Bob Smizik: Ask Bob, Bob answers

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I’ve taken a day off from analyzing the Pirates in general and what to do with Pedro Alvarez, in particular, as well as Gerrit Cole’s rehab start at Indianapolis, But what I’ve just written opens the door for discussion on those topics.

Below are my first answers to the most recent batch of Ask Bob questions.

Daquido Bazzini: Can you explain the duties of a columnist for a newspaper in a major city with several pro sports teams? Should they not be biased toward the teams? Should they attempt to come up with subjects that are controversial? How has a columnist's duties changed through the years?

There are multiple approaches a writer might take toward being a columnist. I approached the job as being a representative of the readers/fan. It was my job, I felt, to ask the questions and write the stories that explained what was going on with the various teams. I was the fans’ voice on the inside. That sounds easy, but it’s not. You just can’t go in swinging wildly. Relationships have to be built, trust has to be gained. It took me a while to realize that the people I was dealing with, generally speaking, knew more about their team and had a greater vested interest in winning than I or the fans did. I think that’s very important to know and understand if you are going to be a columnist. That doesn’t mean you are giving the teams every point and every benefit of the doubt. It does mean you have to understand their situation.

No one in journalism should be biased. And certainly not in favor of the home team. I think it’s hard for fans to understand but I’ve encountered very, very few ‘fans’ in the media in my 40 years in the business. It’s just a switch that seems to go on once you commit to the profession.

I don’t think a columnist should seek controversy. If you are strictly looking for controversy, your readers will figure you out quickly. But certainly a columnist wants to be on top of the hot-button issues of the day that will grab the readers’ interest. There’s nothing wrong with jumping into a controversial issue with an opinion that is strong -- and is believed.

I do not see the duties of a columnist as having changed in the years I’ve been doing this.

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TompInMd II: Who do you think should vote for HOF inductees and yearly awards (MVP, etc.) and why? Should it be the fans (already know the answer to that one ), sportswriters or players - including current HOF members? Or a combination of the above?

The voting for the honors you mentioned is done by the Baseball Writers Association of America. (Full disclosure: I am a BBWAA member and have voted for all the major awards and still vote for the Hall of Fame.) For the most part I think the group has done a good job. The only changes I would consider would be to open the voting to the men and women who broadcast MLB games. They would be subject to the same 10-year rule before being granted HOF voting privileges. As for the annual awards, those people should be in the mix with the local BBWAA members. In many cities there are not enough qualified BBWAA voters to handle the eight slots -- two each for MVP, Cy Young, rookie and manager -- so the announcers would fill a needed void. There is a tendency toward rampant homerism in broadcasting, which should be a concern. But I think most could handle the matter objectively.

I do not believe it would be a good idea for fans to be involved in the voting. As we’ve seen with All-Star voting, that turns the issue into a popularity contest and I think these honors are too important to be allowed to decline to that level. Nor do I think players should be voting on themselves.

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Susan DeMark: How would you evaluate Neal Huntington's tenure thus far as GM, his strengths and accomplishments, and his weaknesses and areas to improve? Which GM during your time of sportswriting has been the strongest one, and why? And conversely, which GM has been the weakest, and why?

Huntington’s tenure needs to be divided into two periods: 2008-10; 2011-present. In his first, I would classify him as close to a failure. He failed to get talent in return on some of the major trades. The McLouth trade and the emergence of Josh Harrison from the Gorzelanny/Grabow deal is putting a better spin on the trades, but overall the early deals were not maximized. The 2008 draft is looking much better in recent years but 2009 is disappointing and 2010, while obviously a work in progress, has yet to produce any help on the MLB level.

Since 2010, Huntington has rarely missed. It’s too early to evaluate his most recent drafts but his player acquisitions have been exceptional -- from dumpster dives, to trades to free agent signings. He has his shortcomings, but any fair-minded person would give him high grades for the past four years.

I was three years removed from teaching and only a bit more from listening in awe to “The Joe L. Brown Show” every Sunday when I took over the Pirates beat. Which meant I had a reverence that didn’t well suit my position. I’d like to think that didn’t last long, but Brown was an impressive man in almost all ways. He thought the Pirates’ business was nobody’s business, so he wasn’t exactly a reporter’s dream. But I had and still have much admiration for Joe Brown.

One major difference from the Joe Brown era -- which began in the mid-1950s and carried to 1976 and then briefly in the 1980s -- is that he did not, as did Huntington, come up through scouting. He was not a player evaluator. He had advisers whom he respected but he made the decisions. You’d never hear him talking in detail about player strengths and weaknesses as you hear Huntington and other GMs of this era.

Second on my list would be Kevin Colbert, and how could he not be after building rosters that resulted in three Super Bowl appearances and two wins? His predecessor, Tom Donahoe, also impressed me but had the bad judgment to get into an ego contest with Bill Cowher, which cost him his job. I had a high regard for Ray Shero, but, in retrospect, he left the Penguins in a bad position.

Craig Patrick was an absolutely terrible GM in the latter years of his tenure.

•••

Kevin Schafer: During your career have you ever asked for an autograph or requested your picture taken with a sports figure? Do you own any form of sports memorabilia?

I have never asked for an autograph -- in my life -- and simply do not understand what that’s all about. Stashed away somewhere I have pictures of myself with Chuck Tanner and with Jackie Sherrill. I asked for neither but, obviously, since I’ve kept them they have meaning for me.

I have about 10 Pirates T-shirts, all at no cost -- save the price of the ticket -- from Free-shirt Fridays. I wear them to the gym and the beach. I have a couple of hats from the days they gave them away. I have never bought gear for myself, but have for members of my family.

Gear is something else I simply do not understand. We build them their stadiums, we buy their mostly outrageously priced tickets and their always excessively priced concessions, and we still feel the need to purchase their gear. It’s almost as though we wouldn’t be a good fan without it. I am continually amazed at the increasing number of people who seemingly won’t go to a game without some gear to show their loyalty. This is a multibillion-dollar business that 40 to 50 years ago did not exist. It is just another reason why I refer to the U.S. as a ‘’sports-obsessed society.’’

In my 1972 scorebook, I have the game in which Roberto Clemente had his 3,000th hit. That, I believe, is the only thing I own that might be classified as sports memorabilia.

•••

Bob Stover: In your opinion, should the NL adopt the DH? Why or why not?

I long have been a fierce opponent of the designated hitter. Alas, I am softening my stance. Almost every baseball league in the country uses the DH in some form, except the National League. The reason I am less opposed is I think it’s important the two leagues play under the same rules.

I would not campaign for the DH, but I see it as inevitable. And . . . in this era of declining offense, maybe not a bad idea. I would miss the strategy the DH eliminates, but I’m leaning toward it.


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