You will recall that, last week, I teased an interview I did with Marc Lancaster, the Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Post.
Well, we had a great conversation about many different topics. It was such a good conversation that we kept talking for longer than we had expected.
As a result, I’m going to split this interview up into three parts. Part One is below (Parts Two and Three will appear over the next two days). Enjoy.
FYI: This interview was conducted with Marc Lancaster on Tuesday, April 19, 2005. I found Marc to be a very engaging person, and I look forward to talking with him again. Frankly, he’s just a great guy.
Redleg Nation: Most fans know what a beat writer does, but may not really understand what goes into the job? Tell us about that.
Marc Lancaster: Well, I guess the first and foremost thing is, wherever the team is and whatever the team does, we’re supposed to be on top of it. And that means, from the first day of spring training in Sarasota, we follow them all the way through to October, and go everywhere they go.
Basically, there are three of us who do that job: myself, John Fay, and Hal McCoy. Just keeping a pulse on the team is how I like to think about it. There’s what I would consider a minimum level of what we have to do, which is take care of the injury news, player moves and trades, signings, and all that sort of stuff. But you can get that, especially nowadays, everywhere.
So, I think what a lot of us try to do is get a little more nuanced, a little more analysis sometimes, really let people know what’s going on with the team, in a big-picture sense.
And it’s not…your readers probably understand that we’re not just going and watching baseball games. It certainly beats the heck out of hauling trash or coal mining, or anything like that, but there is a bit of work to it.
For night games, we’re basically at the ballpark four hours before the first pitch. The clubhouse opens three and a half hours before the first pitch. That’s when we go down and talk to Dave Miley and talk to the players. We all do notebooks every day, and that’s when you try to get all your notebook stuff done. Ninety percent of the time, you try to get that all done before the game. Lineup things or injuries, or a guy might be streaking or slumping, you go try to find that guy and try to get something from him, or talk to Don Gullett or Chris Chambliss, talk to Mark Mann about injuries.
You get all that stuff done, watch batting practice, go upstairs, write your notebook during the game, and then basically see what happens during the game. So it definitely is a long day every day.
RN: I don’t think any of our readers would be surprised by that. How’d you get into the business?
ML: Well, sort of accidentally. I always thought I wanted to be a radio guy, a play by play guy. I grew up listening to Ernie Harwell. I was a Tigers fan and I thought he was unbelievable. He still is, even though he isn’t doing it anymore. That was sort of what I wanted to do. I ended up bouncing around a couple of colleges and I found myself at the University of Georgia in 1995, and they didn’t have a very good radio program, so I was just trying to figure out something to do.
I’d always been interested in sports. One day I wrote a letter to the editor of the school newspaper. The editor called me up and said, “Hey, you look like you have an idea how to write. You ever thought about writing for the newspaper?” I was like, “Absolutely not.”
He said, “why don’t you come down?” So I went down and I think my first story was on the UGA intramural basketball championship game. I sorta started off part-time, doing little things, and I fell in love with it immediately. It seemed like something that was natural to me. I was always a big reader, but I never enjoyed writing.
A lot of people, the first thing they ask is “How do you write so much every day? How do you think of things to write?” It just kinda comes to you, and there’s no better way to explain it. I can’t think of one, anyway. You don’t even think of how many words you’re writing every day.
But it was just one of those things that took off from there and I ended up, before I graduated college, getting a job with the city paper there in Athens, Georgia. I ended up working there for four years, and covered University of Georgia football for three years, when Jim Donnan was head coach.
From there, I went to CNN/SI.com, and ended up staying there for two years. Mostly did behind the scenes editing and some writing there.
I came to the Post in March of ’02. I backed up Tony Jackson for a couple of years before I took over for him last year.
RN: Has the baseball beat changed to a more-or-less year-round schedule?
Read the rest under the fold.
ML: Yeah, basically. January tends to be dead. Unfortunately, around here, October tends to be dead. But yeah, there’s not a whole lot of down time. The way free agency and the “trade season,” so to speak, works now, it’s pretty much year round.
You’ve sorta gotta be on call all the time, anyway. That’s a big part of the deal; if the phone rings at 2 a.m., it’s time to go to work.
RN: Let’s talk about Spring Training. Tell me about your experience with the blog.
ML: Well, that was interesting. That was pitched to me by Dave Heller, who is the guy in charge of Cincinnati.com’s sports content. He runs the website for the Post, the Enquirer, and Channel 9 here. He originally wanted a player to do the blog and I immediately said, that’s just not going to happen. People just don’t realize how valuable the time is. It sounds like something that’s just a few words a day, but it’s a little more involved than that.
So, he said, “Would you want to do one,” and I said “sure, why not?” I had fooled around with blogs on my own, so I knew what it was. I thought it might be fun. Spring training is more casual and laid back. It’s a lot more loose in the clubhouse. Just inherently more relaxes down there. So I thought it might be fun. And it was.
But there’s a point in spring training where you just get burned out. The games don’t mean anything and you can’t really draw a lot of conclusions from them. Then we all put out special sections (in the newspaper) right before the season starts, and that’s a pretty heavy load of stuff you have to put together, on top of what you’re already doing for the paper every day. When you add the blog to that, it got to be a little overwhelming.
And that’s why the blog ended up being, “okay, here’s the starting lineups” for a lot of days there, and that was disappointing for me, because I wanted to do more than that with it. It seemed like people appreciated that, though. It was one of those things where I wasn’t doing the job I wanted to do with it, but the little information I was giving to people, they seemed to enjoy it. I was like, if this is all I can do, then this is all I can do right now.
RN: But the public seemed to like that. People were interested, maybe because it was something they couldn’t get elsewhere, at least not when you provided it.
ML: Yeah, and from what they tell me, as far as the numbers go, it got a pretty good number of page views every day. It was one of our highest-trafficked (blogs). It showed the interest was out there.
And that’s one of the things with us in the media anyway. I don’t know how many more people read my stories online every day than read it in the Cincinnati Post paper copy. I’m sure the numbers are completely out of whack, because the Reds have so many fans all over the country and all over the world. It’s nice to bring that to people everywhere, and that was the deal with the blog, too. A new way to get information out there.
RN: Is that something the Post will consider continuing in the future?
ML: I think so, for spring training, anyway. There was definitely a couple of little things that I would have liked to have done, and one of them was a question you already asked me. Basically, a minute by minute, this is how our day goes. This is what we do every day. I really wanted to do that, but I never could pick a day where it worked.
RN: And I would think people would be interested in that. I know I am.
ML: Yeah, I think so. It’s a tough thing with the media, because the first thing that’s drilled into your head is that you are not the story. And I don’t think any of us think we are. But we know that there are a lot of people out there who would like to have our jobs, at least on the surface. They would like to be able to do what we do every day. And that might’ve been a better way to tell them, “well, this is what we actually do.”
RN: Who’s been the best interview in your years of experience?
ML: It’s hard to pick a best interview in that clubhouse, it really is. Sean Casey is obviously right there — he’s as pleasant and accessible as they come — but he’s not alone. There are several players you can talk to about anything with confidence that they’ll give you something good.
Danny Graves might be at the top of that list. I don’t hesitate to ask him about any aspect of the team, the rationale being that he spends at least seven or eight innings every day just watching what goes on out there. Plus, he’s just a fantastic quote.
Paul Wilson is very good — he’s very thoughtful and everything he says seems to carry some added credibility.
Jason LaRue is rapidly becoming a go-to interview for myself and others. People might be surprised to know how much of a presence he has in that clubhouse. If there was an election to pick a team captain, he might just win it. With the leadership role he has taken on, he has become a very good spokesman of sorts, always blunt and forthcoming.
Austin Kearns is probably the most improved interview. When he first came up, he seemed shy and unsure of himself, but he has matured quite a bit — he’s refreshing and candid, very down-to-earth.
As far as the new additions go, Kent Mercker and David Weathers are both funny guys who have been around a long time and have a unique perspective on things. There are plenty of other “good talkers,” as we like to call them, so it’s hard to single out a handful.
But one more guy that has to be mentioned is Jacob Cruz. It wouldn’t be difficult to quote him every single day on one topic or another without ever getting a word out of him about himself. He’s smart, funny, personable and a real observer. Plus, he’s as close to a regular guy as anyone you’ll meet in a big-league uniform. He’s like somebody you’d find on the next stool at a sports bar — not the loud, obnoxious fan, but the guy who simply watches the games and says something every once in a while that just makes sense.
RN: I think our readers all expected Sean Casey to be at the top of that list.
ML: You know, the thing about it is, in the Reds clubhouse, when you’re talking about who are the best guys to talk to, there’s a half dozen. Sean Casey is as nice, as accessible, as friendly, as genuine as we make him out to be. Believe me. I mean, he is.
I’ll tell you a story. We were in St. Louis last week. Sean had gone home for the off day, and so had I. We were on the same flight into St. Louis, and we got in there, we landed. We always stay at the same hotel, and he said, “Are you taking a cab to the hotel?” They have this nice little train system in St. Louis that goes from the airport to out hotel, and to the ballpark. And I said, “No, I always take the train here. I like their train.” It’s above ground, it’s kinda cool.
Sean says, “well, whatever you’re doing, I’ll do.” And so we paid three dollars, got a ticket, and rode the train to the hotel. We just talked about his family, and he was asking about me. You know…I would not have had that with Barry Bonds.
RN: He seems like a regular guy.
ML: He is. And that’s exactly what it is. A regular guy.
RN: What about Adam Dunn? He seems like the same type of regular guy.
ML: He is. In a different way, he is. He’s just a fun-loving guy who doesn’t – and I don’t want this to sound the wrong way, because I don’t think of it like this – he doesn’t take it too seriously. I mean, he works his butt off at what he does, but he’s never going to let it define him. And I think that’s a very healthy thing. You can really get caught up in stuff, as tense as the season is, and he has, I think, a really good attitude toward how to approach this game.
If you remember, in the past, when people were approaching that Major League strikeout record, they’d sit out the last six games of the season, or something. Jose Hernandez did it with Milwaukee a few years ago. And Adam was just like, “Whatever. Bring it on.”
And the truth is, there was a list of guys in baseball last year who would not have traded their entire set of numbers for Adam Dunn’s. A really short list. Pujols, Bonds, Rolen, maybe. Not a whole lot of guys who wouldn’t have taken exactly what Dunn had, strikeouts and all, considering all the other production he put up.
He’s an unbelievable talent, he really is.
RN: I’m not sure how to word this precisely, but what’s your opinion on whether Adam Dunn is “hyped” enough, for lack of a better term, in the Cincinnati media? I guess I’m asking whether Dunn, who is clearly the most important player for the future of this franchise, might be undervalued because of his strikeouts, among the people who cover the team (and conversely, whether Casey is overvalued because he’s such a good guy)?
ML: I’m not sure. The thing about it is, something like a strikeout record, that’s an easy thing to grab onto. And I think that’s less the case for those of us who cover the Reds every day than it is for the national media. Because, as everyone who has watched SportsCenter for the last ten years knows, it’s all about the Redsox and the Yankees. Maybe the Dodgers and the Cubs. For the other teams to get in there, it’s got to be unusual circumstances.
Same with the regular Ken Griffey, Jr., pieces. He’s one of my favorite guys. But even he would tell you, if you want to talk about the Reds the last few years, there’s a lot more guys who’ve been on the field contributing that you could do stories on. And he’s one of those guys who is a lot happier talking about his teammates.
But the Dunn thing…I think people really started to appreciate him last year. It started out as the strikeout thing, but people started looking at everything else that he did, and said, “Hey, that guy is NOT Rob Deer.” He’s not one of these guys. Rob Deer, you know, was basically a worthless player. He would get you a big bang every once in a while, but considering all the damage he did, it wasn’t worth it.
Nobody will argue that Adam Dunn is not worth it. He’s getting better defensively, he’s a really smart baserunner, I think, and he’s a very good athlete. And I think he’s just getting better and better at the plate. A lot of that is due to Chris Chambliss. I don’t think people understand how much Dunn and Chambliss work together on their own. He loves working with Chambliss. It’s no coincidence to me that Dunn had his monster breakout season last year with Chambliss.
Part Two will run tomorrow here at Redleg Nation. One more thing: I snagged some of these questions from a couple of other good interviews of beat writers out there in the baseball blogosphere. Just wanted to give credit where credit’s due.