I’m not sure where to start. The “Grill Session” with Steve Harrell took place last Thursday. For roughly 80 minutes, I answered anything and everything he had for me. The subjects mainly were the relationship between the Orioles and WNST Radio and my experiences with Orioles Hangout. The discussion morphed into a few others of local concern, but, for the most part, it was O’s/Hangout and WNST.
I should mention again, for the record, that Steve Harrell did not interview me as an official representative of Orioles Hangout. He is merely a member of the OH who sought me out and requested an interview with me, saying, in part, “I’d like to see how you handle getting grilled” (the way you grill other people…you probably wouldn’t handle it very well). So, I agreed to let Steve “grill me” and that’s what this is…the Steve Harrell “Grill Session”.
Steve arrived with a “friend” in tow, a nice enough guy named Phil who bought me a coffee that I never paid him for, if I recall. When I quizzed Steve about bringing Phil along, he said to me, “I assumed you would have security with you.”
Anyway, the grill session didn’t start off so great, as Steve threw a sheet of paper in front of me with a bunch of handwritten questions on both sides. It took us a few minutes to come to an agreement on what we were both trying to accomplish.
So, by about 4:50pm, we were underway. I’ve done my best to preserve almost all of the “grill session”, including the various times when Steve interrupted me. We used a tape recorder for the first 40 minutes until the batteries died and Steve didn’t have extras. He then tried to write the answers I was giving him for the last half hour or so. His handwriting looks like something from The Flintstones. I took a bathroom break at 5:30pm but Steve didn’t go with me.
That’s the basics.
Here’s the as-close-to-humanly-possible account of “The Grill Session with Steve Harrell.” This is Part 1, or approximately the first 25 minutes of the interview. Part 2 will be available in the next day or two once Steve approves it.
Steve: Where do you want to start? Should I just go down the list of questions?
Drew: Start with whatever you want. I’m sure we’ll cover it all anyway.
Steve: Let’s talk about the protest game where everyone walked out.
Drew: OK, what about it?
Steve: Do you regret doing it?
Drew: Doing what? Organizing it? Or walking out?
Steve: The whole thing. Do you officially think it was a bad idea now that it’s all over?
Drew: No, I think it was a great way for baseball fans to get together and express their feelings about the team.
Steve: Walking out on the team was a good way to do that?
Drew: People can express their displeasure with the team in a variety of ways. During the game if the home team isn’t playing well, people can boo. It happens all the time. If you’re at a game and the home team is losing badly in the 3rd quarter or the 7th inning, you can show your displeasure by leaving early. You can show your displeasure by not buying a ticket to the games. That’s the way a lot of Baltimore sports fans have shown their displeasure with the Orioles over the last six years or so. They’ve stopped buying tickets.
Steve: But you organized a mass walk-out of fans.
Drew: First of all, I didn’t personally organize a mass walk-out. It was an event put together by the radio station as a whole that I supported. It wasn’t a cult thing. We encouraged people to buy tickets and go to the game with us and then we said, “If you’re fed up with the way the team is being run, you can show your displeasure by getting up and walking out at 5:08 pm.” We didn’t put a gun to anyone’s head to make them leave. In fact some people stayed behind and watched the game.
Steve: Couldn’t you have protested the team in some other way?
Drew: By doing what? Doing what the ironworkers or teachers do? Making signs that say “MAKE THE TEAM BETTER!” and standing outside of the stadium? I guess we could have done that. I’m not sure what that would have accomplished. We decided to have everyone buy a ticket to the game – supporting the club with our money – and then having fun during the game by cheering and chanting. Eventually, some of us decided to leave. When you buy a ticket, that’s your right. It could have been a family of four who went to the game and said after the 6th inning, “Let’s go home.” Instead, 2,000 of us got up and said, “Let’s go home.”
Steve: So you’re still saying it was the right thing to do that day, walking out on the team?
Drew: I know, for me, personally, my message was: ”I still love the Orioles but I’m frustrated and disappointed with the way you all are running the team. I’m here today to show you I’d be willing to come back more often if you would fix the team.” I think a lot of people who attended Free The Birds thought the same thing. ”We’re still here, but we’re not going to buy tickets unless you’re going to fix the team.”
Steve: Walking out on the team is the wrong way to send a message like that.
Drew: That’s your opinion. There were people who worked for the team putting “Free The Birds” signs in The Warehouse windows. Employees of the team were literally hanging out of office windows giving us a thumbs-up sign when we were coming in to the stadium. They knew the time had come for someone to make a massive statement about the state of the team. A lot of things have changed since September 21, 2006. A lot of good things have happened.
Steve: It wasn’t because you protested and walked out.
Drew: Really? OK, you can think that if you want.
Steve: Do you think anyone in the organization really gave a (crap) about the protest?
Drew: I don’t know. I know since that day they’ve hired a real, high-quality General Manager in Andy MacPhail. Since that day, they’ve improved their marketing efforts a lot. Since then, they’ve decided to put BALTIMORE on the road jerseys. They’ve been a much better organization over the last two years or so, although they have a long way to go. I’m not going to say all of that is because of Free The Birds but I’m not going to say we didn’t impact them that day. I know we did.
Steve: True fans of the team would never walk out like that.
Drew: Teams that truly care about their fans would never put a product out there like they’ve put out there they wouldn’t disconnect with their home city the way the Orioles have. I didn’t make the team bad and I didn’t chase the fans away, the Orioles did all of that to themselves. I went on the radio and pointed out the mistakes they’ve made and criticized them for their unprofessionalism but I didn’t sign Omar Daal and I didn’t trade for Jaret Wright and I didn’t let Ramon Hernandez wreck the lockerroom. I didn’t tell the ushers to never let anyone stand up and cheer during the game or to not allow people to move down to the good seats after the 6th inning. They did all of that stuff to themselves. Teams that care about their fans wouldn’t have let it rot away like they did.
Steve: It ruined your relationship with the team so that didn’t help you at all.
Drew: My relationship with the team has been ruined because there are people in the organization who are unprofessional. Free The Birds had little to do with that. I’ve been “blacklisted” by the team because I’m too critical of them. It’s not about Free The Birds. It’s about the fact that the team can’t control me and they’ve finally said, “We just won’t let him have the access he needs or wants.”
Steve: They won’t even give you a press pass now. That should tell you that Free The Birds didn’t help your cause.
Drew: Free The Birds is what it is. You keep going back to that like I’m going to change my mind about it. It was a historical event in Baltimore sports history. There will always be debate about how much good it did vs. how much damage it did. I think Nestor was always prepared to live with whatever happened, from a radio station standpoint, and I supported it personally because I thought the fans needed an outlet to express their displeasure with the franchise. It happened. We made an impact and the fans got their chance to say, “This isn’t good enough, we want you to fix the franchise.” And since then, honestly, they’ve made some improvements. But they have a long way to go, still.
Steve: You still bash the team all the time.
Drew: No, I don’t bash the team all the time. That’s an urban legend.
Steve: You bash the team a lot.
Drew: How much do you listen to my show?
Steve: Not much.
Drew: But how much do you listen? Every day, once or twice a week?
Steve: A couple of times a week. As soon as you go on one of your negative tirades I turn the station.
Drew: Well, that’s the issue right there. You say that I bash the team all the time then you admit that you don’t really listen that much. That would be like me going into a steak restaurant three times a year, having one bad meal, and saying, “They serve horrible food at that place.”
Steve: But people who listen all the time say you bash the team way too much.
Drew: And there are also a lot of people who listen and respect the fact that I’m entitled to voice my opinion. They’re pleased that I’m willing to call the team out when they need to be called out. And they’re pleased when I applaud the team because they do something right.
Steve: It always seems to be very personal with you and that gets old real quick.
Drew: Well, for the last six years or so, here’s a quick synopsis of what the Orioles have done: They haven’t had a winning season, their crowds diminish every season, their marketing and PR was a disgrace until recently when it started to improve — and they’ve treated me terribly, personally. They’ve given me plenty of reasons to be critical of them. And it IS personal with me because it’s my job and I grew up loving the team and I still follow them every single day during the season. I have to be critical of them when they don’t do something right. It’s part of my job.
Steve: And you do it every day.
Drew: Completely false. When they do something good, I say that. When they do something that I don’t agree with, I talk about that too. That’s my right, despite what they think. The problem has been over the last few years that they’ve done more bad things than good things. But it’s a complete lie to say I bash the team every day.
Steve: But you spend more time on the bad things than the good things. You have to admit that.
Drew: That’s because the bad things far outweigh the good. At least they have over the last few years. Now, like I said earlier, it looks like they’re starting to turn it around. If they ever get good again on the field and start drawing 30-35,000 fans a game, I’ll have more good to talk about than bad. Then I’ll be accused of being a homer. But, for now, when they do something good, I applaud them. When they do something bad, I talk about that too. It’s the way it is, unless you work for the team or you’re part of their network of “rights holders”.
Steve: How do you think the O’s will do this year?
Drew: I think they’ll win at least 73 games. That’s my number. I think their defense will be really good and I think they’ll be able to score runs. If they get decent pitching, they could be a 75 or 80 win team. If their pitching stinks, they might win 65. But there’s no doubt they’ll have a better team this year than they did last year, no matter how many wins they get.
Steve: Will you have to eat crow if they get good this year?
Drew: What do you mean “eat crow”? For what?
Steve: Well, if they get really good all the sudden won’t that make you look bad?
Drew: I want them to be good. Don’t you get that? There would be nothing better in Baltimore this summer than to have the team doing well and have the games mean something in August and September. They haven’t played a baseball game that mattered since October of 1997. I’d like that to change. That’s what Free The Birds was about, partially.
Steve: But if they get good won’t you have less to bash them over? Then what will you talk about?
Drew: You just made my point for me. When they get good and people start going back to the ballpark again and they start treating the fans right, I will absolutely have less to be critical of…from your lips to God’s ears. I can’t wait for that day.
Steve: So you think they’ll be bad again this year?
Drew: I don’t think anyone in the country thinks they’re going to be really good. I think they’ll be improved and I can see them winning somewhere around 75 games. If they’re better than that, I’d be thrilled. It would be good for me and the radio business if they got good again instead of stinking every season. It’s not like everyone thinks they’re going to be a playoff team and I’m standing there saying, “no, no, the Orioles aren’t going to even be .500 this year.” I think anyone who follows baseball sees them as a sub .500 team. I would love to see them get good again. I wouldn’t have to hear everyone say, “That guy Drew, he sure hates the team.”
Coming soon: Part 2 – ”Most of the people at Orioles Hangout despise you…”