracy has also written a syndicated weekly column since March of 1986.

A co-founder of Baseball America, Ringolsby was the President of the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1986. He was the Master of Ceremonies at Cooperstown in 1986 and 1992. Tracy has been a member of the Society of American Baseball Research for 25 years. Ringolsby holds the distinction of being the only sportswriter ever nominated for the Shining Star Award for journalistic excellence by the Colorado Press Association (which he won in 2001).

Ringolsby, 53, lives on 80 acres northwest of Cheyenne, Wyoming with his wife, Jane, two thoroughbreds and a quarter horse. His daughter Laramie also lives in Cheyenne and works for the State Department of Transportation. He is also a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, the University of Wyoming Cowboy Joe Club, the National Western Stockshow, the Scout of the Year Foundation, and the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.

Tracy and I met in person for the first time in over 25 years at the Winter Meetings in Anaheim earlier this month. He agreed to discuss his Hall of Fame ballot
with me in a series of emails and instant messages.

RL: I saw your ballot and was curious as to why you voted for Dave Concepcion over Wade Boggs?

TR: I didn’t vote Dave Concepcion over Wade Boggs. That’s not a fair statement. I had three open spots on my ballot so it wasn’t a matter of choosing any individual over the other.

RL: OK. Let me rephrase the question. Why did you vote for Concepcion?

TR: I feel Concepcion was a dominant player at his position in his time, very underrated for intangibles, and things he — along with Tony Perez
— did to keep the egos on those Reds teams from tearing the team apart. Concepcion and Perez were the settling influences. Concepcion also was a marvelous shortstop and handled the bat extremely well.

RL: I would rank Boggs as the fourth-best third baseman ever and am not convinced that Concepcion is even one of the game’s top 15 shortstops.

TR: I am sure there is a statistical comparison that allows you to say you feel Boggs is the fourth-best third baseman ever, and I respect your opinion. I, however, see major fallacies in the comparsion of stats over generations because the emphasis of the game changes dramatically. Guys can benefit statistically or be hurt in terms of stats based off their park. A left-handed hitter at Fenway Park probably has as much a stat edge as any hitter at Coors Field. I don’t think of Boggs among the dominant players at his position during his era, much less all time. This comes from personal observations and feelings from having covered the American League during the bulk of Boggs’ career. I never felt Boggs was a threat in game situations, much like Rod Carew, and I’m sure this will be another black mark against me, but I didn’t vote for Carew either.

RL: At least you’re consistent. Boggs and Carew are very comparable offensively. I even pointed this out in an article I wrote
earlier this month in support of Boggs. However, I believe Boggs was a superior player overall because he was a better than average third baseman most of his career whereas Carew split time between first and second base and was no better than average defensively.

TR: While Boggs did win two Gold Gloves, I don’t know that you’d say he was exceptional as a third baseman. He worked to become a decent third baseman.

RL: Do you look at factors besides statistics and awards?

TR: Despite how easy it is for those who don’t know me to pass off everything I write as being anti-stats, I have been a member of SABR for roughly 25 years. Stats are the tool I can use to feel I have a handle on a player. I do not pretend to be able to visually break down a player like a scout.

I see intangibles as counting along with tangibles in determining a player’s greatness. I look for players who their teammates felt would make them better in a tough situation. I look for players who played the game to win and didn’t care about the personal aspects, realizing that if they succeeded the personal accolades and stats would be there. Boggs was a corner infielder. For him to be dominant, in my opinion — and it’s just my opinion — he had to be a power guy.

RL: I don’t know why you have to be a power guy to be considered a “dominant” third baseman. I love power, but I value players who make a habit of getting approximately 200 hits and 100 walks every year very highly, too.

TR: Well, third basemen, first basemen need to be power guys or else they get a lineup out of whack. You can afford to carry a non-power guy at one of the corners if you have an A-Rod
at shortstop or a Carlton Fisk behind the plate or Fred Lynn in center field, but that’s a situation where you have to adjust for the lack of what you normally want from a position.

RL: I also noticed that you voted for Jack Morris and not Bert Blyleven.

TR: Jack Morris has always been an easy choice for me. He was the pitcher that you wanted on the mound in a big game throughout his career. He had that extra sense of how to win. He didn’t let big games get away from him.

RL: Have you ever voted for Blyleven? If not, why not?

TR: I felt Blyleven was a pretty darn good pitcher but never felt he was dominating or intimidating or the best in the game. He was able to build up quality numbers because he was good for a long period of time — which is an excellent accomplishment — but I don’t see him as great at his position in his era.

RL: Are you comfortable denying Hall of Fame honors from a pitcher who is 5th on the all-time list in strikeouts
, 9th in shutouts
, and 24th in wins
?

TR: The fact that I don’t vote for a Boggs or Blyleven doesn’t mean they were bad players. Let’s remember, in voting on the Hall of Fame we are talking about the elite of the elite. So I do get a bit uncomfortable in trying to explain why I didn’t vote for somebody because then it makes it look like I am belittling the player’s accomplishment. I’m much more comfortable explaning why I did vote for a player.

RL: What do you make of the fact that, other than Blyleven, every pitcher who is eligible for the HOF in the top 14 in strikeouts and top 20 in shutouts has already been enshrined?

TR: There are players in the Hall of Fame I didn’t vote for or, if I had been voting at the time, wouldn’t have voted for — and I don’t feel compelled to use their comparisons in assessing a candidate’s worth. Also the fact I don’t vote for someone does not mean I didn’t respect their accomplishments or credentials.

RL: Some people have accused you of voting for or against players based on your relationships with them.

TR: That’s off base. When I covered the Seattle Mariners, Maury Wills was the manager and we rarely spoke — I think eight times in six months. In his book, there is a debate over whether he hated me or Don Baylor more. Regardless, I voted for Wills every year he was on the ballot because I felt he changed the way the game was played.

RL: Maury was a special player. I had the privilege of watching him play for the Dodgers from 1959-1966. His stolen bases were much more valuable during the lower-scoring 1960s than they would be today.

TR: I don’t think the value of stolen bases has really declined. It’s a matter of the quality of the stolen base and the disruption it can create. What happened, particularly with Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman, is that stolen bases were overexposed, and their value decreased but Rickey wannabes were not able to have the success ratio to make the stolen bases an effective tool.

RL: Well, we may disagree on Boggs, Blyleven, Concepcion, and Morris (and perhaps the value of stolen bases) but reasonable people can disagree, right?

TR: Exactly. That’s why it takes 75 percent (not 100 percent or 50 percent) to get a player elected. What’s important in baseball is the arguments are more strongly about people who aren’t in than with other sports where you always wonder why certain people are actually in.

RL: Your Hall of Fame selections generated a lot of controversy at Baseball Primer
.

TR: As I’m sure you know from having met me many years ago when I played cards with your Dad at your house, I don’t really care if people agree with me. But I do care if they question my integrity. My method of making decisions or drawing a conclusion may be different from somebody else, but nobody who has ever known me has ever been able to accuse me of being lazy or not putting effort into trying to determine my decisions.

RL: You have certainly made the rounds over the past three decades.

TR: To have people like Michael Lewis write that I have never talked to Billy Beane — even though Billy and I actually have a good relationship — and then to say I’m a writer who sits at home, without going to the ballpark and issues decrees eats at me. If anything, maybe I’ve gone to too many ballparks. I’ve covered baseball for 29 years and I am still a beat writer by choice. The day to day presence at the park is what I enjoy. Sadly, I must assume that guys who want to be baseball writers and aren’t, for whatever reason, find it easy to cling to misstatements of someone like Michael Lewis and give legs to the lies. Funny thing is, it makes me question the validity of anything those people claim to be true because from my own experience I have seen that they don’t put much effort into drawing conclusions — at least they didn’t in regards to me.

RL: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

TR: It’s been a pleasure. It’s always nice to exchange ideas with people who realize you can disagree with dignity and respect.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer
.]

Comments

Well, we now understand why Tracy Ringolsby should stick to reporting.

Why keep stats? In fact, why even keep score? Or which team won? Or standings? We could decide the game based on “the intangibles”, or the players “that handled the bat extremely well”. Or, the pitchers that “didn’t let the big game get away from [them]. As for the Hall of Fame, we should just elect the players that “played the game to win and didn’t care about the personal aspects”. I guess that means David Esckstein should get in when he is eligible. And by the way, I don’t mean this to be disrespectful or undignified-just based on common sense, or as some (perhaps Tracy) might say, horse sense.

Posted by: Big E at December 31, 2004 9:14 AM

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