There have been many sports figures that were great on the field, basketball court or whatever venue they performed their sport on or in. There have been many that have come, fewer have been appointed and fewer than that have been anointed enough to reach the highest levels of sports broadcasting.
Some made a seamless and smooth transition to the airwaves, while others may have been better served to, “Stay away from the mike.” In my opinion, Harold Reynolds is both anointed and appointed as a persona supreme with regards to playing and commentating on the game of Major League Baseball.
The MLB Network analyst can be described as conservative, yet edgy. Informative, but not nerdy. These are attributes that many broadcasters would give their right arm for. I had a chance to sit down with the Emmy Award-winning and former MLB three-time Gold Glove winner after he delivered the keynote address at the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2017 African American Heritage luncheon held at PNC Park, June 16.
The first thing that I informed Harold of, sorta tongue-in-cheek, was that I was not going to refer to him as a former Emmy Award winner. He laughed while saying, “Yeah, yeah that’s right, don’t take that from me. I earned that.” With opportunities for African Americans to become MLB broadcasters being less than ideal, I asked him how he made such a seamless transition from MLB player to MLB broadcaster. “I did a lot of speeches when I was playing for the [Seattle] Mariners organization,” he told me. “Being out, especially in the community, I think that helped immensely, so being in front of people and being in front of crowds, when it came to TV, I really wasn’t that nervous about it. The biggest thing was that I was able to be taught. I was taught really well by a guy named Jeff Snyder. He taught me a lot about how to break down tapes and how to make your point to those sitting at home.”
Reynolds made no bones about the rocky beginning to his career. “In the beginning, it was a bit tough. The rough part was how I was taught. They brought somebody in to show you how you’re supposed to dress and how you’re supposed to talk, and it messed me all up. But I’ll never forget, I was doing a show with (ESPN anchor) Chris Berman, and it was about my third day on the air and I had been terrible the first two days. About 30 seconds before we were about to air on the third day, he turns and looks at me and says in that gravelly voice of his: ‘All that stuff that they taught you, get rid of it.’ He then paused and looked at the camera and turned back to me and said, ‘It’s just me, you and the boys in the bar.’”
Reynolds readily admitted that covering today’s athletes can often be challenging; the key is connecting with them as people first. “You have to develop relationships. It’s different than before. You have to text guys now, whereas before you could call the clubhouse and get a guy on the phone. I remember talking to Jason Giambi in his rookie year asking him, ‘How do I say your name?’ Now you have to text him or get his number from somebody.”
Reynolds talked about today’s players having more control over how they get their message out and how their brand is depicted. “It’s tougher today dealing with the players because our access can be cut off, they don’t really need the media as much because they get their own message out with Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.”
Unlike some of today’s athletes, Reynolds had no problem with discipline and instruction. He explained in a humble and matter-of-fact way that such a manager was the best manager he ever played for, Dick Williams. “He was old, grouchy, demanding and intimidating, but he taught me a lot about baseball. The number one thing that Dick used to say to me was, ‘I should never have to give you a sign. The situation will dictate what happens.’
“If I came up with runners at first and second with no outs, he didn’t need to give me a sign to bunt. That was how he expected me to play and that was how he taught me. That’s one of the reasons that my television career has really been good because Dick Williams helped me with self-discipline, while teaching me the ins-and-outs of the game.”
When it came to crossing the bridge from player to award-winning broadcaster, receiving respect both from baseball and the entertainment world has not been lost on Reynolds. “It’s been amazing and an honor. When I came into this, I had a couple of different rules. One, I didn’t want to forget how hard it is to play. Two, I was never going to step on a relationship for a quick quote. I’ve been able to gain the trust of guys and they know that they can call me up and discuss certain things and they know that it will remain off the record and will not end up in the media.” We talked about the smaller percentage of Black players competing in the new millennium as opposed to the 1970s. He acknowledged that there aren’t many African Americans working in the upper-echelons of sports broadcasting.
I asked Reynolds what advice he had for current players, aspiring to one day be sitting in the broadcast booth, instead of the dugout. “The biggest thing is to be yourself and be honest. When you do those two things it’s hard to go wrong. You get in trouble when you try to make stuff up.” Finally, with all of the egos being blown up and the vanity syndrome being rampant in sports, I asked him if there was one piece of advice he might give to an athlete with an unchecked ego. He answered, smiling: “Baseball to me is like a metaphor for life. You’re not as good as you think you are and you’re never as bad as you think it is.”
Reynolds, an American League stolen bases leader in 1987. A two-time All-Star, and three Gold Gloves from 1988-1990. The man with those Golden Gloves now has the Golden Smile for all the world to see.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)
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