Sweeny Murti

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 11.30.25 AM

Five years ago, when we moved from New York to California, there were things I knew I’d miss. Bagels, for example. Pizza with a bit of grease dripping from the tip. Aggressive jaywalking. People flashing the middle finger for mild reasons.

I’d miss the smells of Central Park. I’d miss the kindness of neighbors. I’d miss booing Jets fans, the dog up the street, basketball games at the nearby creaky gym. I’d miss my dad, my mom, my friends.

What I didn’t see coming was the missing of Sweeny Murti.

I know—that sounds weird. But throughout much of my time in the Big Apple, Murti, WFAN’s New York Yankees beat reporter, served as one of the soothing soundtrack elements of my days. Now, I’m actually not a huge sports radio guy. In doses, fine. But the blah-blah-blah-blah-Machado-blah-blah-blah-Flacco-blah-blah-blah-he-blah-sucks-blah-he-blah-should-blah-be-traded-blah Skip-and-Stephen A.-esque bombast that passes for nuanced dialogue fails to interest me much. Murti, though, has always been about substance, information, intellect, detail. I actually first knew of his work when I was covering the Majors for Sports Illustrated, and he stood out as others blended together.

Another thing that fascinated me: His background. Sweeny was raised by first-generation Indian immigrants, which (I thought) made him stand out in a field that tends to lean, well, white. So I asked him about that—as well as his love of baseball, his approach to game coverage, his biggest screw-up and whether Bronson Sardinha changed his life.

One can follow Sweeny on Twitter here, on Instagram here, on Facebook here  and read his stuff here.

Sweeny Murti, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN.: So you started as WFAN’s Yankees beat reporter in 2001, when guys like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were in their primes. You were 30, young and up-and-coming and all that. The Yankees were rolling. On and on. Dream job, awesome, amazing. But here’s what fascinates me—how have you maintained your enthusiasm, zest for the job and, really, for the sport? I faded long ago, just beaten down by baseball, the schedule. You’re still rolling along at a high level. How?

SWEENY MURTI: Well the first reason is probably the easiest answer—no one has offered me a better job yet.  I’m not independently wealthy, so if I want to keep paying bills and such this is my job.  And it is a pretty great one.  There are times we all get bogged down in certain aspects of it, but I still get to go to a baseball game every day, and not just any baseball game.  I watch the Yankees, and talk to and about the Yankees.  I didn’t grow up a Yankees fan, but I grew up a baseball fan, loved the history, and even put poster of Mickey Mantle on my wall when I was a kid.

There are a lot of games in the season, but once in a while you get to be at the game that everyone is talking about or wants to be at, either by anticipating the matchup or by what happens as the game rolls on.  I can’t beat that yet.  If you can, I’m listening.

But then, we are vastly different.  You write, write a lot, and are very good at it.  You write about different things too.  I talk about baseball.  I don’t think it’s heavy lifting, it’s just what I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do.  Part of me doesn’t want to stop doing it just for the sake of it.  If I do something else, it better be because I just don’t want to watch and talk about the Yankees anymore.  I haven’t come to that point yet.

The schedule is a grind and became more of one when I got married in 2010 and started a family.  But my wife and kids (ages 7 and 5) are amazing.  They are able to move along without me for days or weeks during the season, and I absolutely miss them when I’m sitting in a 12-6 game that lasts almost 4 hours because no one can throw strikes.  Or when I’m sitting through a rain delay that turns into a rainout instead of having dinner with my family and putting my kids to bed.  Or when they are having fun at July 4th cookouts or going swimming and I can’t take the day off because its a big Yankees-Red Sox series.

When fans get down on media complaining about the length of games, this is an important detail to think about.  It’s not that we hate being at the games, but we have come to do our jobs and now we want to go home to live our lives.

But we get some benefits out of the schedule too—I get to take my kids to school, make dinner and do things with them pretty much without question from October to February.  Most 9 to 5 dads can’t pull that off.  And I have a cool job that they can begin to invest in and have fun with.  They’ve been to spring training, they’ve been to Yankee Stadium, they’ve been to fancy hotels in Boston and Baltimore.  And how many dads bring home bobbleheads from work?

Maybe I would have pulled myself out of this job if it hadn’t become part of our lives.  But my wife is a Yankees fan, became one before I ever met her and our kids are growing up Yankees fans and it’s fun to share with them.  They get to see me on TV sometimes or hear me on the radio and it brings them into that world a little bit at a time.  If I worked at a bank I’d probably be home for dinner every night and coach little league, but they wouldn’t have the other experiences either.

And I certainly appreciate that WFAN has kept me in this job for so long.  This is my 27th year at the station and my 19th season in this role.  I’ve been covering the Yankees for WFAN longer than I’ve done anything else in my life.  I am a radio guy and I began working at the biggest radio station in the country when I was 22 years old.  Was I supposed to go higher than this?  Where on earth would that be?  We are still one of the biggest and most recognizable set of call letters in the country.  I’ve long been appreciative of being a small cog in a very successful machine.  If WFAN was the Yankees of the 1990’s, then I know who the Jeters and Riveras are at my station and I’m proud to be their Luis Sojo.  Looie isn’t going to the Hall of Fame, but who doesn’t love Looie?

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 3.47.53 PM

J.P.: What are you doing during games? It’s May or June. Yankees-Royals. Sorta dull 4-1. Seventh inning. What are you up to?

S.M.: The thing about covering games, as you know but others may not, is that unless you are actually broadcasting the game then the work part happens before the game and after the game.  During the game we are spectators.

For me that means setting up my scorecard and keeping score.  I still have scorebooks dating back to 2001, although there is little use for them since we can look up anything on line now.  But keeping the book for the season is good daily reference for me.

I also keep a yellow notepad to take notes as well as keep track of the scores from around the league.  I host the radio postgame show on the Yankees broadcasts and that includes a scoreboard segment.  I like to keep my own scores and notes rather than be handed something put together by a producer.  I keep my iPad setup, my phone plugged in, and settle in.

I watch the game and I catch up on some reading, some work-related and some not.  This is the time I can read for research purposes, whether its for something I’m writing or for a podcast.  Also there are so many people writing such great work whether it’s about the Yankees or other things in baseball or sports that interests me.   It’s hard to get to it all during the day.  The start of the game is usually the first chance to sit down and have some time to dive into it.

Emails and texts, again some work-related and some not.  Twitter, a big thing during the game.  It’s a never-ending conversation, some good and some bad.  Many things informative though, about the game I’m watching and other games going on, major league games and Yankees minor league games.  Constantly looking for the notes and nuggets that I will use later on.

I do like to watch the game, and I get to do that while focusing in on certain things that interest me.  I like to watch the fielders at times, other things as well.  And the replays on the press box TV are always good to get another look at something I just saw or something I missed.

A lot of times I do the highlight show right from my scorecard, but there are also times I like to write a script to make it sound smoother so around the 7th inning as you say is probably around the time I start cobbling that together.

That’s also about the time I get a final cup of coffee.  Enough to make sure I’m awake and ready to rock when the game ends, and enough to keep me awake on the drive home after, but not so much that I’m still wide awake at 3am.

Also, once in a while someone sends me these annoyingly long Q&As, and so I might take time to do that.

In the Derek Jeter spring training scrum, circa 2003
In the Derek Jeter spring training scrum, circa 2003

J.P.: You started at WFAN when the Internet was arriving and fighting to establish itself. Now it’s obviously everything, everywhere, omnipotent and ubiquitous. How has that impacted your job? Radio in general?

S.M.: It’s funny when I was a producer at WFAN from 1993-97 we didn’t have even primitive internet access in our newsroom.  We burned up some long distance phone bills though calling all over the country and sometimes the world to track down information.

Even in 2001 when I started the Yankees coverage I was feeding all my audio over analog phone lines in real time as opposed to emailing files like I do now.  That’s a huge time saver right there.  I didn’t even bring a computer with me on the road that first year.  I was content visiting the hotel business centers a couple times a week and catching up on emails, almost nothing of any urgent nature.  Now its impossible to think of even putting my phone down for a few minutes without fear of missing something.

When I first started WFAN was still the only real place to get the news out instantly.  The newspaper coverage, while ramping up internet access, was still not competing on that level of immediacy for the most part.

The real game-changers were the  iPhone and Twitter.  They made something as simple as the day’s lineup a newsworthy and interactive thing.  It leveled the field for breaking news.  And it also led to the thing that cripples me and I think many other reporters—you can never be truly up to date or caught up.

A run through various outlets in the morning used to keep you pretty well informed.  Now it’s a constant flow which keeps you scrolling along all hours of the day.  Around the trade deadline it’s flat out exhausting.  And its a reminder of how many other really good reporters are out there competing for scoops alongside you.

The crippling part of it I mentioned is the fear that I am left behind on a story that maybe my listeners and followers are looking to me for some added info or context, no matter who actually breaks the story.  And maybe I’ve got nothing for an hour or more because I was driving or out with my family or whatever.

The worst example of this for me is a day in July 2014.  I was putting my son who was less than a year old down for a nap before I left for the ballpark.  I spent about 15 or 20 minutes with him and when I came out of his room and picked up my phone I had several missed calls and texts.  The Yankees had just traded for Chase Headley while I was reading Night-Night Little Pookie, and I was now quite literally the last to know about a news story involving the Yankees.

In the moment it kind of sucks.  I missed a story, and  all the stories involving Yankees moves are important because that’s what I cover.  It still bothers me as you can tell, but I know that in the post-Twitter world of instant information that this is the price I must pay to have a life.  Nobody died, nobody got fired—most importantly me, of course.  And I’m not even sure my bosses noticed to be honest.

In the end it’s up to me to realize that doing a dad thing at that moment is far more important than being the first to report a story like that.  And by that I mean a story that seems ultra important because its the story that just happened and because it just happened and we are all on Twitter its now a huge story and it’s trending.  But there’s another story coming in an hour or two or that night or the next day, and it’s fine.  I find out what I can find out when I can, and then I go on the radio and do my job.  And if I’m a little behind on the Twitter discourse, we’ll all live.

J.P.: So here’s something that fascinates me: Your dad Vedula came to America from India in 1961. Baseball can be a v-e-r-y conservative world, sport. Lotta sheltered people. Lotta ignorance. And I wonder if your ethnicity has ever come into play? Around 9.11—dumb comments? Clubhouse morons?

S.M.: I recounted this story not long ago for my friend Howard Bryant for his 2018 book “The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism.”

My first season covering the Yankees was 2001, and things obviously changed after 9/11.  I had become friendly with David Justice, who was a lot of fun to talk to before games—about many subjects, not just baseball.  Just fooling around one day in June or July as some political topic entered the discussion, DJ put his arm around me and said to my other reporter friends, “You know who this is, right?  This is Bin Laden.”  I remember he pronounced it “bin-Lay-den,” a reminder now that Osama wasn’t a household name just yet.

The Yankees first game after 9/11 was in Chicago and I remember going up to DJ after the game—it was a quiet clubhouse I remember—and leaning over and saying something like, “Hey maybe we should cool it on the Bin Laden thing, ya know?”

Justice looked up at me and said, “Hey bro, the day you’re gonna bring in your bomb, just tell your boy and I won’t come into work that day!”

I laughed. We laughed.  I was friendly enough with DJ that I didn’t think it was a big deal.  We laughed like friends do at things that are sometimes way too inappropriate.  It was literally locker room humor.  And I’ve told the story to friends over the years, so I can’t go back and pretend I was offended, then or now.

I also laughed with my friends at the “random” security checks that followed me throughout that postseason when I had to take eight cross country flights as the Yankees played Oakland and Seattle in the playoffs and Arizona in the World Series.  I have dark hair, dark skin, and am carrying a bag full of electronic equipment.  Not a great combination.

I took most of it very easily, and still do.  It’s not that big a deal in clubhouses really.  I don’t speak with an accent, so no one really ever gets into where I’m from unless they really want to get to know me.  And in baseball clubhouses that’s not too often.  However, it does help my ability to be recognized or remembered in a sea of media faces that are still mostly white males.

I will tell you a more humorous tale, though.  One day when I was doing a hit on MLB Network I got a text from a friend who was watching it in the Phillies clubhouse.  He told me Jonathan Papelbon—who I knew from all his years with Boston—looked up at the TV and said, “Dude, go easy on the bronzer!”  Apparently all those years Pap thought I was just some dude from Jersey Shore.

Requesting an autograph from Don Larsen
Requesting an autograph from Don Larsen

J.P.: So I found a clip from the Aug. 19, 2004 Montclair Times where you’re referred to as a “celebrity” who will be playing in a Yogi Berra Museum-sponsored softball game. And I’m being serious when I ask this: Are you one? You’ve been doing this a long time now, you certainly have name recognition. Are you famous? Do you want to be?

S.M.: That game got rained out and we never got to play it.  Larry Berra—Yogi’s oldest son—was the one who arranged it.  He was really looking forward to kicking my ass with his national championship men’s softball team.

I am recognizable I guess.  I’m on the radio and on TV, and when people recognize me it’s pretty cool.  I mean, the reason we do what we do is we want people to see our work, hear work, read our work.  The fact that they recognize me means that they’ve seen or heard some of it.

I do have to remember though that my “fame” has a pretty narrow scope to it.  And here’s a story that always reminds me just that.

In September 2004 the Yankees were in Toronto and I was on the field watching batting practice when I happened to meet Marc Fischer and Kris Meyer, producers who worked with the Farrelly Brothers and were in town filming “Fever Pitch.” That, of course, is the movie starring Jimmy Fallon as a crazed Red Sox fan and Drew Barrymore as the unaware how crazy he is girlfriend.

I chatted up Fischer and Meyer during BP, exchanged business cards, and about two or three weeks later Meyer called me and asked if I could get to Toronto that week to be in a scene in the movie.  Unfortunately the Yankees had advanced to the ALCS against the Red Sox and I was going to be covering the series, so I couldn’t make it.

Which scene you ask?  The one where Jimmy Fallon and his buddies are dividing up the season tickets and Jimmy makes them all dance to show themselves worthy of the Yankees tickets.  There is an Indian fella in the back.  He’s the one who brought the cold cuts.

So if my head ever begins to swell and I think of pulling a “Do you know who I am?” kind of thing, this is the reminder of where I fall in the media/celebrity landscape:  Peter Gammons is in the movie and plays Peter Gammons.  Steve Levy is in the movie and plays Steve Levy.  If I was in the movie I would have played the Indian guy who brought the cold cuts.

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 3.45.24 PM

J.P.: I know you were a huge baseball kid—tons of cards, loyal Phillies fan. Where does that come from? Why baseball? What about the game did it for you/does it for you?

S.M.: My dad was attracted to baseball right away when he arrived here in the fall of 1961.  One of his economics professors at Penn started talking about the Yankees-Reds World Series and he really had no idea what it was about, but thought he needed to figure it out soon.  And from there he went to Phillies games at Connie Mack Stadium, listened to games on the radio.  My mom emigrated here a year later and she picked up the game too.  They both remember seeing Jim Bunning appear in a suit and tie on The Ed Sullivan Show just hours after throwing a perfect game against the Mets at Shea Stadium on Father’s Day in 1964.  They recall the misery of the Phillies losing the huge lead in September of that year as well.

They had moved to the Harrisburg area by the time I was born in 1970 and Phillies baseball was part of our daily lives—on the radio, on TV, and once a year a special trip two-hour to the Vet for a game.  And the Phillies actually became a powerhouse by the time I was of a baseball crazy age in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

After I started announcing high school football and basketball in eighth and ninth grades my career path became clear to me—I wanted to be the next Harry Kalas.  It didn’t really work out to that degree, but sports radio became a genre in the late 80’s and early 90’s when I was beginning my career.  I wasn’t focused on any one sport until the Yankees beat opened up for us at WFAN after the 2000 season (Suzyn Waldman was moving to a talk show, then eventually to the YES Network).  I told my boss Mark Chernoff I was interested, and after seven years at the station they all knew baseball was my favorite and I got the job.  And almost two decades later here we are.

I long ago—in 2001 actually—lost any Phillies fandom.  My job was to know Yankees baseball so that’s where my energy went.  And it’s not like I could even watch Phillies games anymore.  This wasn’t like trying to watch one NFL team on Sunday Ticket.  And once you stop being able to watch the games it’s not long before you aren’t as emotionally invested.  I still dig the uniforms though.  It’s pretty cool seeing all those red pinstripes up close in spring training or interleague.  But the players I rooted for are long gone.  I get a bigger kick out of seeing or talking about Phillies from the 70s and 80s than I do any of the recent teams.  And wouldn’t you know, the manager of the Yankees has some fond memories of those days too since his dad was the catcher on those teams I grew up watching.

But the game is the thing.  I love watching the game.  It’s just always been there with me.  I loved reading about the history when I was a kid, collecting cards like you talked about.  It was certainly a way to feel “normal” when I was growing up as the only Indian kid in my neighborhood and my school.

It’s still something to talk about with my dad, who follows along with the Yankees just as much as he does the Phillies these days.  In truth, he has read the New York Times nearly every day since 1961 so he was reading about the Yankees long before I started following them around.

One big thing I realized when I started covering the game is how little I really knew about it. All I really knew was the history, the stats, and all the superficial stuff.  I really didn’t get to know the game until I got to see on a daily basis what it was like for the guys to succeed at the highest level.  I guess that’s what made walking into that 2001 Yankees clubhouse so valuable—championship players and Hall of Fame players, plus as a job requirement you talk to the manager twice a day every day and that was Joe Torre.  The lessons came at me fast and furious and it was pretty cool.

There’s still so much about watching and following the game that connects me to my childhood and my earliest dreams of a career.  I don’t know how many jobs have that attached to them.

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 3.47.04 PM
Sweeny, front, with older brother Vedula.

J.P.: So your WFAN ties date back to 1991, when—while studying at Penn State-you landed a summer internship at the station. What do you remember about the experience? Were there specific people who made an impact? What did you learn?

S.M.: I remember so much about the experience it’s hard to know where to begin.  I was hired for the internship by Eric Spitz and Len Weiner, the executive producers who ran the newsroom operation at our bunker in Astoria.  Eric has remained a close friend and consigliere to this day.

I worked closely with producers who sought out news and information in the pre-internet age and made getting news on the air exciting.  Bob Gelb, Brian Walsh, Bill Rodman, Eddie Scozzare, Lisa Johnson.  Also Todd Fritz, who now produces Dan Patrick, and a soon to ditch producing for play-by-play guy named Ian Eagle.

Update anchors John Minko, John Cloughessy the late great Stan Martin, Steve Levy, Andy Pollin, John Stashower.  I watched how the pros put together and delivered their sportscasts, which seemed so much more important then because that was how the news was delivered—people heard us give the news and scores first and then read about it the next day.

I worked an overnight shift with Steve Somers and a midday shift with Ed Coleman and Dave Sims, running them copy or looking up stats in media guides.  I took in tape feeds from Suzyn Waldman at Yankees games, the same stuff I would be doing myself ten years later.

To be honest, I went after that internship with little knowledge of the radio station.  I was from Pennsylvania, not New York, and all I knew was what I had read in the Broadcasting Magazine yearbook—that they carried Mets games and had an all-sports format.  Good enough for me.

Even after I interviewed and got my internship I knew very little about the place.  I had never heard of Imus or Mike & The Mad Dog.  Imus yelled at me my second day because I was standing in the wrong place.  And one of my first days there I saw Mike & Dog walk out of the studio during a break and realized that Mike was Mike Francesa who I used to watch during college basketball games on CBS.  Until that moment, not a clue.

Chris treated me great from the beginning, even invited me to a taping of his old SportsChannel TV show called “Mad Dog Live” and introduced me to Branford Marsalis.

I remember being a little bored in the beginning.  I had a lot of experience with newsroom type activities during high school and college.  But as soon as they took the training wheels off and let me start digging into some stuff it was all that I could have hoped for.

I worked on shows and was helping to track down athletes and coaches and other professionals from all over the world—I remember working for hours to find the right phone numbers for Bud Collins at Wimbledon and Marv Levy somewhere in Europe too.  Gary Carter was with either the Giants or Dodgers I think and was super nice.  No cell phones or email.  You would call people, who knew people, who knew where someone was staying.

The more I got to know the workings of the station the more I liked the idea of being in that environment.  I was from a small town in Pennsylvania and I knew something about radio but not to that scale.  When a producer’s job opened up there in early 1993 I temporarily shut down my on-air aspirations so I could just come back and work in that atmosphere.

The studio back then was in the Kaufman-Astoria studios, where The Cosby Show taped and several movies were filmed.  The second you walked in the place smelled like tobacco from pipe that Walter Mason, one of the engineers, used to smoke back in the wire room.  It was kind of a dump by many standards, but I always looked at it as our dump.

There was a pop-a-shot machine next to the soda and vending machines up in the little break room—because of course that’s what you would have to have at a sports radio station.  I remember going up there and shooting a few rounds with Ian Eagle, who was only a year or two older than me but so much more advanced and aware.  We would chat about school, about how the work was going.  And then Steve Somers came in to sit down with a cup of coffee, some cigarettes, and his yellow legal pads to “write my ad libs.”

I remember accidentally hanging up on Ernie Harwell as he waited on hold for a segment with Howie Rose on the Mets pregame show.  He called back, thank God.  And I may have been the one who flushed an obviously clogged toilet (someone else did that part, I swear) and caused a leak in the newsroom one Saturday.

So what do I remember from my internship?  Very little.

What did I learn?  That I could work there.  And that I wanted to work there.

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 3.47.34 PM

J.P.: Suzyn Waldman is something of a New York media legend. Or, if legend is too strong for some—staple. You took over for her after the 2000 season. What was that like? Did it come with pressures? Did you turn to her a lot? Was there a temptation to sorta mimic what she had done?

S.M.: Legend isn’t far off, you know.  Suzyn’s pioneering efforts will get her the Ford Frick Award in Cooperstown one day.

It was a lot of pressure as far as I was concerned.  The good news for me was that she still worked at our station so I could still use her as a resource.  I talked to her quite a bit I remember leading up to spring training and then the first week or two of camp.  A little less so after I got the lay of the land.  I think more of that was just me wanting to find my own way and not constantly leaning on her, although I knew I could reach out to her when things got a little hairy.  I remember when July trade rumors were happening, talking to her a lot around that time.

I remember making a conscious effort to not be overly aggressive in getting to know the star players.  I told them all that I was taking over for Suzyn, sort of as an ice breaker.  But I had the long game in mind.  I knew I wasn’t going to become Derek Jeter’s or Paul O’Neill’s best buddy overnight.  I just needed to show up every day and do my job and let my work and work habits establish my reputation.  I’m sure you can appreciate better than most how important a reputation can be when working a clubhouse.

I do remember having an icy relationship with one member of that team, but after a month or two I stopped worrying about it because I thought to myself that I would be there longer than he would.  Maybe not the best attitude, but I was right.

The real trick for me was establishing my credibility on the radio.  Yankee fans stopped what they were doing and listened to a Suzyn Waldman report on our station.  I needed to become a reliable voice on our station before that was going to happen with me, and Mike & The Mad Dog had a lot to do with that.  They put me on the air and even when I probably wasn’t telling them a lot they didn’t know early on, they still knew it was important for me to get established in the role so they kept putting me on.  I got better at what I was doing because I had to really be prepared when I went on with them, know when to verbally battle back to support my opinions and information.

The other shows on the station put me on because that’s what they were supposed to do. Mike and Chris put me on because they believed I had something to offer on their show, and the more I was on the better I was.  I would get a lot of reaction from listeners anytime we started yelling each other and I held my own in the argument.  I chose my battles, because as much as it made some good radio, it’s just not ideal to get into shouting matches all the time.

Mike is a Yankees fan and he used to get on me in a playful way about the winning.  The Yankees had won three-straight World Series and four out of five as Suzyn left the beat.  After a while it became a running joke on the air about how I wasn’t doing my part.  After about five or six years I even had a few listeners wonder why I still had a job since the Yankees hadn’t won a World Series in my time on the beat.  I actually think they were serious too!

After the Yankees finally won in 2009 (still the only time they’ve won it all during my time on the beat) I broke out the line, “I like to think I’m the Bill Cowher to Suzyn’s Chuck Noll.”

And I’m proud to note that during the 32 years WFAN has been on the air we have employed only two Yankees reporters—Suzyn and me.   I can only hope that whoever ends up being number three will one day think he/she has big shoes to fill.

J.P.: I recently read a poll where the average MLB fan in the United States is 53. That’s not a good sign for the sport. How do you feel about it? Are there things the Majors can do to appeal to younger people? Is it a lost cause?

S.M.: I would never say it’s a lost cause.  Without looking it up myself, I’d be curious to see the context of that number.  How does it compare to ten years ago, twenty years ago, to other sports now vs. ten years ago, twenty years ago.

Now that my kids are participating at the beginner levels, I find myself wondering what’s appealing to them.  Mostly it’s the interaction with their friends and being outside and all that.  Just watching practices though I can see how hard it is to entertain the really young kids.  There’s a lot of standing around and a lot of time between balls that actually get to be fielded.  Come to think of it, that’s a lot of the problem with watching major league baseball too, isn’t it?

I don’t know what the solution is to putting more balls in play and improving the amount of action.  I had one coach suggest to me that they deaden the ball as opposed to juicing it—the balls that get hit will be harder to leave the park.  But then I wonder if the added weight or mass or whatever physical changes made to the ball would lead to even more injuries.  No clue what the trickle down of that is.

I’ve always thought enforcing the rule book strike zone of letters to knees was a way to get more action.  It would increase the number of strikes thrown and thus get batters to swing more often.  At least I think that’s my intended consequence.  Maybe there is some Homer Simpson evil turkey sandwich curse I’m overlooking.

The game is still built around stars.  Watching those stars do their thing is what sells the game, but it’s not always that easy.  During a 4-game Yankees-Angels series last month Mike Trout was 2 for 12 with a bunch of walks.  He made a really nice play in the 7th inning of the third game, which on the east coast was long after midnight and that was about the only highlight reel kind of play in that series.  The NBA equivalent of that would be like buying a ticket to see Steph Curry and watch him score 4 points on a a couple layups.

I think playoff and World Series games that end earlier would be a great thing.  Even I have a hard time staying up for some of these games now when I have to be up at 6 or 7am like normal people to get the kids ready for school.

The “Let The Kids Play” thing and watching them show style and emotion is fine, but it becomes a problem when the other pitcher can’t handle it and fires a 100 mile per hour retort.  Styling leads to fighting which leads to suspensions.  There has to be a better way.

Another thing is how much we—meaning adults—complain about the game.  Baseball is different than the way it was, that doesn’t mean it’s better or worse.  It just means it’s different.  The other sports are different too, but they seem to be okay with it.  Maybe if that average 53 year old fan didn’t keep wishing for Sunday doubleheaders and no pitch counts again we could appreciate some of the great play and players we see every day.  It’s ridiculous not to think that Max Scherzer or Mookie Betts aren’t every bit as good as players from back when.

There isn’t any perfect solution here.

I think I read somewhere once that every fan basically wants baseball to be like it was when they were 10 years old, no matter what age you are now.  So if you’re 30 that means you want the Derek Jeter Yankees in their prime.  If you’re 60 you love the ’69 Mets.  And everything you watch is measured against that ideal.  So maybe we should poll a bunch of 10 year olds to find out what they really like about baseball and work off that?

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 3.47.21 PM

J.P.: What’s the biggest blunder you’ve made in your career? And how did you approach the aftermath?

S.M.: Well that newsroom flood in 1991 I only just confessed to a few questions ago is probably a hint about I handle such things.

It’s hard to come up with just one.  I feel like every time someone breaks a Yankees story it’s another time I screwed up.  I can rationalize it a lot and sooner or later realize that I still have something to say or contribute about whatever story happened, a trade or an injury or what have you.

My first spring training in 2001 I didn’t realize the all-out Steinbrenner watch was on those first days of spring for his state of the union.  I think I was standing on a back field or filing soon to be irrelevant reports from the press box when every other reporter was huddled around George outside the press dining room or something like that.  Rookie mistake, live and learn.

One that still bugs me is how I didn’t react the day Joe Torre was fired.  He had flown to Tampa for a meeting with The Boss a day or two after the 2007 season ended.  While we were waiting to hear what was coming out of that meeting, a report surfaced—probably around 2:15pm—that the Yankees and Torre had agreed to a new contract.  The Yankees called a conference call at 3:00pm, and we all assumed it was to discuss  the new contract.

I called someone in Tampa just after the time of that first report, 2:30-ish lets say.  I was told that Torre had already left the building there and was on his way to the airport.  Something didn’t sound right to me.  Why was he getting on a plane if there was a conference call coming up?  Shouldn’t he be on that call to discuss his new contract?

On our station Mike Francesa was on the air and producers had handed him the report that said Torre was coming back.  We went on the air and cited that report.  Meanwhile, I was getting radio silence from my sources, other than that one person who told me Torre was no longer at the Tampa offices.

What I should have done is call the station and tell them to back off that report that said Torre was back because something was fishy to me.  But another credible outlet had a report and I didn’t have enough to shoot it down.  I just had hunch that something didn’t add up right.

Well the conference call at 3 o’clock featured only Yankees President Randy Levine and he announced that they extended an offer to Torre that was turned down.  There were incentives built into it, which didn’t sit well with Torre and he rejected the offer.  That then became the news of the day on our station and I wished that I had done something more—leaned harder on another source, something, anything—to get to the heart of what I just knew was true, that what we were saying on the air didn’t make sense.

There have been a lot of those where I don’t get the story and wonder who I should have called or what I should have done differently.  But after a while I recognize the ability to add context and more details to whatever the story of the day is.  And after having established some credibility, my voice on the air or on Twitter about such matters still carries some weight and lets me do my job.

I don’t beat myself up about such things as much anymore.

I know there have been other instances where I think, man I screwed that up.  In general, I’m always thinking that others are better at this than I am,  and I just have to keep working to do what I do.  I want to produce good material and try to tell some stories in ways that I haven’t been able to before.  There’s only so much of the daily injury updates that I can take, you know.

When I do feel like I screwed something up, I often think about my friend Bill Richardson, who passed away last year.  He was the News Director at WHP Radio in Harrisburg when I was working there part time after graduating from Penn State in 1992.

So many times in the newsroom I would hear Bill say, “It’s only radio.  If you screw up, just come back and do it again tomorrow.”

I take my job seriously, but I think about Bill’s words every so often.  And just like baseball players who don’t have a lot of time to dwell on mistakes because there’s another game the next day, I know I have another game to cover the next day.

At times when I screw up or feel like I’m just not as good at this as I should be, I remind myself that I probably wouldn’t be allowed to stay in this job as long as I have if I sucked that bad.

Screen Shot 2019-05-18 at 3.45.00 PM


• Your name kicks ass. Why “Sweeny”?: My given name is Srinivas, ideally pronounced SREE-nee-vos.  When I was around 4 I met a young boy in my neighborhood named Jason Hill and he decided he couldn’t pronounce that.  It kept coming out “Sweeny-vos.”  Makes sense, because even for adults the “Sr” at the beginning of a word is difficult to pronounce.

So, Jason—who I haven’t seen since I was probably 6—said, “I’ll just call you Sweeny.  It’ll be your nickname.”  I didn’t raise any objections—I was an agreeable 4-year old.

By the time Jason had moved away, all the kids in my neighborhood were calling me Sweeny.  It didn’t really catch on with teachers until high school.  That’s when I started using it as my on-air name when I called games at Middletown PA’s student radio station, WMSS.

So then it just stuck.  I spell it with only two e’s, not three.  Although who am I to quibble if somebody spells it “wrong.”  It’s only a made-up name for me.

Incidentally, when Derek Jeter found out this whole story and what my real name was, he began calling me Srinivas.  He said it with a laugh, but he was always respectful and never mocking.  And he pronounced it perfectly, and that story delighted my mom to no end.  It might be my favorite thing about covering the last 14 years of his career.

• Five friendliest athletes you’ve ever dealt with?: I’m not sure about a top five here.  I’d like to exclude players I’ve covered as Yankees because there are a lot of I’ve gotten to know well.  And just because I was friendly with them doesn’t mean others who covered them thought they were universally friendly.

I do find that there is something surprising about elite players in the sport being super friendly simply because  of the overwhelming demands on their time once they become superstars.

For that reason, I think Don Mattingly stands out to me.  I never covered him as a player, just as a coach.  But for years he’s been one of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve dealt with.  And after each time I speak with him I have to remind myself that he was once one of the five best players in the entire sport.  He is next-door neighbor friendly every time I see him, and I am amazed at how well he carries his fame.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Gerald Williams, Whole Foods, chocolate-covered raisins, Chuck Norris, Aloo gobi, Lem Joyner, Elizabeth Warren, Jonathan Lipnicki, the music of Cher, napkins: The human head weighs eight pounds.

• The world needs to know–What was it like interviewing Bronson Sardinha?: You know I actually remember something about him.  I think he hit a walk-off home run in a spring training game and Joe Torre told us about how he knew who he was because he ran into him over the winter in Hawaii, where Joe would spend a month every offseason and Sardinha was from.

When I worked with Ian Eagle at WFAN he had this freakish recall about every intern that ever walked in the door—probably from all those pop-a-shot games in the break room.  Jeez did he actually do any work there?  Ian knew at least one factoid—and sometimes only one incredibly random tidbit—about every intern over an 8-10 year period from the late 80’s to 90’s.  I feel like I could be that guy for you about players who walked through the Yankees clubhouse in the last two decades.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Not actually die.  But I don’t love turbulence when I’m on a smallish plane.  Sometimes I start humming American Pie to myself (I’ve always been a big Buddy Holly fan).

I do remember a particularly bumpy ride when my friend Erik Boland, who covers the Yankees for Newsday and is a pretty sick person by many standards, turned around from the seat in front of me and asked if I’d seen the latest episode of Air Disasters or whatever that show was called.  I didn’t take that very well.

And when I went to Cleveland for the 1995 World Series as Mike & The Mad Dog’s producer I remember this weird feeling as we were boarding—thinking that if we went down the headlines would all be about Mike and Chris, and no one would care about anyone else on that flight.  I thought if I was lucky I would get a sidebar column on the dedicated young producer who had his whole future in front of him.

• Who wins in a 12-round mud wrestling match between you and Phil Hughes? What’s the outcome?: Well Phil probably has a good 60 or 70 pounds on me.  I’m not that big.  Also, I’m not entering a pit of mud with Phil, or probably anyone for that matter.  So I guess he wins by default.

• Five best Major League cities to visit?: Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C.

• More likely—Baltimore Orioles 2019 World Series champions or Nickelback 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees?: Sadly, I think only one of these two will be officially eliminated from contention this summer.

• What would your walk-up-to-the-plate song be?: I used to love when Paul O’Neill used “Spirit in the Sky.”  Such a great intro.  I often waffle on what my walk-up song would be.  Maybe a groovy opening riff like Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”  Or maybe something totally 80’s like “In A Big Country.”  But I often come back to my belief that “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley is the best song of this century, so let’s go with that.  Don’t @ me.

• What are the three words you overuse in radio?: Hmm. Good question.