January 18, 2010
Let me first say, that I generally agree with Mark McGwire's belief that we all have to eventually move on and focus on the baseball season at hand.
But I just can't resist posting this video of Big Mac's "press conference" in St. Louis on Sunday as a prime example of when public relations go horribly wrong. Simply put, the media meeting went about as well as the Cardinals' appearance in the 2009 playoffs.
Matt Sebek over at Joe Sportsfan has an excellent breakdown of the entire scene. Like his old/new employers, McGwire also made a hasty exit after an abbreviated appearance. During these six testy minutes, it seemed he believed that his sitdown with Bob Costas would be the final time he'd be asked about his admitted steroid use.
Though former White House spin doctor Ari Fleischer is being hailed in some corners for his orchestrations of McGwire's admission last Monday, I think this episode demonstrates a lack of understanding when it comes to how baseball writers work. No way are the local writers going to let a couple of hand-picked interviewers ask the first and final questions about McGwire's steroid use, nor should they.
They rightly believe that they're entitled to their queries, too.
Honestly, the whole situation was really strange. After their well-crafted initial strategy, why did McGwire's handlers allow him to answer questions in such an uncontrolled environment? Seeing as how McGwire has trouble answering questions in a controlled setting with one interviewer, why place him in a hotel hallway while facing a hungry media mob?
It seems obvious that McGwire would've been much better served by going with the original plan of conducting the press conference at a podium. That way the pace of questions could have been controlled and he would have had time to regroup between each one.
A reason for the venue switch was never given. Maybe he didn't want to stage such a circus at the Cardinals Winter Warmup. Maybe he wanted the benefit of the big exit door that he immediately used as an escape hatch when the session got a little hot.
Whatever the case, it was a big misstep and made for a silly and unnecessary scene.
I really don't want to give Ari Fleischer any more advice that I'm not being paid for, but if he's doing his job, he'll stage a big press conference once McGwire arrives in Florida and then call an end to the steroid questions so that it doesn't hamper the entire spring. As the press conferences staged by Alex Rodriguez(notes) and Andy Pettitte(notes) showed, baseball writers want the opportunity to conduct their own interrogation before moving onto the next story.
And since that's a requirement that McGwire's camp really can't avoid, there's no reason to at least set a few parameters. If healing his media image is really the end goal, he doesn't need another scene where it looks like he's a corrupt politician on the run.