On a regular basis throughout this 2011 season, Orioles Hangout will be reaching out to different local outlets who cover the O’s. These interviews will be crafted not only to gain the subject’s views on the Orioles, but to gain further insight on the subject.
In this installment of the series, we speak with Phil Wood, who has been a familiar face and voice in Baltimore for several decades. In the late '70s, Wood could be heard in Baltimore over WTOP. From 1982 through 1987, Wood would appear locally on WCBM. Starting in 1988 through '91, Wood was on the old WYST 1010am/92.3fm. In '98 Wood would return to WCBM with Dave Johnson, Jim Henneman, and Phil Jackman.
Since 2002, Wood has been providing analysis on the Saturday 'Wall-to-Wall Baseball' show with Tom Davis (aside from an 18-month hiatus to do a Saturday morning baseball show in Washington in '07-'08.). In addition to that, Wood works for MASNSports.com (http://www.masnsports.com/), participating on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Report, and hosting “Nats Talk TV”on MASN Saturday mornings. On MASN, Wood also fills in for Ray Knight as the studio analyst on “Nats Xtra” 20-30 games a year.
Outside of “Wall-to-Wall Baseball”, and Wood's other work on MASN; Wood writes for the Washington Examiner (http://washingtonexaminer.com/people/phil-wood). The syndicated Sunday show “Talkin' Baseball,” is in hiatus as Wood's partner of the past 6 seasons (Tom Donner) is seeking elected political office in Northern Virginia.
Orioles Hangout thanks Mr. Wood for taking the time to answer a few questions.
Orioles Hangout: “At the end of March, MASN debuted the “Mid-Atlantic Sports Report”, which airs M-F 5:30 to 6:30. The panel discussion show includes yourself, Tom Davis, Dave Johnson, and Mel Antonen providing lead-in coverage to the O’s and Nationals.
There is plenty to like about the show. Davis has extensive experience as a host and is obviously comfortable in that realm. Johnson is good at providing knowledge of his experiences as a player and breaking down pitching-mechanics. Antonen reported on the game nationally for many years with USA Today, and continues to do so via Sports Illustrated and the MLB Network via Sirius/XM. There is little doubt that you have more historical knowledge on the game than anyone else working professionally in the Baltimore/Washington Metropolitan area. Nearly a month into the process, what do you see as the strengths of the show?”
Phil Wood: “There’s about 100 years of experience covering the game between Tom, Mel and I, and Dave’s insights as a player who made it to the big leagues despite staggering odds against him give a fairly balanced flavor to the show. Our producer, Carolyn Weidel, does a good job making sure the subject matter is balanced between the two teams. Let’s be honest, most local sportscasters are very much football-centric. This is unabashedly a baseball show.”
Orioles Hangout: “If I was to provide a negative critique (outside of brightening up the set a bit) it would be that the show seems to lack any advanced sabermetrical discussion. I understand your job is to provide analysis as opposed to developing content for the show, but do you see an opportunity to bring in guests from sites such as FanGraphs (http://www.fangraphs.com/) , Baseball Prospectus (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/), Baseball Think Factory (http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/) and Beyond the Boxscore (http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/)? Or is there a thinking that those type of analysts would not add to the discourse?”
Phil Wood: “I have no doubt people like that would add to the discourse, but media research shows it would also likely shrink the audience. There’s a reason virtually all of those potential guests are almost exclusively on the web. TV shows like this are programmed for the largest possible audience. If we were doing a fantasy baseball show it would be different, but we’re after the casual fan and the hardcore fan. The response we’ve gotten from viewer has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Orioles Hangout: “You’ve reported on the O’s in various fashions over the past 30 years as a Professional, but I believe you have made clear you are not a fan of the Orange and Black. You have stated your allegiance to your home-town Washington Nationals. You have established credibility with your audience because they know that even if you are a fan of the Nationals, you do not allow that bias to impact the coverage you provide as a journalist. Do you agree with the idea that one can be a fan and still provide unbiased journalism? If so, do you think the unwritten rule of no cheering in the press box is a dated concept?”
Phil Wood: “Well, I never cheer in the pressbox, other than for some really fabulous renditions of the Star Spangled Banner. I have been known to clap quietly when a Hall of Famer walks past, like an Al Kaline or Bert Blyleven. As for the Orioles, I’ve never disliked them, but having grown up a Senators’ fan in the Northern Virginia suburbs of DC, we never had reason to go to a game in Charm City. After I graduated college and the Senators left, I was grateful to have a big league ballpark within 90 minutes to see some live games, but adopting them as “my” team never occurred to me, since I was sure DC would get another team. That it took 33 years to happen was unexpected. In 1987 when WCBM had the Orioles’ broadcasts I did the pre and postgame shows, which was fun, and some of my best friends in the game were individuals who played or worked for the Orioles. Really, I think the fact that I wasn’t an Orioles’ fan gave me an objectivity that set me apart. These days I find it annoying that so many fans have deserted the Orioles simply because they’ve not won in a while. The idea that a team has to win consistently to be deserving of fan support seems petty to me. I grew up with a losing franchise, but I never had less than a good time at the ballpark.”
Orioles Hangout: “As mentioned above you have been covering the game as a professional for 30 years. In previous conversations you have relayed how your opinions on the game have been transformed due to the access and relationships you have built with scouts and other insiders within the game. What are a couple of examples of where your opinions have been altered? What are even the most informed fans missing without this access?”
Phil Wood: “First off, the whole idea that a pitcher’s won-lost record tells you all you need to know about whether he’s good or bad is exceptionally flawed. Scouts pay little attention to it, knowing that a pitcher has almost nothing to do with how many runs his team scores. It’s like the people who criticize Mike Mussina and say he isn’t Hall of Fame worthy because he didn’t win 300 games or a Cy Young Award. Really? He had more than 60 no-decisions in Baltimore, and at least half were games he left with a lead, so you’re blaming him for the bullpen’s failure? Secondly, an oh-fer streak doesn’t necessarily mean a slump, or that the guy’s done. You have to look at every at-bat; is he pulling the ball or going the other way? Is he getting badly fooled on breaking balls? Is he rolling over a lot of balls on poor contact, or is he hitting the ball hard? I’ve seen too many instances where guys are hitting the ball right on the screws and getting nothing out of it. Scouts grade players on a 1-8 scale. There are a number of players who fans believe are elite, but don’t grade out that high. If I didn’t have to type my answers out and this was a genuine conversation I could go on quite a bit longer.”
Orioles Hangout: “There has been a lot of discussion on “Wall-to-Wall Baseball” during the past year about blogs and websites. I get the impression from your colleagues that they see message board posters and bloggers as lonely people typing away in their parents' basement, and exposing singular points of view. Orioles Hangout has 8,500+ registered members, and averages 40,000 unique visitors and 586,000 visits per month. Not surprisingly there is a wide range of opinions to be found. If anything, those posters are providing far more depth and detail as opposed to the typical caller on sports talk-radio.
I won’t ask you to speak for your colleagues, but speaking for yourself, what do you see as the primary drawback (or something that could be improved) on a site such as Orioles Hangout?”
Phil Wood: “Sure. Identify yourself. Use your real name. Don’t expect to be taken seriously if you’re using some pseudonym. There’s no doubt that a number of posters have a real idea, and a lot of them probably are your self-described “lonely people.” It’s trying to weed through the non-specific comments and the bomb-throwers who believe that using profanity or doing a lot of name-calling is helping them make their point. It’s not. It’s a sure way to get this reader, anyway, to go to a different site. I’m no prude, but you learn as you get older that rhetoric like that obscures the point rather than making it.”
Orioles Hangout: “Scouts and sabermetric-based analysts were in total agreement about Wieters projecting to be an offensive force. Going into Monday night, Wieters currently is hovering around the Mendoza line and has a .612 OPS. In his initial 262 career ab’s against LHP, he has .620 OPS. The Orioles pitchers (and coaching staff) are singing his praises for how he calls a game. What do you hear from scouts, and what are you own feelings about his development to this point?”
Phil Wood: “The scouts who loved him before still like him, but some have told me that they think he’s “softer” than they thought originally. He had some shaky work habits in the past, but seems to be a lot more focused now than he was last year at this time. I think he’ll be fine. Would he have benefitted from a full season at Triple A? Maybe, but we’ll never know.”
Orioles Hangout: “Tampa recently signed Wade Davis to a long-term extension (team options for what would be his first two years of free agency), essentially buying their way out of the arbitration process. Should the O’s be aggressively doing the same with their young starters?”
Phil Wood: “It’s a trend that the Orioles may have to seriously consider, though the long-term deals for pitchers are far more risky than with position players. You’ll recall that the ballclub in the past signed some pitchers to long-term deals that didn’t work out that well. That the Orioles haven’t done it yet indicates that they’re not prepared to be aggressive about it, but they have some time given the youth of some of these guys.”
Orioles Hangout: “As I write this Monday night, the O’s are in the middle of a 7 game losing streak. Still, I’m pretty optimistic about this season in general. The offense has been abysmal so far, but I do believe will be at least league average by season's end. When Matusz returns, I see four very capable starters (Guthrie, Matusz, Britton, Arrieta) and two viable options for the 5th spot in Bergesen and Tillman. I’ve seen nothing to change my preseason projection of 83-79, and 4th place. What are your general thoughts of where the O’s are currently, and how you see the year progressing?”
Phil Wood: “I think they’ll hit, but I need to see a larger sample size for Guerrero and Lee. As of the moment you can’t rule out that both of those guys are back to the mere mortal realm of swinging the bat. Whether the Orioles approach the break-even point is completely up to the starting rotation. I’m not thrilled with the bullpen, and I suspect you aren’t either. When the ballclub played .590 baseball under Showalter last year, I heard from a lot of fans that, hey, everything’s fixed now. Yet Buck went out and remade almost half of the roster and the entire coaching staff. He knows that players win games, not managers, and wasn’t happy with the hand he was dealt. Fans need to give him and the current roster some time to settle in. It’s a very tough division, and coming off a 98-loss season, expecting a 20-game swing the other way is asking a lot.”
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