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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Monday, June 14, 2004

The Silence Of The Hawk

A funny thing about working for ESPN is that around Bristol and Hartford, when you tell other people where you work, it's no big deal. 3,000 people work at ESPN, and chances are good that you aren't the first person they've met who works there.

However, when you go somewhere else, people often have a reaction along the lines of "That's awesome, can you get me a job there?"

Yes, it is awesome. No, I probably can't get you a job there. I have no sway with the powers that be at ESPN. But I am very fortunate to have my job. I am also of the opinion that like most jobs in the media, it's not something that everyone can do - or at least do well.

That's why I was a little upset to see LaTroy Hawkins's reasoning behind his new boycott of the media. Before I get to that, let me go on a quick rant about athletes' media boycotts.

Many athletes already come across as spoiled. Boycotting the media is not a good way to change that reputation, unless you want to change it to spoiled, petulant, and puerile. The media is why athletes are able to command $2.67 million a year (that's you, LaTroy), $7 million a year (Michael Strahan), and $18 million a year (Barry Lamar Bonds). If your games weren't on TV, if the reporters didn't write their columns about you, if your leagues didn't sign massive deals with media outlets, you'd be playing for fun in your free time while you worked some other job (see the NHL if you're wondering what happens when the media isn't interested in you).

In addition to that, media boycotts never last. Eventually, enough things will be written or said about you and you're going to want to voice your opinion. That's why Michael Strahan ended his recent boycott by going on the radio, and why Barry Bonds holds his press conferences now and then, and why LaTroy Hawkins is going to start talking again pretty soon, probably as soon as he loses the closer's job in Chicago.

And that brings me back to Hawkins. Last week, after Joe Borowski became the latest Cub to visit the DL this season, Hawkins inherited the closer's role. His first action as closer was to announce that he would no longer speak to the media. Part of his speech referenced White Sox "closer" Billy Koch, who hasn't been the most reliable arm out of the South Side pen this season. That was the part that caught most people's attention - especially Koch, who responded unkindly because he misunderstood Hawkins's comments. But the part that caught my attention was this doozy of a line.

"I'm not going to apologize for [nail-biting saves], because I can do what you guys can do, [but] you can't do what I can do."

Really, LaTroy? You think you could be a baseball writer? Then go ahead and send in your resume to the Chicago Tribune - after all, the paper owns the Cubs, I'm sure they'd give you a fair shot at the job. Unfortunately for you, my guess is that they'd require a college degree before they'd even consider hiring a new writer. And while your teammate Mark Prior recently picked his diploma up at USC, you went pro right out of high school.

Would you be willing to take the pay cut? How would someone so disinclined to take part in an interview deal with having to (gasp) interview players for a living? And what if they refused to talk to you, like a certain new Cubs closer? Could you still bang out your game recap in 20 minutes and send it in under deadline?

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that all athletes are unfit to write for a paper. In fact, I'll throw out two names of pitchers whom I know can write: Todd Jones and Curt Schilling. Neither of these guys may be the most liked in the world, but Jones has a weekly column that runs in his hometown paper, and Schilling has written open letters that have run on ESPN.com and were fairly well-done.

Another story: Flash back 10 years, to after the 1994 season, when Hawkins was still a struggling minor leaguer thinking about quitting. In a 1997 interview, Hawkins recounted what his grandfather - someone who had worked in a steel mill for 35 years - told him.

"He told me I have a chance to make a lot of money doing what I love, that baseball is easier than the average person's life. I said, 'Yeah, granddad, but you just see it from the outside. You don't see what's going on on the inside.'"

Now that Hawkins has succeeded, and he is making a lot of money, his life probably isn't too difficult. I'm sure I'm not the only one making that assumption, and it's a reasonable one to make. Of course, I may be wrong. I don't see what's going on on the inside. He won't talk about it.

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