A Q&A with Andrew Marchand of ESPN on dealing with A-Rod, covering sports media asking the tough question

Every week we will run a Q&A with a wonderful reporter to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people whose work we really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s with Andrew Marchand, a senior writer for ESPN. Andrew primarily covers the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball right now, but he’s had a varied journalism career that included a long stint at the New York Post where he covered the sports media. Here, we talk with Andrew about that experience, working at ESPN and why he won’t be getting a Christmas card from Al Michaels anytime soon.

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The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

  1. How did you break into journalism and land at the job you hold now?

I worked about seven internships during my time at Ithaca College. The two biggest were prior to my senior year with WFAN and WCBS Radio in New York. I woke up at 4 a.m. on most days.

After graduating from Ithaca in 1996, I covered high school football for a year-and-a-half in Texas at two small papers, the Liberty Vindicator and the Texas City Sun. From Texas City, I landed an agate clerk position at the New York Post, where I’d be able to write stories once a week and possibly more.

Let me pause here for a little background. My first career goal was to be a sports reporter, but my second choice was to be in sports TV programming. While at The Vindicator, I was offered a second interview with ESPN for an entry level job in programming, but I turned it down to continue to pursue the sports writing dream.

After declining the chance with ESPN, I was interviewing ninth graders for the Liberty Vindicator high school football preview. At that time, I can’t say I was entirely sure I made the right decision.

While in Texas, I also had an interview with ESPN The Magazine. After my interview, the leadership changed hands and the new man in charge, John Papanek, sent out letters to people they had spoken to, asking them to send in anything to try to impress them.

I’m 22 at the Texas City Sun and Papanek doesn’t know me. I’m in Texas, with no friends and no life so I decided to go for it. I sent Papanek a postcard every single day called “PHAM Mail.” It stood for “Please Hire Andrew Marchand.”

It was sort of a matchup between Andruw Jones and me, saying things like, “Who is the youngest player ever to hit a home run in a World Series?” Then it would say, “Andruw Jones, but did he win the NBS-AERho award for best college football pregame show on radio?” I never heard back.

Anyway, I took the entry level position at the Post in December 1997. Before I started I got my first exclusive. My best friend in high school was working with the Mets and heard they were going to have black uniforms. I called the sports editor Greg Gallo and told him. David Waldstein, now with the Times, was the Mets beat guy for the Post then. He confirmed the story and wrote it. I had no byline, but it was a good start.

During my year-and-a-half as an agate clerk, I was able to break some stories and begin a media column called, the “SportsClicker.” It led to Mike and the Mad Dog having me on their air to yell at me. Don Imus called me a “moron” and a “mental patient,” which, if you are familiar with his show, is actually a high compliment. I made other people mad as well. Some liked me.

When I was 25, Waldstein left for the Star-Ledger, TJ Quinn turned down an offer to be the Post’s Mets’ beat guy and I was given the job. When Greg Gallo, the sports editor at the Post, offered me the beat, I was working a shift that ended at 2 a.m. Gallo wanted me to leave later that morning to go to spring training. I negotiated an extra night.

On my two years on the beat, I went to Japan with the team, Roger Clemens threw a shard bat at Mike Piazza (he thought it was the ball), and I wrote the game story when the Yankees beat the Mets in the Subway Series. I got married and returned to covering sports media.

After nine years at the Post, Mike Thompson, the program director at 1050 ESPN Radio New York, offered me a job as a breaking news reporter, though my title was “Managing Editor.” I didn’t manage nor edit, but I broke a few stories and was able to expand into more writing and TV. When ESPNNewYork.com came along, I became senior writer. That led to covering the Yankees. Here I am.

2. ESPN is largely viewed as this sports monolith — one outlet that covers the entirety of the sports world. What is it like covering one team for ESPN compared to, say, the New York Post, your old employer. Why is daily Yankees coverage valuable to a company like ESPN?

The Yankees are arguably the most important franchise in American sports and perhaps the world, so it makes sense for ESPN to have them covered. I don’t do it alone, as Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Jerry Crasnick and others all offer insight into the Yankees.

It is different than the Post in some ways, but not in others. I love the Post’s sports section, and I learned so much there. I think ESPN and the Post are both going for the biggest, best stories possible. We are looking at the Yankees with a more national perspective. They, I believe, are doing it for a more local audience. In the end, there are many more similarities than differences.

3. Perhaps your most famous story at ESPN was when you quoted Brian Cashman telling Alex Rodriguez to “shut the f— up.”How did you land such an explosive quote and how did you react when you got it? How did the major people involved respond? What can an aspiring reporter learn from that experience?

What spurred the comment was an A-Rod tweet during his comeback before he was officially suspended during the Biogenesis investigation in 2013. A-Rod tweeted he had been cleared by a doctor to play in a minor-league game, which seemed to contradict what Cashman had said a day earlier.

I texted Cashman. After we went back-and-forth, I asked if I could call. I did and Cashman wasn’t in a happy mood about the situation. He was clearly mad and sort of going off.

Since we had a long-time relationship, I asked him: “What can you say on the record?” The first time I asked, his answer didn’t exactly make sense and he was still pretty incensed so again, I said, “What can you say on the record?” That’s when he said the quote. He then said he was going to call A-Rod and hung up.

I’ve been doing this awhile and I’ve had my fair share of good quotes from subjects, but I was a little stunned because, at the time, this was arguably the biggest story in sports and the GM pressed the nuclear quote button. I called my colleague Wally Matthews to discuss it, then told our news desk and wrote it up.

To his credit, Cashman was pretty cool about it. I knew it was airtight; especially considering the question that led to the answer. Cashman owned it. At the time, A-Rod was in Tampa and released a statement in response. To my recollection, I never discussed it with Alex.

What I would say can be learned for an aspiring reporter? Always make the call. Every single time. A lot of times it may not work out, but you can’t get the story if you don’t pick up the phone.

The other thing is to let the person you are interviewing talk and listen. When you respond, respond to what they are saying and keep it short, concise and move the conversation in the direction that you want.

4. Speaking of A-Rod, your Twitter profile for a long time emphasized that you covered Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez. What was that like? What made him such a compelling figure to cover? To what extent was that level of media attention justified?

I love covering fascinating people. A-Rod is so interesting because he seemingly had the world at his feet, but his inner demons always tug at him, making this Adonis seem as small as a child, at times. .

The level of media attention was justified because he was maybe the most talented player in baseball history with an insatiable desire to be great, a narcissism that led him to terrible decisions, an indecency for years in how he acted toward people he deemed inferior (basically, everyone), an insecurity that befit an adolescent and, now, a post-playing PR comeback. (Well, we think his playing career is over, but it is not February yet so we’ll see.)

5. One benefit to ESPN is the ability to contribute on radio and television, something you have done a lot of. As someone who started his career as a print reporter, how comfortable were you in front of a camera or behind a microphone at first? What allowed you improve those skills and be successful? In this era of journalism, how important is it for writers to be on TV?

When I first started, I feel like I knew what to do because I’ve studied sports TV and radio since I was kid. However, putting that into practice and being natural are things that take reps. The more reps I got, the more comfortable I became and there have been times when things behind the scenes were difficult — an IFB (earpiece) not working properly or someone talking in your ear when you are speaking — where I have been proud of myself.

When I left the Post for ESPN, I didn’t do it to get out of newspapers. I was very happy at the Post and wasn’t looking to leave. I did know that the future for all reporters would mean being able to write, talk and be on camera. I was excited and apprehensive to see how I could do on-air.

In this day and age, it is very rare where reporters aren’t asked to write, talk and do video. The first step is understanding that presentation for radio, TV and the written word are all different. You want to be as clear as possible on all three, but brevity is much more important on broadcast.

6. Having spent a season covering a beat with you, one thing I (Jared) admire about you is your ability to ask probing questions. Were you always comfortable asking tough questions? If not, how did you get better at it? Is that a skill that perhaps someone who is naturally shy or nervous can pick up?

I think treating the people like equals is the most important first step in asking tough questions. You should never treat anyone you are covering like they are doing you a favor or that they are somehow better than you. You should give them respect, and they should reciprocate. It doesn’t always work out that way.

I think I have always been this way, for whatever reason. When I took the Mets beat for the Post, I had never been to a baseball spring training before. I didn’t know where the clubhouse was or where Bobby Valentine’s office was located. The first media session I was in, Bobby said, “Why don’t we let the new guy start?” My question was like: Who will be your fifth starter?

It was like the third day of spring training so it wasn’t a question Valentine was going to answer, but I didn’t know any better. I honestly try to ask the questions that I feel fans want answered.

7. Changing gears, before becoming a baseball reporter, you reported on the sports media. In the industry, your nickname is “Clicker.” What did you enjoy about that experience? What about it appealed to you? How important is it for reporters to pay attention to media coverage?

I love covering sports media. It is a real passion of mine. Chris Shaw, who is the sports editor of the Post now, but was the Sunday sports editor at one time, named the sports media column I wrote, “SportsClicker.” I had thought “Point of View” might be good. There is no nickname there. Most of my friends in the business call me “Clicker” to this day.

As far as what I enjoyed about the experience, I just have a real passion for sports media. I enjoy writing about what viewers can’t see by talking to people behind the scenes.

The one thing that I think has been lost in terms of sports media coverage, you are not only writing about people on sports TV, but you are writing about sports. For example, millions of people watch NFL games and have big opinions on the broadcasters because it impacts how they enjoy their teams.  I think that is sometimes lost when some in media think it is just navel-gazing. There is more to it.

That said, when I covered sports media, I often said that if you took one job off the face of the Earth and it would still spin on its axis at the same speed, it would have been mine. I wrote about the people who were talking about the people playing sports. I loved it for some unexplainable reason.

8. How is your relationship with Al Michaels now?

Ha. I haven’t spoken to him in decade. Of course, there has been no reason to ring him up. From what I understand, I probably still won’t be invited to dinner at Chez Michaels.

Al is maybe the best NFL play-by-player in history. I reported on some of his diva qualities. Every time I wrote about him, I left a message on his home voicemail. He chose not to respond, though, he did once say on conference call I was a “bulldog” in my coverage. Thanks, Al.

9. What would you change about how baseball is reported on? What would you change about how the sports media is reported on?

On baseball, I would like to see more interesting stories and less stenography. On sports media, I would like to see more places cover it, because, while there are many good places doing some good work, there is a lot that is uncovered.

10. With the changes across the industry, baseball writing is increasingly done by reporters in their 20s. You, on the other hand, have a family. How difficult has that been?

No. 1 thing I would recommend is to have a great wife. After that, it is prioritizing what is important, respecting your job, your time and your family. It is not always perfect, but it can be good if you have the right employer. I am very fortunate because ESPN has been very good and fair to me.

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