Q & A With Rob Bradford

Rob Bradford arguably is among the most respected Red Sox beat writers, thanks to his well-written, often-exclusive articles and interviews for the North Andover-based Eagle-Tribune. Bradford’s new blog, Bradford on Baseball, has quickly risen to be among the best-read and most-cited Sox blogs on the Web. Bradford also is the author of Chasing Steinbrenner, which covered the 2003 pennant race from the Red Sox’ and Blue Jays’ front offices. This week, he sat down with YFSF to answer some questions about the Red Sox and what it’s like to cover them.

YFSF: Starting at the very beginning, where are you from? For whom did you root growing up?

RB: I’m originally from Essex, Mass. (on the North Shore). I went to Hamilton-Wenham High before heading to the birthplace of basketball, Springfield College. I grew up a diehard Red Sox fan, taking pride in the fact that I could easily emulate the batting stances of each member of the 1978 Sox’s lineup.

YFSF: How did you get into journalism and, more specifically, into sports writing? From there, how did you get to the Eagle-Tribune covering the Red Sox?

RB: Springfield College was one of the few colleges at the time which had a sports journalism concentration. I was the sports editor for the student paper for a couple of years, dabbled in television with a couple of internships (including counting pitches at Red Sox games for NESN), and then started working for some local newspapers. I did quite a bit of freelance work at Fenway Park in the ’90’s before becoming the sports editor at the Gloucester Daily Times. After a short stint as a Sr. Editor for a national high school sports magazine, I went to the Lowell Sun, where I stayed for five years covering the Celtics and Sox. During that time I wrote the book, Chasing Steinbrenner, following the front offices for both Boston and Toronto during the ’03 season. I’ve been at the Eagle-Tribune since Nov. 1, 2005, covering the Sox.

YFSF: What was going through your mind the first time you were at a baseball game to cover it professionally?

RB: The first time you step on the Fenway Park field with a press pass is mind-blowing. I couldn’t truly understand why it seemed so powerful at the time (during my internship with NESN) but I guess it is one of those things where you stand behind on the other side of the gate separating fantasy from reality for so long you can’t believe it can be crossed. That sounds sappy now, but I will never downplay that feeling.

YFSF: Is this the peak of your career, or do you see yourself one day doing this for the bigger metropolitan dailies?

RB: I would hope there would be plenty of peaks still left to be discovered, but right now I am very happy. The Eagle-Tribune has allowed me from Day One to go out and find stories and report on them. There is a pressure to produce, because I will be the first to admit that if you are at a suburban paper and don’t come up with something unique or different from the big boys you might as well not be given the opportunity to cover the pros. I would like to think that I’m giving our readers something they can’t get elsewhere. Sometimes I don’t always meet those expectations, but I never change those intentions.

YFSF: What is the best game you’ve ever covered?

RB: The one that jumps to mind is Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS at Yankee Stadium. Part of that was that it was the culmination for my book, but it was also such an electric atmosphere. I’ve said many times that leading into that game I had never seen the Sox so confident (momentum, Pedro pitching, etc.). Theo Epstein called it ‘The Enchilada Game,’ as in for the whole enchilada. And it just took off from there. Another thing I’ll always remember is driving back on I-95 that night, stopping at those McDonald’s where legions of Red Sox fans, all strangers, huddled together in the wee hours, just shaking their heads and eating their Big Macs.

YFSF: Who is the best interview on the Red Sox? In baseball? Similarly, what is the best story you’ve written?

RB: I’m going to say Mike Lowell because he never gives you a canned answer. It is always thoughtful and insightful. Curt Schilling is always interesting, as well. Torii Hunter is off the charts in terms of his energy and no-holds-barred approach to talking. Best story? I can’t truly do that question justice. I can tell you some stories I really enjoyed writing, which usually translates. The one I did on J.D. Drew’s unique health regimen was interesting, as was one I did last year on looking why David Ortiz is able to perform in the clutch when others can’t. Again, a lot of the ones that come to mind probably aren’t necessarily award-winning caliber, but they were enjoyable to report.

YFSF: How is the Web changing sports writing, and do beat writers feel more pressure to compete with bloggers and fans for attention on the Web? Has the faster pace introduced more chances for error (for example, the quickly disseminated report early this spring training – based on a Boston Globe blog entry – that Jonathan Papelbon was about to be named closer)?

RB: Speed will always open the door to error, but I think overall the reporters have adjusted well. Anybody who said that the game is being reported the same now as it was a few years ago isn’t correct. It is a constant debate within newspapers as to what they should instantly report and what they should hold for the next day. Usually the order of events leads to the posting of a breaking story and then a more insightful follow-up for the paper. In terms of reacting to the web, I think reporters have become better overall because of the pressure put on by those who don’t have credentials. More and more people are analyzing and dissecting the game for public consumption, which wasn’t the case until recently. There are more checks and balances than ever before, and in the end that is a good thing (although not always convenient).

YFSF: How difficult is it to be a fan of a certain team and write about that team and its rivals objectively?

RB: To be honest you don’t even factor that in. Like I said I grew up a diehard Red Sox fan, but as you get to this level you (sadly) root for the stories, and the personalities. Where I feel objectivity (or lack thereof) gets involved is when it comes to personalities, not uniforms.

YFSF: How close do you feel comfortable getting with members of the Red Sox, and how difficult is it to maintain professional standards in the close locker-room atmosphere? Tangentially, how difficult is it to do “serious,” investigative, BALCO-style reporting when you’re the beat writer?

RB: There is a balance. I think the best rule of thumb to go by is to treat these guys like human beings, and expect the same. You can like some guys better than others, but there will always be the understanding of what each side has to do when it comes to a professional level. Sure, sometimes that line gets out of whack but it shouldn’t. Honest, open communication always helps.

YFSF: How much do you read blogs to inform your reporting? Any favorites? Do you plan on using Curt Schilling’s blog as a potential source?

RB: I use everything, blogs, message boards, newspapers, etc. I really don’t want to single out any because I will leave some out (I learned that earlier this spring). Sure, there is a good amount of nonsense in any of these outlets, but even if 1 percent is useful info that can lead to a story, it is worth checking out. I think I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t read 38pitches.com. Any time you can eliminate the guesswork and get the real facts from the person you are writing about is a plus.

YFSF: Do you miss being a fan of the game, without the deadlines and the worries about how to write what you’ve just seen and what questions to ask once the game’s over?

RB: Yes. I was honestly sad that when the Red Sox won the World Series I was consumed with how it was going to affect my book instead of having that feeling of wanting to scream from the rooftops. I actually told my wife this offseason a couple of times that I couldn’t go to Christmas parties because I couldn’t deal with everybody asking me Daisuke Matsuzaka questions. To me, it was like being a doctor at a cocktail party. For everybody else, the Red Sox are the escape from reality, but for me they are often all too real. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it. I hope that comes across in my writing.

YFSF: What is the perception of the Sox-Yanks rivalry within the locker rooms?

RB: I think they view each other as their chief competition for a playoff berth – nothing more, nothing less.

YFSF: Daisuke Matsuzaka: From what you’ve seen of him, how will he do this year? If he has an above-average year that still falls below expectations, how do you think that will be judged?

RB: All signs point to a pretty solid season. I was most impressed on how he can change speeds and angles on each of his four major pitches. From what I saw, his change-up is going to be his most unique/effective pitch. If he is solid and the Red Sox win, people will look at Daisuke with optimism heading into the final five years of his deal. If he is solid and the Red Sox don’t win, that is when grumbling might occur.

YFSF: Manny Ramirez: From where does the perception emanate that he “quit on the team” last season? Do you believe this is true? How much stock should we put in the current story that he actually wants to end his career in Boston? That in mind, would the Red Sox pick up his options?

RB: The perception comes from various corners – public, media, some teammates, and some in the organization. You aren’t going to get a consensus on this one, but I do know there were some wearing the uniform who had their doubts. I think Manny is in a pretty good place right now, but, as we have seen, that can change in a hurry. And I seriously doubt the Red Sox will pick up his options.

YFSF: Josh Beckett: Which set of 2006 numbers (wins, innings, strikeouts, opponents’ average vs. ERA, walks, home runs) do you see him replicating this season?

RB: I’m pretty optimistic when it comes to Beckett this season. I would say he could replicate all of the above, with a decrease in homers. In other words, I think Josh is going to have a pretty good season.

YFSF: The bullpen: How do you see it shaking out? Who wins the closer spot, who fills that 12th position, and will Papelbon see the ninth inning for any reason other than going for a complete game this season? How important will Hideki Okajima, the “hero in the dark,” be this season?

RB: Don’t you love that “Hero in the dark” line? Best line of the spring, by far. I like what I’ve seen of Okajima so far, and think he could be equal to that of the $4 million a year Jamie Walker of Baltimore. Not a bad deal for $1.5 million. I think he will live and die with his curveball, and if hitters start figuring that out it could mean trouble. Papelbon’s lot in life will depend on the condition of the Sox bullpen, the condition of his arm, and the condition of his ERA as a starter (in that order). As. Dr. Thomas Gill said, no door is closed. Remember, it’s always much more difficult to find a top of the rotation starter, which is what I think Papelbon is on the verge of becoming. Right now, I’m encouraged by the progress made by Joel Pineiro. Whether or not there is time prove he can duplicate his arm slot/recent solid performance before Opening Day remains to be seen.

YFSF: Alex Rodriguez: If he does opt out of his contract, are the Red Sox – who will likely lose Mike Lowell to free agency – interested?

RB: Going by Rodriguez’s recent interview on WFAN, this clearly is a situation that remains fluid. I don’tthink the Sox would get involved after seeing how ARod has ingratiated himself into life in a big-time market.

21 comments… add one
  • Thanks for this, Rob and Paul. Great stuff.

    YF March 16, 2007, 12:49 pm
  • Good read, Paul.

    Brad March 16, 2007, 3:08 pm
  • Thanks Rob, Paul. Very interesting.

    attackgerbil March 16, 2007, 3:18 pm
  • So one of the best Sox reporters thinks the Sox won’t pick up Manny’s options and wouldn’t go after a free A-Rod. Interesting.

    john March 16, 2007, 4:35 pm
  • Thanks a lot for this!
    Damn, he’s keeping busy. Blog, paper, web interviews (he also did a recent Q&A at SoSH).

    redsock March 16, 2007, 6:21 pm
  • Joe Torre: Red Sox Fans
    I live in Troy, N.Y. just outside of Albany. It is all Yankees territory here. There are Red Sox fans around here who popped up out of nowhere after the ws victory (just like everywhere else). I was at the mall last night and I have my Yankees hat and my Boston Massacre 5 game sweep shirt on. This genius has a boston hat on and is coming the opposite direction from me while I’m looking the other way. As I look towards him all I see is his angry face reading my shirt. It felt so good to know that that guy walked throughout the mall the rest of the night thinking about how true it is that his team just can’t cut it against the Yankees.
    The reason a lot of people have become “red sox fans” the past few years is because of the notion that they are the “good guys.” The hatred across all of baseball against the Yankees has never been a mystery. I think a lot of fans from other teams have just decided to become red sox fans because they’ve had the best chance at beating the Yankees the past few years. You can expect a backlash against “red sox nation” lol (sounds like a bunch of star wars trekies) in the coming years because they are doing everything that they once detested. It sounds a lot like Animal Farm lol.
    Evil empire and red sox nation are made up terms by the red sox the past few years. It is so childish. We take it in stride by taking pride in being the evil empire. I remember in the post heading into 05′ they had pullout page which had a sign that said “The Empire Strikes Back.” Its so foolish what they do to coerce people into rooting for them. Its like brainwash.
    Great Article by Tony Massarotti
    http://redsox.bostonherald.com/redSox/view.bg?articleid=141843
    Every winning team, including the Yankees, Red Sox and others have bandwagon fans. “Look at me. I’m a member of Red Sox Nation”

    JeterFan_YF March 16, 2007, 11:38 pm
  • ^ that might be one of the single worst things I’ve ever read. You can’t be serious, especially with the “team can’t cut it against the Yankees” line.
    2004 ALCS, anyone? If not for the best manager in NYY history (Grady,) it probably would’ve been 2003, too.
    Get real.

    Steve March 17, 2007, 2:30 am
  • Steve, word of advice – it’s usually not wise to say “Get real” to someone when you are trying to pin the Sox’s failure in 2003 on one person who happens to be a very good manager, despite what you’ve undoubtedly been brainwashed to believe.

    Andrew March 17, 2007, 2:42 am
  • Andrew, word of advice – don’t ever try to lecture a Boston fan when in the same paragraph you seriously try to imply that Grady Little is a “very good” manager.
    It was every bit his fault that the series was lost, despite what you’ve undoubtedly been brainwashed to believe.

    Steve March 17, 2007, 3:43 am
  • and Grady was part of the team, just as much as Torre or Francona are part of their teams. I don’t understand your point, Steve.

    Nick-YF March 17, 2007, 9:59 am
  • This debate is a distraction from a great post. But for the record, Grady Little was a half-decent manager who made a fatal error. He was certainly not a hideous manager (though I couldn’t stand his style even before he left Pedro out to wither), but he most definitely was not a “very good manager”.

    SF March 17, 2007, 10:09 am
  • See, he has been brainwashed. Why would I be brainwashed, Steve, into believing Little is a good manager? He’s had success with the Red Sox and now the Dodgers, plus from what I’ve read he’s an excellent ‘players manager’. He made a slight mistake in the last game of the ALCS (it wasn’t like he was leaving Jaret Wright in, this was Pedro Martinez, the best pitcher in the AL), just like Wakefield made a slight mistake in the first pitch he threw in that game. Sorry, it wasn’t ‘every bit his fault’.

    Andrew March 17, 2007, 10:11 am
  • made a slight mistake
    “Understatement of the Millenium” award is no longer up for grabs.
    The Grady-doesn’t-yank-Pedro thing was like watching a heart surgeon in action. He’s prepared the patient perfectly. The first two hours of the surgery are textbook. He makes no mistakes. You think he’s doing great, then all of a sudden he starts snipping every major artery. First the carotid. Then the aorta. Blood is gushing everywhere. You know it’s gonna end in patient death and you implore the surgeon to stop with the scalpel, but he just looks through you, like he knows what he’s doing. Three minutes later, the patient expires.
    So the surgeon was great for about 90% of the surgery. Then, a “slight mistake”. Right. More like a “not so good surgeon”.

    SF March 17, 2007, 10:19 am
  • Sorry, SF, I don’t know why I jumped in. This is a great post. Great questions, great answers, great job, Paul.
    I think I’m in a bit of an irritable mood because my lady and I missed her brother’s wedding in Austin. We spent 12 hours at Newark Airport, watching flight after flight be cancelled. Uggh! What an awful time.

    NIck-YF March 17, 2007, 10:23 am
  • Hey, it could have been worse. On 1010 WINS this morning they took a phone call from a passenger who was boarded on a Virgin Atlantic flight to London at 8pm yesterday, they taxi’d to the runway, and then sat there until 545 this morning. The flight was then cancelled, and now the people are struggling to get re-booked.
    I was in a rear-wheel drive U-Haul van moving crap upstate in white-out conditions, and it took 10 hours for me to drive 250 miles. Not the brightest decision of my life.

    SF March 17, 2007, 10:29 am
  • Please, SF, if managers were like surgeons and not allowed to make any mistakes, Tito would have been out long, long ago. RSN unfairly made Little the scapegoat because he left his best pitcher in the game. I guess it worked out for the Sox in the long run, but Little took a good team and made them better. His successes in Boston far outweighed his failures, and it’s unfortunate that Sox fans can only blame the entire team’s disappointment on one man. I didn’t know Little hit the balls and threw the pitches.

    Andrew March 17, 2007, 10:34 am
  • That does sound awful. Wow! One of the longest trips I ever took happened during a huge winter storm a few years back. I was living in Boston and had been visiting friends in NYC for the weekend. Usually, I took the Chinatown bus back, but they had cancelled all rides back (if you know anything about the Chinatwon bus system, that means that things are seriously dangerous on the roads!) Anyway,I had to take an Amtrak to Boston. This ended up taking 11 hours as the train literally walked from NYC to Boston. The cars were filled with passengers. I had to stand for all 11 hours. Good times!

    Nick-YF March 17, 2007, 10:36 am
  • Like I said, Little did a fine job for a while. But he was babysitting, paying attention, giving the kids their bottles, burping them, getting them bathed, then for some reason decided to put them in their cribs unattended with a bunch of hand grenades. He’s not a scapegoat. He screwed up.
    Let’s get this back on topic. How many of us would choose the path of not really being able to root for our beloved team any more in return for a beat-writing career? Personally, I think I would have a very hard time divorcing myself from my lifelong allegiances. I don’t know how these guys, beat writers, can sublimate those habits.

    SF March 17, 2007, 10:45 am
  • Alright, SF. Back on topic.
    I think that if its your job (and you gotta imagine being a beat writer is a really cool job) then that really takes precedence over what your favorite baseball team is. I would love to be a beat writer for the Sox, for any team really, because you get to talk to baseball players! As a baseball fan, what could be better than that (besides actually having the talent to play)?
    I think you almost have to become a fan of the team you’re covering, in the sense that you have to know and follow so much about that team. You don’t exactly have to root for them (and as we well know in YF land, many beat writers take glee from Yankee failures), but you have to follow them as if you were a lifelong fan. I think I could still be a Yankee fan and cover the Sox (although I would lie through my teeth on job interviews), although I probably would have gotten fired in 2003 for shouting with unrestrained joy.

    Andrew March 17, 2007, 11:13 am
  • I just realized I have terrible redundancy issues and sentence structure problems. Ah, I’ll never be a writer!

    Andrew March 17, 2007, 11:15 am
  • If you read “Feeding the Monster,” it’s pretty clear that winning the World Series was the only way Grady Little was going to save his job. He “played hunches,” and cost the team games through the season, and the ownership group hated his style and his execution. The Pedro “hunch” merely sealed the deal. I am under no illusions that removing Pedro for Timlin and Williamson wouldn’t have resulted in a Sox-Marlins World Series.
    Anyway… I first got into journalism by rooting for the Red Sox and wanting to cover them. Went another route ultimately, but I still wish I’d stayed with sports. Bradford’s response to our question about whether he misses just being a fan though makes me wonder if we haven’t created the best of both worlds here. We don’t need to be objective. We can still be fans. But we can also report and analyze and communicate about our teams, and that’s what’s so attractive about beat writing in the first place.

    Paul SF March 17, 2007, 11:40 am

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