I recently had a chance to do a quick Q&A with Yankees beat reporter Tyler Kepner of The New York Times.
To me, Tyler Kepner is the Peter La Fleur of Yankees beat writers/media bloggers. I do not ever recall seeing a blogger and/or Yankees fan post something on the ‘net that was even close to a rip at Kepner’s work. And, I’ve seen many praise him for his style/approach at covering the team. (And, for the record, I’m one of those “many.”)
This quite unique – as even the best of Yankees beat writers/bloggers will have someone go cranky over them at some point or time. But, again, I’ve yet to see this happen to Tyler. Maybe we should call him “Kool Kat Kepner”? He’s earned that label. Here’s our exchange:
WW: How do you manage being the father of four young children while also being a beat writer covering the Yankees? What are the biggest challenges on both sides of that fence for you as you try to manage a work-life balance that fits your needs?
Tyler Kepner: That’s been the essential question of my life for the last 10 years. But this much is obvious: it would be impossible to keep any kind of balance without a supportive and patient wife and a fair and understanding boss. I am very lucky to have both.
All of my editors at the Times have treated me wonderfully, allowing me to build some flexibility into my schedule so I don’t miss too many family things. Over my 10 years on the beat at the Times (2 with the Mets and now 8 with the Yankees), I can remember missing a series in Seattle for a birthday, the All-Star Home Run Derby for another birthday, the last game of a series at Tampa Bay for a school play, a series in Baltimore for a dance recital, a series at Minnesota for a wedding, and so on. I still end up covering probably 75 road games a year, but having a boss who understands that you have a life outside your job is just so crucial. It takes away the burnout factor, which is a very real risk but has never been an issue. By knowing the editors respect my personal life, I can give everything I have to the job on the days I work. And on the days I’m off, I don’t do any work at all. Most of the time, I don’t even watch the game.
There are challenges family-wise, mostly because of how different life is when you’re covering games on the road compared to the way it is when you’re covering games at home. On the road, you’re naturally focused on yourself and your job, and at home, of course, there are more responsibilities. You’re constantly adjusting mindsets, back and forth. But I really don’t feel like I’ve missed much as a parent because of the job. Lots of parents leave for work before their kids wake up and get back when their kids are in bed — five days a week, all year long. The way I look at it is, when you factor in the days I work from home, especially the off-season, I probably get more face-time with my children that the average working dad. The hours and days are unconventional, for sure, but we make it work. And, again, pretty much all of the credit for that goes to my wife.
The one thing I never forget is that I’m doing exactly what I’ve wanted to do since I was 14 years old. Not a lot of people get that chance, so I’ll take whatever comes with it.
WW: It’s true: Anyone who gets to do something that they’re passionate about for a living is lucky – because then it’s not work. Somewhat related, many diehard fans have a fear of skipping a game (involving their favorite team) and then getting that dreaded phone call from their buddy that starts with “You’ve missed the greatest game – EVER!” Has there ever been a game that you missed that you wished you had covered? If yes, what game was it? If not, what kind of game would it have to be to make you lament missing it?
Tyler Kepner: A no-hitter. I’ve never seen one, except when I was at Vanderbilt and an Arkansas pitcher threw one. So I guess I’d say that I wish I had been there for the Astros tag-team no-hitter at Yankee Stadium in 2003, though that’s probably the lamest no-hitter ever. I was dying the day Wang took a perfect game through 7 innings against the Mariners while back. The other games I can think of are at least one of the Giambi walk-offs. Somehow I covered his whole Yankees career yet missed the walk-offs against Mike Trombley, Jose Mesa and B.J. Ryan. It also would have been nice to be there the day Clemens showed up in Steinbrenner’s box. Despite how it all turned out for Roger, that would have been a dramatic moment to see at the time.
WW: It’s interesting that the first part of your answer was a no-hitter reference. You’ve pitched for the New York media in those games where the New York baseball media plays against the Boston baseball media. Would you describe yourself as someone who would lean towards the pitching side of the game, rather than the batting side, if you had to make a choice between the two in terms of the angle of the sport that you enjoy the most or feel more connected to it? And, what’s the reason behind your answer to this question?
Tyler Kepner: Absolutely, I’m more inclined to the pitching side of the game. My first year following baseball was 1982, when I was 7, and my team was the Phillies. Steve Carlton won the Cy Young that year, throwing high fastballs and killer sliders, striking out everybody, and I was hooked. Throwing strikes was (and still is) the only athletic skill I have that is anything above average, and the chance to pitch in media games has been a real privilege.
The pitcher just has so much control over the action and, ultimately, the outcome of each game. There’s so much going on, mentally and physically, with each pitch. I love learning about pitching grips, the action on the ball, the the thought behind pitch selection, even mechanics. I would never say I understand pitching the way the professionals do, because everything they do is on a level none of us can truly relate to. But I understand the mentality of pitching a lot better than I understand hitting, and because I’m more curious about it, I think I relate better to pitchers than to position players.
WW: So, growing up a Phillies fan back then, did seeing Charles Hudson pitch well for the Yankees in 1987 bother you? Just kidding! Staying on tossing the pill, in your opinion, what one thing in the pitching department will be a pleasant surprise for the Yankees and their fans this year? And, also in your opinion, what will be the biggest pitching disappointment in Yankeeland this season?
Tyler Kepner: I was just glad the Yankees took Marty Bystrom in exchange for Shane Rawley. He pitched pretty well for the Phils.
I actually think the Yankees’ bullpen won’t be too bad. I like the way Girardi handles the guys, the way he really gives himself a chance to see who can pitch and who can’t. And when injuries arise, like this elbow issue with Bruney, we’ll learn something about Robertson and Melancon. I think they’ll be vital pieces as the year goes. As for disappointments, that’s tough. I suppose you could say that given Sabathia’s salary and the inevitable comparisons to Santana, he’s got a really tough standard to reach. From what we’ve seen so far — a startling lack of fastball command — he might qualify as a disappointment, though it’s very early. My question is, what would be considered successful for a pitcher making $23 million a year? If he wins 15 games and has a 3.50 ERA, is that a disappointment for the money? I guess it would be.
WW: True, $23 million for 15 wins would be an interesting scenario in terms of the fan reaction. If I recall correctly, the Red Sox have a policy that says you should only pay $1 million per expected win from a starter. And, there’s no way that CC is going to win 23 games this season. Since you’ve brought up Girardi, I have to ask: If the Yankees win less than 90 games this season and do not make the post-season, do you think General Joe will he return to manage New York in 2010? Why?
Tyler Kepner: My guess is he’d still come back. The Yankees always take measures to shake things up in a very obvious way each off-season. The way to do that next year will be to bolster the offense with Matsui, Damon and Nady all leaving. If Matt Holliday has a great year in Oakland, chances are they’ll sign him to a monster deal, sign someone else (plus maybe a pitcher) and feel as if they’ve fixed everything. To fire Girardi, someone would have to be really motivated to get rid of him, and I don’t see who that would be. Hal Steinbrenner runs the team, and he’s not rash and impulsive the way George was. My guess is Hal would defer to Cashman, who is signed through 2011, and I doubt Cashman would blame Girardi if the team doesn’t win. That’s not the way Cashman thinks.
WW: What’s your opinion on the M.O. of Hank and Hal Steinbrenner with respect to running the team? Is their approach a good or bad thing for the Yankees?
Tyler Kepner: Well, when you talk about Hank and Hal, you’re really just talking about Hal. He’s the control person for the Yankees. Hank talked a lot after the 2007 season and spent like crazy, but since then it’s been Hal’s team. Hal was the one who actually went to Yankee Stadium last year and met with Cashman and Girardi and tried to learn the baseball side of things as well as the business side. He’s in charge.
I think Hal’s a smart businessman and a commanding authority figure in Tampa. Not in the same way as his father, of course. George was in people’s face about everything. Hal is more measured, a lot quieter, and he keeps people guessing about what he’s really thinking and how he will really act. What we’ve seen so far is that he’s willing to uphold the 2000s trend of the Yankees not just spending more than everyone, but spending a LOT more than everyone. The Yankees shrewdly capitalized on their late-90s success to build a business empire capable of sustaining such a payroll, and I can only assume that will continue. Hal also seems to trust Cashman, and that’s a good thing, I believe.
Is Hal’s approach good or bad? I guess it’s good to spend the money as long as they have it. Fans know they care about winning, and they care about the star power those expensive players bring to the network. But it does lead to paying guys for work they did in the past, often with other teams, a trap the Yankees fall into over and over again.
That’s it. My thanks to Tyler for granting this Q&A and for all his time and attention towards my questions!