Bryan Price's biggest fault in his now widely seen rant against a Cincinnati Reds beat reporter was not that he used fuck—or a variant of the word—a reported 77 times, or that he needlessly alternated between using terms for cow and horse excrement—kudos, C. Trent Rosecrans—when bullshit would have done just fine. But it was in showing that he failed to understand the role media plays in his job.
This is an important point not because media is a highly sacred profession, or because reporters need to be treated with some kind of politeness. We are tough people. We can handle it when someone cusses at us. But failing to understand why the media shows up everyday at the ballpark means Price does not understand how to use the media to his advantage. As a former baseball beat writer, I can tell you that we can be pretty easy manipulated.
Treat us well and you're likely to get the benefit of the doubt when shit goes bad—and believe me, it always does. Treat us badly and some of us will likely call for your job at the first sign of distress.
It's always baffled me at how few managers have actually understood the role of the media, since no other people in sports have to speak to the media as often as baseball managers. There are pre and post game media sessions for 162 games, not including playoffs. Sometimes there are even post pre-game sessions should a bit of news occur during batting practice. While players can avoid talking to the media, managers can't. And yet there are still those managers who wish to create an adversarial relationship with reporters.
Only a few really have the whole thing figured out. Joe Torre was the master of talking in pregame sessions for what seemed to be hours, and yet told you nothing important. But at the end of his sessions you'd end up thinking, "That Joe Torre, he's a hell of a guy."
Ask any current or former beat writer who covered Torre what the former Yankees manager thought about Bob Gibson or what he thought about Andy Pettitte's first playoff start and I could almost assure you that they could recite Torre's answer word for word since they heard those stories so many times.
That kind of relationship with reporters served Torre well at the end of his Yankees tenure. Although the Yankees went several years without winning a championship—a veritable dry spell in those days of the dynasty—there was never a huge call from the media for Torre's job.
The most peculiar thing about taking an anti-media stance is that this is the ideal climate for managers to win the popularity contest with reporters. Everybody hates the mainstream media. Anti-establishment bloggers are always looking to hate the mainstream media even more. But ranting like a lunatic isn't going to make it happen.
Price's job is to obviously put the Reds in the best position to win, but it's also to put himself in the best position to hold onto his job for a significant amount of time. And a failure to understand that successfully dealing with the media is part of his job is a failure to understand how to keep his job.
In a decade of covering Major League Baseball, I've encountered combative managers, accessible managers, managers who could not help themselves from giving information that they were supposed to keep secret, and managers who clearly were in over their heads. The common thread was that the ones who lasted longest in their jobs—sometimes in spite of their on the field performance—were the ones who understood how to successfully play the media game.
Make no mistake, it's game. A manager sometimes gives reporters information that normally he'd keep secret in the hope that perhaps in the future the reporter won't report on something that's sensitive to the team. As a reporter, you measure the gain of what a certain piece of information will get you against the penalty of what it might cost you in the future as a result of reporting it.
But this is not about ethics in beat writing journalism. This is about a tactical back and forth between manager and media where both sides make concessions so that each can best do their jobs. The famous saying in journalism school is that a good reporter only reports about one third of the information he or she knows. And that's true. A good reporter uses the those two thirds bits of unreported info to make sure the one third they do report is really good.
But it takes two sides to play this game. And believe me, the media are more than willing to play along. It makes our jobs easier—and it could make Price's job easier too. Being nice to reporters isn't the right to do, it isn't the ethical thing to do, it's just the smart, logical thing. And that's no bullshit.