John Finger is a Phillies writer for CSNPhilly.com, the online home of Comcast SportsNet. He also writes Center City, a daily feature on CSNPhilly.com, and Finger Food, a blog. He spoke with Shay Roddy about the team.
SHAY RODDY: When did you first get the idea of being a journalist?
JOHN FINGER: I was probably pretty young. Like sixth grade. My mom worked in advertising for a Lancaster newspaper so I liked to go and hang out there. Some people would show me around and I got interested in it that way.
It was more being a writer though, being a writer and journalist are very different. You can be a great journalist and not be able to write a lick. Or you can be a great writer but not be able to report. I always wanted to write. It was like a calling for me, sort of like being a priest I suppose. I’ve been lucky.
Do you ever get complaints from coaches/athletes for being over-critical? How do you balance being fair but reporting the facts even if they aren’t pretty?
Well, I’ve gotten a few complaints from the Phillies. Chris Wheeler tore me apart one time, which was hilarious. It’s a story I can’t repeat. Wheels and I like to get Salty with our language. When I was writing for a business newspaper I got complaints all of the time. The people I wrote about there were used to being very controlling and they didn’t like not being in charge of what I wrote.
With professional athletes, they don’t care. Its not like covering high school kids or people who don’t usually have things written about them. They might cut your article out and put it in their scrapbook where as professional athletes don’t care what I write. Travis Lee ain’t cutting out stories I wrote about him. As long as you face the music and don’t hide they’re usually cool with it.
What is your favorite city to travel to and cover a team?
I like Washington, DC. I grew up there and there’s a lot to do there. I like L.A., can’t beat the weather and the park is great. I like going to Denver, interesting weather and a great park. I like Camden Yards, its close to home and they have iced tea in the press box.
Walk us through a typical 7:05 game day.
You’re supposed to get there at 3:30, that’s when the clubhouse opens. Sometimes I’m there at 3:30, sometimes I’m not. At 4:00 you meet Charlie. 4:30-5:00 you think about a story or you start writing. I usually sit in the dugout and talk shop with other media guys and some players. That’s my strong suit, the schmoozing. There’s a lot of waiting around and standing around. The pre-game pace is usually about the same pace of the actual game. Usually I come to the park with an idea. If I can make it work then I make it work. It’s still fun to go to the ballpark.
Who is your favorite person to interview?
I’ll have to call it a tie between Randy Wolf and Scott Rolen. They’re both very funny and very smart. They kept you on your toes and were very down to earth cool guys.
What are your thoughts on the Romero fiasco?
It seems to me based on the stories that he tried to do the right thing, he tried to be diligent. However it seems like he got some bad advise. I don’t know if there were any labels on the 6 OXO-EXTREME or not, (he said there wasn’t) but anything that boosts your testosterone tends to be a steroid.
It sounds to me like he was doping, whether he was doing it intentionally or not. He’s responsible for what’s in his body, so I guess the suspension is fair. That’s the deal everyone agreed to. He’s responsible for what he puts in that little cup, and he owes 50 games. That’s the rule, that’s the way it goes.
You know him pretty well. Would you say he would turn his back on the rule and not look too far into it?
He’s a very smart guy. He’s very diligent about what he takes. My friend Leslie Gudel [Comcast SportsNet] went to his house and hung out with him-
Yeah, I saw that piece on Comcast SportsNet. He certainly wasn’t hiding all his vitamins.
Yes and he’s very knowledgeable and astute about what he does and when he does it. That said, I would think he would’ve been a little less naïve when looking at the thing and knowing that the guy who makes it made the stuff Barry Bonds was allegedly taking. It stinks, but I think he should’ve known better.
There’s a reason why these things are banned, and that’s because they work. I don’t think that he was trying to cheat. I don’t think he’s trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes right now, but it seems fair. It’s a shame ‘cause it could really hurt them.
So you think it could hurt them?
Yeah, its 50 games. J.C.’s always in really good shape and always healthy. In those 50 games, he might pitch in 30 of them. That’s a big hole to fill.
Obviously there have been rumors about Nomar Garciaparra coming here. Would you like to see him in a Phil’s uniform?
No. [Laughs] I’m just saying that to be funny because Nomar has a reputation of not really being a good guy. But who cares what his personality is. The less he talks, the weirder he may be, makes better stories for guys like me. So sure, It would be cool to have him here. I doubt it will happen though. But then again, I never thought they’d win the World Series, so what do I know? So yeah, I’d kind of like to see that.
Will Ibanez be better, worse, or the same as Pat Burrell?
They’re different. They do two different things. Pat Burrell tries to hit the ball out of the ballpark and he tries to drive in runs. Ibanez drives in runs. It’ll be interesting to see his HRs here compared to Safeco. I think the one thing where Ibanez could be better than Burrell is he puts the ball in play more often. That could lead to a higher average, more RBIs, who knows, so in that one regard he could be better than Burrell.
I think the one knock on him right now is he isn’t Burrell, and Burrell was popular. People are going to hold that against him. He’s not the guy about town, he’s not the guy out after midnight at whatever the hot spot may be mixing with the people. He’s never going to be that guy.
You mentioned Citizen Bank Park, and how it is such a hitter’s park. When you look at dimensions around the league some of them are not all that different. Do you think too much is made of the dimensions here?
You know, it's really windy down there. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it but they built a ballpark at a geographical anomaly. There are two major rivers converging in that exact spot. It’s going to have an effect on how the atmosphere is and how the weather responds to whatever. I know whenever I go down there and get out of my car it’s really windy. That’s my theory about that place anyway.
The Braves have signed Derek Lowe. Do you think they could be a legitimate third horse in the East race?
Yeah, I think it will be a three-team race again. I think the Phillies should be favored.
A lot of people are picking the Mets though.
Yeah and they picked the Mets the last two years too. Maybe the third time’s the charm for them. I like the Phillies' chances, but they have to do a little more with the pitching, but then again, you always have to do more with your pitching. Last year they didn’t have a ton of injuries and I think they’ll need that again.
So if you had to put a percentage on the chance that they will repeat as world champs, what would that number be?
That’s tough to do. I would say they’re not going to repeat, it just doesn’t happen a lot. I would say 20 percent. They need to win the East, and that’ll be a little tougher. Once you're in the playoffs it’s a hot pitching staff that carries the team. If they’re in that position, we’ll see. It’s going to be tough, though.
What is your favorite memory of the 2008 season?
Hmmm, there was a lot of them. I thought Matt Stairs hitting that home run at Dodger Stadium and the way the people around me reacted was special. I was sitting with Marcus Hayes, Rich Hofmann, Sam Donnellon, and Phil Sheridan. The way that they reacted when that wall left the ball park made me think that we’re kind of going somewhere, and that this team’s going to win it all. That was the moment on the field that stands out to me. But that whole month of October was just a lot of fun.
Who will the Phillies' opening day, fifth starter be?
Chan Ho Park. With Romero out until June, I wouldn’t be surprised to see J.A. Happ in the bullpen for the short term.