And You Are Trying to Figure Out Why We Don’t Tell You the TruthPosted: May 17, 2010
What is my point?
Players usually hold back their real opinions during interviews with journalists because they don’t trust the media to deliver their intended message accurately.
Why Does it Matter?
Due to this lack of trust; fans, media, MLB organizations, and players are all equally frustrated that players have to hold back their real opinions when they speak to reporters.
Let’s take a look at an actual article and break down how it is written. Our goal is to focus on our perceptions and feelings as we read. The subject matter is irrelevant to our focus.
Jerome Solomon is a sports writer for the Houston Chronicle. Recently he wrote a story about the Astros’ first baseman, Lance Berkman. It was titled “Berkman Open-Minded About Trade.” I suggest that you read my analysis first, before you read the article. I know that right off the bat that sounds shady, but there will be a moment later in this analysis that will tell you when a good time to read the article is. I will put quotes from Solomon’s article in italics. My comments will be in plain type. Are you ready? Let’s go!
Titles are very important to a reader’s interpretation of what is to come. Not only will a title quickly tell us the author’s intended subject matter, but oftentimes the title will cast the reader’s opinion of the subject in a positive, negative, or indifferent light.
Here is the title for Solomon’s article:
Berkman Open-Minded About A Trade
Take note of your initial feeling based on the title. Is your opinion positive, negative, or indifferent?
The Astros’ clubhouse was dark, lights dimmed to match this dark season.
Some song from Enya’s album Only Time, as appropriate a death march composition as has ever been penned, played on the stereo. (Please tell me why anyone with a reason to live would listen to that stuff.)
Solomon uses imagery to help set the tone for the article. Imagery helps the reader imagine the feeling of the players in the Astros’ clubhouse.
Ending of First Section
Solomon then describes Lance’s bats on the floor with blankets over them. He describes them as,
babies that had been rocked to sleep. The idea was that after an afternoon nap, those babies would be wide awake by game time.
Oh, it was sad.
Solomon finishes the first section with this paragraph.
If you are like me, you have pictured Berkman riding off into the sunset, feted as one of the franchise’s all-time greats and a likely Hall of Famer, having hit each of his home runs, scooped up all of those grounders and delivered every one of his often hilarious one-liners in an Astros uniform.
What are your feelings at this point? Do you feel like this imagery is positive, negative, or indifferent? Your feelings up to this point may influence how you interpret Berkman’s statements. It might be useful to write down if you believe Berkman’s statements are going to be positive, negative, or indifferent right now. This could help you understand how imagery influences your interpretation.
Subtitle: Willing to Change Plans
That is the way it is supposed to be. But the veteran first baseman admits he has considered the possibility he might not finish his career as an Astro. In fact, were he in charge — and barring a miracle run over the next couple of months — he might even look to trade himself.
Solomon has just given the reader a hint of what is about to come. Remember that we haven’t read any comments from Berkman yet. Do you believe that his comments will be positive, negative, or indifferent?
Here is Lance’s quote.
“If it was me and I was running the show here, if we didn’t make a great comeback like we did in ’05 and be sort of around .500 by the All-Star break, I’d try to trade every veteran I could to reload,” Berkman said. “That’s the quickest way you’re going to be able to reload and get it going in the right direction”.
“As a player, if they came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a deal to go to a contender,’ I’d take it. Heck, it’s only a three- or four-month deal. It’s not like I’m signing on for 10 years with another team.”
Remember we are not concerned with the subject matter. We are trying to gauge how we feel when this information is presented to us. We are trying to see if Solomon’s description has led us to feel positive, negative, or indifferent about Berkman’s statements.
The next sentence is from Solomon. This is what he writes:
Berkman is in the final year of his contract, with the team holding a $15 million option for 2011. He wants to retire an Astro, but if things don’t pick up and the team comes to him with a trade, he might, in essence, take one for the team.
Did your feelings change after reading this sentence? Do you agree with Solomon’s assessment?
Berkman calls Wade
After this interview it was reported that Berkman called General Manager, Ed Wade. Here is what Berkman said about that conversation in an article from the Houston Chronicle written by Bernardo Fallas.
“I’m not trying to play GM,” said Berkman, who reiterated his desire to finish his career as an Astro. “I wanted him to know that I’m not trying to force anybody’s hand or communicate anything through the media. It was a hypothetical conversation (the comments), but I’m not going to back away from what I said because I still feel that way.”
At this point I suggest that you read the article. It is a very quick read. Here is the link.
The way a writer presents information can influence our opinion. We rarely read black and white articles. My goal was to be as black and white as I could even in presenting Jerome Solomon’s article. Of course, it is hard to be impartial. My experiences have influenced me. They have colored my view of the world. So even though I was trying to be “black and white,” I would not be surprised if subconsciously I wrote in a way that leads a reader to feel the same way I do. (I guess, I’ll find out when I read the comments. But now… back to the point.)
I love reading. One book that I am reading right now is called, Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition by Michael J. Mauboussin. He writes,
“Our minds naturally make connections and associate ideas. So if someone introduces a cue to you –a word, a smell, a symbol- your mind often starts down an associative path. And you can be sure the initial cue will color a decision that waits at the path’s end. All this happens outside of your perception.”
This is bittersweet news. Sometimes it is fun being tricked, like when someone shows you a magic trick. On the other hand, it isn’t fun being manipulated in more serious matters. I think it’s best to acknowledge that we are prone to bias based on association. My dad has been telling me this statement since I can remember,
“Son, there is always one more question. When you are done asking questions… ask one more.”
This idea has been ingrained in my head. My dad created an associative path for me; once I feel that I am done asking questions, my brain is automatically triggered to ask one more. Luckily, my dad’s form of manipulation worked out for the best. As a result, my default mechanism is to question my original interpretation of information. Once this is acknowledged, my mind tries to think of the counter argument. The result is that I am giving myself the best shot at understanding the point.
This past off-season, I sat down with a GM of an MLB team. Before I sat down with him, I could hear my dad’s words in my mind,
“Morgan, always bring something to the table. It doesn’t matter what it is, but make sure that it is of value to the person you are speaking to.”
With my dad’s words in my mind, I did just that. Before I met with the person, I had made an evaluation of what I thought this organization would value. As a result, my goal was to provide a specific vision of me so that the GM could better understand my position. At one point we started talking about pitching. I had been explaining my plan for teaching pitchers how to be effective down in the strike zone. As the GM was listening, he was nodding in agreement and I could see his wheels moving. Then he said this,
“You know, I am amazed at how effectively Jonathon Papelbon throws the ball so well up in the zone.”
He was giving me the counter argument. Inside, I said, “Thanks dad.” Since I had always been taught to ask one more question, I had tried as best I could to shoot holes in all of my ideas before I went into the conversation. This is what I said,
“There are some pitchers who are able to throw up in the zone effectively. Usually those pitchers have a unique characteristic in that they can throw the ball hard or they can hide the ball. Maybe they have a unique “hitch” (a hitch is a body movement that makes a delivery difficult to time). But we are talking about less than 10 pitchers in the Big Leagues who have that ability. My goal is to give every pitcher the best chance at success and I believe that is down in the zone.”
There isn’t a correct answer to this belief. But there are unprepared answers. Such lack of preparation comes from only considering the information that has been brought before you. Had I not recognized that my opinions might have been one-sided, I wouldn’t have had an answer.
Of course after typing that down I am already asking new questions.
“Nice point, but did you consider that you didn’t get a job? Wouldn’t it be better to give an example of a time where this strategy worked out?, etc.”
My Opinion of Solomon’s Article
I think Jerome Solomon did a great job of using imagery and description to lead us to a certain end. When I had read such a gloomy description of the Astros’ clubhouse, I couldn’t help but think that the article was going to be negative. As I read Lance’s comments I immediately said to myself,
“Oh no. Lance is going to be misinterpreted and fans and the organization are not going to like this.”
The reality is that what Lance said is simply a good, honest take on the Astros’ organization. But my fear is that readers are going to be heading into his comments with a negative expectation, which would cause them to interpret his statements incorrectly.
I Can Control Your Mind. Want Me to Prove It?
Why don’t you try this experiment? Go back to the Jerome Solomon article and read the sections backwards. There are 3 sections to the article. Begin with the sub-heading, “Hot Streak to Come.” Then read the second section that says, “Willing to Change Plans.” Finally, read the first section. When you are finished, see if you see the article in the same or different light.
As an athlete, it is extremely difficult to give completely black and white comments and have them entirely surrounded with color commentary. Maybe if the color commentary was more black and white on speculative pieces we wouldn’t feel so afraid to tell you the truth. Of course I am just speculating.