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Nolan Ryan’s career in the media spotlight | Making a Mess

Nolan Ryan’s career in the media spotlight

Posted on 21. Jun, 2012 by

Nolan Ryan, right, speaks to sports writers at last week's workshop. Also pictured is ESPN Dallas.com's Richard Durrett.

I wrote a column in last weekend’s paper about getting to hear my boyhood hero Nolan Ryan speak at a sportswriting workshop at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington last week.

Thanks to the wonder of the iPad, I recorded audio of nearly the entire 24-minute visit. (I missed the very first because, well, I was taking a lot of photos to be completely honest and hadn’t yet hit record). I will tell you that I’m not the best sound recorder, so apologies in advance for the quality. Thank you to our resident audio/video editor Andrew May for his editing work.

Here’s the background: Nolan came to talk to us about his experience with the media during his career, which has been both as a player and a team owner and president. The first question (which I didn’t record) was a general question about his thoughts on media during his career. The person asking the first question you hear is Richard Durrett, a reporter with ESPN Dallas.com. You’ll hear other questions throughout asked by some of the other sports writers in attendance.

And if you don’t want to sit through the entire audio, I’ve tried my best to transcribe the questions and answers below.

So here is the audio: Nolans talk at sportswriting class_1.

And here is the transcript:

Q: Tell us about your interaction with the media during your career.

I think obviously playing in New York first, was overwhelming because of the size of the media. In those days, the media actually traveled with you. They were on the plane, on the bus with you. You spent as much time with the media as you did with the players except they would be out of the clubhouse by 6 o’clock or whatever the time limit is and back in afterward. So you got to know the media in those days as well as you did your teammates. So it was totally different from what it is today but also it allowed you to build a rapport with them. I think it was good for me at an early age going to California and then to Houston and here in the Metroplex obviously there isn’t any place as challenging as New York is.


Q: The Internet has changed things. What have you noticed about changes in how reporters approach you, how you approach them? …

The biggest thing you see today is the competition for breaking a story, that there is more interest in what is going on in people’s lives and off the field and in the clubhouse. When I first broke in there, they pretty much wrote the game story and they were out of there. They didn’t have notes and certainly didn’t have the Internet and all the things we have now. There are a lot of things that actually are public information before we find out about it because of the Internet. Somebody may find out about it and put it on the Internet before it comes within the circle of what is going on here within the baseball department or the Texas Rangers.


Q: Nolan is honest. If he doesn’t want to comment, he won’t comment, otherwise he’ll give you a pretty honest answer. He deals with some pretty interesting media members here. He has a weekly radio show with Randy Galloway. How different is it dealing with a guy like Randy Galloway than someone else in a different media?

Randy hinges a little bit on shock. And so … I’ve known Randy since 1972. He was the beat writer when the Senators came here and he worked for the Morning News at that time. So I’ve known him for 40 years. I’ve known Randy as a writer and a friend. I know his style. His style has changed somewhat because of the radio and the media he is on right now versus when he was strictly a beat writer covering the games on a day to day basis and then as a columnist.


Q: Have you noticed a difference in the style, maybe the tone of journalists have now compared to previous days?

I think there is a lot of pressure on media now days to break stories and write on a broader topic really and that is what is going on with the team and the players not just on the field but in the clubhouse and off the field and that is what the public is wanting. That’s where the pressure is on the media. So I think to accommodate that we’ve seen a change in it to some degree.


Q: I know in New York, they would have some writers who would be confrontational for the sake of getting a story … Did you run into one or two reporters that were that way?

There were different personalities, different writers, and some depending on the type of paper they wrote for. You take the New York Times. Their approach to their sports pages was totally different from what the Post was. You know about 50 percent of their sports pages were pictures and they were shock pictures and headlines. They were the masters of headlines, so I’m sure their editors and publishers pressured them to have a certain kind of style and to report things in a different presentation with more flair I think and more dramatics to it than what the Times did. So I think if you took those two papers who are on different ends of the pendulum.


Q: Media used to travel with the team, would hear stories of Babe Ruth playing poker with sports writers. What is happening today – has it brought the media and sports personalities closer or has it created more of a cautionary approach?

I think it has probably separated  that relationship somewhat. They’d travel with us, spend off days with us on the road. They were On the planes with you. You got to know them as well as you did your teammates. They are all different personalities and they are all there to do their job and you realize that. I think you developed a relationship that was probably stronger than today. If you take the writers today, they book their own flights, they travel to save money, they stay in different hotels usually, and so they aren’t around the team and players nearly as much. They have limited time when the clubhouse is open so there is pressure to get in there and do what you have to do and you have a certain amount of time you can be in there and then you have to get out and then after the game the clubhouse is open at a certain point. So we encourage our players to be available to the media. Players right now, I hear Josh Bucket isn’t talking to the Boston media at all this year. So those things create problems for everybody and nobody wins on that. We start here with training of our young players when we have a camp in January. We have a media session. And Richard may have spoken at that. We have different people speak at it and tell them about their job and what their responsibilities are and how they want to interact with that player to develop that relationship where that is a more workable deal.


Q: As someone who has seen both sides of that – then and now – how do you personally see how that has developed? Do you kind of miss the old days, so to speak?

Because I’m removed from being a player, my relationship with the media is different now than what it was as a player. There are certainly good points about it and there are other things you don’t get to know the media and you don’t have that relationship which I think is important. But everyone is different. Personalities are different. So there are certain people you have a tendency to gravitate to more than other. I don’t know if I’d say it is better or worse. At times when things weren’t going right and guys who had to write their stories, it wasn’t always favorable but you had to understand you had to take the good with the bad.


Q: We deal mostly with high school, junior college coaches. Are there do’s and don’ts you can share with us about what kind of questions to ask?

Well you know I think a lot of it is, there are things that happen in the game that are important in writing the story and you have to ask those questions and it’s not the things the coaches or players want to talk about, so I think a lot of it is in how you present it. You don’t want it to be the first question. So it’s almost like a warm up period where those guys have dropped their guard a little bit. They are not on the edge and they don’t feel like you are in there to bury them. I think that is where hard feelings get developed where somebody has a bad game or things don’t go right and that’s the first thing they are asked about, but what I find, once you get to talking to somebody about the game in general and you kind of ease into that it’s more palatable than just coming up and there are four or five writers standing around and somebody asks you point bland ‘What happened? Why did you hang that curve ball that cost you the game?’


Q: Did you read about your performance in the papers?

Early in my career I did read the papers, and in the second half of my career I didn’t because I didn’t want it to effect my relationship with people and I chose to block it out. I read the paper. I read what was going on in the league, looked at box scores.


Q: What are the types of questions that you don’t answer, or would make you not want to respond?

I think that if someone asks you what you were thinking or what were you trying to do, and when I say that it’s when things didn’t go right. You got beat or something like that. Charlie Hough … was as good as anyone I saw at that. When he had a bad game, he’d tell they guy, ‘Hey, I stunk.’ And it made it easier for everybody because he admitted it was because he had a bad game and not because they didn’t score enough runs. He took the responsibility for what happened that night. I think having that type of attitude when things don’t work out makes it easier on everybody because as sports writers, you know there are some of those questions you don’t want to ask, but that is your responsibility because that is a large part of the story and you have to report that and so I think when you have somebody like that who is not confrontational and you have other guys who are very confrontational. I’m sure Richard could tell you who he likes to talk to and who he’d prefer to stay away from if he could but he’s got to do those things. It makes it tough at times.


Q: How many media requests do you get per week and how much time do you spend doing interviews?

Courtney’s my assistant and she handles all that. It was interesting, today I had a message on my cell phone from a sports writer in Washington who is doing a story on all these no hitters and perfect games being thrown and I was thinking how did he get my cell number. We get a lot of them, and it really depends on what’s going on with the ball club. The better we’re doing, the hotter we are or someone like Josh who gets hot and does some things that brings a lot of attention to us, then we get more requests. So it varies from week to week really. I’ve never really kept track of it. It could be two a week, it could be seven a week sometimes. I don’t know.


Q: What can I do as a reporter before the game even starts to build a good relationship with a player so that it is maybe not as uncomfortable after the game to ask those tough questions?

I think if you guys are new there, the biggest thing is to introduce yourself to people, tell them who you are and who you write for. Obviously coming in make contact with John Blake or Rich Rice of our PR dept. It helps a lot because they can help introduce you to who you need to talk to and get you in the door and get people familiar with you. That way you don’t look up when the game is over and the wheels came off and there are three new faces and they’re going, ‘Who are these guys?


Q: As an athlete, would you rather have a good photo or a good story?

I’ll ask you that. I can tell you this, the first day I signed with the Rangers, we had a lady here called Linda Kaye who was our team photographer and I didn’t know her and I didn’t even realize she was the one who took our picture. The next day I was in the office and she was in the office and I had no clue she was the one who took the picture. So the PR department was asking what I thought of these pictures. They were thinking about using them. I said ‘Well, gosh they make me look like I was 50 years old at the time.’ And Linda Kay was standing right there and she said, ‘Well that’s all I had to work with.’ So I don’t know, I think I might have to go with the photo. I was a little sensitive about that after that.


Q: Was there a story that ever really got under your skin?

I can remember back when I was with the Angels, and I feel like I’ve been fortunate to have a good rapport with the writers where I’ve been, but we went through a period there where I had lost like five games in a row and we  just weren’t scoring any runs and weren’t very good defensively so you really didn’t have any room for error and so when you get into extended losing streaks and everyone is doing so poorly and everyone is on edge about it, we had a writer there who wrote for the Herald, which is long gone there in southern California, but his personality was a little abrasive. He took a negative approach about what was going on, which you couldn’t really blame him because there was nothing good to report. So he pretty much criticized the players. I think after awhile, we all took offense to it. And his personality was reflected in his article. I think that was probably a period of time that if there was a reporter that I had a dislike for, it probably had more to do with the organization and the club on the field than it had to do with him.


Q: What was it like to have the opposition give you a standing ovation during your last season?

That happened to me the last year of my career because I had announced prior to the season that it would be my last year and I would retire after the season. It was late in the season and I think the fans knew it was going to be the last time I pitched there. You’re appreciative of that, that they appreciated what you did in your career, so as a visiting player it made you feel good that they view you in that light.


Q: Would the media treat you differently after a win than they would after a loss?

I never really detected a difference. I think after a loss they were probably a little more apprehensive to ask the tough questions. Because they are probably a little bit more guarded as to what type of mindset you have.


Q: Is the media more intrusive in players’ personal lives now than they used to be?

I think , yeah I guess intrusive would be the word because there is pressure for them to do that. They people who are reading or listening are wanting to know that. You’ve got reality TV that is so popular now, it’s almost of the mindset of the public. It’s what they want. I think when, and Richard knows, we’ve had some stories break that they have to cover and it’s not exactly what they want to do and they want to be respectful of other people’s privacy but they are also being pressured to write stories because they know it is going to go up and people are going to ask, ‘Well, why didn’t y’all have it?’ So it’s, we’re just dealing with a different mindset and a different world than we were 30 or 40 years ago.


Q: Is there a subject that repeatedly comes up in your career, and you have to be polite and you have to address it and be politically correct but in your mind you’re going, ‘Geez, I don’t want to talk about that again.’

The thing about my career is I’m known for several things and those things are obviously brought up. Some of those are very positive things and others are things I’d rather not be asked about. The thing that was most recent at the end of my career was the Robin Ventura deal. It’s usually the third question asked. It just is what it is. I told Robin when he was here opening day and that’s the first time I’ve seen him since the incident, I told him you know Robin, that thing took on a life of its own, and it did. And when it happened, I thanked ESPN for showing it 100 times so everybody would have the opportunity to see it. It’s not something you want to be known for or remembered for, but it’s part of my career and I didn’t want to be remembered for the amount of people I walked or how wild I was in the early part of my career but that is part of my career. As I look back on it, there’s nothing I can do about it. People ask what kind of regrets do you have. I don’t have any regrets. Yeah I would have liked to have a lot better control earlier in my career and see what I could have done in those days. If I could have pitched the first 10 years of my career like I did the last 10 it would have been interesting to see. But that’s your life, and that’s your career and you have to realize that and I know that my thought process and my heart was in the right place and my work ethics were and that’s my career. So you accept that. And it’s who you are what you deal with.


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