I was a sports announcer at the outset of my career and had the opportunity to interview dozens of athletes, coaches and managers.
Having witnessed the daily “song and dance” between Major League Baseball managers and the media I found these sessions to be most interesting, even fun, sometimes argumentative, and many times downright volatile.
Managers have the task of not only making out line-up cards, managing the game, and keeping tabs on their players, but also serving as the spokesperson for their team.
A manager can speak for an hour or two with the media before every game. Key topics on players, injuries, lineups and other items are thrown about. Depending on the manager’s mood he may even get into a few topics that have nothing to do with baseball.
The beat goes on after the game when the manager meets with the same group of reporters. Some of these are structured into news conferences and become mini-events. Many are televised, some even sponsored by local businesses.
The post-game affair is where things can get a little dicey. Should a team lose a game, the manager will not be in a happy mood. Should the team play poorly and lose, or continue on a long losing streak, the skipper might get a little testy. Some may even engage a reporter in an argument or simply walk away.
Many fans can get turned-off by the manager’s abruptness. Some of the more faithful will say, “It’s just Tony being Tony, or Dusty being Dusty, or Lou being Lou.”
Add some public relations principles to “baseball speak” and one can get a better idea of how a manager tries to perform this daily chore with the media. Remember it starts with spring training in February and doesn’t end until the last out in October.
The manager’s job is to communicate with basically two audiences. The obvious one is the fans, but the other one is his players.
He must craft messages that satisfy the fan base, confidently explaining to reporters that the team is a real contender in its division. Tickets need to be sold and the team’s followers need to remain excited if not confident about their club’s chances.
The skipper must also communicate with his players. In addition to converations in meetings and clubhouse sessions, what appears in the newspaper or on a talk show can have a large impact on team performance.
Upset by a close loss a manager can become disenchanted with the efforts of a player or two. Most however won’t criticize a player in public. Instead they will try to shift the focus to the play of the entire team.
One player may have left six men on base when he could have easily driven in two or more. A pitcher may have only lasted three innings and given-up seven runs.
The usual refrain goes something like this…”We have to pitch better than we did tonight to win,” or “We had our chances, just didn’t convert them tonight”.
The proliferation of 24x 7 TV sports networks, radio talk shows, Internet blogging, Twitter, and more are cause for most managers to deal with specific player performance issues in private. They will meet with the player either well before or well after a game. Always behind closed doors, with no media members in sight.
One may say the manager’s duty is that of a team psychologist. They want to keep their club on an even keel. Calling out individuals in print, on radio or television can lead to a problematic clubhouse. This is where some players may question their role and future with the team. A lack of confidence can have a negative impact on the field.
Managers must think through these messages before they speak and consider the impact on both of their audiences.
At the end of the day managers are judged on wins and losses. Those that win get to keep their jobs. Those that continually post losing records are forced to seek other professional endeavors.
The best managers, in nearly all cases, are the best communicators. Like a good public relations professional they understand the daily media grind and understand how to use these vehicles to motivate both the players and the fans.