Sweeny Murti first joined WFAN in 1991 and he’s been their Yankees beat reporter since 2001. Later, Sweeny joined SNY in 2008 as that network’s Yankees beat reporter. In addition to these current gigs, he’s worked for the YES Network and WCBS-TV Channel 2 in New York. Murti is, in my opinion, the Mariano Rivera of Yankees beat reporters – providing excellence and making it look effortless. It’s no wonder that more than one outlet wants him as their Yankees beat reporter. Here’s our exchange:
WW: Based on your experience, what are the biggest pros and cons of covering the team as a beat reporter as opposed to being a beat writer? Are there advantages and/or disadvantages to reporting as opposed to writing? What are they?
Sweeny Murti: Well, I think the only thing that’s different is the output based on the medium (radio vs. newspaper). I spend the same amount of time at the ballpark and spend just as much time preparing for my job at home (I think) as all the other reporters. I just do the best I can to be as informed as possible. An advantage for my audience used to be that the radio station was on 24-hours a day while the paper only came out once a day. We were the only place to go for instant information. But the internet and blogs and tweets and things like that have changed everything. We are all 24-hour news services now.
WW: Having been a member of the more immediate media, rather than the print media, do you feel that’s put you a step ahead of the evolution that’s happening with respect to the fall of the hardcopy newspaper media? And, why do you feel the way that you do on this?
Sweeny Murti: I wouldn’t say I’m a step ahead. I just continue to work in the medium I’ve worked all along. I’ve actually gone the other way a bit if you consider the writing we now put on our website. I feel bad for the friends who have lost their jobs, but I trust (hope, actually) there will always be jobs for people who know how to write well. Its a skill I admire.
WW: Speaking of skill, having covered the Yankees for as long as you have, what adjustments have you had to make, in covering the team, through the years? Related, what’s changed in Yankeeland over the past, say, nine years that has brought cause for those adjustments, if any?
Sweeny Murti: Well a lot has happened, both in the industry and around the Yankees. First, as we just talked about with the internet creating a 24-hour news cycle, it just keeps you on your toes all the time. A story breaks and its almost like a race to get it out first. Ten years ago there were fewer places to get information that fast so it definitely affected the flow of that information. On top of that, the Yankees — after winning 4 World Series in 5 years — turned themselves into an even bigger entity than ever before, if that’s even possible. Baseball fans, especially in New York, are craving information at an incredible rate (hence the world of blogs, twitter, etc.). That thirst, and the forum online and on WFAN too, has caused so much scrutiny for each game. The Yankees turned themselves into a machine that is supposed to win all the time, so every loss feels like ten. There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as an average Yankee game. And the fact that they haven’t won since that run makes each game and season even more dramatic given the hundreds of millions of dollars spent chasing another championship.
And the off-season has become a season of its own. You can go from the last day of the season to New Year’s and have a baseball story to talk about. But that’s all good to be honest. I wouldn’t be traveling all over the country following this team if that interest wasn’t there.
WW: While it’s good for the media, and the fans, in your opinion, has this “scrutiny” on each single game and “supposed to win all the time” mindset created a situation for the Yankees team/players where the pressure is too great to succeed? And, why do you feel the way you do on this?
Sweeny Murti: I don’t know if it’s too great to succeed. I think it just shows you how hard it is to win all the time, no matter how much you spend or what type of players you bring in. Every year that goes by I think fans appreciate more and more how hard it was to win in ’96, ’98, ’99, and ’00.
There is pressure on these guys, no doubt. But they all know it. None of them ever come here and think winning 90 games and losing in the second round is good enough. Maybe it has more effect on the pitchers than anyone else. Whether it was trades or free agents, you’ve had guys like Jeff Weaver or Carl Pavano who have a great deal of pressure on them every start. A bad start you get a lot of questions, two bad starts you wonder whether he can handle this, three bad starts you wonder if he’ll stay in the rotation. Some people can handle it and deflect well. Others not so well.
WW: Do you think that the Yankees, in the past, did a better job at identifying those players who could “handle it and deflect well”? Or, were Stick Michael and/or Bob Watson just lucky finding guys like Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Mike Stanton, David Cone, Joe Girardi, Jeff Nelson, Chad Curtis and Darryl Strawberry? And, has Brian Cashman just been unlucky finding guys like Rondell White, Todd Zeile, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins?
Sweeny Murti: Well, I don’t think its as black and white as you say. Michael and Watson missed sometimes too (Danny Tartabull and Kenny Rogers come to mind). And while I agree Stick Michael was responsible for bringing this team back from their low point in the early 90′s, Cashman’s task was to keep them at that level and that’s not easy.
There have been plenty of missteps and mistakes over the years and they’re all on Cashman’s record, so I won’t tell you he is blameless. But was it his fault the Yankees blew a 3-games to none lead to the Red Sox? Is it his fault A-Rod wins MVPs in the regular season and can’t hit in the playoffs? Is it his fault Randy Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, got knocked around in Game 3 two years in a row with the series tied 1-1?
I can’t defend guys like Farnsworth and Igawa, etc. But bad decisions are one thing and bad results are another. Remember the Red Sox were courting Pavano and Contreras too, and they almost traded for A-Rod before the Yankees did. Does it make them smarter just because they didn’t close the deals?
Finding those types of players is not an exact science and that’s the problem. And don’t forget this. Scott Brosius was coming off a season where he hit barely over .200 when the Yankees got him. Paul O’Neill never hit over .280 when the Yanks got him. It might be good scouting, but its also a little luck.
WW: Excellent points about Pavano, Contreras and A-Rod. It would be interesting to see how the baseball timeline may have been different, over the last five years or so, had Boston acquired those players. Moving forward, what do you think of the Yankees this season? Do you think they’re a post-season contender? In any event, are there any issues with their team that need to be addressed sooner rather than later?
Sweeny Murti: Of course they are a postseason contender. They are in quite a rut right now, but they had about a month where they were playing really well and it’s hard to believe there are that many teams better than they are in the AL. Boston is, but then who? Texas? Detroit? Toronto? Tampa Bay?
I think they get themselves into the playoffs. Sabathia and Burnett are key. A-Rod is a huge key. If he isn’t healthy enough to pull through the rest of this season and put up decent numbers, then that throws everything into question. The bullpen needs some help, but Bruney and Hughes are superb additions right now. They’ll tinker with that too as we go along.
That’s it. My thanks to Sweeny for granting this Q&A and for all his time and attention towards my questions!