10 HARD-HITTING QUESTIONS FOR VANESSA RICHARDSON

Here’s an inside look at how the biggest interview of the year came about

Vanessa Richardson and Jeff Luhnow
Let's pull back the curtain on the Jeff Luhnow interview. Photo via: Vanessa Richardson/Facebook

Houston's biggest sports story of the week was Channel 2 sports reporter Vanessa Richardson's lengthy interview with banished Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who denied any responsibility or knowledge of the Astros cheating scandal. For almost a year, Luhnow had been the great white whale of "gets" for Houston media.

The next day, sports talk radio was consumed with reaction to the interview. One of the head scratchers was, why would Luhnow choose to bare his soul to a young local reporter who came to Houston only last year after covering news and sports for the NBC station in Cincinnati.

Here is the story behind the story: the anatomy of Vanessa Richardson's scoop.

1.Ken Hoffman: How did the interview come about? Did he approach you, or did you seek him out?

Vanessa Richardson: When Luhnow and (former Astros manager A.J.) Hinch were fired, every reporter in town, plus national reporters, wanted to talk to them. Understandably, neither wanted to talk for a while. I ended up asking Luhnow a few months ago, and he said he felt he was getting to the point where he might be ready, but had to get some things in order first. October ended up being the time he wanted to share his side of things. Once we had a date and time, I told my bosses about it and they wanted to make it a more professional, two-camera shoot.

2.KH: Since he wanted to wait until the Astros season was over, when did you do the interview?

VR: We did the interview the week before it aired. He didn't want to take the spotlight away from the Astros, which we were more than happy to accommodate. My bosses decided to turn it into a 30-minute special, which was great, but took a lot of work in one week.

3.KH: Do you get why some media veterans wonder how you got the Luhnow interview?

VR: I completely understand people wondering how I got this interview, since I haven't been in Houston that long. It's really simple; I met Jeff, his wife, and some of his extended family when I moved to Houston in 2019, and we kept in touch. They trusted me, but also allowed me to ask harder questions that probably weren't pleasant for him to reflect on, which I appreciated.

4.KH: Your interview on Channel 2 was a 30-minute special. On the station's website, the interview ran 37 minutes. How long were you in Luhnow's home?

VR: From setup to teardown, it was probably two hours.

5.KH: Did Luhnow set any conditions for the interview? Were any topics off limits?

VR: He did not control the questions, and allowed me to ask what I felt needed to be addressed.

6.KH: When you watched the finished interview, were there any questions you wished you had asked?

VR: As a reporter, if you don't look over and critique your interviews, you're doing yourself a disservice. There are two or three questions I wish I would have asked! But there are also Astros beat writers who hopped on local radio stations and acted like I threw Luhnow softball questions, which I disagree with.

7: What did you think of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred's response, where he shot down Luhnow's claim of innocence, and said Luhnow was guilty of an infraction and deserved punishment?

VR: I knew Rob Manfred would probably give a statement or comment to a network, which he did. He said there was more evidence, which was interesting to me. I think we all would like to have been a fly on the wall in that investigation.

8.KH: Were you surprised when it appeared that Luhnow was close to tears?

VR: I didn't expect Luhnow to get teary-eyed. It was definitely the most human side of him I think the public has seen. From what I could tell, he deeply cared about the Astros, which I don't think anyone would deny, and I know that part caught some people off guard.

9.KH:How much preparation did you do for the interview?

VR: I was excited to do the interview, and extremely thankful. I knew it would interest people, simply because it was the first time he would be talking about this. I also figured there would be questions why I got the interview, being I'm a young woman and relatively new to Houston. Although I had covered the scandal at length, I wanted to make sure I did proper research. I spent weeks delving into different articles and trying to get it right. Overall, the response was pretty positive.

10: KH: Did you come away believing his explanation of how things happened, or did you feel he was doing damage control?

VR: Everyone is asking me if I believe him, which I understand. My job was to do the interview, and try to be as fair as possible. It's up to baseball fans and viewers to decide what to think. Of course he wanted to share his side, who wouldn't? Whether or not people believe him is for each individual to decide.

Bonus question. Did Luhnow offer you any delicious snacks or refreshing beverages?

VR: Haha! He and his wife did offer me and the photographers water and whatever we needed. They were very welcoming.

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These uniforms have to go. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Major League Baseball will consider going back to having players wear their team uniforms for the All-Star Game.

Club uniforms were used by the American League from 1933-2019 and by the National League from 1934-2019. When the game resumed in 2021 following the pandemic-related cancellation in 2020, MLB had started a uniform contract with Nike and Fanatics, and All-Stars were outfitted in specially designed league uniforms that drew criticism from traditionalists.

Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

This year's AL uniforms had a sandy base with red sleeves and lettering and the NL had a navy base with light blue sleeves and lettering.

“I’m aware of the sentiment on this issue,” Manfred told the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday. "I think where my head is on it, it’s something we’re going to have a conversation about coming out of the All-Star Game. We've got a lot of uniform things going on. And, obviously, the conversations have to involve the players first and foremost but Nike, some of our partners. But I am aware of the sentiment, and I do know why people kind of like that tradition."

MLB and Nike were criticized for club uniforms this year and said in May that 2025 club outfits will have larger lettering on the back of jerseys and individual pant customization. Players complained this year that white pants worn by some teams are see-through enough to show tucked-in jersey tops.

Regional sports networks

Manfred said a national steaming package of local television broadcasts is a future possibility.

“I could see a situation where we grow into a 30-club model. It might start on the digital side, where you have 14 or 15 clubs, and, you start with a digital product there as your first alternative,” he said.

“I was in Sun Valley last week and I did the whole speed-dating thing with everybody who’s ever streamed anything. When you talk to people in the streaming business, they’re not really interested in buying the state of Wisconsin and two counties in Michigan," Manfred added. "They want to be able to stream quite frankly, all over the U.S. and Canada but more broadly internationally. So I think those conversations are a product of owners saying, holy cow, the RSN business is really deteriorating. We know the future’s going to be streaming. What we’re hearing from the streamers is they want a more national product, and we need to be responsive to what people want to buy.”

MLB took over production of Arizona and San Diego local television broadcasts last year following the bankruptcy of Diamond Sports’ Bally networks and said MLB will be available as an option for teams looking for new deals. He said Padres game are approaching 40,000 subscribers, which he called a good figure.

“Having said that, from a revenue perspective it is not generating what the RSNs did," Manfred said. "The RSNs were a great business. Lots of people paid for programing they didn’t necessarily want. And it’s hard to replicate that kind of revenue absent that kind of bundling concept.”

Offense

While offense is near half-century lows, it has picked up from early in the season.

“The decline in offense is something that we’re paying a lot of attention to and we’ll continue to monitor to make a decision as to whether we think we need to do something. You do hear a lot of chatter about the dominance of pitching in the game. That’s absolutely true.”

Birmingham

After the success of the June 20 game between San Francisco and St. Louis at Rickwood Field, Manfred said MLB will return to the ballpark in Birmingham, Alabama, but the “exact form” had not been determined.

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