At the postgame press conference after Game 6 of the ALCS, a media member asked Rays’ manager Joe Maddon a question to the effect, “So as not to ignore the 900 pound gorilla in the room, after being 7 outs away from going to the World Series, how do you motivate your team for Game 7, which, if you lose, it would go down as one of the biggest collapses is the history of post-season play?”
Legitimate question or “gotcha journalism?” Legit. The reason for the question and Maddon’s response to it explains the sameness and the difference in the jobs of leaders and reporters. Managers (and coaches in other sports) need to get their teams ready to win the next game. Imagine if Maddon held a team meeting and said, “Alright guys, if we lose our next game, we might be known as the team that had the greatest collapse in the history of post-season baseball. Now, let’s go get ‘em so we don’t have to carry that negative title around for the rest of our lives!”
No, his job is to get the Rays to be prepared to follow whatever he and his staff has put together as the best game plan they feel will help them win (as does Terry Francona and his guys), including which players to play in which positions, where to bat each one to give their offense the greatest effectiveness to beat the Red Sox (Rays), what type of strategy to employ regarding baserunning, defensive adjustments and substitutions (based on inning and score) and to answer all the “what ifs” - what if we score big early, what if they do, what if we get to the 7th with a lead, etc., etc.? Then, there’s the famous “gut feel” that comes into play - but you never know when.
The writer’s job is in preparation as well. What is the focus of my post-game column going to be - if the Rays win, if the Rays lose, if it’s a completely one-sided game (if Tampa wins, there needs to be things said about resiliency, the ability to have the courage to go out on the field, realizing that “should we lose, this might be considered the great collapse in post-season history”, but if the Red Sox blow out the Rays, talk of the burden of the past two games, causing an inability to focus on the here and now), if it goes into extras, which plays could or should have been made to have won (or lost) it in regulation?
Thsi is preparation, too. Just as Maddon can’t wait until a situation occurs to decide which decision he should make, a journalist can’t wait until the end of the game to decide what to write (with deadlines to meet and other writers you’re competing with - and don’t think there’s not competition, admiration and jealousy included, between scribes). Everybody wants to be known as the next Grantland Rice, Jim Murray or Dick Young, as opposed to “one of those others” who wrote during similar time periods.
So, going into Game 7, everybody has a game plan - and that’s part of what makes sports such an exciting entertainment event. Other forms of entertainment are thrilling, but if you go to a great movie, the next time you see it, you might enjoy it (even more), but you know how it’s going to turn out. Similarly, a great concert will move you, but you don’t leave with the feeling that someone lost. Game 7’s are nerve-wracking (and you’ll not be surprised when this former coach feels they’re tougher on coaches than anyone else - even though I never experienced one), because the players can at least play and release all that pent up energy, fans (some a great deal more than others, live and die with the outcome, but they still have other jobs), writers (whether they’re fans or not) get the opportunity to evaluate what happened before they begin their assignment.
Although each profession has its own form of stress, one main difference between coaching and playing (& farming) and other jobs can be summed up in a quote from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower regarding farmers:
“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from a corn field.”