On Howard Eskin, Other Media

You have no doubt heard about the Howard Eskin tiff with Roy Halladay by now. The Burger King lookalike criticized the 2010 National League Cy Young award winner’s availability to the media. Patrick Berkery has the details for PhillyBurbs.com:

In the two-and-a-half-minute rant, Eskin condescendingly reminds us that if not for members of the media like himself, fans would have no idea what the players are thinking. He claims that Major League Baseball forced Halladay to speak to the media two days after tossing his NLDS no-hitter against the Reds, failing to mention that Halladay spoke at length to the media immediately after the game.

Eskin says Halladay hasn’t spoken to the media at all since the season ended, giving fans no indication how he feels about pitching in the same rotation with Cliff Lee.

Just about everyone with a Phillies blog has ripped Eskin to shreds already, so I will not beat that dead horse. However, I think this fiasco is yet another example of the growing decay of media in general, sports being one microcosm of the larger picture. Most attempts at editorializing are poorly-disguised attempts to create controversy where none exists. And in the dead of winter when baseball is still weeks away and TV and radio stations are grasping at straws for every extra viewer and listener (and writers struggle to find article fodder), rabble-rousing is the oft-selected route.

As many have pointed out, Eskin isn’t a legitimate voice in the Phillies community the way Mike Missanelli is — especially not in the way that Eskin is with the Eagles. And given Eskin’s history of pot-stirring, it becomes quite easy to deduce his intentions.

To my knowledge, Halladay hasn’t addressed the Eskin issue at all, exactly what you would expect from the stately right-hander. All too often, though, athletes are baited by the media in an attempt to get some free publicity. Then, when athletes don’t make themselves available to the media, the shock jocks and pot-stirrers play the role of the victim and cry foul.

There is no clearer example of this than Barry Bonds. Bonds marched to the beat of his own drum; an aloof fellow, for sure. Bonds didn’t always make himself available for interviews and didn’t provide many exciting sound bites. By not making the writers’ jobs easy, they painted a negative picture of him — sometimes intentionally, but oftentimes subconsciously. And when it came to “innocent before proven guilty” regarding the BALCO scandal, they were all too willing to condemn Bonds before any official verdict was levied.

Even in end-of-season awards and Hall of Fame voting, some writers have used a player’s media availability as one criterion that can be used for and against the player in question.

Now that traditional media is evaporating and blogs (and Tweeters) have popped up like flowers in spring, members of the mainstream media are trying even harder to earn precious viewers, listeners, and click-throughs. Eskin is but one of a vast group of professionals resorting to amateur tactics to maintain relevancy in a very crowded marketplace.

What Eskin did was unprofessional in every way, shape, and form. But we rewarded his behavior by talking about it, by browsing NBC10’s website for the sound bite, and by tuning into 610 WIP during the aftermath. How we punish such unprofessional behavior in the future is by ignoring it. Sometimes you need to actively confront a troll, but Eskin’s reputation as a troll precedes him and he should be shunned into obscurity.

Eskin says, in a pretentious fashion, that the media is the middleman between the fans and the athletes. And he’s right. Fans will be more willing to consume the product (Phillies baseball) if they feel a connection to the players, and that is accomplished primarily (overwhelmingly so, in fact) through the media.

But just as the fans and athletes need each other, the media needs both those fans and the athletes. Let’s say Todd Zolecki has a bad encounter with Shane Victorino and blasts him for it in his next article. (Todd wouldn’t, because he’s one of the best writers around, but humor the hypothetical.) Victorino will be much less willing to take time out of his schedule to talk to Todd, much less provide any juicy factoids that would make for good article fodder. Subsequently, Todd’s articles become boring and repetitive (especially in comparison to his peers, who are getting more unique information), and he loses readers. When Todd loses enough readers, he loses his job. Or, more realistically, Todd will resort to Eskin-like tactics to maintain relevancy and draw in readers before losing his job.

There is no reason why a member of the mainstream media — or a blogger, for that matter — should be bashing players for any reason whatsoever unless there is a 100 percent factual, provable (and relevant) foundation lying underneath.

The funny thing is, Eskin could have handled the Halladay issue privately and without conflict. Eskin thinks Halladay hasn’t been making himself available enough to the media? Send him an e-mail or a text message, or call him on the phone. Say to Halladay, “It’s not a huge deal, but I think you ought to do a couple interviews before you show up in Clearwater. Fans want to know what you think about the Cliff Lee signing, among other things.”

. . .

As the Eskin issue illustrates, January has been very boring in Phillies-land. If there’s anything you’d like to see covered on this blog before spring training starts, feel free to post suggestions in the comments. I’ve already taken suggestions on Twitter and have a couple of ideas permeating, but nothing that I think would turn into good blog fodder yet.

Otherwise, feel free to use this thread to talk about anything Phillies-related, even outside of Eskin/Halladay.

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27 comments

  1. awh

    January 25, 2011 08:21 AM

    Bill, good post.

    Eskin was flat out wrong in one respect: halladay did do an interview with Randy Sparage about what it will be like to pitch with Cliff Lee.

    Here’s the link:

    msn.foxsports.com/video/MLBff

    If the interview doesn’t come up on the screen right away, you can scroll through the menu of videos on the right. It’s titled

    “Catching up eith Halladay”.

    Perhaps because Doc had already given this interview he felt he didn’t need to repeat himself.

    Ignore Eskin. He can’t even get simple facts like this straight.

  2. awh

    January 25, 2011 08:24 AM

    UPDATE:

    That link above will get you to the general sports video link at fosxports.

    The “CHANNELS” tab at the top can be used to find “MLB” and get you to all of the MLB videos and interviews.

    Then follow the instructions in my first post about how to find the interview.

  3. Scott G

    January 25, 2011 08:47 AM

    I am a pretty big Phillies fan. I could not care less if the players speak or not. I don’t even listen to them with the hopes of hearing what they have to say.

    Why do people care what Chase Utley or Halladay or anyone else for that matter thinks or feels? They don’t owe us anything, really.

    They might be required to speak, but do we really have nothing better to do than listen to stuff that is most likely scripted or fed to the players to begin with?

    Athletes like Chris Pronger give fun interviews, but I don’t demand or expect that he must. Who cares if it makes the media’s job harder. I barely read their trash as it is.

  4. Bill Baer

    January 25, 2011 09:00 AM

    If you knew absolutely nothing of the athletes, you would most likely not even be into baseball at all, let alone the Phillies specifically.

    Some examples:

    I like Chase Utley not only because he’s an incredibly talented second baseman, but because of what he said at the All-Star Game, at the World Series parade, and that one time he got interrupted.

    I liked Jayson Werth — still do, actually — because he was aloof and had a cool beard.

    I like Jimmy Rollins because he says whatever’s on his mind, such as the Phillies being the “team to beat”.

    I access none of that without the Todd Zoleckis of the baseball media world. And without them, the team has inefficient ways of reaching their consumer base. Suddenly, I’m watching something else instead of baseball.

  5. Cole Handsome

    January 25, 2011 10:22 AM

    It’s a waste of time comparing a beat writer to Eskin. It is similiar to comparing Howard Stern to Mike Wallace. A beat writer is there to summarize the game, take quotes and offer some analysis. Eskin is there to get ratings over a four hour radio show. One is media and the other is an entertainer first. One makes 50k a year and one makes a million a year.

  6. Matt

    January 25, 2011 10:22 AM

    I lived in Philly a few years ago when only the Eagles were doing well. I remember listening to Eskin, Missinelli, and Cataldi and when the Phillies were stinking up the field, their sarcastic rhetoric always made me feel a little better. At least they came across as the voice of the angry Philly fan. Now that all the Philly teams are peaking or on the rise, Eskin in particular is neither being the voice of the fan anymore or its link to the players. He is selfishly trying to keep his name in the spotlight and create controversy where there is none. Taking a shot at the best pitcher on a team headed for the most anticipated season in my lifetime is not benefitting any fan to my knowledge.

  7. Bill Baer

    January 25, 2011 10:23 AM

    @ Cole Handsome

    Well, the point was about the media in general. Writers have been known to resort to Eskin-like tactics as evidenced by the Barry Bonds treatment. Also note Mandy Housenick’s treatment of Jayson Werth.

  8. Cole Handsome

    January 25, 2011 10:53 AM

    @Bill Baer

    I understand that we see more of the beat writers as personalities. That line was blurred when blogs and twitter became noticed. The truth is that the rank and file beat writers have nothing to offer other than access (which is very important and why most blogs have nothing to offer). If beat writers are going to risk their access by going on the record with their greivances against players, that’s their suicide. I don’t think that is helping Mandy Housenicks’s career. As for Bonds, his behavior was so outrageous that it did become a legitimate story.

    I think the greatest threat to media fairness is that it is to the writers’ best interest to take advantage of their access to launch their own careers as media personalities, because the newspaper industry won’t be around to sustain them through middle age.

    Eskin’s rant wasn’t entirely fair, but it has provoked this bizarre reaction where grown men are defending Halladay for being aloof and turning people off.

  9. hunterfan

    January 25, 2011 11:26 AM

    To be entirely fair, you state that Eskin could’ve handled this privately, but didn’t. Aren’t you making an assumption here? I’m no fan either way of the Burger King lookalike, but unless Eskin specifically said either way, you have no idea. It’s entirely possible Eskin attempted to handle it privately, had called Halladay 20 times in the last month, and Halladay didn’t respond.

    Also re: Phillies topics….maybe you could do something where you consolidate many of the projection systems for the Phillies this year and see where they flesh out compared to their division rivals?

    Also, where do you see Ryan Howard going forward this season? Is he realistically a 2-3 WAR player going forward, or still a 4-6 WAR player?

  10. hunterfan

    January 25, 2011 11:32 AM

    @ Cole:

    “If beat writers are going to risk their access by going on the record with their greivances against players, that’s their suicide. ”

    If someone commits career suicide, shouldn’t I assume s/he has a good reason and give more credence to their arguments?

    After all, most human beings don’t do things to actively sabotage themselves and their careers for no good reason. That would be illogical.

  11. hunterfan

    January 25, 2011 11:42 AM

    Personally, I don’t think either side is “right”, but I am amused by the knee-jerk reactions on both sides.

    On the one side you have the media personalities and those that defend them that feel free to rip into athletes for not giving them exactly what they want.

    On the other, you have the athletes and the defenders of the athletes who say patently absurd things like, “The athletes don’t owe the media anything!”

    The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. Greater media access has helped to profilerate baseball and individual players to the national consciousness, and therefore increase the popularity, salaries, and revenue of baseball.

    The media and the players are engaged in (to use a biology term) mutualistic symbiotic relationships. They need each other.

  12. Cole Handsome

    January 25, 2011 11:56 AM

    @hunterfan

    Mandy’s story on how Jayson Werth is a vomit was probably the most interesting thing she has written. Also, it may have had the most relevance (she said that Werth wanted out, and if not for Lee that would be the storyline of the offseason).

    My point is that this is the exception. I don’t think a Zolecki would share his personal feelings about a player with anyone but his wife or shrink.

  13. Brandon (aka - Shooter)

    January 25, 2011 12:01 PM

    Very good post about the media in general. I hope at some point, fans & consumers get so tired of the ratings game that this canned controversy stuff just goes away. And not only is the media responsible, but athletes often use it as well (see: New York Jets).

    It’s unfortunate because with all this extremism-level noise, a lot of responsible reporters, writers, and voices just don’t get the attention they deserve. Would love to see less baseless-opinion in this world, and more factual discussion. I suppose I’ll keep dreaming.

  14. Bill Baer

    January 25, 2011 12:04 PM

    For what it’s worth, Shooter, Joe Posnanski is very well-respected and widely-read. But he is definitely the exception to the rule, as the loudest idiots do get the lion’s share of the attention.

  15. Brandon (aka - Shooter)

    January 25, 2011 01:00 PM

    That’s good to know, I’ll have to check out some of his writing. It’s definitely up to fans and consumers to seek out and share such work. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard of him. But I can ramble off a random list of other sports writers that I’d rather not know.

  16. sean

    January 25, 2011 02:06 PM

    since there is a holds stat, why is there not a “blown holds” stat, instead of making them blown saves. would make ryan madson’s number change and the perception of him not being able to close would hold less water

  17. bill

    January 25, 2011 02:24 PM

    This is kind of disappointing. I know this is a Phillies blog, and there’s not much to talk about, but do we really need to see posts about *Howard Eskin*, of all people?

    I read this blog to see intelligent analysis, not to hear about radio morons who say things like “trade Chase Utley”.

  18. The DH

    January 25, 2011 05:21 PM

    The same Howard Eskin that claimed Charlie Manuel was a terrible hire at the start of his incredibly succesful tenure?

    Eskin has the baseball credibilty of chewed gum.

  19. Dustin

    January 25, 2011 05:46 PM

    I read blogs in the following order everyday: Joe Posnanski, Crashburn Alley. Both blogs rock and brighten up my day.

  20. Jon

    January 25, 2011 08:43 PM

    Sometimes I wonder if the media issues around here are because we’ve lost so many good writers to ESPN – Stark, Paolantonio, Morganti, Pennett-O’Neill, Smith, etc.

    The people who get left behind are the ones who directly hate the teams they cover (Gonzalez and Sheridan with the Eagles, Panaccio with the Flyers) or whose game passed them by 20 years ago (Conlin).

    Then in the absence of good sportswriting, people are more likely to turn to the Eskins and Missanellis of the world.

  21. Rich

    January 25, 2011 09:57 PM

    If Eskin has a rant, what’s wrong with that? He’s a member of the media, and why wouldn’t Halladay spend a precious minute to answer a question or two about the what he thinks about the Phillies?

    It’s not the first time that this has been said about Halladay. Read my blog post on the subject for equal time on the subject. I don’t think bashing Eskin is the right way to look at this topic.

  22. MJ

    January 25, 2011 10:54 PM

    Eskin has a vested interest in seeing football make all the headlines. He will do and say whatever it takes to make the Phillies organization look foolish. He is a radio whore who will berate his guests and lie at every opportunity to increase his ratings.

  23. hk

    January 26, 2011 07:58 AM

    Rich,

    I read your blog and, a Phillies fan, I prefer that Roy Halladay not interrupt his off-season training regimen to attend a media event. I’m just wondering, what questions are there that Eskin (or any media member for that matter) might ask that are so important for us to know? The only quasi-compelling topic is how he feels about not being the highest paid pitcher on the team and I believe he addressed that in one of the interviews linked to above.

  24. phannyc

    January 26, 2011 07:15 PM

    I read Crashburn Alley for reliable, factual Phillies information. Just give it to me straight. I tend to enjoy the posts as they’re usually interesting and tend to have a good mix of ideas. Because I respect Bill Baer and he’s “implored [us] to make Joe Posnanski a regular part of our Internet literature regimen – I will definitely try to do so. Thanks Bill.

    I’m not an Eskin fan, never have been (though he did a couple of interesting interviews with Jayson Werth last season during spring training and another one later).

    I’m also not an ESPN fan.

    Generally I’m fine with MLB Network. Every once in a while Gammons will run-on about that nyc team – and I’ll mute the tv. I live in nyc &, well, I have to be careful about how often I grind my teeth.

    I don’t mean to offend, but those who believe one syllable written by Mandy Housenick should really just read London tabloids instead. They’re more creative, more fun, aliens, 3-headed babies, the queen having an affair, etc. Laughable to call her a “journalist”.

    I think its the job of pro-sports players to stay healthy, sign autographs, take a photo w/a fan now & then, & play to the best of their abilities. Usually there are 1 or 2 guys on every team who tend to prefer dealing w/the media. Let them do the post-game media. Other than those designated players or the player who is expected to be interviewed b/c he hit a walk-off HR; caught a game-ending out; or the pitcher who threw a no-hitter; I don’t know why players should be prepared to deal with the media at all times. And I see no reason at all that players should deal with the media off-season unless there is an obvious extraordinary circumstance. I also find the locker room interviews unnecessary & often intrusive.

  25. Rich

    January 27, 2011 07:44 PM

    HK, just the fact that Eskin was present at the autograph signing, what’s the big deal of Halladay answering a couple of innocent questions about the Phils? It sells papers and encourages viewers to watch sports programming. And thus become more interested in baseball and the Phillies in general. Maybe he could have had a nice introduction to the fans a little but more.

    Howard wasn’t there to interrogate him – after all Eskin is working and trying to do his job.

    This is over, we should all move on and I still support free press and media availability to these big star baseball players, they owe it to the fans who support them.

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