The Interview: St. Louis Post-Dispatch Columnist Bryan Burwell

burwell.jpgBryan Burwell is another one of the many journalism legends that have been gracious enough to give TSF a few words about the state of sports as well as encouragement for what we are trying to accomplish here. He is grounded in his criticism of Barry Bonds and Michael Vick while enjoying the time he spends covering the amazing athletic exploits of one Albert Pujols. I may not agree with everything he says, but I most definitely respect his opinion because he does have the experience I’m trying to attain with every fiber of my soul. Crazy that Bryan and I aren’t that far off in age and I have to be honest that the brotha sounds exactly like my Pop. I had to look over my shoulder because of lasting images of orange Hot Wheel tracks and The Belt. Seriously though, Bryan is an inspiration to anyone looking to get into the field because of his thirty plus years experience. He’s seen it all and has vivid memories of Ralph Wiley that I know I would cherish. In an age of alcohol abuse in MLB club houses, I admire his stance on the social hypocrisy regarding alcohol…It’s something he difinitely should get more props for because most writers could give a damn. In that regard, he’s sui generis.

Happy Belated Father’s Day to all the Dads out there. I hope you had a good one. I know I did.

Enjoy.

MT: Where does your journalism history begin?

BB: My journalism history started as a freshman at Virginia State. I went there on a track scholarship in 1973. I planned on being a photographer for the school news paper. Part of my scholarship was work study. I had a choice on where I wanted to work. After my best friend and I decided to be photographers for the school paper, I thought that I could write better than the writers, so I began to write and that’s how it got started.

MT: How did you end up at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch?

BB: As Bill Walton would say, “That’s a long and strange trip.” While I was still with the school paper, my first real gig was stringing for the local paper. The Petersburg Progress Index were always looking for someone to string for them when Virginia State went on the road. Virginia State played Howard University at RFK Stadium in DC my freshman year in football. They paid me a hundred bucks to cover the game.

I’m in the press box and David Dupree is covering the game for the Washington Post. I grew up in DC. Dave Dupree was the first Black sportswriter I knew about. Bryant Gumbel used to have a sports magazine called Black Sports. He did an article on Dave Dupree when he joined the Washington Post that basically was about Dave’s extensive sneaker collection. I introduced myself to Dave at the game and Dave was about the coolest brotha as you can possibly imagine. I was this freshman in college all excited and intimidated to meet him. I asked him to take a look at my lede. I told him I had never done this before and wanted to know if I was doing the right thing. Dave was real cool about it. I imagine that must have been a really bad game story that I wrote, but Dave didn’t really tell me oh this shit is terrible. He told me to rework this and rewrite that. He probably got my journalism career off the ground because you never know what would have happened if he didn’t give me such sound advice. If I had gave them the story I originally wrote they probably wouldn’t have paid me a dime to write for them. I always tell Dave that. I make him feel old when I tell this story, but I want him to know just how much of an influence he had on me.

MT: The irony. When D-Wil–my colleague from TSF–and I were talking about this interview, the first name to come up was Dave Dupree. The comparison is there between the two of you. I don’t know if it’s your style or what. I can’t put my finger on it. He’s a fine writer.

BB: I’m glad to hear that. I think the comparison may come from the fact that we were athletes in college. He was a far more accomplished athlete than I was. I was a very mediocre college track and field athlete, but he was an exceptional athlete. Maybe that’s the connection.

MT: It seems to be such a negative media climate. Could you elaborate on the abundant need for responsible journalism and how it could change the perception of the fan in this day and age?

BB: I’ve been having this conversation with a lot of people lately. There’s something scary and wrong about our society right now. I’m trying to put my finger on it, but I’m not exactly sure what it is. I think there’s some irresponsible journalism going on in our business and I’ll give you a perfect example: The Gary Sheffield quote controversy with the GQ article. Why would you ask Gary Sheffield that question? If I want someone to give me an informed, enlightened and sophisticated response to a sophisticated and complex issue, I’m not going to Gary Sheffield? This is no disrespect to Gary Sheffield, but Gary has proven time and time again that he just says what’s off the top of his head. Too many times we have people in our business who don’t understand that there’s a difference between getting a story and creating a story. I can get anybody to say anything and it doesn’t make it a story.

To me, the issue of why there’s a dwindling number of Blacks in baseball is a lot more complicated than they don’t want us. It does a disservice to us and our community when we jump on guys that we know will give us the sensational quote. There is an issue there. No one is going to listen to the real issue because the person we ask gives us a less than sophisticated response. We got to have brothas in the business that understand the role and are smart enough of how to cover a story. There’s some grain of truth to what Gary said, but now how he said it. The major reason why there are not a lot of Blacks playing baseball is because Blacks aren’t playing baseball. They are playing basketball and football. They are attracted to those sports in part because they think they are a quicker path the pros. Saying that Latin players are easier to control disrespects Latin ball players. I don’t think anyone has been able to control Manny Ramirez in his life. There is an economic issue there and he’s right about that. It’s cheaper to start an academy in the Dominican Republic than it is in downtown Detroit.

MT: I see the issue of the Black exodous from baseball differently. I coach little league in an area where hardly any Blacks are playing. I would say it’s 96% White. I’m one of only two minority coaches and there isn’t any Black umpires or administrators. I feel like I’m in a time warp during a game. I feel as though I have to be on my p’s and q’s all the time. I have to talk to the kids in a certain fashion without coming across as too Black or too strong. Sometimes its very frustrating and very overbearing but I do it for the kids. I would defend them against anything.

Last year in the All Star tournament, my son was arguably one of the best players on the team. I’m sure other coaches and parents would back me up in stating that. The year before he played stellar defense–throwing out many runners from centerfield and was the only player to hit a homerun in the entire tournament. They simply had a great team; great coaching and pulled it all together to win the state championship. The homerun my son hit traveled directly over my and his mother’s head. Great experience. He had a better year the next season but in the All Stars he hardly played. Other players were set up to recieve the glory and his talent was for some unexplained reason delegated down. His team had a realistic shot at going to Williamsport–they were that good. I don’t think he got more than two at bats in any game in the tournament and was replaced by younger kids late in games even though he was most definitely one of the best all around players on the team. For some reason, the coaches had him batting 8th–telling him that he was their second clean up hitter–and then inexplicably had him bunt multiple times with 2 outs, 2 strikes and runners on second and third! I couldn’t believe it. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want anything to upset the team dynamic because of their impending Little League World Series opportunity. I just didn’t think it would have such a adverse affect on him like it ended up having. Well, in an elimination game against the team they beat in the state semi-finals the year before, my son finally batted fourth. I was shocked! It gets better…trust. In the last inning, with the other team up by one and a runner on, my son due up next. He was pulled for a pinch hitter–as a cleanup hitter in the last inning mind you–who was put out on a bunt to end the game. I’ll never forget the look in his face. He went from licking his chops to totally devestated. I know he wanted to hit a bomb to win the game. You could see the opposing team almost celebrate when he was taken out. I still feel like shit for him just talking about it. As a father, this memory still has a profound affect on me whenever I pull up to the field that I need to get over. Needless to say, he didn’t play this year even though he has some of the best hands around. He just isn’t the same athlete and I truly don’t know what to tell him. I won’t force him to play. It’s his decision and I’m comfortable with that even though I want him out there. He said he’s sticking with basketball and football and I don’t blame him. It truly hurts me to have my thirteen year old kid to go through such heartache at such a young age.

Another example was in the 11 year old tournament the same year where my step son played. I will say that his team’s coaches were very encouraging and also game smart, but they also dropped the ball and I honestly feel bad for them. They had a Black kid pitching a no hitter into the fourth inning–with his team up by I think four–and pulled him after walking his first batter with the no hitter still intact. They subsequently lost a close game because relief pitching let them down. Raheem is no longer playing even though he hangs around the complex all the time. I talk to him every day about getting back into the league but to no avail. It just sickens me to see these two talented kids walking around aimlessly while their White counterparts continue on. I won’t say it’s all racism. I think it’s a disconnect between mainly White coaches and young Black kids. I won’t say this about all White coaches because we have some fine coaches in the league that do the right thing. You have to get to know kids and make sure you are on the same page no matter what as a coach. It’s your responsibility, not the kids. My team is almost all White. I take the time out to get to know every individual personality. It’s the only way to coach. If I take the time out, then so should everyone else. There shouldn’t be a difference.

It’s also a point that we don’t have our fathers coaching us. Kids look for guidance that just isn’t going to be there. They are forced to make difficult personal decisions that other kids don’t have to.

There are a lot of Black kids that are extremely raw and if some of these coaches just took the time to develop their skills, they would start to enjoy the game on a different level. Some kids have a chip on their shoulder because they don’t have that strong father or father figure. Some coaches don’t try to make a break through–subsequently tossing the kid aside even though in some cases he’s the most talented. They label him a head case…or he has an attitude.

A cop out.

I’m not in it just for fun because I realize the opportunity I have to teach. I know the short time I have with the kids potentially could help produce greatness or simply a future 65 year old coach who is doing it for the love of the game.

Fathers who are also coaches: please get to know every kid, not just your own. It’s discouraging to see fathers baby their own kids and spit fire holler at the rest. It’s your job to teach for the next level while still having fun. You must also give them a chance to win–especially the older kids. Your impact will be felt the rest of their lives. How do you want to be remembered? Do you even care? Is it just about your own?

BB: Sad, but interesting you say that. When I was played baseball in elementary and junior high school, my father coached. We lived in surburban DC. I didn’t know my father was cool until that summer because all the kids loved my ole man. He knew how to coach.

That’s why I said the issue is so complicated. I also think that when you start dealing with White coaches in youth leagues, junior high schools and high schools you see that some are responsible for a lot of problems in sports. They also usher great White athletes from one sport to another. I know growing up that I competed against some really fast White boys. I remember this one guy who ran a 14 second in the hurdles, he was a 6’7” high jumper and a 22 foot long jumper–decathalete skills. Where does he go? What happens to him? Where are the kids that you knew were good football or basketball players? They all end up playing baseball? Is that because their coaches and parents are telling them they can’t play basketball?

It’s not that simple. It’s a very complicated issue. In our business, we have to start to look at these issues with a more educated eye. I don’t think a lot of times that other people are doing it that way. We have to be more sophisticated in how we look at stories because it’s not always the obvious thing.

MT: Barry Bonds. Whether or not you agree or disagree that he’s taken steroids you have to admit that some of the stories that have been written about him have been down right disgusting. I personally haven’t seen the evidence. Until I see something, I have to give Barry his due process. It’s mainly because of what we do here. Our writers do an excellent job of objectively researching an issue. Yeah, it’s because of the content, but more importantly because it’s the right thing to do. I know that columnists and reporters are on deadlines, but if you aren’t going to do the proper research, then don’t write the piece. Pass it off to someone else. It’s just as simple as that. Michael Vick is being raked over the coals because of something his family might or might not have done? What is that?

BB: My attitude is entirely different. I guess it’s because I’m older and I have more of a father and a coach viewpoint. I am so tired of young brothas wrestling with keeping it real. They act like they are the first generation of Black men in America who grew up with thug friends.

MT: You’ve written about this in a recent piece, correct?

BB: Yes. We all had knucklehead friends. The difference is they used to tell us to go home when they got into some dirt. Now, they are taking the players along and even giving them they keys because of their status.

Michael Vick has to understand…I’m not convicting him in the judicial system. I’m convicting him strictly on common sense. If I were his Father or big brother, I would have smacked him in the head a long time ago. Let’s just look at the water bottle thing from a common sense standpoint. Let’s just assume that he was guilty. Michael, if you are smoking herb…the same herb that was in Miami, you could probably get that same herb in Atlanta. That means you didn’t need the stash bottle. I’m sure when you got back to Atlanta Mike you could have said to one of your boys that you needed a bag.

There are certain things that young brothas do now that are just dumb.

Barry Bonds….

MT: Hold on Bryan. Before you go into Bonds I have to say something about Vick.

Michael Vick as far as we know, has not done anything that has caused anyone inexplicable harm. For Michael Vick to now be compared to Pac Man Jones is absurd.

So what he gave someone the finger. I would have done it too. I would have looked straight at the camera though. Get off his back! He’s probably tired of running around like some damn monkey with Lions, Bengals and Bears chasing unimpeded. Give the brotha some help and let’s see what he can do. I hope Joe Horn works out so people can shut the hell up about Michael Vick. Run Mike Run! Yeah he needs to tighten up some things, but people are castigating him like he’s running around the field wearing puppy blood soaked cleats!

If something was going on at his cousin’s house, his neighbors would have been screaming bloody dog murder a long time ago. It’s as simple as that.

The way the media covers this story, you would think it was Mike who lived there year round. It just doesn’t make any sense.

BB: It’s only because Roger Goodell hasn’t brought down the hammer yet. Yes, Vick’s situation is completely different than what Pac Man Jones is currently going through. That’s why Goodell is waiting. We talked about this on Jim Rome’s show recently.

The problem with Michael Vick is…C’mon Mike! You didn’t know what was going on in that house? I have knucklehead relatives–we all do. I know which knuckhead is doing some stuff. I know my family pretty well. I have a relative that’s serving forty years in the pen right now. When we had family functions, I would pull the young brotha aside and ask him if he was being careful. I would repeat, “You being careful?” He would say he was doing fine. I would say no, no, no, do you understand what I’m saying to you? “Are you being careful? You have a family now. I understand that you are an urban entrepreneur.”

I know who in my family is doing right and I know the ones who are doing wrong.

You gotta know. You are Michael Vick! You have to know. The climate has changed.

MT: I understand.

BB: That’s what I’m talking about. What I’m about to say might not involve Michael Vick, but we are now confronted with the first generation of kids raising kids who are now adults raising kids of their own. It’s a symptom we can’t ignore.

MT: I certainly agree with you there.

BB: I feel different about this group. Our folks were around. I always knew that my Mother or Father would smack me upside the head.

MT: I hear you all day there. I can still hear my Pop’s whip belt crack…goodness. Run for the hills fam! Dad is still chasing us! ;)

Occassionally we would visit the Newport News area because that’s where a lot of my family lived–the same area where Michael Vick and Allen Iverson grew up. Those were good people down there. Very good people. You would walk into a strangers house uninvited and get the best southern meal ever. Any time of the day. My goodness…I’m hungry now. Change the subject bruh! (we chuckle)

Anyway Bryan, I don’t want Michael Vick to be tried in the press yet. If he did the crime, then he should catch wreck to the fullest. Until we get to that point…you alluded to the present climate. It can’t be explained. That climate is going to pushed further along by the “Damn! Michael Vick has killed somebody dogs!

Ok, enough of that. These stories about prominent Black athletes are interesting.

I don’t mind when Black jounalists write hard edged stories about athletes who are messing up. They should be called out. Let me make that clear to the reader.

They should be called out.

We seem to do it from an uncle’s stance. I don’t mind those stories. I welcome them because they definitely are needed.

I just get tired of the mainstream press getting hold of that information and twisting and turning it to represent something very unbecoming of that athlete. It’s really casting a gigantic dark cloud over the Black athlete. No one else besides Paris Hilton is getting so much negative press.

Report the damn facts!

BB: It’s a shame that Barry Bonds is the focus, because Barry really is a bad guy.

MT: I’ve met him. He wasn’t to me. That’s all I can go on. I could care less what he’s did or said to other members of the media. It was probably warranted.

BB: I can’t defend Barry Bonds. I was heavily criticized when I initially came to St. Louis and pointed out inconsistencies between their hatred of Barry Bonds and love for Big Mac. I called for the fans to take the same standards of why they hate Barry and apply them to Mark McGwire. Man, it caused a stink. We have just as much anacedotal evidence against Mark McGwire as we do Barry Bonds. I’m not defending Barry Bonds, but why are you defending Mark McGwire. After the Congressional hearings, those same people changed their minds and said “My bad.”

MT: Compare the climate when you initially got into journalism and now.

BB: I think every era had its shortcomings. Let’s go back even further–say the twenties, thirties and even the forties. Sportswriters glorified the strength of athletes while ignoring their weaknesses. I forget which Babe Ruth movie it is, but it’s the one where he was running through the train butt naked chasing a naked woman. The sportswriters are playing cards and one says to the other: “Did you see anything?” The other sportswriter says, ” No, I didn’t see nuthin.” “Good.”, the other one says and they continue to play cards. Let’s fast forward that to the New York Post running photographs of ARod and his “mistress”. I think both are examples of how strange and messed up our business has been and is. When I first got into the business there was a great lack of diversity. I saw a great many misconceptions of minority athletes. I felt it was very important to shatter those misconceptions. I was usually the first Black sportswriter my White counterparts confronted and it was a great advantage.

On another note, it’s really gotten to the point that I don’t know every Black sportswriter or sportscaster in America anymore. I run into people all the time and I’ve never seen them before. We all used to know each other. In the late seventies and early eighties we all knew each other. The thing I’m most impressed with now is that there is more diversity in the business. There are more Blacks, there are more women, there are more Latinos. That only helps to change the misconception of Black athletes. There are still some cultural issues there and I think they’ll always be there. There has always been bias in the media. It’s just human nature. You can’t eliminate who you are from what you are covering. You can control it, but you can’t eliminate it. Fox news is just as biased as CBS news. It’s just coming from a different filter.

I think I came up in the golden age of Black sportswriters. I’m looking at a picture in my office right now with Michael Wilbon, Ralph Wiley, Roy Johnson and I.

MT: Wow!

BB: That’s a picture of some brothas.

MT: You ain’t lyin’.

BB: That’s my generation. My concern is that we need to keep that level of sophisticated thinking, writing and seeing issues. We need to keep that going. We need another generation of brothas with those insights. We have to understand how to navigate through all this stuff. There’s less interest in having brothas in prominent media roles. There seems to be more of a silly basis in the media–which is why Around the Horn is so popular. I choose to do my talk on Jim Rome is Burning. It’s a different form, it’s a different attitude. We are going to have to find people who are going to give the enlightened…The best think we can do is have people tell us, “Man, I never thought of that. I never looked at it that way.” That’s what I want the next generation of Black sportswriters to be churning out. We’ve got to have that. We have some brothas such as yourself and others on this site that are doing that, but we need to find more. We need to train more, we need to bring more up.

MT: Hypothetical question of course, but from writing in San Francisco, what do you think Ralph Wiley would say about Barry Bonds? If you could speak for him, not saying you could.

BB: I think Ralph would acknowledge that Barry cheated. He would also say what do we do with this guy who was absolutely brilliant before he cheated? Who was always one of the best five or six players ever in the game before he was cheating. I think he would scold him. I think he would point out to Barry that the worse part of this is that he didn’t need to do it. I also think he would force folks to look more critically at other people–if you use the same cimcumstantial evidence that we use with Barry Bonds i.e. the Book of Shadows–who we should be taking a hard look at. Let’s just say a certain 44 year old pitcher that has the same velocity that he had when he was in his twenties. The same 44 year old who in his thirties was let go by a team because they thought he didn’t have it and then all of the sudden he has it again.

MT: I’ll say it for you. Roger Clemens.

BB: Why is everybody treating him with kid gloves? Why is everyone a far more responsible journalist with him than they were early on with Barry?

Barry has given us evidence when he said he used the clear and the cream. As a brotha when I read that he said it was flax seed oil or something to get rid of the ashy skin, I was like c’mon! (Bryan laughs) You are using the Ashy Larry defense? (Bryan and I laugh) I had to chuckle. I feel like Ralph would be the scolding uncle that would say shame on you.

MT: Just a question, but why isn’t anyone else approaching his season and career marks if supposedly the whole sport is tainted?

BB: The career numbers are going to be approached.

MT: Obviously, I mean right now. Players of his era. What about Barry’s size? He looks the same as he did when he set the record.

BB: Because…I think folks have gotten off the high test. They’ve probably gotten away from the really potent stuff. See, this tells you just how great Barry Bonds was. He was so good anyway. Then when he used the stuff, his numbers became ridiculous. It ecentuates just how good a ball player he was. I’m at the point–when I go to events–that I analyze and give players the eye test. How’s he cut? Has he put on sudden weight? Does he have a lot of pimples? I check for all the signs. That’s where we are now.

I went to the Athens Olympics and you didn’t know what to believe. You had a Greek woman who won the intermediate hurdles and five months earlier wasn’t even ranked among the top 100 in her event. I remember talking to some Greek track and field fans and hearing them wonder if it was going to hold up and if they were going to find something on her. Again, that’s where we are now. Ten or fifteen years ago we would celebrate such an accomplishment. Now you hold your breath. You wait to see if they are going to test positive for something. It’s really messed up.

MT: There’s also a lot of hypocrisy. Sports and society mirror each other. I can’t understand that some members of the media and also fans come down so hard on athletes, celebrities and politicians when they are doing the same dumb shit in their own lives–sometimes even worse. If we as journalists start calling the fan out more for who they are, then maybe the scrutiny will change. When we continue to admonish Barry Bonds, Michael Vick or Pac Man Jones, it’s going to make the fan feel like they are king. What is that? They’re not! I don’t give a damn how much money they spend at events. They have a choice. It does not excuse their behavior in anything they do. People always want some kind of pat on the back because they are holding down–or not–their own business, but because an athlete makes so much money they are fair game for undeserved criticism? That’s some of the biggest bullshit I’ve ever heard. Society really needs to get off its high horse and check the mirror. That includes me too.

BB: Oh I know! I wrote after Josh Hancock died in a car crash…

MT: Are Cards Fans Not Getting the Message?

BB: Yes. I got hundreds of emails. A lot of folk were saying that they were glad I wrote that piece because they hate going to games now because of drunk morons.

Cardinals fans are great. It’s a great baseball town. There’s some nasty drunken idiots that have this mean spiritness about them. The cloak it in the proletarian revolt. “The athletes have all this money and are selfish just like the owners.”

It’s not that!

They are miserable in their own lives…drunk as hell and do the same thing. I actually had people that were mad with me for highlighting that there are just as many drunk fans in the stadium that exhibit the same bad behavior as the athlete that went out and died as a drunk driver.

So, I agree with you. Those are the things that we’ve got to do. That was my whole point in telling you that you’ve got to look at these issues with a different eye. You’ve got to bring something extra to the table now. You gotta see stuff that these other folks aren’t seeing.

I’m always thinking and trying to figure out why? Don’t just tell me that it happened. I wanna know why. What does this all mean? People just don’t do that enough.

MT: I will say this. I’m honored to have spoken with you because you have written a bunch of pieces on alcohol. I give you mad respect for that–especially being in St. Louis. This is something about you that should be highlighted for the rest of the country to see. You and I both know what it is like in the club house after the game. There have been changes. Alot of organizations are beginning to eliminate alcohol in the club house after games in light of Hancock’s death, but this is something that has shadowed baseball for so long. We like to talk about steriods, crime and other stuff but the incidents and injuries involving alcohol seems to be sky rocketing moreso in professional sports because the indulgence is so readily available. Athletes have their stresses. Missing the birth of their children and also their kid’s child hood. The amazing stress of playing on the road and missing your family is just something I couldn’t relate to. The wear and tear on their bodies that the average fan has no idea of. That being said, I don’t blame the drinking, but they certainly have to be more careful.

BB: You are so right. They play and all of the sudden it’s midnight and they still are way way up and have to unwind.

I really appreciate the compliment Mike, but you have to find those issues. There’s got to be more to what we are doing than just yelling and screaming. We have another problem I think where we’ve got a lot of fake tough guys in our business now. I think you can figure out who some of those fake tough guys are–Skip Bayless. Do they really believe some of the stuff they are saying?

MT: Of course not! Why even say some of that foolishness? What purpose does it serve?

BB: Yes! Then they don’t go into the locker room. That is never something that should leave this business. If you have something to say about an athlete or coach, you better be in there the next day.

MT: Hmm. Great point. I hope some of those fake tough guy journalists read this.

Ozzie Smith. What happened to Ozzie in St. Louis? The rest of the nation needs to know what really happened there between he and Tony LaRussa. His legacy should not be tainted.

BB: That’s an excellent point. That’s an excellent question.

I wasn’t in St. Louis when he and LaRussa had their fallout. My whole thing–I’ve written about it before–is that they both are too important to the city and organization. Whatever this was, it has to stop. It cannot keep going. They both are very strong willed people. Neither one I suspect will be the first one to throw out the olive branch. Something happened. I don’t know if Tony lied to Ozzie or whether Ozzie as an aging athlete had a false sense of where he was in his career. I’m not really sure because I wasn’t here. I’m having a hard time taking sides because of that. I love Ozzie, but I also respect Tony. I wanted to be here before I decide who is right or wrong in this unfortunate affair. Since I wasn’t here, I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to use someone else’s insights to determine where I should stand on this because there are too many important issues to this for me to allow someone else to tell me what happened. I would have liked to be here to see if there was something deeper or darker involved..but, these two guys aren’t kissing and making up anytime soon. I know that for a fact.

MT: Revisiting the Hancock death, why weren’t there league and team rules enacted in light of LaRussa’s DWI arrest? I know that Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon’s daughter tried to dissuade Josh from drinking so much at Shannon’s restaurant that ill-fated night–doing her job as the restaurant manager.

BB: People don’t look at alcohol as a problem. It’s something everybody does. Everybody drinks. You are in a town whose major industry is drinking. You are in a environment where it’s just what guys do. What’s really bothersome is that three or four days before he died, he was in a car accident at 5 o’clock in the morning coming out of an all night club. The cops didn’t give him a breathalyzer. If I’m coming upon the scene of an accident at 5:30 in the morning a block away from an all night drinking spot and there is a professional athlete in front of me how do I decide to not give a breathalyzer? No, they were to busy wearing his World Series ring.

MT: That’s a shame. That’s just a shame. God rest his soul.

Meanwhile Marquise Hill dies being a hero and it barely gets a notice.

BB: Yes, so true.

MT: He gave his life for his girl.

BB: He made a quick decision to save her life even at the expense of his.

MT: The irony is that a kid my son played football with and against drowned recently with a similar name. His name was Marque Queen. His former teammates are torn up. These tragic incidents happened days apart. Appartently he couldn’t swim. Peer pressure is crazy. You hear all too often of stories about creek, quarry or lake drownings this time of year. I feel so bad for his family. He was a great kid.

BB: Such a shame. Why anyone would want to swim in a quarry (not speaking about Marque, who drowned in a creek) is beyond me because there ain’t no bottom. I don’t swim well. If my feet don’t touch the bottom and my head ain’t above the water, it ain’t happening.

MT: Talk about Albert Pujols and his amazing ability on and off the field.

BB: I love watching him play baseball. Here’s one reason why: He’s serious about his craft. We talked about it last year and we got into it because he was being real nasty to the press. I told him that one of the things that I admire about him is that usually if he didn’t want to give an interview before the game it wasn’t because he just didn’t feel like it. It was because he was in the cage, studying film–working to perfect what he does. There’s an art to what he does. He will take a bat and thump it on the ground–listening for a certain sound. If he doesn’t hear that sound, he doesn’t use that bat.

MT: Wow.

BB: It’s that deep. He truly, truly, truly cares about what he’s doing. I’ll be honest with you, when I first got to St. Louis, I scrutinized him in the locker room. I would look at the muscle development to see…I finally determined that he doesn’t have the freakish enhanced body. He’s just a big boy. I looked for something extra and I didn’t see it.

The other thing I appreciate about him now is that he’s developing into an athlete who is not afraid to talk about important issues. I think he had to grow into that role. I appreciate that he didn’t speak when he was younger. Now that he’s older and more mature, he will talk about sensitive stuff. He voluntarilly expressed to me that his father was an alcoholic. He said that if he would have been at Shannon’s with Josh Hancock he would have kicked his ass and took his car keys from him. It was very important for him to get that message out. He didn’t hesitate to express his feelings about the subject. It’s really nice to see the evolution of Albert off the field. He’s fun to watch on the field man. If you had been in Houston back in ’05 when he hit the homer off of Brad Lidge in the NLCS. I’ve never ever in my life been at a sporting event where the volume went from off the charts loud to in a split second, quieter than a church. It was one of the most amazing things. That’s one of the moments covering sports when you where you see the power of a man’s singular performance. He could take that building with the room closed–the noise level was insane–and shut it down with one stroke of the bat. He said it was so quiet that he could hear the dirt under his feet as he rounded the bases. That’s what I like about covering this guy. When you have been covering sports as long as I have, you just know that you are around one of those guys that are special. I’ve covered Michael Jordan. I’ve covered Barry Bonds. I’ve covered the Fab Five. I’ve covered Barry Sanders. I’ve covered Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. When covering people like the aforementioned you just know you are documenting a moment in sports time that will never be forgotten. When you watch Albert go about his work, you just know what you got. I’m just glad I’m here covering Albert Pujols in his early years as he treads toward the Hall of Fame.

MT: The monster homer of Lidge. I don’t know why it wasn’t expected that he wasn’t going to come up big in that spot considering the year he had. I’ll never forget the look on Andy Pettitte’s face. He looked like a kid watching someone from another era bashing the cover off the ball. (Bryan laughs) Whenever someone speaks of that homer, it’s the first thing that comes to my mind.

BB: Oh-my-gosh!

MT: Yes! Then he came out of the dugout just to see how far it went. That is a true appreciation of sports when you can admire the opposition in a game breaking moment.

Could Albert supplant Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock or more importantly Stan Musial as that guy in St. Louis?

BB: Yup! I think he can be. That’s why I think his nickname El Hombre–Spanish for The Man–sticks. I don’t ever think there’s been a guy in St. Louis where that name applies. His numbers are ridiculous. They are absolutely ridiculous for his first six years in the league.

MT: Oh no question.

BB: He’s not going to slow down. He’s in a groove right now. Right at .300. He’s on a ridiculous tear. With Albert, I always tell people they have to remember that as soon as the weather gets hot, Albert gets hot. He could be that one individual that St. Louis embraces. I don’t know if anyone will ever become as popular in St. Louis as Stan Musial, but Albert is the only guy that has that potential.

MT: He could definitely end up the greatest right handed hitter of all time. That’s saying alot with Aaron, Mays, Rogers Hornsby and Honus Wagner–to name a few.

BB: Definitely.

MT: What did you think about the NBA Finals? Should this Spurs team be considered part of a dynasty?

BB: This is the ugliest NBA Finals in recent memory. It was almost unbearable to watch. We thought a Finals with LeBron was something everyone eagerly greeted. Now we’re all thumping ourselves in the head.

What is the greatest shame about these Finals is the sad fact that no one will ever appreciate the greatness of the Spurs. This is a franchise that deserves to be considered a dynasty, yet no one will remember it that way. It will just go down as bad, unwatchable basketball. If I am the Cavaliers management, I will spend whatever it takes in the offseason to get LeBron some help. He can’t do it alone.

MT: What would be your dream job in sports? Besides what you are doing now of course.

BB: The funny thing is I’ve had all my dream jobs. I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve done a lot of stuff in my thirty some odd years in the business. I’ve covered countless Olympic games. I’ve been to NBA Finals. I’ve been to every Super Bowl since Super Bowl XVIII. I’ve been a columnist. I’ve worked for Real Sports. I’ve worked for Inside the NFL, CNN, and TNT. I’ve been very, very, very lucky. I’ve truly been blessed. I’m enjoying everything. The only thing left is some definitive book that I haven’t even thought about. When I look back, I’ll be able to say no regrets man. I did OK.

MT: Thanks Bryan. You’ve definitely been an inspiration and I’ve learned a lot more about you over the course of this interview.

BB: I’m honored that you’ve thought enough of me to do this.

MT: Like you alluded to earlier, we want TSF to be that forum where people say, “Wow! I never thought of that.” I hope we are successful. We might come across to some folk as having an athletic bias, but we beg to differ. We want the true story to come out before the media spins the story organization agenda relative.

BB: Keep doing what you do. We need this type of voice to make people think a little bit more than they do. I do agree that there is an issue with the Bonds coverage. Alot of people have touched on it. Barry makes it difficult because he’s been such a bad person. In the crux of that it really kind of colors the issue. If it were anybody but Barry being treated this way, you would say that this is uncalled for. This is what happens when you are a jerk. Barry had no protection because of his treatment of people. Charles Barkley will always–whether it’s Black, White or Brown people–have protection if he falls down. There will always be sportswriters to write the proper explanation. That’s Charles though. I’ll give you my perfect Charles story. When he was with the Suns and they lost the title to Michael…

MT: Yes of course 1993. I’ll never forget because I’m a Sixers fan.

BB: Wilbon, Adande–I forget who else–and I…there were like seven or eight sportswriters in the group. Well we were at some bar or restaurant and Charles was there hanging out with some of his friends. We sent over a bottle of champagne to his table. We told the waitress to tell him that this was for “great quotes”. Alot of athletes will do one or two things. They’ll either look over and raise their glass and nod or take the drink and throw it back. Charles looks over, whispers something to the waitress, picks up the bottle and walks over towards us. Two seconds later the waitress walks behind him with a tray full of champagne flutes. He sits down at the table and shares the bottle of champagne with us and stays there for an hour or two. That’s Charles Barkley.

Barry Bonds would probably turn around and throw you the finger or send it back.

MT: Like I said earlier, you are an inspiration and I hope the younger generation reads this and decides that they being a journalist is something they want to do.

BB: Thanks Mike! Keep doing what you do.

37 Responses to “The Interview: St. Louis Post-Dispatch Columnist Bryan Burwell”

  1. Mizzo,

    Great interview. It was very insightful. Although I didn’t agree with most of his views about Barry Bonds, I did like his take on alcohol abuse in sports (athletes and fans). Personally, I think it’s a much bigger issue than taking steroids.

    I also agree 100% on your view about the hypocrisy of the media and fans.

  2. Much appreciated Marc, thanks.

    Alcohol abuse is definitely more important than steriods because people die every day.

    I applaud Bryan for his tremendous commitment regarding such a serious issue.

  3. Great interview as always…

    Now you all really have to get Stephen A. to talk to you…..(I think DWil should do the interview)

  4. Jemmitt-
    Thanks for the props, but I think if mizzo got with Stephen A. he’d do just perfectly fine…

  5. Jemmitt Says:

    It wasn’t a slight at Mizzo at all. I have read, however, posts from you other blog referencing Stephen A. though…

  6. Jemmitt-
    cool, I feel you. That might be tough, though, if he checked the archives…

  7. Great interview. I think he really nailed how I feel about Bonds and our athletes just doing dumb things sometimes.

    I would love to read an interview between you guys and Stephen A or Wilbon.

  8. The interviews are my favorite posts at this sit–really enjoyable stuff to read.

  9. “sit” was a typo for “site,” not any curse word!

  10. […] Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell talks to a blog. (The Starting […]

  11. […] Bryan Burwell talks to a blogger, although we’re so totally sure it’s not nearly as cool an interview as the one we did with Bernie last week.  [The Starting Five] […]

  12. Great interview.

    You guys’ recollections of disappointed youth baseball glory brought up quite a few memories. Days of coaches who said I had a bad attitude, but then would admit they should have played me a lot more. Yeah, I’m still bitter. Anyway …

  13. “There’s also a lot of hypocrisy. Sports and society mirror each other. I can’t understand that some members of the media and also fans come down so hard on athletes, celebrities and politicians when they are doing the same dumb shit in their own lives–sometimes even worse. If we as journalists start calling the fan out more for who they are, then maybe the scrutiny will change. When we continue to admonish Barry Bonds, Michael Vick or Pac Man Jones, it’s going to make the fan feel like they are king. What is that? They’re not! I don’t give a damn how much money they spend at events. They have a choice. It does not excuse their behavior in anything they do. People always want some kind of pat on the back because they are holding down–or not–their own business, but because an athlete makes so much money they are fair game for undeserved criticism? That’s some of the biggest bullshit I’ve ever heard. Society really needs to get off its high horse and check the mirror. That includes me too.”

    Thats about the truest statement I’ve ever read.

  14. you guys are doing an incredible job with the interviews. always a great read.

  15. CJ Scudworth Says:

    Wow. Great an interview as that was, I’m floored by the story about your son and stepson, Mizzo. I don’t know what to say. That just sucks. I hope you can convey to them that in life, they’re going to have to work with or work for people who are ignorant, short-sighted or just plain don’t understand. It happens to all of us — deal with it, grow from it, but don’t let it change who you are and what you want to do. To think that those kids enjoyed baseball, but now aren’t playing anymore, is just depressing…

  16. Thanks CJ. What you correctly mentioned is all I can do as a Father.

  17. 1st off, I’m new to the site (I only found it thanks to Dwil’s rebuttal to Kizla’s brilliant article which linked of JR Smith’s accident to Hip-Hop and gangs) and I’m hooked! You guys are the voices that I hear in my head all the time whenever I see the ridiculous become the sublime. Keep up the outstanding work as your writings and bloggings let the rest of us know that we’re not alone in our thinking about the sports media.

    Onto the Burwell interview, great stuff indeed. Mizzo, the recounting of your sons’ trials and tribulations on the little league fields are all to familiar to me as I watched my younger brother and then son struggle with the same nonsensical behavior exhibited by grown men over little boys. It’s a shame that our kids always have to learn at a very young age that talent and hard work may not always be enough to succeed in this world, that sometimes, a multitude of both may not be enough to receive your just desserts.

  18. That’s just a beautiful thing. It’s legacy. Outstanding. Black life in full repose. Somewhere Romare Bearden is getting his brushes ready. Thank you again.

  19. Amazing interview, and with such a worthy subject. He’s one of my favorite sports columnists…and while I’m thinking about it, R.I.P. Ralph Wiley.

  20. To vote for the best in sports, both current and all time, please go to ultimatesportsrankings.com.

  21. You said something about minding your p’s and q’s. I coached American Legion kids for quite a few years and part of the job is parent management. At that level, I’m sure the dynamics with the parents are different than little league. But, just as at all levels of youth sports, the parents are the biggest challenge.

    You should put yourself out there without fear of judgment. Why would you let some crappy vibe put you on tilt and rob you of some of the joy and passion you experience coaching?

    I find that acting with the expectation of “everything is fine” and an air of confidence in how you go about doing what you do goes a long way toward keeping people’s traps shut. They may not like it, but they don’t bitch and I really don’t care. Either I’m coaching my best or not I’m not. If I let parents change how I do what I do, it’s the kids that pay the price. Unacceptable. Maybe this year, you’ll let it all hang out. Be passionate. Be black. Be whatever the hell you want to be. The kids will respond and that’s all that counts.

    Just my .02

  22. I hear you all day on that. It wasn’t just the parents. It was my own coaches, people I thought were close to me, the umpires and the administrators. I left the league even though my daughter made this year’s all star team. Enough is enough. I’ve coached the little guys with eyes of baseball gleam to 16-18 MLB dreams and I’ve never experienced anything like this league. Talk about a stress release. I’ll be back one day coaching as a beer bellied 70 year old senior citizen with stories of embellished past glory…I can’t wait.

  23. Sweet Jones Says:

    Oh, ohhh. Looks like Burwell may have just gone Whitlock on us….(from his column today)

    can be found at: http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/columnists.nsf/bryanburwell/story/4A107E54CA14CDB18625731E00136DDF?OpenDocument

    But somewhere between Jackie Robinson and Michael Vick, things got all fouled up. “Street cred” became the anthem of the modern black athlete, this misguided notion that the only way to appeal to the young demographic of the sneaker-buying public was to adopt the negative attitudes of the thug life popularized by black hip-hop/gangster rappers. According to the 18-page federal indictment, Vick is accused of sponsoring the sort of gruesome dogfighting enterprise that is readily identified as a part of the dark side of that culture.

    So that’s how someone like Michael Vick came into existence. He got hijacked, and we all let it happen. We let it happen by passively condoning this mess. We did it when we turned Allen Iverson into a marketing icon and rejected someone like Grant Hill because he lacked “street cred.” We allowed it to happen every time we gave Vick the benefit of the doubt when he kept stumbling and offering weak alibis for his stupidity. We allowed it to happen slowly, insidiously over the past 20 years. The problem is the hijacking of African-American culture by the hip-hop generation that has helped glorify every rotten, foul and disgusting racial stereotype it took generations to eradicate.

  24. Miranda Says:

    Burwell didn’t go Whitlock…this is his own independent stupidity.

  25. Sportsdiva Says:

    All I have to say about this recent Burwell article is BOOOOOOOOOOOO!
    Nonsense.

  26. Grant Hill was a much bigger icon than Allen Iverson before he consistently lost in the first round and got injured. Grant was doing McDonalds and Sprite commercials. Where do sportswriters get their facts from?

  27. I hope I got the right person in delivering this e-mail!!! I wanted to give my “2-cents” on what you were talking about with MMA on public television. I don’t care how smart you feel you are, leave the progression of this sport alone. If your punk ass can’t take the sport of MMA, CHANGE THE DAMM CHANNEL!!! Most people like it. You are getting paid to do this!!!! You are a useless man. Let us “UNWORTHY PEOPLE” enjoy the MMA phenom that is what it is. Watch WWE or what ever that fake crap is called now-a-days. Or matbe “Dancing with the Stars”. Do you have an opinion on that waist of time. What do you feel about the WAR that is going on. Talk about that. Dispute something that needs to be disputed. This sport is not going anywhere. You are waisting your time. I personall enjoyed the fight, expecially the womens fight. Kimbo needs to get his cardio up if he wants to be anything in our MMA world. We fans will always support this “GREAT SPORT”. MMA to the end.

  28. Oh, ohhh. Looks like Burwell may have just gone Whitlock on us

  29. RIchard L Gant Says:

    Bryan,
    I was extremely dismayed at your comments this morning on The Sports Reporters regarding Jim Browns displeasure with Tiger Woods and Michael Jordans, seeming lack of the will to protest conditions, as he did. Well, I do not know what exactly Jim Brown said, so I will not comment on that, but I will comment on what you said at the end of your show. That maybe “Jim Brown protested so Tiger and Michael do not have to”.
    Well, there is always room for protest and times to speak out. Especially in and around things within, and that effect the black people in America. We have not yet arrived at a place where we can be silent. You and so many in your generation that think they have “made it” have the same attitude that you and Michael Jordan have. You and those who think like you need to take a closer look. First at your selves and then in an around the black community. If you do not see any condition that could be better and that maybe a voice like an major athlete or even a sports reporter could possible kick start change, then just go away and stick your heads back in the sand. If it were not for Jim Brown, Muhammed Ali, Arthur Ashe, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Kurt Flood and a host of others, you may not have your job today. I am not hard on Tiger, because he is doing things with his foundation, and I have heard him more than once talk about Charlie Sifford and others that came before him, that allows him to be where he is now.
    Michael Jordan granting you, Mike Wilbon and Ahmad Rashad interviews, doesn’t exactly get him off the hook. Michael’s the worst offender of all. He has never had nothing to say about anything. In my book he’s useless.

  30. A bunch of the buttons on your site seem broken. You might want to fix them :)

  31. Bryan,

    I have already gone out on a limb to predict that St. Louis would go to the World Series this year. After watching the last two games at the launching pad, it doesn’t look good.

    Would you write a column, listing the number of disabled list man-days per team in the National League? The Cardinals have got to be the leader.

    Thanks
    dumpelectcollege

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