As a reporter, Gray obligated to ask tough questions of Rose

Media Watch

October 26, 1999|By Milton Kent

So, Jim Gray asks Pete Rose some pointed questions Sunday night, and switchboards at NBC affiliates across the country light up, which leads to one question: Has the world gone stark raving mad?

Oops, that was an inadvertent NBC promo, unlike the ones that are running nonstop during the World Series. More on that later.

But seriously, folks, Jim Gray is an interviewer, and he's among the best. He can go mushy at times, but usually Gray is the sports equivalent of Mike Wallace, the guy you don't want to see at the front door if your garage has been rolling back odometers, if you get the drift.

And Gray was in inquisitor mode Sunday after the All-Century team was introduced before Game 2, prodding Rose to discuss the allegations of his gambling on baseball, which have kept him out of the game for 10 years.

Depending on your count, Gray asked Rose four or five times to address those allegations as raised by a report that led to Rose's banishment from baseball. The interview ran only about 2 1/2 minutes -- not terrifically long by television standards -- but it was riveting.

Gray, who won the 1998 sports Emmy for sideline reporting, yesterday said he was surprised by the reaction the interview has attracted, but would not back down from what he did or the way he did it, characterizing his manner during the interview as "very even" and "very fair."

"I thought that was an opportunity for Pete to address the circumstances that have kept him out of baseball," Gray said. "I had to use my own judgment, and knowing that we have very precious time, I had to get to the issue of how he might procure a future opportunity [in baseball], including induction into the Hall of Fame."

Rose, who apparently carries the impression that life is just one big "Charlie Hustle" infomercial, must have thought Gray was going to allow him to continue selling himself as a victim.

After all, Rose had had Gray on his radio show as a guest, and the two knew each other from when Gray was a co-host on Philadelphia Phillies pre-game shows during the early 1980s when Rose played there.

If Rose thought Gray was going to be cozy, that was his fault, not Gray's. Rose has been ducking these questions for 10 years, and though Gray did put Rose on the defensive, Rose fired back, trying to back Gray into a corner by saying there was no proof that he had bet on baseball and saying he was "surprised" that Gray was "bombarding" him.

In fact, Gray said Rose said right after the interview that he knew it would be about gambling. Rose had been in a news conference that afternoon with writers and other broadcasters during which the topic of his alleged gambling was covered extensively. How could he not have expected Gray to broach that subject?

And as for the notion that Gray's questioning somehow ruined Rose's moment of glory, that's balderdash. Gray's obligation, as a reporter, is to ask questions, some of which are unpleasant, but nonetheless have to be asked.

"Had I just let that go, a lot of you [writers] would have me on here for a completely different reason," Gray said.

New York Yankees reserve Jim Leyritz reportedly told reporters afterward that Gray embarrassed his profession and that the interview was a "disgrace" and "barbaric" and hinted that the rest of the club could have chosen not to talk to him Sunday night in retaliation for his treatment of Rose.

To the contrary, Gray's job was not to play kissy-face with a subject, or even make sure that Pete Rose or anyone else had a nice time. If we don't expect more from reporters, we'll be stuck with people like Ahmad Rashad, and no thoughtful person should want to settle for that.

By the way, who over at Channel 11 decided that the Gray/Rose interview was one of the most important stories of Sunday night, thus deserving placement in the first block of the late news? That person should firmly be pointed in the direction of Journalism 101.

As for the rest of Gray's network, you got the true nature of what NBC's Fall Classic coverage is all about during the fifth inning Sunday when actors from a couple of NBC's new dramas just happened to turn up in a front row seat at Turner Field as an unspoken plug for their shows.

NBC officials couldn't care less about who's in this Series, though the presence of the Yankees and Braves gives them two teams with a national following. Nope, just so long as you watch the incessant in-game promos for the network lineup, their work is accomplished.

In one sense, what NBC is doing is no different from the other networks, who flood games with spots for their shows. Fox, for one, seems to make that sort of thing a new art form.

But Fox, at least, is in the game for the entire season. Baseball allowed NBC to buy just the postseason four years ago.

Baseball wanted the money and the big audience, and NBC wanted access to young men who watch big sporting events. In fact, you wouldn't exactly catch network officials gnashing their teeth if the Series ended in a sweep. That way, they could air their Thursday night shows without fear of pre-emption.

Don't you just hate it when games get in the way of the important stuff?

BayRunners on radio

The BayRunners, the soon-to-debut local entry in the International Basketball League, has reached agreement with WJFK (1300 AM) on a 21-game broadcast package.

Eight home and 13 away contests will air on the station, which also carries Ravens games. Gary Stein will do play-by-play. Stan "The Fan" Charles will do analysis on some broadcasts and serve as host of the weekly coaches show at 10 p.m. each Wednesday, starting Nov. 24.

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