Jayson Stark Q&A

Today we have a Q&A with ESPN's Jayson Stark.  His articles can be found here, and his blog is here.  You can follow Jayson on Twitter @jaysonst.

MLB Trade Rumors: What do you think about Twitter?  Do you find it useful?  Do you think we'll see writers breaking baseball news on Twitter, given the immediacy of it?

Jayson Stark: I love Twitter. I love following my favorite writers, bloggers and media heroes, and being updated all day long. But here’s the debate I have every day: My personal philosophy is that we shouldn’t be tweeting anything of significance that hasn’t been posted on our sites or published in our newspapers/publications first. So while I might fire a stream-of-consciousness statistical tidbit out there, I would never post a news item unless it had already been reported on ESPN.com first. If other people in the industry feel differently, I’d love to hear their thinking.

MLBTR: How many phone calls go into a typical Rumblings and Grumblings column?  Do those columns elicit a lot of feedback from front office people?

Stark: Hmmm. Somewhere between 10 and 1,000, give or take a few hundred. Every week is different, of course. But just looking back at last week’s Rumblings, I’d say we’re talking around 20 phone calls, quite a few emails and a bunch of conversations at the ballpark. I also keep a daily notebook that logs subjects I’m interested in exploring. Not all of them lead to notes, columns or blog items. But they keep me busy, anyway. I don’t know how much “feedback” I get from Rumblings items, but I know people out there are reading it. I’ll put it that way. If someone out there disagrees with my portrayal of his team’s thinking, I’ll often have that person seek me out to let me know how or why he or she disagrees. And I appreciate that. I never want to position myself as someone who isn’t open to criticism or to differences of opinion on any topic.

MLBTR: Was there a moment where you were able to "flip the switch" from Phillies fan to beat writer?  Tell us about that process.

Stark: Well, I haven’t been a “Phillies fan” since I was a kid. So it wasn’t as hard as you might think. Once I got into the newspaper business, the idea was to be a professional, not to be a fan. So I actually felt as though I conquered that barrier without much trouble. Now I did grow up in Philadelphia. So I aspire to cover Philadelphia baseball stories from that perspective, and always have. But I try to explain to people all the time that there’s a difference between being a Philadelphian and being a Phillies fan. I didn’t root for the Phillies to win that World Series, for example. But I understood what it meant to Philadelphia that they did.

MLBTR: What compelled you to leave your job with the Philadelphia Inquirer to write for ESPN.com?  Back in 2000, were there any signs for you that newspapers were headed toward a decline?

Stark: I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t worried about the newspaper industry at that point. But that’s not why I left. I had a great job, and I’d have been happy to work at the Inquirer, doing that job, for the rest of my career. But who in our business wouldn’t want to work for ESPN and ESPN.com? I was lucky enough to be offered that opportunity, and I’d have had to be the biggest knucklehead in history to have turned down a chance like that. ESPN is an amazing place, where the most talented people in our industry aim for greatness every day. I know exactly how lucky I am to work there, especially given the problems out there in the newspaper industry. But I still love newspapers and the newspaper business, so it pains me to see my friends in the business so worried about what the future holds.

MLBTR: Is it imperative that a baseball writer keep up with the latest statistical advancements?  Or should that be optional?

Stark: “Imperative” is a great word. I don’t want to suggest it should be required by law or anything. But our job is to cover the sport and everything that goes with it. Our job is also to understand the sport we cover on every possible level. So I don’t understand why someone who covers baseball would even WANT to ignore the incredible advancements in statistical baseball analysis. The brilliant minds at Baseball Prospectus, Hardball Times, FanGraphs, Baseball Info Solutions, etc. are making a remarkable contribution to our understanding of the sport. Anyone in our business who dismisses that contribution is missing out both on great work and a great opportunity to elevate his or her own knowledge of baseball.

MLBTR: Do we need some sort of baseball media watchdog, in the vein of the now-inactive Fire Joe Morgan blog?  Do you consider that type of criticism all in good fun, or is it too harsh?

Stark: In many ways, mlbtraderumors.com is filling that void. Isn’t it? I know your site is interested almost exclusively in hot-stove type topics. But it’s awesome to have someone keep track of the evolution of all the significant hot-stove stories of the day. Beyond that, though, I do expect someone to jump in and fill the media-watchdog void, or maybe a bunch of someones. At least I hope that’s the case. I think criticism is more than just something that goes with the territory. It’s important that all of us aspire to the highest standards possible, and I have no problem with critics who hold us accountable if we don’t meet those standards. I’m not a big fan of mean-spiritedness. I’ll admit that. So if someone does emerge as the ultimate watchdog voice, I’d prefer that it be someone who performs that job with a sense of not just professionalism, but an understanding of the demands of our job. But criticism is an important, necessary part of our business. We dole it out all the time. So why shouldn’t we be open to folks who disagree with the way we do our jobs?

MLBTR: What's up with Jimmy Rollins this year?  Is this just a good old-fashioned slump?

Stark: For the most part, I’d say yes. But when a funk goes on for over a month, is it still a “slump?” I think there are a couple of forces at work. For one thing, Jimmy was incredibly geared up for the WBC, got himself totally locked in and clearly was the best player on Team USA. Then I think he got back to spring training, allowed himself to downshift for a week or so and then couldn’t find the game-on button when it came time to push it in April. But what’s really surprising  is to see him revert to the kind of impatient, pull-happy hitter he used to be early in his career. I think he’s been so anxious to make something happen, put up numbers and repeat that World Series journey – not necessarily in that order – that he hasn’t allowed himself to exhale, have the kind of quality at-bats he had in his MVP season (or the WBC) and just trust his talent. We often think that winning – and collecting awards – would allow players like this to relax. In his case, I feel as if it we’re seeing almost the opposite force at work.

MLBTR: Your guess at the best starting pitcher who will be truly made available for trade in July?

Stark: At this point, I’d say Jake Peavy. The Blue Jays’ great start makes the Roy Halladay talk moot. I’m skeptical that Drayton McLane would sign off on a Roy Oswalt deal. The Indians hold an option on Cliff Lee, and they don’t have an ace in waiting to succeed him the way they did last year with Lee taking that baton from CC. So Peavy is the one ace out there whose team will have clear-cut motivation to trade him. But here’s my question: Had the Padres been able to pull off that four-team mega-deal last winter that would have involved the Cubs, Phillies and Orioles, they would have gotten seven players back. So doesn’t that Deal That Never Was have to be stuck in Kevin Towers’ head when he listens to offers in July? He isn’t going to get that kind of return in midseason. So it’s certainly possible he’ll wait until next winter to revisit this, hoping there’s a better package out there in December than he’d get in July.


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