A Q&A with Adam Rubin on 15 years covering the Mets, his departure from ESPN and what really happened with Omar Minaya

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 Adam Rubin, a longtime baseball writer and now the assistant athletic director for strategic communications at the New York Institute of Technology. For 15 years, Adam was one of the best beat writers in the country, amassing an enormous following and serving as the primary source of New York Mets news, information and analysis for a generation. Here, we discuss his career on the beat, the circumstances surrounding his departure from ESPN and what he’s doing now. Plus, what really did happen that time with Omar Minaya?

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The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

  1. Usually, we start this thing by asking people how they got to their current journalism job. But since you just left, can you recount your career to this point?

How much time do you have? I’m getting older, so the résumé—which I’ve recently had to update—is getting a little lengthier. I went to college intending to pursue a business career but got hooked by my college newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, and pursued internships in journalism.

I spent the fall semester of my junior year interning at The Birmingham (Ala.) News, and took classes at UAB so I could graduate on time from Penn. That newspaper hired me when I graduated, first as a one-year intern, then as a metro reporter.

With the News’ blessing, I took a detour to The (Shreveport, La.) Times for a year on the sports staff, then returned to Birmingham when a sports position opened.

During nearly five years overall in Birmingham, I covered the Olympics, UAB as a beat writer, pitched in with SEC coverage, did a ton of prep sports and served as the beat writer for the Double-A baseball and East Coast Hockey League teams.

Birmingham was a great training ground. The staff at the time, now decimated like the other Advance/Newhouse newspapers, was as solid as any I’ve ever encountered. It was the destination paper for that region, and the staff was eager to teach.

So many young journalists now bypass working in smaller markets and just jump into covering MLB or something similar out of college because of the economics of newspapers. I’m so glad I had that training ground, and wish the model still worked like that.

Anyway, Mark Kriegel, then a New York Daily News sports columnist, and I had a mutual acquaintance. And Mark lobbied the sports editor, Leon Carter, for a full year to hire me, even though Mark barely knew me. I’m forever indebted to him for that.

I got hired by the Daily News in December 2000, and initially did general-assignment reporting for the sports staff—filling in for Frank Isola at a Knicks practice one day, Rich Cimini with the Jets another day and doing sidebars at MLB games, etc. When T.J. Quinn moved from the Mets beat to investigative reporting at the Daily News, Leon put me on that baseball beat—saying just do it for a couple of years and then you can rotate to something else. Although fans think it’s a dream job, the number of people on a sports staff eager to cover baseball as a beat are few and far between because of the travel and time demands, the latter of which has only worsened with the technological changes.

Well, I ended up covering the Mets full time for 15 years, following Leon to ESPN New York in 2010, as that company created a handful of local websites.

In the last few weeks I departed that position to serve as the assistant athletic director for strategic communications at The New York Institute of Technology. I’m essentially the SID, promoting the Old Westbury school’s Division I baseball program and the dozen other sports competing in Division II. We’ve been very successful so far, including getting the startup lacrosse team on the front page of The New York Times’ sports section.

I’ll actually still keeping a toe in the water with journalism. Although it’s not yet cemented, I’m expecting to do limited TV and website work for SNY, the Mets-owned TV network. And I’m still planning to do a Sunday morning baseball-themed radio show on ESPN 98.7 in New York this season, provided they can sell the advertising to make the show viable. I may even do some stringing for one of the tabloids during the summer at Citi Field.

2. At what point did you start contemplating a career change? Why did you start having those thoughts? Why did you eventually settle on college SID as the right landing spot?

The mechanics of baseball beat reporting have seismically shifted since I started on the Mets beat. It used to be that either you had the story in the newspaper or you didn’t have it in the newspaper. And if you got beat by the Post, you had 24 hours to come back and do better the next day.

Now, thanks to social media and other technology, every second of every day can be consumed by providing tidbits of information or advancing a story. I don’t know how Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman have the stamina to do it nonstop throughout the year with a national scope.

There are several reasons I wanted to change. The impact of the technological revolution probably ranked No. 1, even though I adapted very well and believe I had built the largest social-media audience of any team-specific MLB beat reporter.

I’m a workaholic, and I was determined to be a one-stop shop for Mets news. So that meant providing content nonstop. I would watch the games on TV when I was off and live tweet. I created a morning aggregation I called “Morning Briefing,” which I tried to pattern off MSNBC’s “First Read,” in order to be the first place people went in the morning for Mets news. And I wanted comprehensive coverage of the minors, too. So I would post daily recaps of all the Mets affiliates’ minor-league games, which was particularly grueling once the Mets got booted from Buffalo and ended up in Las Vegas as a Triple-A affiliate. The games would end at 1:30 a.m. ET or beyond.

There were other reasons I wanted to depart:

*I don’t think I’m alone in saying the relationship between reporters and players has changed over the years. Probably rightfully so because of the scrutiny they receive in the social-media age, but the players are much more guarded now. It’s not viewed as frequently as a mutually beneficial business relationship. And I didn’t like being treated as a nuisance.

* It’s become much harder these days for team-specific reporters to break news—at least the transactions. The structure tilts toward favoring the national reporters. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that there are now a ton of reporters getting paychecks from entities affiliated with MLB. It’s not a level playing field.

*When the Mets reached the World Series in 2015, my traffic was off the charts. I was told the Mets had generated the second-most traffic for ESPN of any team in MLB for the entire 2015 season (behind the Cubs), partly because of the team’s success and partly because of the way I covered the team. But when the Mets reached the World Series, I was chronicling someone else’s moment. Contrast that with the high school basketball team my brother coaches (which people who follow me on Twitter are more acquainted with than they’d like). When that team notched the school’s first boys basketball playoff win in 10 seasons that same year, it was much more fun for me than covering the World Series, because I had played some small part in it—preparing programs for their tournament, sending articles to The Levittown Tribune weekly community paper to promote the team, and scouting—or at least videotaping—upcoming opponents. My new position allows me to be a part of NYIT’s success.

*Any beat reporter who doesn’t get a call returned from an executive or has to stand around waiting to speak with a particular player—only to be blown off on occasion—questions why his sports-reporting job is appealing. As you get older, standing around to get a banal soundbite gets less and less appealing. At least it did for me.

I fortunately had a ton of opportunities to go to work for colleges in recent years and came close to pulling the trigger a few times.

I’ll break a little news here and reveal that ESPN declined to renew my contract, so I would have been out later this year anyway. ESPN seems to be bleeding money because of cord-cutting, so my salary was unattractive to them. And the new MLB editor at ESPN wants to get away from “thorough” beat coverage—that’s the precise word she used—and I suppose I was the sacrificial lamb to hammer home that point. Anyway, ESPN agreed to give me a buyout to leave now. And I get to do what I planned to do anyway. So it worked out tremendously.

3. You were known as a dogged reporter. We saw it on the beat firsthand. We can say, with no embellishment, that no one worked longer or harder. Now that you’re out of the game, can you take us into your process?  What was Adam Rubin’s day on the beat? What were your days like around the trade deadline or one of the Mets’ many crises?

It’s really nonstop, at least in-season. I mentioned I produced a morning aggregation. Over the years, as more content got posted by newspapers in real time rather than at 4 a.m., the aggregation could be done the night before and be set to post at 6:30 a.m. Then the link would auto-tweet. So I think I fooled some people into thinking I was working 24/7. A lot of times I was sleeping when the “Morning Briefing” went live and the link tweeted.

That said, I wanted people to visit the site multiple times a day. So that required daytime content. My mornings would consist of writing series previews, a weekly minor league “Farm Report” that included a feature on a prospect, etc.

And it meant interacting with fans throughout the day, which can be quite time consuming. One of the reasons I believe I built a sizable Twitter following is that I would try to answer every (reasonable) question directed at me.

Anyway, as you know, beat reporters get to the stadium quite early for a 7 p.m. game. I would be at Citi Field generally by 2 p.m., with the clubhouse opening to media at 3:10 p.m. Like other reporters, I’d interact with players for 50 minutes, then attend Terry Collins’ press conference.

In the olden days, you would hang out by the batting cage during BP. Not anymore. After Terry spoke, I generally would race up to the press box to produce content based upon what was said in the clubhouse and at the manager’s interview session.

Then, of course, I would live tweet during games, mixing a little play-by-play with relevant stats. (Mark Simon at ESPN is such a great statistical resource, and I’d generate plenty of my own stuff using Baseball-Reference.) You used to be able to watch the games. Now, it’s mostly staring at your computer screen.

ESPN killed it during my final year there (a sore subject), but one of the popular things I did was “Rapid Reaction.” In essence, I wrote a game story that was posted the second the game ended. Because there’s a delay on TV, people marveled that I often had tweeted the link to a game story before they saw the final pitch on their TV sets.

Then we’d go down to the clubhouse, get postgame reaction, and produce more content. Then there would be the game recaps of the minor league affiliates and producing the next day’s Morning Briefing. I probably wouldn’t get to sleep until after 2 a.m. most nights. It’s like Groundhog Day.

I found myself over the years liking the trade deadline and winter meetings less and less. I really, really dislike bugging people at all hours. Having a conscious is not always good when you’re competing for information.

4. When you get to ESPN, it seems like it becomes a national gig no matter what you cover. There are radio shows and TV hits and Twitter. How much of the job for you was brand management and upkeep? I’d say there are some reporters who focus as much on that as reporting. Is that wrong as a career strategy?

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle, but one of the seismic shifts that relates to the technological changes is the need for self-promotion. When I started in the business, you were taught to be a fly on the wall—an invisible observer. Now, you have to be a personality in order to build up the social-media following that drives traffic.

During the height of the baseball season, I’d be sending more than 30,000 link clicks a day from my Twitter account to ESPN.com. That’s probably a drop in the bucket for ESPN, but it was still nearly 1 million link clicks a month that I sent via my Twitter account to my employer’s site.

I wish I could have remained invisible, but that’s not practical anymore. I devised shticks like tweeting “OH NO” in-game when something bad had happened to the Mets, such as an opponent homer. Because of that little delay on TV, it became quite the talk. People knew something bad was about to happen on their screens.

5. After more than a decade on the beat, to what extent do you think you can ever go back to simply enjoying baseball as a fan? How much baseball do you think you’ll watch? You had a reputation for having a very active and thorough Twitter account. How often do you find yourself reaching for your phone to check Twitter, only to remember you don’t need to anymore?

I’m going to keep a toe in the water contributing to SNY and do the ESPN radio show if everything goes as planned. So I’m keeping close track of the content being produced down in Port St. Lucie by the beat reporters. I’m actually still having scouts ask me questions about the team, even though I’m not around it full time. If I had no upcoming reporting involvement, I probably would not watch another MLB game, at least for a year or two.

I enjoy watching the Islanders, but my sports interests have considerably waned. I enjoy being on the SID side and being a part of things—taking the six-hour bus ride back with the team after a women’s basketball win in the conference tournament, hearing which juggernauts the NYIT men’s basketball coach has scheduled for next season well before it becomes public and promoting the student-athletes. But I rarely go to sporting events just for the sake of being at a sporting event.

I did constantly reach for my phone the first couple of weeks after departing ESPN. I still reach for it too frequently. The best thing about being out of the baseball-beat-writer pressure-cooker is that I don’t have to be tethered to my phone (although it’s still important in my new job).

6. To what extent do you think your journalism experience has prepared you to immediately be successful in your new role? What aspects do you think will require a learning curve?

With three weeks under my belt as an SID, I can say the skill sets are very similar. We’re an incredibly small staff at NYIT, so it’s challenging. But I’m trying to replicate an MLB.com model at NYITBears.com. That means not just game recaps, but regular features and notebooks. Similar to MLB.com, it’s a news site, but it has a positive tone. For example, though, I asked my athletic director whether I should put a photo of dejected women’s basketball players on the site after they lost a heartbreaker in the finals of the conference tournament. He was all for it. So we’re pushing the envelope a little.

One sad thing is people don’t distinguish between whether they’re getting their news from an independent organization or someone with a vested interest. I suppose we’re trying to take advantage of that and produce content that is news, but with a positive slant.

My social-media skills are being put to good use. I’ve grown the Twitter and Instagram followings at NYIT roughly 5 percent in three weeks.

And I’m doing the same type of video content that I would do at ESPN. Mostly I have a student do a stand-up style report, then have a player and/or coach interview follow it, with some B-roll from the event mixed in.

I believe I was ahead of the curve at ESPN in producing photography and video content. I bought my own sophisticated camera, taught myself Adobe Premiere Pro, and cut up my own video, etc. I’m now in the process of learning After Effects to take it to a completely different level, and I find that very enjoyable.

The one area I’m not at all fluent in is the NCAA statistical software, which is called Stat Crew. Fortunately, the AD at NYIT was impressed enough with my content-creation ability that he’s contracted for people well-versed in it to enter the statistical data during games. I need to learn that. But I ultimately don’t want to be tied to a computer entering balls and strikes during a game, because that will prevent me from content creation, which I believe is what successful universities are doing.

7. You were involved in a high-profile incident with Omar Minaya. It was one of the first big media lurker moments as Deadspin and the like took off. Did that have an effect on your career? How difficult did it become to cover the Mets? Was there consideration to leave the beat? Do you have a relationship with Omar now?

People wrongly presume that Omar and I have a bad relationship. That’s the opposite of the truth. He actually called me—multiple times—when I announced I was leaving ESPN, until we finally connected. He was very complimentary. A couple of years ago, when he was working for the Padres, he actually gave me and a few other reporters his breakfast reservation at a fashionable San Diego spot so we didn’t get shut out. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Jared can vouch for this—he was there.)

That said, I’m still upset about that press conference to this day for multiple reasons. Journalism can be a cesspool sometimes, and I always felt I carried myself very ethically. So to be accused of something that was not even true really hurt. Even if the public generally was very supportive, if anyone thought lesser of me because of it, it stung because I really believe I’ve done things the right way throughout my career.

Even though I would gladly expunge the event if it were possible, it was probably good for my career. As we discussed, so much of being a successful journalist is branding. And I cannot dispute that the incident considerably increased my name recognition.

With respect to the incident itself, I’ve always felt wronged, even though Omar was apologetic from the moment it happened.

Tony Bernazard, who was fired by the Mets after my reporting brought some incidents to light, desperately wanted to become a GM. And when Tony struck out elsewhere, Omar was warned by folks that Tony was angling with ownership for his job with the Mets. Omar chose not to accept it at the time.

Anyway, Tony and I had an interesting relationship. He liked me, or at least respected my work ethic. And he very much envied how much I knew about the minor leaguers. I think I knew a lot more than him about some things because the players trusted me, especially some bad stuff I never wrote (like a guy around the Binghamton team whom I heard was peddling drugs). Tony admired the information I could get, and often told me, and this is a direct quote, “You’re on my list.” What he meant by that is that when he became a GM, I was on his list to hire because I could get info about minor leaguers.

He said it so many times, I started to think maybe it’s a viable path for me down the road. In spring training annually, the Mets front office invited the beat writers to dinner for an off-the-record session. During it, I asked Tony and Jeff Wilpon what it would take to pursue a career like that. That was the extent of it. I was invited to have a meeting back in New York after spring training to speak in general about a position like that—nothing specific to the Mets—but I never pursued it. Months later, at the fateful press conference, Omar accused me of lobbying for a job. I’m sure Tony unloaded on me when he was told he was fired and concocted some fancy story about the whole thing. The Daily News, the day after the incident, ran a first-person thing from me about it. I never typed a word of that. I did dictate some things, but I believe what was printed was almost like a compromise with the Mets to get through it rather than a fully accurate portrayal of what occurred.

I have pretty good sources, and I was told Omar didn’t even know what “lobby” meant when he said it at the press conference. He had to ask someone afterward. As I mentioned, though, I have no ill will toward Omar. He’s a very nice man. It was a regrettable moment all of us wished never happened.

I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to cover the team, regardless of the truth. And Tony seemed particularly close with the Latin American players in the clubhouse. But when I finally returned after about a week, there seemed to be mostly euphoria in the clubhouse, with players and staff privately patting me on the back for helping get Tony ousted with my reporting. I was concerned the Puerto Rican players would particularly be upset with me. But Pedro Feliciano probably said the nicest thing of anyone to me. And Alex Cora, whose family was raised alongside Tony’s family, if my memory is correct, also was very kind.

I will say this: I’ll always be fond of David Wright. The night of that incident, he called me to make sure I was OK.

8. What do you see as the role of the modern beat writer? I imagine it’s changed dramatically since you started — probably multiple times. The internet has undoubtedly devalued some kinds of reporting that was once crucial in the newspaper age. So what makes a good beat writer in 2017?

What I’m finding now confirms my suspicions and is pretty depressing for journalism. After losing about 2,500 followers the first couple of days after I announced I was leaving the beat, not only did the number stabilize, but it’s started to climb again as I simply retweet other reporters who actually are in Port St. Lucie. That I can maintain a following simply by sharing information reported by others does not speak positively about the economic model for the business.

A modern beat writer needs to excel at print, video and still photography, interact nonstop with folks on social media, be an expert on the subject and basically work nonstop.

There will always be a place for thoughtful features. But to me what builds a following these days is always being first—or at least always having credible information quickly—on a nonstop basis. Short bursts of information. That’s why it boggles my mind that ESPN is going the opposite direction, eschewing thoroughness for features that might have national appeal. Coming from a business-school background, I believe it’s more lucrative ultimately to sell the same customer a $1 bagel each day of the year, rather than try to make a big sale with a feature on a less regular basis. I believe the new MLB editor at ESPN will see eroding traffic over time because of the model she is selecting.

9. In general, what would you change about how baseball is reported on and covered?

After a ton of long-winded answers, I’m really not sure I have a good answer on this. I do believe things are being covered thoroughly. I would advise reporters to spend more time writing about the minor leaguers on a regular basis. There’s a larger audience for that than many people realize. And the coverage pays dividends when those players reach the major-league clubhouse and already are acquainted with you.

10. What’s the best part of Golden Corral, your favorite Port St. Lucie hangout during spring training?

I got a lot of ribbing for eating at Golden Corral. But it was quick and inexpensive, and allowed me to get back to work. You just have to get over people licking their fingers and then touching the serving utensils. I liked the roasted chicken and sweet potato. I tried to stay away from the bread, but the rolls are excellent too. Wish they would open one on Long Island.

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3 thoughts on “A Q&A with Adam Rubin on 15 years covering the Mets, his departure from ESPN and what really happened with Omar Minaya

  1. Reblogged this on Mets Plus and commented:
    I subscribe to a lot of newsletters, but one of my favorites is the -30- Letter from Jared Diamond and Mike Vorkunov.

    The two, who are former Mets beat writers, sat down with Adam Rubin, longtime Mets reporter (who started covering the team before I was born) and divulged some pretty interesting information about his departure from ESPN and Omar Minaya.

    I highly suggest reading this, and subscribing to the newsletter.

    Like

  2. I really enjoyed this interview. I am a life-long Mets fan, meaning I have been rooting for the team since I was 11 years old in 1962 and following the exploits of that first team (somewhere I have a ticket stub from the Polo Grounds for the next-to-last game in 1962 (I believe they introduced a 17 yo Eddie Kranepool, fresh out of Erasmus High at that game). From that long perspective, please pass on to Adam that I bekive he is the single most informed Mets beat writer I’ve ever read. I greatly appreciated his hard work, skill, intelligence and insight over the years. (And was incensed by Omar’s BS at that infamous Press conference.) I wish him all the best in his new career! Ken

    Like

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