September 21, 2010
When the Indians signed Frank Herrmann as a non-drafted free agent in 2005, they may or may not have been smart enough to know that the Ivy League product would one day be throwing valuable innings out of their bullpen. The 26-year-old right-hander made his big-league debut in early June and since that time has gone 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 42 innings over 37 appearances. Prior to his call-up, he posted a microscopic 0.31 ERA in 19 games for Triple-A Columbus.
Herrmann, who has a degree in economics from Harvard, talked about his Cleveland experience, including the importance of being who you are and dealing with the media, during an August visit to Fenway Park.
David Laurila: What has your experience with the media been like since you got to pro ball?
Frank Herrmann: The media has been positive. I think that Cleveland is a pretty good city for that. The team has obviously had some ups and downs, but as far as the media goes, they’ve been pretty positive for me. I’ve also been fortunate enough to be in a role, middle relief, where unless you really blow it, they stay away because you’re not a big story. I haven’t had any problems.
Overall, I think the media is fair and does a good job. As I’ve gone up through the system, I’ve seen that they cover the game a little better the higher you go. When I read Indians.com, or whatever, the quotes all make sense. It’s not like in the minors where everything is diplomatic and most guys are answering questions how the organization would want them to say things. Up here, things are a little more real; I think that you get the truth a little more.
DL: How much of “what the organization would want you to say” pervades a typical clubhouse?
FH: It’s really a case-by-case basis. You’ll have some guys in the clubhouse who speak their mind, while other guys are a little more media-savvy, or maybe you could say a little more shut-in. So it definitely varies.
I think that the Indians organization is one of the classiest in baseball, in that respect, from top to bottom in the minor leagues. They prepare us. Lisa Lavigne comes in and goes through the interview process with us—she has us do mock interviews—so everyone is pretty prepared to deal with the media. They also help with the choices we make, like Facebook and Twitter and how to protect ourselves. There was actually something recent with Twitter accounts here, so it still happens, but I think that a lot of people in baseball, and the Indians in particular, have learned from other people’s mistakes. There aren’t too many things out there that haven’t been covered, as far as the media goes.
DL: When does media training start for players in the Indians organization?
FH: It starts at the higher levels. There is this program called winter development, where they bring in 20 guys that they think could be in the major leagues in the next year, or year and a half, and they work with you. In spring training, there’s a broad training session. Everyone sits there and watches a video on some dos and don’ts.
What we hear is essentially suggestions. They’re not going to flat-out say, “You can’t do this and you can’t do that,” because people are people. There are certain people who if you tell them not to do something, they’re probably more inclined to do it. Some are just going to be themselves, regardless of what they’re told.
Chris Perez, for example, is just is who he is. He’s pretty open with the media and I respect that more than anything. I think that fans want to see that as well. They’d rather hear what someone has to say instead of the same old, “I played hard out there today,” just filler after filler of clichés. But it’s tough, because you can put yourself in a bind when you do that. I think a lot of people don’t fully understand that.
DL: When a member of the media walks into the clubhouse, do most players have a pretty good idea of who they are?
FH: I think, for the most part, yeah. And if they don’t, they learn pretty quickly. The clubhouse is an interesting place. In the minors, you might have one guy and he’s around all the time, and no one is looking to “get you,” so to speak. In the major leagues, from what I’ve seen so far, you have to be a little more careful. Guys have to be a little more reserved up here because there is so much more at stake, including financially, both for the team and for themselves.
DL: What happens when a reporter gains a reputation for digging for dirt or looking for opportunities to be critical?
FH: I actually haven’t experienced that yet. Like I said, the media here has been great so far, so I haven’t seen any examples of that. But I imagine it would be a situation where they would shut the guy out, at least in some respects, and it would be tough for them to do their job if no one was answering questions or wanting to talk to them.
DL: Do reporters ask enough interesting questions, or are they too predictable?
FH: I think they’re too predictable in general. Then again, sometimes when reporters ask questions they get a hard time, so it’s a fine line. You don’t want to ask questions that rock the boat and then all of a sudden you’re getting, like I said, shut out a little bit.
DL: Presumably, you get asked a lot about having gone to Harvard. Does that bother you at all?
FH: No, because it’s something I’m proud of. It’s something that I worked hard to accomplish, so it’s something I don’t mind answering. I have answered a lot of questions about it, but it’s usually pretty generic stuff.
DL: As a result, do you get asked less about pitching than maybe you should?
FH: Not really. That eventually comes to the surface and being in the major leagues is something that no one can ever take away from me, no matter what happens. I didn’t make the major leagues because I went to Harvard; I don’t think there was any incentive for the Indians to bring me up because of my background. I like to think that I’m here on my own merits.
DL: Why are your own merits?
FH: I throw a lot of strikes. Since Manny [Acta] got here, I think you’ve seen a lot of guys do well in this organization who might not be big-time prospects, big-time tools guys. Josh Tomlin is a guy who they’ve always said, “He doesn’t really throw hard enough,” but he came up here and beat the Yankees; he shut them out for seven innings. He went on three days’ rest and held the Blue Jays down. Another guy is Jordan Brown, who has been a [minor-league] MVP, but they’ve said, “We don’t know about his defense”. He’s a guy that I’m completely confident will stay up here and just keep hitting.
I think that Manny, and the organization in general, are taking a turn away from listening to other outlets, or just a couple of scouts, about who the big-time prospects are. They’re allowing themselves to look at it like, “This guy has put up numbers; this guy is producing, so the next step is to give him a shot.” This year I was able to go 27 or 28 scoreless innings in a row at Triple-A, so they said, “OK, it’s time for him to graduate to the major leagues.’
DL: The Indians organization has a reputation of being statistically savvy. As a player, are you aware of that?
FH: Yes and no. I try not to be, but the fact that I try not to, I guess, means that I’m paying attention to it in some respects. I try not to look at my numbers as much as possible, or to analyze stuff like that, because then you get wrapped up in it. I have a hard enough time, when I’m out there, thinking about getting the hitter out. I can’t be thinking, “If I walk this guy, a lefty is coming up and lefties are hitting X, Y, or Z against me.” I think that the less you think about it and the more you focus on going pitch by pitch, and attacking hitters, the better off you’ll be. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
DL: That said, are most of your teammates aware that the organization takes statistical analysis seriously?
FH: I don’t know. I think that when Manny came in there was some stuff said about sabermetrics, because Manny is a smart guy and interested in that aspect of the game. But if you care about your job, and are involved in what is going on in the organization, then yeah, players should be aware.
As a player, you want to be trusted more than anything. My numbers are secondary to whether the manager and pitching coach feel, “Hey, this is a guy we trust and feel comfortable bringing in.” For me, that’s the most important thing. You can have a 2.00 ERA and your manager might not be comfortable with you, or you might have a 5.00 and be the guy he wants in the game in a pressure situation. That might come from how you conduct yourself out on the mound and how you react to situations.
We had a guy up here earlier this year who had a ball ruled a hit on the road, and it ended up leading to two runs. Because of the official scorer, he got sent back down with a 10.00 [ERA] instead of a 3.00, because he only had about six innings. Stuff like that can be pretty fickle, and you have to be able to handle it. To me, having good talent evaluators makes more of a difference than numbers.
DL: What is it like playing for Manny Acta?
FH: It’s good. So far, so good. We’ve battled a lot this year as a team, but he’s been good to us. He’s been upbeat and positive, and with a young team that’s what you need. We’ve had a lot of streaks this year. We’ve won six or seven in a row and lost six or seven in a row, and to me that shows that we’re kind of a team that feeds off of emotion. Being young, we have some ups and downs and eventually, to be good, we have to have more ups and fewer downs. When we are down, we need to cut that off and get back on top.
DL: Manny Acta is Manny Acta, and Ozzie Guillen is outspoken. Is Ozzie good for baseball?
FH: Yes, I think so. Everyone shouldn’t be like that—people shouldn’t try to be like that—but if that’s who he is, I have no problem with it. And if the organization is OK with it, then I have no problem with it either. I think that people should be who they are. Obviously, you have to be careful what you say, in part because a lot of fans are kids who pay attention and try to follow in your footsteps. So there’s a fine line there. But if that’s who Ozzie Guillen is, and he’s not putting on an act—and I don’t think he is—then he should be who is, just like Chris Perez should be who he is, and I should be who I am.