Amid a six-game win streak and everything being hunky dory in Yankeeland, save for the cynics who decry Roger Clemens’ debut as not being a worthy test of his readiness, I wanted to take a detour to discuss a mediacentric issue.
Monday’s New York Times featured an article from sports business reporter Richard Sandomir on the relocation of the press box at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago from the second level, about 20 or so feet right behind home plate to two tiers higher and between home plate and the first base line. The article, which features reactions from reporters, fans, and Reinsdorf himself, got me thinking about the perception that professional teams pamper the media with their accommodations.
This perception is false. My experience is that most teams, especially in the major markets, tolerate the media, as opposed to helping them do their jobs. It's not an adversarial relationship, but it's not exactly a symbiotic one, either.
Aside from unparalleled access to players and organization types, beat writers, columnists, TV and radio casters receive numerous perks. Some of these perks include free parking, season passes affording an entree into the clubhouses, dugouts, and the field. Card-carrying members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are awarded access to any Major League press box because of their affiliation. Non-BBWAA members aren’t so lucky. While at YES, my dot.com colleagues and I had the same access as BBWAA members with our media passes, and our seat was on the second level of the YES TV booth right above home plate. These concessions made up for the fact that we paid for parking — we were considered part of the TV crew and parked with the YES production folks in Lot 10, on 158th St. and River Ave.
The YES booth wasn’t our permanent seat at the Stadium, though. On non-YES/Channel 9 — and until 2005, Channel 2 — games, we were booted from the booth and had to either finagle a seat in the main press area, which is in the Loge section, stretching from the Yankees’ on-deck circle to about first base, or we sat in the makeshift YES studio in the basement. The only benefit to the basement spot was being able to walk about 15 yards to the clubhouse to get quotes. We could work in the nearby press workroom, but couldn’t file, as we didn’t have a phone line from which to access the Internet and file (the Stadium alleviated this problem last year by going wireless). In all honesty, we could have covered the FOX or ESPN games from home, written stories and grabbed our quotes from the postgame show. (We never did that.)
The situation is worse in the playoffs, where seats are at a premium. No baseball stadium or hockey or basketball arena that I know of has a press box large enough to accommodate the number of media present to report on these games. As a result, tens of writers are strewn across the outfield seats or in blocked off areas of the arena, seated among fans. This arrangement is problematic, because a writer could potentially miss a big play on the walk to the media workroom or auxiliary press area near the locker room/clubhouse, which could take 15 to 20 minutes if you happen upon a mob of people.
Getting bumped happens in other stadiums, and quite frequently. Fenway Park has a four-tiered press box, but doesn’t have nearly enough seats to hold the throng of local, national and Japanese writers on hand to cover a Yankees-Red Sox series. Unless you’re in one of the first two rows, you can’t really see the game (the view is over the visitors’ dugout, between home and third). The glare off the glass from the fluorescent lights makes picking up nuances of the game impossible.
Four years ago for the Roger Clemens-Kerry Wood showdown at Wrigley, the day Acevedo blew a chance for Clemens to pick his 300th career victory (and Funny Cide failed to win the Belmont Stakes and win the Triple Crown), I sat with two dozen writers from the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times in the media cafeteria, where we listened to the fans and watched the game on television. The interesting part about that was trying to guess the time delay between crowd noise and what caused the reaction on TV.
I apologize if it sounds like I'm bitching. I’m just sharing my experiences in the field, and Sandomir’s piece brought many memories to the front of my mind. I’m privileged and lucky to have had the opportunity to cover hundreds of games at some of the game’s most hallowed ballparks. Would I have preferred to keep my seat in the YES booth all the time? You bet. But the more it happened, the more I understood the reasons for our displacement at those designated times. The fact that so many other columnists were forced into the same situation as me quelled my agita.
The part about parking in Lot 10, yes, I was bitching. Repeated efforts to earn us a parking pass to the media lot across from the press entrance were denied. The reason I tried to make this happen was fear of having my car stolen. In 2002 and ’03, the first two years at YES, there were four separate instances of attendants locking the gates to the lot while my colleagues’ cars were still parked — were unsuccessful. My car was never stolen, but there were many nights when it was the last vehicle in the lot and I had to open the gate in order to leave.
I recount these stories because I respect the work involved in covering a game and I know how a good seat helps you do your job well. Sure, nearby TV monitors are great if you miss a play, but there’s nothing like seeing it all develop in front of you, picking up on things the camera doesn’t. Those are the things that aid a writer — provided he or she has a strong knowledge of the game — in describing the action or putting a game situation into context. You can’t write what you can’t see. As to the space issue, I can attest that it’s difficult to concentrate when you’re cramped into tight quarters and you’re simultaneously trying to keep your materials organized and out of the way of the person on either side of you.
This brings me back to Sandomir’s column. I understand Jerry Reinsdorf’s desire to maximize revenue by converting the old press area and charging $265 to $315 for the club seating. But I don’t understand his apparent glee in angering the local media as a result of the renovation. If I were on the White Sox beat, I’d be upset not at being relocated, but at Reinsdorf’s lack of concern for my peers and me.
“We were giving the press the best real estate in the building, slightly elevated behind home plate, which they don’t need,” he told the Times, adding that the reason for the renovation was “financial.” The new seats could help the White Sox bring in an extra $4 million in revenue.
Fans love the change. And they should. For the aforementioned price, they get the best seat in the house, in a posh environment, and eat like royalty.
“There’s nothing like this. You can call the balls and strikes and see the outfield plays develop,” one fan said. That same fan, referring to the Sun-Times’ national baseball writer, said, “It doesn’t matter if Dave van Dyck can see how much the ball breaks.”
It helps if he wants to use that breaking ball to make an analogy in his column. If reporting is based on observation, how can a writer have credibility in a game story or column if the ability to appropriately observe what’s happening on the field is hampered?
The relocations also hurt the official scorer, who in most parks sits among the writers. How does the scorer benefit from being moved to a spot where his view can be obstructed?
I agree with all the writer beefs Sandomir highlights except one: that Reinsdorf should have consulted the writers on relocation options before making the changes. It’s his ballpark. He can do what he wants. A different owner might have considered pleasing the media without pampering them.
In reviewing the renderings of the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field in Queens, I haven’t seen where the press boxes will be located or what field views they will provide. But I would hope the two media-savvy owners, George Steinbrenner and Fred Wilpon, consider the men and women who grind to make New York a baseball city on a year-round basis.
Writers and broadcasters aren’t entitled to the best seats in the house. But if they don’t get them, they should at least be in a favorable position to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
What do you think? As a fan, do you agree with the patrons of the Cell? Can you put yourself in the shoes of a Dave van Dyck or myself and see our point? Do you care about this at all? I’m curious to read and respond to your comments.
Next week … which outlet provided the best coverage of the Subway Series?
Food for thought … over/under on the number of times the Clemens/Piazza and Clemens/Estes incidents are replayed on YES and SNY: 3 per channel.