The Federal Baseball.com Interview: Washington Post Writer Chico Harlan On The Washington Nationals. Pt. 2

Read Pt. 1 of the Interview With The Washington Post's Chico Harlan. (Or Read The Interview In Its Entirety After The Jump...)

(ed. note - "Washington Post staff writer Chico Harlan is a native of Pittsburgh, PA and a Syracuse University graduate who has covered the Nationals beat for the Washington Post and the Post's Nationals Journal since he took over for the now-legendary Barry Svrluga in May 2008. Mr. Harlan graciously agreed to answer some of my questions via email for what I hope will be a series of interviews with Washington, DC-based writers who cover the Washington Nationals. Thanks, Mr. Harlan.")

Federal Baseball (FB)Have the negative national stories involving the team, (Jim Bowden's resignation, the "Smiley" fiasco, or the "Natinals" jerseys) changed the way the organization acts toward the media?

Chico Harlan: My immediate reaction is to say yes, but with one warning. I’ve never known the Nats to be anything but a calamity. When I came on the beat in mid-May of 2008, they were already several steps toward their 102-loss season. Granted, they hadn’t yet encountered the higher-level problems that you mention, but the losing itself was enough to make everybody a bit grumpy.

 

I guess this is just my way of saying, I don’t have the best frame of reference.

 

That said, I know from talking to my predecessors and others around the team that things have changed, at least subtly. Stan Kasten, for instance, used to host monthly roundtable discussions with those who covered the team; that’s a thing of the past. But is there a total trend toward obstructionist, media-is-enemy PR? No, not at all. As GM, Rizzo is available for the media far more frequently than Bowden. As for players — well, baseball is just about the last sport that lets the Fourth Estate hang around for hours every day. No matter how a team regards the media, no franchise can ever be accused of closing its doors. Players get grumpy during a long, sad season, but they’re always there, and before games, generally quite genial.

FB: With all the player movement, the rumors and the actual significant turnover on the roster and in the organization this season, how has the locker room changed? Is the atmosphere in the locker room still upbeat? 

Chico Harlan: The atmosphere is not upbeat. Baseball is a strange type of sport, where nobody ever reacts much to a single loss. But all those losses add up, and drip by drip, everybody realizes what is happening. Then it’s like, whups, what happened to our season? Finality is tough when it comes with four months remaining in the season. I’ll be writing about this whole emotional process — and what it’s like to be a player on such a team — much more as the season goes forward.

FB: There's been considerable talk about Elijah Dukes' presence in the clubhouse, and considerable coverage of how he's been handled by the Washington Nationals, can one player, not even just Dukes in particular, really change the whole tone of a locker room? 

Chico Harlan: You might think 25-man clubhouse sounds big, but it’s actually quite intimate. Nobody hides in a clubhouse. And for sure, Dukes has a presence — a physicality, an intensity, a desire — that makes him all the more visible. To be sure, though, Dukes doesn’t change the "whole tone" of the locker room; it’s not like the place would feel like some day spa if he were gone. Dukes doesn’t have many friends on the roster, though. 

FB: What's the relationship between your posts for the Nationals Journal and your articles for the Washington Post?With all the writing you do in the live game reports, the blog posts and the articles in the Post, is there anything you see/read/hear on a daily basis that doesn't make it into print? Any funny/odd stories you haven't yet shared?

Chico Harlan: Honestly, I wish I knew the relationship between the Journal and the for-print articles. Everybody in the newspaper biz is still trying to figure out which mouth to feed, or rather, how to feed two mouths at once. More people read the print version. The print side offers the classic sit-down-and-read format, which I love. That said, the Journal offers immediacy, the chance for quick nuance, and it invites a "depth" that doesn’t work in the paper. You can be tangential and exhaustive. I’ve found the audience there has no limit to its appetites. Frankly, those appetites exceed my humble abilities, and I wish I could do more. As it is, the Journal is the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed.

 

So would newspaper reporting be better off if I didn’t have a blog to worry about? Absolutely.

 

Would the blog be better if I wasn’t also a newspaper reporter? Absolutely.

 

Makes for a strange contrast. Take draft day, for instance. There’s a blog to think about and the next-day paper story. Concentrate too much on the blog on the night of the draft — at minimum, I want to update that thing like crazy — and I’ll limit my time to gather the quality yarn (background, color, nuance) that’s needed for the next-day story. (And why is it needed? Because the for-print story can’t just say, Oh, the Nats drafted Strasburg. By then, everybody knows what happened. You need to find that next layer, and that requires good, concentrated reporting.) On the other hand, the blog will be buzzing with activity that night, and to ignore that would be foolhardy.

 

I guess the bottom line is, I’ll try to do both and do both well. But this gives you a little itty bitty prism through which to view the current newspaper conundrum.

END INTERVIEW

 

Mr. Harlan and the Washington Post's Draft Day Coverage:

 

Nationals Select Strasburg With Top Pick in MLB Draft - washingtonpost.com - Chico Harlan

As expected, the Washington Nationals have selected pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the first pick in baseball's amateur draft.

Nationals Journal - Washington Post writer Chico Harlan - "Gwynn On Strasburg".

At Nationals Park, they're also trying to play a game tonight. Looks like it'll happen, too. Just about 10 minutes ago, groundskeepers started removing the tarp. The first pitch is scheduled for 8:50 p.m. Meantime, here is what SDSU coach...

Nationals Journal - Washington Post writer Dave Sheinin - Rizzo On Strasburg, Storen...and Crow".

Nationals acting GM Mike Rizzo just fielded about a dozen questions from the media regarding the team's top two draft picks, San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg and Stanford right-handed reliever Drew Storen. If you'll excuse the occasional typo and...

Nationals Journal - Washington Post writer Dave Sheinin - "And With the 10th Overall Pick, The Nationals Select..."

...Stanford University right-hander Drew Storen, widely viewed as the top relief pitcher in the draft. A rare sophomore-eligible draftee, Storen went 7-1 with seven saves this year for the Cardinal, with a Strasburgian strikeout-to-walk ratio of 66-to-8. In an...

Nationals Journal - Washington Post writer Dave Sheinin, "With The First Pick of the 2009 MLB Draft..."

... the Washington Nationals select San Diego State right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg. I hear he's pretty good. August 15 17, the deadline for agreeing to contract terms with draft picks, is exactly 67 69 days away. (The usual August 15...

(ed. note - "The End. Thanks again, Mr. Harlan. COMPLETE INTERViEW AFTER THE JUMP.")

(ed. note - "Washington Post staff writer Chico Harlan, is a native of Pittsburgh, PA and a Syracuse University graduate who has covered the Nationals beat for the Washington Post and the Post's Nationals Journal since he took over for the now-legendary Barry Svrluga in May 2008. Mr. Harlan graciously agreed to answer some of my questions via email for what I hope will be a series of interviews with Washington, DC-based writers who cover the Washington Nationals. Thanks, Mr. Harlan.")

 

Federal Baseball (FB): Whose idea was it to have you go out to cover SDSU pitcher Stephen Strasburg's final home start? Do you get the feeling that the Nationals understand, or are considering how the fanbase will react if they are unable to sign Strasburg?

Chico Harlan: It was my idea. The Nats were jumping from Los Angeles to Arizona, so I asked my editor, Tracee Hamilton, if I could skip the day-to-day coverage for one night and detour to San Diego. She liked the idea, and found a freelancer to cover the Nats that Friday night. Strasburg, it should be noted, cooperated with the idea as well.

As for the second part of your question: If the Nats don’t sign Strasburg, they don’t need to worry about their fanbase. They won’t have one left.

FB: Do you think a draft pick, even a well-known, seemingly MLB-ready prospect like Stephen Strasburg, is going to be able to help the Nationals break through with DC's fans?

Chico Harlan: He’ll help spark interest, because he’s already a household name. But whatever hype he has will only sell tickets for the short-term. Eventually, only one thing sells: Winning. Strasburg can help sell tickets and help swell the fanbase if and only if he actually helps the team. 

FB: The coverage of Ryan Zimmerman's hit streak was the first real instance of the Nationals receiving positive national coverage, is it enough to be a leader on the field or does Zimmerman need to be the Face of the Franchise in the press?

Chico Harlan: Zimmerman’s doing just fine in the FoF role. He’s not a naturally colorful guy, but that is part of what makes him so aptly conditioned to be a ballplayer. You know, the never-too-high, never-too-low cliche. To me, it’s clear that Zimmerman knows his responsibilities, and he handles them well. After almost every game, he’s available to talk at his locker. Most times, he keeps the quotes fairly vanilla. But he knows his words carry weight, and when he has an opinion, he lets it drop. Calculated, but smart. So long as he maintains the rest of his game, he’s a top-notch face for DC baseball. 

FB: I know that at Federal Baseball a few Sundays back, when Nick Johnson was a late scratch from the DC lineup, everyone was searching for any news they could find about whether or not he'd been traded, and I read on the Nationals Journal, that the reaction in the press box was similar, do you think he'll be moved? 

Chico Harlan: Reaction in the press box was similar, but I know this only second-hand. I happened to be in a train that afternoon, heading up to NYC. I heard about what was going on from my BlackBerry, and figured that Nick’s time in DC was up.

I do think Nick will be traded before the deadline. He’s the team’s only real deadline-type commodity, and plenty of contending teams would love to have a .320 hitter with a fantastic glove.

FB: You quoted "Acting" DC GM Mike Rizzo, after Daniel Cabrera was designated for assignment, saying, in part, "I was tired of watching him." Were you surprised to hear those words come out of his mouth? Or is Mr. Rizzo always refreshingly honest when he speaks to the press?

Chico Harlan: Yeah, I was surprised. Blunt opinions don’t come around so frequently in this job, at least when the recorder is on. Much of that depends on the personality, but here’s the general rule: The better somebody’s job gets, the less inclined he is to say something true. Well, I give Rizzo some credit here. He said something that was plainly self-evident, but he said it. He put his own name behind it. Chances are, I smiled quite a bit when he dropped that quote. It wasn’t quite a we-pray-for-his-buttocks soundbite, but it’s enough to easily win Soundbite of the Month. I’ve covered a few coaches/execs in the past who didn’t have much of a filter — Bowden could say anything, when the mood struck him; Jim Boeheim loved ripping his players publicly — but Rizzo is far more toned down. This was a definite departure, so I savored it.

Perhaps Daniel Cabrera brings out the ire in people.

FB: At what point to do you think the "Acting" part of Mike Rizzo's title will be removed?

Chico Harlan: That question presumes it will. I don’t anticipate a decision about the Nats’ full-time GM to come until after the season. It makes no sense to award any permanent titles when so much is in flux, and when there might be a new manager to hire...

• • • To Be Continued • • •


Read Pt. 1 of the Interview With The Washington Post's Chico Harlan. (Or Read The Entire Interview After The Jump...)

(ed. note - "Washington Post staff writer Chico Harlan is a native of Pittsburgh, PA and a Syracuse University graduate who has covered the Nationals beat for the Washington Post and the Post's Nationals Journal since he took over for the now-legendary Barry Svrluga in May 2008. Mr. Harlan graciously agreed to answer some of my questions via email for what I hope will be a series of interviews with Washington, DC-based writers who cover the Washington Nationals. Thanks, Mr. Harlan.")

Federal Baseball (FB)Have the negative national stories involving the team, (Jim Bowden's resignation, the "Smiley" fiasco, or the "Natinals" jerseys) changed the way the organization acts toward the media?

Chico Harlan: My immediate reaction is to say yes, but with one warning. I’ve never known the Nats to be anything but a calamity. When I came on the beat in mid-May of 2008, they were already several steps toward their 102-loss season. Granted, they hadn’t yet encountered the higher-level problems that you mention, but the losing itself was enough to make everybody a bit grumpy.

 

I guess this is just my way of saying, I don’t have the best frame of reference.

 

That said, I know from talking to my predecessors and others around the team that things have changed, at least subtly. Stan Kasten, for instance, used to host monthly roundtable discussions with those who covered the team; that’s a thing of the past. But is there a total trend toward obstructionist, media-is-enemy PR? No, not at all. As GM, Rizzo is available for the media far more frequently than Bowden. As for players — well, baseball is just about the last sport that lets the Fourth Estate hang around for hours every day. No matter how a team regards the media, no franchise can ever be accused of closing its doors. Players get grumpy during a long, sad season, but they’re always there, and before games, generally quite genial.

FB: With all the player movement, the rumors and the actual significant turnover on the roster and in the organization this season, how has the locker room changed? Is the atmosphere in the locker room still upbeat? 

Chico Harlan: The atmosphere is not upbeat. Baseball is a strange type of sport, where nobody ever reacts much to a single loss. But all those losses add up, and drip by drip, everybody realizes what is happening. Then it’s like, whups, what happened to our season? Finality is tough when it comes with four months remaining in the season. I’ll be writing about this whole emotional process — and what it’s like to be a player on such a team — much more as the season goes forward.

FB: There's been considerable talk about Elijah Dukes' presence in the clubhouse, and considerable coverage of how he's been handled by the Washington Nationals, can one player, not even just Dukes in particular, really change the whole tone of a locker room? 

Chico Harlan: You might think 25-man clubhouse sounds big, but it’s actually quite intimate. Nobody hides in a clubhouse. And for sure, Dukes has a presence — a physicality, an intensity, a desire — that makes him all the more visible. To be sure, though, Dukes doesn’t change the "whole tone" of the locker room; it’s not like the place would feel like some day spa if he were gone. Dukes doesn’t have many friends on the roster, though. 

FB: What's the relationship between your posts for the Nationals Journal and your articles for the Washington Post?With all the writing you do in the live game reports, the blog posts and the articles in the Post, is there anything you see/read/hear on a daily basis that doesn't make it into print? Any funny/odd stories you haven't yet shared?

Chico Harlan: Honestly, I wish I knew the relationship between the Journal and the for-print articles. Everybody in the newspaper biz is still trying to figure out which mouth to feed, or rather, how to feed two mouths at once. More people read the print version. The print side offers the classic sit-down-and-read format, which I love. That said, the Journal offers immediacy, the chance for quick nuance, and it invites a "depth" that doesn’t work in the paper. You can be tangential and exhaustive. I’ve found the audience there has no limit to its appetites. Frankly, those appetites exceed my humble abilities, and I wish I could do more. As it is, the Journal is the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed.

 

So would newspaper reporting be better off if I didn’t have a blog to worry about? Absolutely.

 

Would the blog be better if I wasn’t also a newspaper reporter? Absolutely.

 

Makes for a strange contrast. Take draft day, for instance. There’s a blog to think about and the next-day paper story. Concentrate too much on the blog on the night of the draft — at minimum, I want to update that thing like crazy — and I’ll limit my time to gather the quality yarn (background, color, nuance) that’s needed for the next-day story. (And why is it needed? Because the for-print story can’t just say, Oh, the Nats drafted Strasburg. By then, everybody knows what happened. You need to find that next layer, and that requires good, concentrated reporting.) On the other hand, the blog will be buzzing with activity that night, and to ignore that would be foolhardy.

 

I guess the bottom line is, I’ll try to do both and do both well. But this gives you a little itty bitty prism through which to view the current newspaper conundrum.

Mr. Harlan and the Washington Post's Draft Day Coverage Was As Good As Mr. Harlan Had Hoped:

 

 

(ed. note - "The end. Thanks again, Mr. Harlan.")

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