Is it a big deal that Miguel Cabrera didn’t talk to the media after World Series Game 3?

It’s always interesting to watch the reaction when a high-profile athlete blows off the media at a big event. Some will say it reflects a lack of accountability, if not leadership. There’s just one problem with writing or saying something like that. For one thing, there probably is some degree of truth in it. Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s interpreted. Readers and listeners respond with outrage. They remind us we’re all clowns. They tell us athletes aren’t obligated to speak to us. They want us to leave ‘em alone, and they’re not nice about it.

Okay, here’s a little story from the Super Bowl.

The Patriots showed up for the big game a couple years back having been accused of spying on opponent practices. As usual, Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave us almost nothing.

He could do that because he spoke in a more controlled setting, and if he refused to touch the topic with any kind of depth, the questions would soon move to other areas.

After all, hundreds of reporters had hundreds of stories to write, and they didn’t all deal with Spygate. Unfortunately, the players were in a tougher spot.

They were scattered around inside a tent, and during the hour-long media session, they were all asked about Spygate multiple times. Finally, linebacker Mike Vrabel came close to losing his cool.

“We have to answer questions about this stuff because no one else will,” he said. “But we didn’t have anything to do with that.”

Was this fair? Did Belichick think things through before he decided to stick his players with the topic? Maybe they would have been stuck with it anyway.

That’s the way I feel about Miguel Cabrera blowing off the media. Unless he had a family emergency, it’s part of being a good teammate to stand there and be accountable for an 0-3 deficit. That truly is leadership.

With Cabrera out of the room, Prince Fielder and Alex Avila and even younger players like Quintin Berry are hit with wave after wave of questions. It’s not fair, but the questions are going to be asked of whoever is willing to answer them.

That’s our role. That’s what consumers of news demand. If they’re interested in the Tigers—and their interest is what pays the salaries—they’re going to want to know why Cabrera popped out with the bases loaded and why two of the best offensive players in baseball have struggled on baseball’s biggest stage.

Some franchises take this kind of thing more seriously than others. When Albert Pujols didn’t talk to the media after a World Series game last year, it became such a big deal that Pujols made sure to make himself available after every game.

When Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were stars with the Astros, they were available after every game, win or lose. Once when a young pitcher declined to speak with reporters, veteran players read him the riot act the next day. He got it from Biggio and Russ Springer, and also from GM Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner.

Drayton McLane owned the Astros, and he demanded that everyone in the organization be as available as he was. Which he always was. I’ve had a handful of returned calls that began with, “Sorry, it took me so long to get back to you. I’m in Warsaw.”

Tex Schramm demanded the same thing of his players and coaches when he ran the Dallas Cowboys. I once asked a player if he had a couple of minutes, and he was still upset about something I’d written a couple of weeks earlier.

“I have no choice,” he said.

I’ve always thought every sports team should have Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson do a seminar on public relations. They understood that one can shape his own narrative and that it only takes a couple of minutes a day.

Once upon a time, talking to the media was the only way to communicate with fans. Social media has changed the rules. Still, though, huge numbers of fans depend on news-gathering organizations for their information.

Some athletes are less comfortable than others. When I covered the Washington Redskins, I had a good relationship with wide receiver Art Monk.

But he was so cautious about giving interviews—and very cautious about who he talked to—that I’d have to meet him in a secluded place behind the locker room.  For whatever reason, he trusted me to get the story right.

The Tigers are an easy team to cover. Their manager, Jim Leyland, is a dream to cover. He’s available and brutally honest. His obvious decency comes through in pretty much every interview.

Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and plenty of others make themselves available, good or bad. Until Game 3, Cabrera had done the same thing.

It’s obviously his right to talk or not talk. But he’s an important player in this World Series. He’s a big reason why the Tigers are here, and he might be a big reason they don’t win.

If he doesn’t talk in the regular season, only the beat writers who cover the team will know. But during the World Series, the swarms of reporters will descend on players who really have no place being a spokesman for their team.

In a big event like the World Series, small things can become big things. In the end, it’s not that big a deal. For one day, it was a story.

2 Comments

As someone who has covered pro sports for almost 40 years, I can tell you this: Leaders stand up and face the media. Former Yankees Don Mattingly and Don Baylor did it after every game, win or lose. You can’t be a star if you’re not willing to face scrutiny, regardless of whether you win the Triple Crown.

I can hardly understand Cabrera when he gives an interview, so what’s the big deal.

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