Every team starts spring training with media training. As in: “hey, here’s how you deal with the media, you guys.” It’s understandable. When ballplayers say interesting or off-message things or if they react negatively to negative things, however understandably, it tends to create news stories and followup stories and, if things break just wrong, distractions. Far better it is, from the team’s perspective at least, to teach players to be kind and pleasant ciphers: always present and accommodating to the media, but ultimately offering very little outside of cliche.
The Yankees are no different. ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand reports that this year the Yankees’ media training involved showing their players video of Cam Newton’s and Russell Wilson’s recent Super Bowl press conferences as the wrong way and the right way to deal with defeat. Newton, you’ll recall, was surly and visibly disappointed during his presser, much to the chagrin of everyone.
I know I’ve been slamming the Yankees a lot lately, but I’m not going to slam them here. I don’t have any problem with a team telling players to be empty, cliche-spewing automatons with the media. I wish they wouldn’t, but they’re trying to limit headaches and worry constantly about bad press, so I see what they’re trying to do. As with many things, Crash Davis was right about this.
That doesn’t mean that we should validate them simply for doing so, of course. When a player does stray off script, we should enjoy it. Even celebrate it. At least to a degree. I mean, if the player’s off-script message is to talk about how Stalin wasn’t really that bad and how Ayn Rand’s books are anything other than simplistic, sophomoric tripe the substance is worthy of criticism. I’m just saying that we should, at least on some level, appreciate that the player gave us a gift in this regard. Slam them for the substance for which they are responsible, but not simply because he didn’t stick to the talking points. You and I don’t work for the team, remember. The talking points are to obscure things from us, not to help us.
The football press was pretty bad about this with Newton and with others in the past. Some of them got bent out of shape in the same way a team or league PR person might, taking issue with the off-message comments simply for being off-message. As if the NFL were law enforcement instead of a party trying to sell something and of whom we should be critical. Baseball reporters tend to be way better about this and appreciate the gift they’re given when someone goes off-script. It probably has a lot to do with them enduring, like, 200 days worth of press availabilities a year and appreciating the change of pace.
To sum up: good for the Yankees for trying to keep their players from stepping in it, rhetorically speaking. Here’s hoping the training is an abject failure.
(h/t to CBS Eye on Baseball)