The media and professional athletes have always had a tenuous relationship. Occasionally when things aren’t going well for a player or a team, the media can be a convenient outlet for anger and frustration.
As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.”
That’s one explanation for the recent confrontation New York Mets manager Mickey Callaway and pitcher Jason Vargas had with Newsday beat reporter Tim Healey.
Callaway eventually apologized for his expletive-filled tirade. He and Vargas, who threatened to “knock out” Healey and had to be held back by teammates, have also been fined.
But in the annals of athlete-manager-reporter confrontations, this one was tame compared to some other memorable ones.
Billy Martin punches reporter, 1978
Martin, the legendary New York Yankees manager, could be just as combative off the field as on it. One November night in Reno, Nevada, Martin — who had been fired earlier that season by owner George Steinbrenner — punched a local reporter in the face.
According to TheNew York Times, Martin said he did it because Ray Hagar of the Reno Evening Gazette “challenged me to fight” during an interview.
Not surprisingly, Hagar remembered things differently: “He said that writers always twist things he said. He saw me writing things down and he wanted to see my notes,” Hagar said. The reporter suffered a gash above his eye and at least three chipped teeth.
“He hit me before I knew it,” Hagar said. “I didn’t even get a punch in.”
Oddly, Callaway used Martin as an example to explain his own behavior.
Will McDonough slugs Pats DB, 1979
McDonough, the former Boston Globe writer, had a history of being tough with his words. He backed it up by his actions in the New England Patriots’ locker room after a game against the New York Jets.
Defensive back Raymond Clayborn was in no mood to celebrate the 56-3 win, purposely bumping into reporters who came near him. According to Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch, McDonough took the future Pro Bowler to task, saying, “Hey Ray, there’s no need to do that.”
Clayborn stuck a finger in the reporter’s face and poked him in the eye. So McDonough stepped back and unloaded a three-punch combination that, according to some, knocked Clayborn to the ground.
Hal McRae throws desk phone, 1993
The former Kansas City Royals star returned to manage his old team in 1991, but his tenure ended four short years later with the team never finishing higher than third place. Early in his third season, the Royals had just suffered a disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers, dropping their record to 7-12.
After the game, one of the reporters assembled in McRae’s office asked whether he had considered using George Brett — who was 40 at the time and in the final season of his career — as a pinch-hitter in a bases-loaded situation in the seventh inning.
That sent McRae on an epic tirade. It began with him calling it a “stupid (expletive) question” and led to him throwing several objects from his desk — including a corded phone.
One of the objects McRae threw — believed to be a tape recorder — struck reporter Alan Eskew of the Topeka Capital-Journal on the side of his face. There was even some blood.
After kicking everyone out of his office, McRae came back out with a few more choice words, including his memorable parting shot: “Put that in your (expletive) pipe and smoke it!”
Jim Everett sacks Jim Rome, 1994
This one was pretty simple — and likely planned to some degree in advance.
Sportscaster and talk-show host Jim Rome was just starting to build a name for himself nationally when he invited then-New Orleans Saints quarterback Jim Everett on his ESPN2 show, “Talk 2.”
Rome had been critical of Everett’s injuries, often questioning his toughness by calling him “Chris” — a reference to tennis star Chris Evert. The quarterback didn’t appreciate the insinuation, which seems even more juvenile 25 years later.
When the two sat down to do the live interview, Everett warned Rome not to say it to his face. Rome did … so Everett flipped over a table between them and tackled the host.
Everett later explained in a teleconference: “I really don’t condone my actions, but I was put in a position that I thought was going to be in a journalistic-type interview, and instead, I was put into what I felt was a taunting attack. I don’t regret what I did.”
Ryan Leaf melts down, 1998
After a particularly bad game — even by his standards — San Diego Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf just couldn’t contain his emotions. The rookie had completed just one of 14 passes for four yards with two interceptions and three lost fumbles. He yelled at a TV cameraman after the game, but that was only the beginning.
The next day in the Chargers’ locker room, he singled out reporter Jay Posner of the San Diego Union-Tribune, apparently for writing about the confrontation with the cameraman.
“Don’t talk to me, all right? Knock it off!” Leaf screamed before he was restrained by Chargers linebacker Junior Seau.
That incident got Leaf even more negative publicity when it was caught on video and shown on national television.
He later issued a televised apology, after which he crumpled up the paper he was reading and threw it in his locker.
Russell Westbrook’s boycott, 2015-
Generally, an athlete-reporter beef stems from a particular incident and is only temporary before one or the other moves on — either emotionally or physically.
However, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard has held a grudge against columnist Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman for years, refusing to answer his questions or, at most, giving short, one-sentence answers.
“I just don’t like you,” Westbrook said after a game in early 2015.
That’s about as much insight as Westbrook has shed on the situation — although Tramel told the Hoops Hype podcast in April he didn’t take the insult personally; he felt Westbrook was addressing the media in general.
Nevertheless, the relationship between the two has only gotten worse. Westbrook frequently says, “Next question” whenever Tramel asks him anything in a news conference.
Yet Tramel keeps asking, as he wrote in a recent column, “because the media shouldn’t give in to Westbrook’s desire to control everything.”
Unlike other high-profile confrontations, there’s been nothing physical between these two … but then again, this feud has lasted far longer.