Q&A with Sully Baseball


By Oliver Connolly

Paul ‘Sully’ Sullivan is one of the smartest, funniest and best baseball podcasters on the planet. Every single day he puts out a new podcast for baseball fans chock full of fresh takes, quick wit and plenty of rants. I love Sully and sat down with him to get his thoughts on a wide array of issues as he builds up to his 1,000th podcast.

OC: Sully, I wanted to start with your podcast. You record 365 days a year (unless there’s a leap year, then you do another one). Where did the idea for the podcast come from and when did you decide to record every day?

PS: I am a baseball fanatic and have been one for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid, I wanted to talk baseball and read the back of baseball cards and try to follow as many players on as many teams as possible. I am talking about the late 1970’s and early 1980’s here. This is more than pre-internet. This was when the Boston Globe wouldn’t even get the scores from the previous night in the newspaper in on time.

I moved around a lot as a kid and wherever I moved to, I turned out to be the guy who knew everything about baseball. As an adult I became a stand up comic and TV producer and filmmaker and all the while would be willing to talk baseball any time of the year. We had a Red Sox/A’s playoff game on a television playing during my wedding.

I started my blog, Sully Baseball, in 2006, mainly because my friends were getting tired of getting pages long baseball e mails from me. So I decided to post my thoughts and see what happened. And I wrote a ton of blog posts but a lot of the stuff I wanted to say or comment on in baseball needed to be said out loud. So I tried to podcast in 2009, but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Mercifully those podcasts don’t exist anymore.

Then Mike Lynch from Seamheads.com contacted me. He was a fan of my blog and let me do a weekly hour podcast at the end of the Seamheads podcast. It was strange because there was a whole hour of a show to listen to before I was on. And I would do an hour a week, usually with a guest. I did that for the 2011 season and into 2012. It was a good training ground for me. I learned what to do and what not to do and like anything with practice, I got better at it.

But I felt constricted by being on once a week. Remember, baseball is a daily sport. And at the same time I felt an hour was too long to fill. And my brother, who is now a writer for ABC’s Revenge, would tell me to let the interview subjects talk more instead of always interjecting my opinions. Well, the whole POINT of doing a podcast was to interject my opinion.

Any time during the year, I wanted to talk baseball. I found myself sometimes calling a friend on the phone in December to talk about trades or calling my cousin Dave to chat about the Mets in February. And other times I would be in the car, driving by myself, just talking out loud. And often I’d think “I wonder if anyone else would be interested in this.”

I have two friends, Jonathan Corbett and Adam Spiegelman, whom I knew from my stand up comedy days in New York in the 1990’s. They had a podcast called “Dream Tweet” that was brilliantly funny and I wish they still did. The show was 20 minutes long. It was fast and lean and they did not have time to meander or say “Um or Err.” I loved that length. It was perfect if I needed to run a chore or was stuck in a bit of traffic. The only problem was they didn’t make enough of them in case I found myself binge listening.

So in the fall of 2012, I had stopped doing the Seamheads podcast and decided to do my own. I borrowed the length from “Dream Tweet” and made the choice that almost all the podcasts would be me alone. MY opinions and takes on baseball topics would be the main thrust.

And I felt the only way to do it was to record one every day. If someone just wanted a quick baseball fix in January, they know I have an episode up. If they wanted to binge listen, then they can listen to 3 or 4 or more episodes.

I haven’t missed a day since October 24, 2012. And frankly I can’t imagine missing a day.

OC: I think you have some unique answers to some of baseball’s biggest problems and issues. Your podcast always gives me a cause to pause and think. You recently did a terrific podcast on what has changed since the birth of your twins (ten years) and where the game may go. You spoke more on the diamond. But off the diamond, where do you think the game will be in ten years?

PS: Off the field, I think some elements of baseball will stay the same.

I do not see any expansion, mainly because there is not any ready facilities for a major league baseball team just sitting and waiting for a tenant. Remember for the last 4 expansion teams and one relocation, most of the teams moved right into already built stadiums. The Rockies played in Mile High Stadium until Coors Field was built. The Marlins played in Joe Robbie Stadium. The Devil Rays occupied Tropicana Field, which was built to lure a big league team since the 1980’s and the Expos became the Nationals by moving into RFK Stadium. Only the Diamondbacks moved into a brand new facility.

So when you think about the A’s and the Rays needing new parks or potentially expanding to make 32 franchises and eliminate a daily interleague game, it is hard to find a suitable city of the teams. You can move a basketball or hockey team to any city that has a decent size civic arena. The NBA or NHL can move or be expanded into Omaha Nebraska tomorrow and have a team play in the CenturyLink Center. The same with the NFL who can have their team play, at least for the time being, in Tuscaloosa Alabama and have a massive capacity.

But there are few venues ready for a major league team. Maybe they can twist the Alamo Dome in San Antonio or the Superdome in New Orleans into a place to play. I think the A’s will stay in Oakland with a new stadium in the coliseum parking lot. What will happen with the Rays is anyone’s guess. Personally I would like to see them move to Montreal, where they can play in Stade Olympique until they build a new park. But that is a long shot.

The main thing baseball needs to do is become THE sport of the internet age. Baseball was the ideal sport when newspapers were king because of the storylines and the daily content. The same was true during the radio age because the pace of baseball led to great broadcasting. But football is the ideal TV sport, visually, pace and in terms of schedule.

Now that the internet is ruling everything, baseball should take the need for constant new content and interactivity and grow its audience. And that means continuing their wonderful MLB.com coverage of games.

But it also means all blackout rules need to be dropped. The most interest in games are for the local teams. Most people watch games on their devices. So naturally the rules of baseball make it impossible to watch the local game on your device. Or if it is possible, it is so complicated that eventually people will click and find another thing to entertain themselves with on their iPad. The eye balls (and finger tips) are on the devices, not staring at a TV in the living room. Baseball should be falling over themselves to get their product onto their devices and take advantage of local interest.

Every time there is a new piece of technology or carrier of information, baseball becomes needless afraid. Teams were initially afraid to put play-by-play of games on the radio for fear of giving their product away for free. But the teams found out that radio introduced the game to people who didn’t already follow the game, so attendance actually rose. They had the same fear for television. Then all the games became available and attendance skyrocketed. Now the teams don’t want to have local games on devices. Have they not seen the pattern develop.

Hopefully the new commissioner will see the need to get all games, including local games, available simply on devices. If they want to get young fans interested, go to where the young eyes are.

OC: As someone with young kids playing little league ball. Rank, in terms of importance, theses categories to get young people more interested in baseball. A) lifting blackout rules as you stated and getting ALL games on ALL devices. B) An increase in offensive production. C) Better promotion of ‘stars’ even if ‘WWE’ style self-made stars. D) Expansion and E) Decrease in games/game times.

PS: A, lifting blackout rules, is the single most important thing baseball can do to increase the popularity of their sport. All sports seem to be a slave of television and TV revenue. But when you consider the largest growing demographic of television watchers are those who don’t have cable, it is suicide to operate as if most viewers will be parked on their butts in front of the tube.

Most young eyes are looking at devices. And most interest in baseball is for local teams. So why make it difficult for people to watch on their iPads or SmartPhones? You can’t in one sentence lament that young fans are moving away from baseball while at the same time not adjust to young viewing habits. Remember putting play-by-play on the radio was considered to be suicide at one point. Later televising regular season games was thought to be foolish.

C. The stars SHOULD be promoted more. There are wonderfully entertaining stars in baseball who get a collective shrug from anyone who isn’t a die-hard fan. Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Felix Hernandez, Buster Posey, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Sale and Miguel Cabrera should all be house hold names and appointment TV to watch play. The head to head pitching match ups should be reminiscent of how NBA stars were pitted against each other in the Jordan era. If it is more like wrestling, then fine. I don’t care much for wrestling, but they aren’t trying to attract me. I’m already watching.

E. They are adjusting to time of game pretty well. I am glad they are at least being pro-active. I have no problem with keeping batters in the box and getting the pitchers to throw a little quicker.

B. An increase in offense would be nice but I think you will see the pendulum swing from time to time. Hitters are making adjustments and offense will increase. No need to artificially mess with it.

D. Expansion is far down the priority list. Fix the Rays and the Athletics situation before creating NEW teams. Maybe a team in San Antonio or Motnreal or Charlotte could work. But I would be more in favor of the Rays or A’s relocating before making new clubs.

OC: Like me, you were disgusted by the Angels handling of the Josh Hamilton situation. Where do you think the sport and clubs are off the mark with addiction?

PS: I think it is off the mark in a societal way and in a practical way. Someone who is addicted isn’t someone who needs punishment. They need treatment. Addiction is a serious issue and treating it as “Go to your room without supper” is an arcane way of dealing with it. And beyond adding stigma to an already hard situation, punishing addicts just doesn’t work. Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results is a form of insanity.

Also, the Angels being publicly agitated that they could not punish Hamilton tells me all I need to know about that organization. They signed Hamilton to a bad contract and the Angels were hoping a suspension would give them salary relief. They were petty and bitter publicly. Just imagine what was said behind closed doors. I have no love for that team. I hope they have a losing season.

OC: You’re a Red Sox fan, what are you expecting from this season?

It all depends on their pitching. If Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley, Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly all pitch well, they should do fine. If they don’t then this will be like one of the pre Roger Clemens Red Sox teams that I grew up with that could hit but whose pitching was lousy.

I am nervous about Koji Uehara as well. Closers have a tendency to flame out. Think of how just a few years ago Jim Johnson and Jose Valverde and Grant Balfour and Brian Wilson were elite closers. Now where are they? I have a feeling a name nobody heard of will be pitching in the 9th for the Red Sox before this season is up. Then again, remember Koji was the 4th closer used by John Farrell in 2013 and that worked out well. Remember, the last 4 World Champions changed closers in mid-season.

What I like about this Red Sox team is there is a nice infusion of youth. Mookie Betts is terrific. Hopefully Xander Boegarts will turn it around. And Swihart, Owens, Castillo and Moncada will hopefully contribute on the big league level this year. 

The nice thing for the Red Sox is the Division is mediocre. When I made my picks for the season, I said that whichever team makes the best in season move will win the AL East. I’m guessing 88 wins could win the Division. I am picking Baltimore but who knows?

OC: What can we expect from Sully this season and going forward?

PS: I am still doing The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast, available on iTunes and Soundcloud. I do the podcast every single day, Christmas, New Years, every single day. Episode #900 will air Saturday April 11. So that is 900 straight days with a new podcast dating back to October 24, 2012.

Last All Star Game, I produced an In Memoriam Video for the players who died since the previous All Star Game. We are doing another one this year. I continue to write on SullyBaseball.com and do my daily Player of the Game called “Who Owns Baseball” for MLBReports.com.

You can check out Sully’s 900th podcast below and follow him @SullyBaseball for updates on everything he’s involved with.

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