Stars need to talk to media, regardless

You know what? My job would be easier if I didn’t talk to players.

I wouldn’t be as informed. My stories wouldn’t be as detailed. But the truth is, I don’t need quotes to write.

So, if Albert Pujols and other prominent Cardinals want to duck the media after a World Series game, who am I to complain?

Soccer writers in England rarely get postgame access to players. They’re almost like art critics, writing reviews without talking to the principals. But if that is what major leaguers preferred, it would lead to other problems.

The way we do it in the US is fairer to everyone involved.

Players give reporters their version of events. Reporters gain a richer understanding of what happened. Readers and viewers benefit from the additional insight.

Yet, it blew me away Friday how many fans on Twitter responded angrily to the criticism of Pujols, Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina for making themselves unavailable after Game 2.

Anti-media types consider reporters to be pests. Fanboys want to hear only the best about their favorite players and teams. But the daily contact between reporters and players produces not just quotes, but also background information for context. And the checks and balances actually work both ways.

Beat writers and local columnists are the most accountable. You rip a player, you show up the next day to take your medicine. That’s the ethic of the baseball-writing fraternity, and I can personally attest from my days with The Baltimore Sun that it leads to many sleepless nights.

Such accountability is healthy, often prompting restraint. Judging from Twitter, many fans took exception with the other side of the argument, that players should be accountable to reporters. Well, reporters essentially are conduits to fans, means to an end.

And there are larger issues here.

Pujols and Co. failed to be accountable to teammates who were left to answer questions in their absence. And they failed to be accountable to a sport that wants to draw more attention — and yes, higher television ratings on FOX — to its biggest showcase.

Let’s not forget: The sport pays its players quite well, in part by generating money from local and national media contracts and publicity from other outlets.

Some fans care little about that connection, saying that players don’t need to talk, that what happens on the field requires no additional explanation.

Heaven forbid anyone probe deeper.

Why not just play in the dark?

A good reporter tries to get all sides of the story without assuming that he or she knows everything. And one of my favorite things about covering baseball is that the sport is so multi-faceted, it’s possible to learn something every day.

FOX’s Tim McCarver has been a player and broadcaster for more than a half-century. But I’m constantly amazed how often even he will remark, “I didn’t know that,” in FOX’s pregame meetings with managers.

The perspective from the clubhouse frequently is illuminating — for reporters and, by extension, viewers and readers.

Just Wednesday night, I walked into the Rangers clubhouse planning to write about the many heroes of their 2-1 victory in Game 2. But after hearing first base coach Gary Pettis and assistant GM Thad Levine discuss how the Rangers’ aggressive baserunning reflects the influence of manager Ron Washington, I completely shifted course and wrote about Washington.

Often, we’re looking for smaller details, an explanation of how a play worked — or how one went awry. That was what reporters in the Cardinals clubhouse wanted from Pujols, his version of the botched cut-off throw that helped Elvis Andrus take an extra base in the Rangers’ winning rally. Maybe Pujols had nothing of value to say. But you don’t know unless you ask.

Well, Pujols wasn’t at his locker. He was in an off-limits area, and said he did not receive a request to answer questions until 40 minutes after the game.

His cover story, backed by manager Tony La Russa, was disingenuous at best.

Berkman, who said he made himself unavailable because he had little impact on the game, said, “It’s always been my thought, that if I know I did something either good or bad, and I know that somebody might want to ask me about a particular play, I’m going to hang around and answer those questions.”

As for La Russa, perhaps he has forgotten how his former closer with the Athletics, Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, appeared at his locker and addressed one wave of reporters after another after giving up monumental home runs to Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series and Roberto Alomar in the ‘92 ALCS.

Countless others players, famous and anonymous, have done the same. The glare is brightest in the postseason, the media crush occasionally bordering on unwieldy. But an 11-year veteran such as Pujols should understand the give and take.

As it turned out, Pujols accepted full responsibility for failing to catch the cut-off throw when he finally spoke Friday, exonerating center fielder Jon Jay, who had said that his throw was off-line.

Pujols’ remarks offered clarity, if not deep insight. Maybe they comforted Jay, a second-year major leaguer, maybe not. But the question — what happened? — was on the minds of many. And if Pujols had given the same answers in the immediate aftermath, he would have been labeled a stand-up guy.

I get why some fans think all of this is silly, but in the end what unites all of us — players, reporters, fans — is our love for the game.

Pujols doesn’t need to talk to us. We don’t need to talk to him. But everyone benefits from the dialogue. Everyone, including fans.