Baseball Tonight discussion, Part III

Friday, November 20, 2009

Last week, the Sport Management Club at Syracuse University hosted two of ESPN's Senior Baseball writers, Tim Kurkjian and Jayson Stark, for a discussion on Major League Baseball. This is Part III of the discussion.

Q: How has Scott Boras affected the game with his trend of pitting teams against each other to drive player salaries up?

TK: I’ll let Jayson answer this because Boras hates Jayson.

JS: Well, I’m not Scott Boras’s favorite person. I once wrote that one of Boras’s clients was less likely to get a job than another player because Boras was his agent and some teams did not want to deal with him. He sought me out in the press box the next day and demanded I print a retraction because he said there was no evidence that the agent will prevent a player from signing with a team. But the fact is that there are some General Manager’s and teams that won’t deal with him. Now, he tries to work around the people that won’t deal with him. He’ll try to find someone else in the front office or deal directly with the owner to try and get a deal for his player. The major issue with him I think is what is more important; making the player happy or getting him the most money? I know guys who go for the big contracts and are just miserable with where they end up and cannot wait to get out of there. The perfect example this year is Matt Holliday. Holliday loved it St. Louis, the fans embraced him, he did well, but they probably aren’t going to be able to give him the best deal. Now shouldn’t Holliday be able to go to Boras and say, “I don’t need to have the most money, I just want to stay here where I’m comfortable.”

Q: What do you think about the trend of General Managers and other top executives moving from being former players to being college-educated businessmen?

TK: There was a time 20 years ago where 70% of the GMs played in the Majors. Now, 3 of the 30 played. That is where the sport is going. Guys like Theo Epstein is extremely smart figuring out all the statistics and information like that, but his biggest strength is surrounding himself with baseball people. Too many GMs like that think they can evaluate talent the way someone who played can. There was one story about how a GM came to a manager and said, “All of our charts and say that this player can play centerfield, so we want you to put him there.” The manager told him that the player could not play centerfield. The GM trusted his research and told him to try him out there. So the player went out there for a week and was horrible. So after a week, the GM went to the manager and told him he was right and asked, “How did you know that?” It’s because managers like that have played and understand what it takes to play. I don’t have a problem with the trend as long as the new GMs understand that they can’t evaluate talent like a baseball person can.

Q: How has technology like Twitter helped or hurt the way you cover baseball games?

At this point, Tim’s daughter Kelly, a freshman at Syracuse who was sitting in the audience raised her hand and said:

Let me just say that my dad knows absolutely nothing about technology.

TK: Well, I guess this isn’t a question for me to answer, go ahead Jayson.

JS: I love Twitter. At one point it was a little bit of an issue at ESPN because they were concerned about what were putting on there because they wanted to make sure it drove people to and not Twitter. I backed off until they decided what to do, and now there’s a Twitter module on our ESPN MLB page for all the Tweets we do. But it’s an amazing interactive media. I’m sitting in the press box and all the sports writers are tweeting about the game, and we’re all sitting right next to each other providing information. It’s a great place to put tidbits and information that may not fit anywhere else, too. And when I’m not physically there, using it helps me feel like I am there.

Q: With a lot of glaring mistakes by the umpires in the postseason this year, do you think instant replay will be expanded?

JS: I wish they would. I was the guy, who a week after they instituted replay, called for them to expand it. At the General Manager’s meetings, they made no formal recommendation about instant replay. And Bud Selig is dead set against the further expansion of it, so as long as he is in charge, I don’t see it happening, whether it is a challenge system or a fifth umpire.


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