Tuesday, March 07, 2006

In Case We Had All Forgotten about John Rocker...

He's back in the news here (to the extent that an interview on sports talk radio can create "news") after hanging up on Mayhem in the A.M. when they ham-handedly provoked an easily provokable person. Anyway, having heard the segment once when it originally aired and then again this morning in the shower when it was gleefully replayed, I was so moved that I actually posted on the comments section of an AJC article.

The comments sections are typically a miasma of thinly-veiled prejudices being hurled back and forth. Take for instance this high point in Western Civilization, which started from an article about 680 the Fan dropping Bill O'Reilly and devolved into a series of almost-open racist remarks about the Two Live Stews. Or take this reasoned discussion about the safety of Downtown Atlanta after dark, which naturally started with this gem by "Kelly":

Atlanta is very dangerous at night and I will not consider going down there except with a large group of people, and then only to a few places such as the Philips Arena. I'm notsurprisedd that NASCAR didn't pick Atlanta-they wanted a family environment, which downtown Atlanta is not. Maybe Atlanta can after the national rap museum.

Kelly could not be reached for comment afterwards, as she was dining at one of the 17 Applebees in Alpharetta and complaining to the waitress that the Queso Dip & Chips were too spicy, no doubt the result of the infiltration of Mexicans into America.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was going to discuss John Rocker's radio adventure. The episode illustrated something else, which is the inept way in which Steak interviews guests. He's right that Rocker shouldn't expect to come on the radio without having to reference his SI outburst at some point. It must suck to be known for one particular episode in your life and to be asked about it dozens of times, but that episode is putting food on Rocker's plate now, so he needs to have some level of tolerance for it. (Tolerance might have never been his strong suit, but that's another story.) That said, there's a right way to ask questions and a wrong way. The right way would be to ask an open-ended question like "do you have any regrets from your time in Atlanta?" or "have your views on New York changed in recent years now that you've been playing there?" Instead, doing what he always does, Steak made a banal observation, something to the effect of "You got this gig in New York based on the comments you made to SI" and then turned it into a cross examination question, by adding a "Right?" to the end of it. Ahmad Rashad would have been so proud of that technique.

A question like the one Steak asked will never lead the interviewee to say anything insightful and was clearly designed to provoke an easily-combustible person. Mike Bell then further showed the intentions of the Mayhem crew by referring to Rocker as a "washed-up pitcher." Oooh, how tough to attack an easy target on the radio! I'm not a big fan of Rocker (possibly because I'm bitter that he struck me out every time I batted against him in Little League at Vine-Ingle in Macon,) but I felt sympathetic towards him after his exchange with Steak and Mike. His feelings about the media are legitimate, if this stunt was indicative.

I generally like Mayhem, but the two things that drive me crazy about it are the incessant commercials and the weak interviewing skills of the hosts. They don't understand how to ask open-ended questions that will elicit interesting responses. Chris Dimino is miles better than the Mayhem hosts at asking the right questions to elicit interesting responses, not to mention the fact that he actually does research before talking to a subject, rather than relying on his radio persona to get by. Ryan and Doug Stewart are also better interviewers, mainly because they have credibility with African-American athletes that your typical angry white host does not.

And one other point: Steak's continued references to himself as Rocker's "Public Enemy Number One" could not be any more grandiose. (He made sure to mention it at the outset of the interview, no doubt to grease the wheels of inciting Rocker.) Given the number of people ripping on Rocker when he became one of the most hated men in American sports after the SI article ran, I doubt that his biggest concern was a morning host on AM radio in Atlanta. With Rocker, I wonder how much of his "wild man" image is an act; with Steak, I highly doubt that his delusions of grandeur are anything inauthentic.


I'm a Realist said...

I thought the "interview" was assinine. At some point, there is no benefit to getting Rocker's feathers ruffled, and that point was a few years ago. They (the Mayhem crew) were obviously trying to get Rocker to explode, and, much to John's credit, he did not.

I think the media has a way of idolizing a select few in the business and castigating those that don't fit into the nice, little box. Rocker is an example of this. His interactions with his own racially-diverse teammates indicated that he wasn't actually a racist, yet the story printed in SI was taken as gospel, and he became an "ignorant idiot."

There are ways of mentioning the article (even though I don't find it remotely interesting) without the incendiary remarks...including Mike Bell's "washed-up pitcher" which I thought was an asshole thing to say...that would have made a decent interview. I think Dimino's question about steriods would have been much more entertaining than Steak trying to aggrandize himself to the listeners, yet we only got 90 seconds of Rocker trying to promote a show with a gaggle of idiots on the other end of the phone line.

Orson Swindle said...

Shapiro's crap, but the Stews never fail to make us laugh. Like most of 790's programming, the times when they've taken chances have been the best: the Stews and the long gone but far from forgotten "Bottom Line" with Dimino and Cellini. The only show ever that forced up to pull off the road from laughter--and they interviewed OJ.

Michael said...

I would have been more impressed with Rocker if he wouldn't have ended the interview, but instead mocked Steak for his "Public Enemy Number One" comment. I disagree a little on Rocker. His teammates didn't exactly step up to defend him, which leads me to believe that he had problems with blacks and whites on the team. I have heard third-hand that Smoltz has said privately that no one on the team was sad to see him go. That said, we all make mistakes and Rocker has hopefully grown as a result of the experience. That's what the Mayhem guys should have asked about, rather than just trying to be combative.

Orson, I completely agree on Dimino and Cellini's show being a highlight. Mayhem is much, much better when Dimino subs for Steak. Steak is a businessman, rather than a sports talk radio host, and if he would realize that and recede into the background like Saltzman did, the station would be more profitable, but his ego probably can't take that.

That reminds me, the wife and I are supposed to do a joint post reviewing sports radio in Atlanta. Just getting her to touch a keyboard after mocking the blogosphere for years would be a major achievement, not unlike convincing her that Hawks games can be date nights.

Anonymous said...

I still miss Dimino and Cellini. They were head and shoulders above any other sports talk show I have ever heard on the air in any market. Does anyone know exactly what happened that forced them to break the pair up?

I don't appreciate most of the Stews' show. To be fair, I haven't listened to them in over a year, so they may have improved substantially. However, they've always seemed more concerned with "keeping it real" than producing a professional talk show. They also are too close to professional athletes to offer any sort of criticism.

Michael said...

IIRC, Dimino and Cellini were split up when 790 fired Cellini, I presume because he's a difficult guy to get along with. (Plus he was going through a divorce, which probably made him a real peach.) They paired Dimino with Cotter and Oliver because they wanted to emphasize college football coverage more and with their morning show so weak in that area, they needed Oliver and, to a lesser extent, Cotter to solve that problem.

For all my complaints about Mayhem, it is incontrovertible fact that their decision to dump Beau Bock and replace him with Cellini was a good one. Steak might be pompous and generally a bore, but he's Edward R. Murrow compared to Bock, who combines a minimal intellect with a total lack of personality. Other than that, he's great. Oh, and he thinks that Jerry Glanville was a great coach, which explains all the offers that came pouring in when the Falcons fired Jerry.

As for the Stews, I think they do a good job of saying when an athlete sucks. I mainly like them because they have the right personalities for sports radio. They're upbeat and have a great verbal relationship. It's all personal taste, unlike Beau.

SmoothJimmyApollo said...

Michael, your post reminds me of a story that used to get passed around when I was a kid. I also played at Vine Ingle (props to Payne City) but I'm several years younger than you or Rocker. Legend has it that John got pissed at his performance in a game one day and threw his uniform into the trash at the ballfield. He could be seen exiting the premises in cleats and skivvies. Any truth to your knowledge?

Michael said...

I hadn't heard that Rocker story, so I can't say if it was true or not. He was quite combustible back in the day. When he pitched at FPD, he could either be totally dominant or someone would get inside his head and he would come off the tracks.