Kirby, once of Ch. 13, now helps Oates manage media

August 01, 1994|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

Before Orioles games, former WJZ television weekend sports anchor Andrea Kirby used to sit in the dugout with Earl Weaver. He would talk baseball. She would listen. "I was one of his favorites," Kirby said.

In Baltimore, the days when managers and reporters chatted about the game are long gone. That's why Kirby visited Johnny Oates Friday night at Camden Yards. This time, she was the one doing the teaching -- not about baseball, but about how to handle the media.

"It's an education," Oates said. "What is the press looking for? What do they want me to say?"

In his day, Weaver never was at a loss for words with reporters. Hiring a media coach is as foreign to him as telling a cleanup hitter to bunt with two men on.

"A media coach?" Weaver said from his home in Florida. "I have no idea what you mean."

It sounds crazy to Weaver, but it's Kirby's full-time job. A sports reporter at Channel 13 from 1974 to 1977, Kirby later worked for ABC, NBC and the USA Network. In 1985, she started the New York-based Sports Media Group to help sports figures with their media relations.

"They've focused on sports their whole lives, not on communicating," said Kirby, who has worked with 14 major-league teams and seven managers, including Oates.

After reading a Sports Illustrated article earlier this year that portrayed the Orioles manager as stressed, Kirby called general manager Roland Hemond to offer help. Hemond received permission from owner Peter Angelos to hire Kirby.

"I thought it would have a beneficial effect," Angelos said.

"We all need some help in expressing ourselves effectively with one another, particularly with the media."

Kirby also received an endorsement from Jim Palmer, who had read the same article about Oates and called Angelos. The Hall of Fame pitcher-turned-broadcaster had worked with Kirby in 1988, when he started doing play-by-play for Channel 2.

"I think, of all things, she's a very positive person," Palmer said. "She doesn't dwell on negative things, but she's realistic in the things you need to work on."

Kirby initially met with Oates on June 29 in Cleveland and has talked with him by phone. She compared Oates to Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly, whom she worked with during spring training in 1991.

Neither manager, Kirby said, understood the basic role of the media. Kelly, who blew up at a group of reporters before a World Series game in 1987, assumed that everyone covering his team was a baseball expert.

"I had an understanding that most of them knew what was going on," Kelly said. "Now, I have an understanding that most of them don't."

In Oates' case, the media may have known too much, because of the outspoken Angelos.

Earlier this season, when the team was playing poorly, Angelos made derogatory comments about his manager.

Oates responded with silence. He either gave curt answers to questions or avoided the media. In one instance, he stormed off the field after a misunderstanding with a reporter.

Oates said that he was not prepared for the intense media coverage that has accompanied his tenure as Orioles manager.

"You spend a minor-league career as a player and then as a manager. You really see all facets of the game, except dealing with the press. You talk with maybe three people at the end of a game in the minor leagues," Oates said.

"At the major-league level, you have 25 reporters a night, talk shows, everybody wants five minutes of your time.

"A lot of this year I got to feel so defensive about it."

It has been Kirby's job to turn those negative thoughts into positive ones. On Friday, she talked with Oates about three television interviews he had done on Home Team Sports.

Kirby, who is big on getting her clients to tell stories, liked what she saw.

"I really thought that he was good at painting a picture," Kirby said. "I'm not a feel-bad type of person. I'm going to catch him doing something right."

Palmer noticed a difference in Oates after the manager's first session with Kirby.

"All I know is that the week after he worked with Andrea, he was like a different person because he was comfortable with himself," Palmer said.

One person who was always comfortable with himself was Weaver. He would yell at a reporter one day, and the next day it would be forgotten.

"I dealt with human beings; I didn't deal with reporters," Weaver said.

"I knew they had to make a living. I spent 21 years in the minor leagues. I did what I could to help these people have the story they wanted."

Weaver, however, dealt with less-adversarial media. "I think Earl had the benefit of managing in a simpler time," Kirby said. "It was a gentler time."

Palmer said Weaver would do just fine in the 1990s, because Weaver's success with the media was a product of his personality.

"Earl would have handled it. We're shagging flies in Boston, and he's entertaining 20 members of the media," Palmer said. "He looked at it as a fun part of his job. Johnny looked at it as a task he had to do rather than something he enjoys doing.

"I think she'll give him some lessons that will make him more accessible."

After two sessions with Kirby, Oates already is starting to catch on.

"It has been a long process for me, and it has made that part of my job so much easier," Oates said. "It was long overdue."

But far from over.

Before Friday night's game, Oates met with a crowd of reporters in the dugout. Taking a lesson from Kirby, he told a story about his family's trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Oates got a little more evasive when asked about his media coach.

"Who's Andrea Kirby?" he said.

Oates finally said: "I think she's just here to see Toronto, and she came by to say hello to me."

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