Do We Really Need Player Quotes?

A funny thing happened last night after the St. Louis Cardinals blew a 1-0 lead in the top of the ninth inning. Some of the players weren’t very interested in talking about it.

This, to certain members of the media, is a sign of the following:

  • a lack of real leadership;
  • a refusal to be accountable;
  • a denial of responsibility; and most importantly,
  • a threat to their livelihood.

To me, it’s a sign that professional athletes are just as interested in talking about their failures as the rest of the human population on earth.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports was especially offended by Albert Pujols’ no show after the game, and expressed those feelings in an article this morning.

There it was, an empty locker flanked by an empty chair to match the emptiness in the air. At the center of it was a cutoff throw on which Pujols whiffed. The ball slipped away, allowing what would be the winning run to advance into scoring position. Pujols mimicked the ball, showering, dressing and dashing before the clubhouse doors opened.

This reveals two things: 1) Forced metaphors and the unironic overuse of alterations are equally ugly; and 2) my growing suspicion that Mr. Passan moonlights as the guy who writes the gloriously unsubtle monologues on Dexter is not unfounded.

First of all, I’m convinced that Pujols’ supposed error became a much bigger deal after he avoided the media than when it originally happened. It was an awful thrown from Jon Jay, and it barely skirted underneath the Cardinals first baseman’s glove. To read about it today without seeing it last night, Pujols knocked it away like he was mimicking The Keystone Kops while playing handball with Jake Plummer.

Secondly, would any real human being lose a wink of sleep without a post game quote from Albert Pujols? Are sports fans today not savvy enough to get by without the cliche riddled musings of a professional athlete following a game? What exactly was Passan going to discover by speaking with what likely would’ve been a distraught Pujols? That he was, I don’t know, upset about the loss?

I’m not suggesting that media access should be curbed. I’m just questioning the ridiculous dependence on athlete quotes for game summaries. In the age of media training for players, what insights are ever gathered from this dated process? I would hazard a guess that the only time the vast majority of readers take note of a quote is when the athlete reacts like a bear that’s been poked with a stick once too often. In these instances though, the media themselves are the catalyst for the response. It’s hardly the recording of an unprovoked, natural moment.

Passan disagrees.

Until it’s not part of Pujols’ job description – and with the media money that helps keep Major League Baseball afloat and Pujols’ salary stratospheric, it is – it’s his responsibility to protect his teammates from having to swallow an excessive portion of that grief, especially when much of it is on him. Leaders do that.

I feel very sorry for Mr. Passan that Albert Pujols didn’t want to speak with him, and that the superstar slugger didn’t make it easier for him to gather a quote that no one would’ve paid much attention to in his story, but by suggesting that a baseball player owes something to the people covering the game is outright ridiculous.

What keeps Major League Baseball afloat and Pujols’ salary “stratospheric” is the public’s interest in the game and the relatively small cost that a lot of people can pay to satisfy their curiosity over seeing who the best is at a particular game. Yes, the media can shape and bend that interest, but their relationship to the game itself is like a waiter’s to what he’s serving.

Think of Major League Baseball’s infrastructure, including the talented players, as a highly skilled chef at a popular restaurant. In this allegory, the meals that he creates are the games and the resulting stories that come from the games. The media then acts as the server, delivering plates of food to the customer, or in this case, the actual baseball fans.

If, from time to time, the waiter doesn’t feel as though he’s getting enough information from the chef to properly deliver that plate of food to the customer, it’s too bad, but the chef owes nothing to the server. While a waiter is necessary for delivering the food, there are always a stack of resumes in the chef’s office from eager applicants wanting to fill that position. And it’s far easier to replace the waiter than it is the chef, as long as technically, the waiter is paying to be the server of the chef’s production, which is what’s happening in baseball’s relationship with the media.

It’s not as though Pujols or the St. Louis Cardinals, who also come under fire in Mr. Passan’s article for enabling their best player to behave this way, are avoiding all media contact. It was one game. It was one especially tough loss in which certain players did not wish to talk about what happened.

Do foreign correspondents grow despondent when their interview requests go unanswered by a dictator’s office? Do entertainment reporters expect actors to answer their questions immediately after their show is cancelled or their pilot isn’t picked up or their movie bombs? No.

Ultimately, a player’s availability makes a reporter’s job easier. I think the ultimate fear is that by not being able to easily gather quotes to fill out a summary, readers are going to start to realize that what a player has to say following a game is more often than not completely and utterly lacking in importance. Suddenly with that knowledge, media outlets will begin needing fewer microphone holders in locker rooms, and instead require analysts and writers to actually form original thoughts and relay them to the readers.

Again, that’s not to say that access isn’t needed. Insight is often gained from a manager’s pre game scrum. Long form, personal interest pieces depend on being able to access certain players and have them talk about their past. I just don’t understand or see the value in collecting post game reactions from the players themselves when those reactions are so rarely honest or unfiltered.

It’s as though a template was formed long ago, and reporters and editors continue to complete it to the point of dependence on the no-brainer items with which they fill that template. All the while, they’re completely ignoring how uninformative the quotes that they’re collecting actually are. At some point, quotes from baseball players stopped being about attempting to support an idea proposed by the writer, and became an easy way to fill column space.

The next time Mr. Passan is threatened by not having a source supply for his dependence, I suggest a quick trip to this Baseball Prospectus piece by Emma Span which amalgamates every possible quote that a baseball player could make for any given situation.

For last night, in place of the missing Pujols:

We just had a tough day. That’s part of the deal. Every team is going to have a game like this. We’re not out of anything. This team will bounce back. I know it. We have to forget about today. Get some sleep and come back ready to play.

Or perhaps more concisely:

It is what it is.