Though showering “SportsCenter” with compliments for the program’s recent changes, however subtle (“1,000 words of praise for SportsCenter is going to make some readers think their ombudsman has jumped the shark”), ESPN.com’s Le Anne Schreiber (above) tackles a thorny question in her most recent column ; are the WWL’s legion of ex-jocks and front office creeps “part of the media or part of their sport, and whose best interests are they serving when those two conflict?”
ESPN baseball analyst Steve Phillips, a former N.Y. Mets general manager, says, “There are a lot of people who come into broadcasting from the sports industry with their foot still halfway into their sport, thinking they would like to have another job in their sport again, and they hold back on what they say.
“I don’t have that aspiration. Still, as I think back on the day of the Mitchell Report’s release, I was defensive for Brian Sabean and Peter MacGowan, the San Francisco Giants front office people mentioned in the report, because I have that front office perspective.”
On a recent Outside the Lines report, Phillips seemed to take a giant step onto the media side of the fence when he acknowledged that, as general manager of the Mets, he had signed a player whose performance declined upon joining the team. When Phillips learned the cause was the player’s going off amphetamines, he thought, “Well, dear God, will somebody please get him back on those? That’s the truth, and I say it with some sense of shame and responsibility.”
After that show, Phillips says, “I got a lot of reaction from people at ESPN, pats on the back, and I wondered if I had opened up too much about it.”
Such disclosure may not be in the best interest of baseball, but it is essential for an ESPN baseball analyst who is asked to comment on others’ complicity in the steroids era. To me, it seemed Phillips had chosen the media side of the line, but I also noticed that when asked later in that same show what baseball management should do now to clean up the game, he began talking about what “they should do” and then shifted to what “we should do.”
“I wasn’t aware of switching from ‘they’ to ‘we,'” Phillips says. “But I do believe that we as broadcasters are part of the game. We still have an impact on the game. I don’t know whether this crosses the line in broadcasting or not. I don’t know if writers like Buster Olney and Peter Gammons consider themselves part of the game, but as a GM I always thought of the media covering the game as part of the game.”
I knew what Olney’s answer would be, but still I asked him whether he thought he was part of the game.
“No,” Olney said. “There is definitely a hard line there for me. I don’t think of myself as part of the institution of baseball.”