Based on the way they have started this season, Collin McHugh, C.C. Sabathia and Trevor Williams should be in high demand for interviews. The three starting pitchers — McHugh for the Houston Astros, Sabathia for the New York Yankees and Williams for the Pittsburgh Pirates — had combined to make nine starts before Friday’s games, with a 2.08 ERA.
But McHugh, Sabathia and Williams enjoy asking questions, too. All three pitchers double as podcasters — a natural hobby, perhaps, for players who perform only once every five games.
“We have way more time,” Sabathia said on Wednesday after recording his latest episode with the bullpen coach Mike Harkey. “Plenty of time to do stuff like that.”
Sabathia and his co-host, Ryan Ruocco, a broadcaster for ESPN and the YES Network, release a new episode of “R2C2 Is Uninterrupted” every Thursday, speaking mostly with baseball, football and basketball players. Sabathia said his dream guest was the entertainer Will Smith, but lately he has settled for teammates like Gleyber Torres, J.A. Happ and James Paxton.
“It’s less of an interview, I feel like, just more of a conversation,” said Sabathia, who is also working for ESPN in his final year as a player. “You get people to relax a little more, you get better stories. People are just more comfortable in that setting.”
McHugh once kept a blog but transitioned to a new medium after listening to podcasts by the NBA veteran J.J. Redick of the Philadelphia 76ers, who regularly interviews players for a broadcast hosted by The Ringer.
“I’m not a huge basketball fan, but it was just the idea of hearing league insiders talk about things that maybe you’ve thought about but never were really able to know if it was true or put a real voice to it,” McHugh said. “To hear two basketball players talking about what life on the road is like, what traveling is like, all these different things and just getting to hear their voices, that made basketball more interesting to me.
“And I started thinking about: What is baseball missing? We’re missing this fan/human interaction. Everything’s getting really disconnected in terms of analytics, the fans and the players, there’s more of a gap than there’s ever been before. So what would be a way to bridge that?”
McHugh is the lone host of “The Twelve Six,” named for the curveball, which breaks from 12 to 6 on a clock face. McHugh — whose recent episode with Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle was especially compelling — combines the probing questions of a good reporter with the credibility of a fellow major leaguer, in a casual, one-on-one setting.
“As soon as you get more than one camera on a person, the honesty curve just goes way down, because guys are very reticent to say things that might be perceived the wrong way,” McHugh said. “But when it’s just two dudes sitting around, having a bottle of wine or a couple of beers and just talking, you’re way more likely to get more honest answers — which I think is a treasure, and a lot of capital in this day and age.”
As for Williams, he and his co-host, Pirates reliever Steven Brault, have recorded most of their episodes during the offseason and thrive on topics far afield: favorite candy bars, Christmas songs, Pixar movies and so on.
“Ours is more the fun side of players, reminding fans that we’re human beings, we’re not just baseball players and all we think about is baseball,” Williams said. “When we have guests on — other teammates or whoever — we first ask, ‘What are you passionate about, what’s a hobby that you have that isn’t baseball?’ So if it’s cooking: What’s your favorite food? If it’s sandwiches: What’s your favorite sandwich? Everyone has an opinion on their favorite things.”
Williams, 26, has helped lead a Pirates rotation that entered Friday’s games with a 2.09 ERA, easily the best in the National League. Like the Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Seaver and Don Sutton, who each started broadcasting while they were still playing, to prepare for life after baseball, Williams enjoys his current profession while planning for his next.
“Every time I’m in an interview, every time I’m in front of a TV camera, I feel like I’m trying out for my next job,” he said. “I’d love to be on TV, I’d love to do color commentary. But right now I’m a baseball player, and I’d like to do that for as long as I can.”