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Interview - Tracy Ringolsby - Writer, Rocky Mountain News PDF Print E-mail
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The Biz of Baseball - Interviews
Written by Maury Brown   
Monday, 22 September 2008 23:29

 Ask about Tracy Ringolsby, and you're liable to get different answers from different people.

To those that simply skim the Rocky Mountain News, he may be, "The guy in the cowboy hat." Ask another and you might get, "2006 Hall of Fame inductee after winning the J.G. Taylor Spink Award." Ask yet another, and you might get, "Former Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) president." Try again, and you'll get, "Co-founder of Baseball America."

Some may simply say that he's a seasoned baseball writer, respected amongst his peers.

In reality, Ringolsby is all these things, and as you'll see, much more (the hat isn't just for fashion). He has been covering the Colorado Rockies since their inception for the Rocky Mountain News, but his work covering Major League Baseball goes much further back.

He covered the then California Angels for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram from March 1977 to July 1980; covered the Seattle Mariners for the Seattle Post- Intelligencer from July 1980 to July 1983; the Kansas City Royals from August 1983 to February 1986 for the Kansas City Star Times; and wrote for the Dallas Morning News from March 1986 to 1989, and then 1990 to 1991 as their national baseball writer.

He has also been a member of the BBWAA since 1976.

It is the latter topic that takes up a good portion of this interview. With the awards that have now become a symbol of success for great MLB players (MVP, Cy Young Award, and Rookie of the Year Award, as well as contribute heavily to the Hall of Fame voting), the BBWAA has become a functional voice for the beat writers’ rights, as well as an often-times lightening rod for the voting outcomes.

With the awards gaining such incredible attention, it is understandable that many writers wish to become members. As you’ll see in this interview, the inclusion process deals with more than one issue for those that may not attend a great many games, or may not need membership to conduct their work.

The interview is not entirely about the BBWAA inclusion process and the politics that surrounded it intensely last year with Keith Law and Rob Neyer. Ringolsby touches on the Rockies, their owners, the MVP voting process, and who he is leaning toward with his vote, how the internet has changed sports writing for better, and for worse, and finally, how the hat is merely an extension of his love of horses and the western lifestyle. - Maury Brown

Select Read More to see the interview with Tracy Ringolsby

Maury Brown for the Business of Sports Network: After last year’s Cinderella run by the Rockies, what’s your take on how this season played out for Colorado?

Tracy Ringolsby: This season was a major disappointment for the organization and its fans. The talent was there to take another step, but in retrospect, I would say the blip should have been expected. It was a team without post-season experience and so I don't think what happened should have been a surprise. This year has provided an opportunity for self-evaluation and redirecting efforts to regain that edge that allowed the success in 2007. That starts at the top and goes all the way through the organizations. It's a management and a player issue that needs to be addressed by all involved parties.

Bizball: What’s your view of the Monforts and how the Rockies have been handled from an ownership perspective?

Ringolsby: I think in general the Rockies ownership, which began when Jerry McMorris was a partner with the Monforts, has taken a responsible approach. Initially they looked for ways to have instant success, and the wild-card in 1995 was actually bad for the organization because for the next seven years they kept think they could mix and match, and have a contending team. They have, however, changed their approach and made a strong commitment toward spending the money to have quality player development. That, to me, is how long-term success is attained. They also have learned to not react to criticisms. What time has taught them is that there is only one way to appease the fans -- that is winning. No matter what moves a team makes, and no matter how well they are received, if the team isn't winning in August and September, the owners and management are idiots. If the team is winning, the owner and management is acceptable.

Bizball: While the Rockies were the darlings of last season, the Tampa Bay Rays are this year’s feel good story. Can small to mid-market clubs such as the Rockies and Rays remain competitive year-in and year-out compared to the Red Soxes and Yankees of the league?

Ringolsby: Sure there is. Minnesota is a perfect example. Oakland was for a hand full of seasons. The key is to have a plan and have the thick skin to stick with it. It requires quality work in drafting and player development so that holes can be filled as they develop. That's the way to maintain a modified payroll. What happened with Oakland? The farm system went fallow. Billy didn't have replacement parts on hand so he had to unload players who still fit into the A's salary structure and could have helped the team be competitive to add quantities of young players in an effort to minimize the rebound period. An example would be Colorado's ability to dangle Garrett Atkins on the trade market this off-season. Atkins has proven to be a quality hitter, but what was apparent in the second half of 2008 is that Ian Stewart is more than ready to step in at third base. Adding Stewart is an upgrade to begin with but to be able to add Stewart and also bring in help for areas of need, such as pitching, in exchange for Atkins is what should help the Rockies maintain a competitive edge. Go back and look at Atlanta's successful run. Every year the Braves would have a rookie or two given a key role. The key was they had a veteran nucleus that allowed the young player to fit in instead of having to become the visible part of the team. Any team that has had long-term success has had a home-grown nucleus, inlcuding the Yankee teams of the late `90s.

Bizball: Shifting gears, there has been quite an upheaval with several large dailies, especially Tribune held papers such as the LA Times now that Sam Zell has purchased the company. How has the shake up in the newspaper industry impacted the psyche of the sports writers for print dailies?

Ringolsby: It obviously causes some uneasiness because of the questions about the business, but I don't see it impacting coverage. I think most writers feel they have a job to do and you want to do a quality job. There's also the knowledge that at some point this will all shake out and there will be a rebound. Once the papers figure out how to create a profit from the internet, the business could actually explode again. Face it, there's going to be a demand for content, and in reality the least expensive part of the business is the editorial function.

Bizball: Every year we hear it, and this year is certainly no exception with C.C. Sabathia making a very successful jump from the AL to NL. Do you foresee a day when the BBWAA selects another pitcher as a league MVP?

Ringolsby: It's happened before (editor’s note: the last was Dennis Eckersley in 1992). And I see no reason why it shouldn't happen again. I do think for a pitcher to get serious consideration it does mean that there isn't a bona fide offensive player. Voters normally will lean toward someone who plays everyday. To be honest, I think a relief pitcher has a better chance of getting serious MVP consideration than he does Cy Young. This year is an example. I am giving strong consideration to Brad Lidge for the NL MVP. From a standpoint of consistency and impact on the mental aspect of a team, I don't know if many have ever done the job Lidge has done, and he has not been affected by the threat of his home park in Philadelphia.

Bizball: On the BBWAA, every year there is a steady stream of columns that are critical of the MVP voting outcome. How do you respond to the critics?

Ringolsby: I welcome the opinion of others. I have rarely seen any procedure that allows for a vote that is not criticized, whether it's All-Star votes, Gold Glove votes, MVP votes or even Presidential elections. I remember covering Seattle and Julio Cruz showing up in spring training refusing to talk to the media. He finally explained he was upset he did not receive a Gold Glove. I had to explain to him the media wasn't involved in Gold Glove selections. They are voted on by managers and coaches. We resumed conversations after that.

Bizball: A critical theme coming out of the alternative media has been that just because a writer attends most or all of a team’s games, it does not necessarily make them intelligent evaluators of baseball talent by default. You certainly can’t speak for every member of the BBWAA, but how seriously do you feel the membership researches before casting their ballots for the year-end awards?

Ringolsby: I would hope everyone who has the opportunity takes it seriously. I know I consider it an important challenge and take it serious on my part. I think every effort is made to ensure that the votes -- two in each city for each BBWAA award -- are given to serious voters. You, however, are dealing with human beings and each person approaches the responsibility differently. I do find it humorous at times when people upset with the voting demand that Major League Baseball take the votes away from the BBWAA. Major League Baseball has no power with the awards. The terms MVP and Cy Young Award are copyrighted by the BBWAA. I take it as a sign of respect that there is so much discussion on the voting because other organizations, including the Players Association, have their own awards, but the BBWAA awards are the ones that seem to capture the off-season audience.

Bizball: This past year there was quite a hullabaloo over the non-inclusion of Keith Law and Rob Neyer into the BBWAA. The non-inclusion seems to be based on a couple of issues. There was issue of whether Law and Neyer needed to be members in order to do their jobs. And, there was the issue based upon the number of games that they did, or rather did not attend. Current BBWAA president Bob Dutton was extremely gracious in answering questions around the process, and went so far as to provide a badge listing of current members. One of the bigger issues, it seems, was the subjective number of games that a prospective member has to attend to be considered for inclusion. As a prominent member, why do you feel that an exact figure has never been used as part of the process?

Ringolsby: First, I felt Law and Neyer should have been granted membership under the revisions made for the internet. I found it ironic that they deal so much with how careful they are in research and then on a matter such as this, they would react based off of he-said, she-said conversations and come up with a conclusion that I was against them.

The number of games required for BBWAA membership was originally established at 100 games a year. I think it is designed because the primary purpose of the BBWAA is to deal with working conditions at the ballpark. As a result, the need to be at the ballpark is there. If writers do not regularly attend games then I would say there can be legitimate questions about how necessary membership is. As for sports editors, cartoonists and columnists, they were included in the original membership rules that are in the Constitution. As far as that goes, so were employees of The Sporting News, but as other publications came along, including Baseball America and Sports Illustrated, their employees were not allowed membership. In all part of life there are past things that have been done that can't fully be justified but it does not mean the mistakes have to be expanded.

Bizball: On the badge list, several sources contacted me after the story and list were published informing me that there were several badge caring members that come no where near the “50 game” personal threshold that Bob conveyed as acceptable and in the case of some editors or cartoonists, don’t membership to conduct their job. Is it possible that there are current badge members that might not pass the litmus test that Law and Neyer were subjected to recently?

Ringolsby: The awards, as I mentioned earlier, are a part of the BBWAA. There is nothing that denies other groups from handing out their awards, and there are other groups who do have awards, including the Major League Baseball Players Association. At one time the broadcasters put together an organization and had awards, too. AP has its post-season awards. The BBWAA was basically set up as an organization to provide the beat writers with a voice in dealing with Major League Baseball on issues that deal with the challenges of covering baseball. In that regard, I guess the question is how much should the BBWAA stray from its primary intent and purpose? The purpose of the BBWAA is not to vote on and hand out awards, although that has become a function that has grown in stature because of the attention given to the BBWAA awards, which I assume has developed because of a credibility others have given to the BBWAA voting process.

Bizball: Off of the BBWAA, since becoming a sports journalist, what have been the biggest changes and challenges in professional sports journalism?

Ringolsby: Well, since I first began covering sports on May 1, 1968 (becoming a baseball writer with UPI in December of 1975), technology has drastically changed the beat. I was in the dugout in Pittsburgh a few years ago when a writer was explaining to an intern, ``You should have seen the computers we used when I first started in this business.'' I smiled to myself. When I first started, we had Olivetti typewriters and handed our copy to Western Union. We carried a scoreboard, media guide and notebook, which fit in the typewriter carrying case. Obviously the computer world and internet has changed the business. In general the internet has been a positive, but I do feel it has become a negative because of what is too often a lack of accountability. Rumors are quickly published and spread without effort to verify. But that's not just in sports journalism. It seems that the internet exploded so quickly nobody was prepared to develop a quality control process. I do like the fact that with the internet and instance information, our business has changed in that we need to try and advance stories, not merely reiterate what happened. People can get the scores and stats from a number of places. What we as writers can provide is an insight that can add to the fans knowledge. The negative of the business has been the challenges of travel. It has become so time-consuming with the security demands. I fully understand the reason for the security but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable to have to get to an airport 2 or 3 hours before a flight instead of racing to the gate as it's closing and climb on a plane. Maybe it has always been this way but it seems it is a change that I have noticed in recent years is the number of frustrated jocks covering sports and feeling that their experience playing in high school or coaching youth teams gives them an expertise that provides them with a means to offer hitting and pitching tips to the athletes.

Bizball: Has the proliferation of bloggers, and the crossover of print journalists who now add blogs to their published content, create a graying of what a credible sports journalist is?

Ringolsby: It's not the avenue of providing information that causes problems, but rather those who use the avenue. There are some blogs that I find entertaining and informative. There are others that seem to be creations of people with an ax to grind, and those are just as boring as reading the columnist who always has to hate whatever he is writing about.

Bizball: The internet is simply a platform in which to publish content on. Whether it’s Buzz Bissinger or Murray Chass, or Steven A. Smith, the word “blogger” incites an angry element. At the same time, someone like Jay Mariotti isn’t exactly the poster child for responsible journalism. Speaking philosophically, is it fair to rate any one medium for publishing as better or worse, rather than simply looking at the author and their content?

Ringolsby: With anything in life, we are all better served to evaluate each incident and individual separately and not stereotype.

Bizball: Thanks for taking on the heavy topics here, Tracy. I really appreciate it. I can’t end an interview on such a serious note… For those that don’t know of your interest in horses and what might best be deemed a “western lifestyle”, you are known for the cowboy hat. Bad pun… Off the top of your head, the total percentage of time you wear the hat?

Ringolsby: My family arrived in Wyoming in the early 1860s. I was born and raised in Wyoming. I named my daughter, who was born in California when I was covering the Angels, Laramie, after the city that is home to the University of Wyoming. I have always been proud of the western lifestyle. My wife and I had horses when we lived south of Denver, and about five years ago decided we needed more land so that as we age, if we are still physically capable, we could continue to spend time on horseback, but also would have room to keep our current horses as they age. As a result we purchased 80 acres outside of Cheyenne, Wy., and decided instead of waiting until we were too old to enjoy it that we would go ahead and build a home, barn and arena so we could enjoy it now. As a result, I commjte about 120 miles to Coors Field, liviing about 15 miles northwest of Cheyenne, with my wife and four horses -- Big Old Boy, a.k.a., BOB, a quarterhose/Belgian cross; Sunny, a Tennesse Walker that I acquired from Ted Uhalnder, who raises Walkers, and two thoroughbred rescuse horses, Alpo and Cinamon Sky, which my wife has trained for dressage. I've worn boots and a cowboy hat most of my life. One day my wife asked me why I wore a hat everywhere except the ballpark. I didn't have an answer so I started wearing the hat to the ballpark, too. I do take the hat off when it's time to sleep, and when I ride I frequently wear a ball cap. Given the winds of Wyoming, cowboy hats don't stay on as well as you'd like. Understand, we have the distinction of having more wind than anywhere else in the United States. Last winter, as an example, we had seven consecutive days where winds didn't get below 40 miles per hour, and were gusting consistently close to 100 miles per hour. We had to build the indoor arena with a 160 mile per hour wind load.

Bizball: Finally, you’ve primarily covered baseball for over 30 years. Is there life after baseball, and if so can you imagine it without the horses or the rodeo?

Ringolsby: Well, I have covered baseball since 1976, and have been a traveling baseball writer since 1977 so it really has become part of the lifestyle. I can't imagine ever being completely divorced from the game. I enjoy it and enjoy the people. I do, however, have other passions -- horses, and University of Wyoming football and basketball (men and women). I can never cover college athletics because it would be a conflict. I like my Wyoming Cowboys too much, and attend every game possible (including flying on Saturdays from wherever I am to where the Cowboys are playing football) and always sit the stands because I am not working and do not feel I have any right to be in the pressbox.There are days -- like the Saturday when it was 10 degrees with 14 inches of snow and 40 mph winds -- that I question whether I should stand on principles so strongly.  I also am active with the horses, not only for a hobby, but as member of the executive committee of the National Western Stock Show in Denver, the largest stock and horse show in the world. It is something I enjoy being part and expect to be a part of when I reitre fromcovering baseball. It is a means to help keep people aware of our western heritage. There is so much that people don't realize. Did you know, for example, that more than 30 percent of the Cowboys in the old west were African-Americans?

 
 
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