Alex Rodriguez almost became a member of the Boston Red Sox. "The Deal" breaks down what how close it came to being a reality. Mandatory Credit: ESPN/Prospect Productions

The YGY Interview: Colin Barnicle, Director of "The Deal"

Editor’s note: In preparation for the release of his latest project “The Deal”, an ESPN 30 For 30 short, director Colin Barnicle was gracious enough to allow co-editor Billy Brost time to speak with him recently about the film, his love for baseball, the rivalry between his Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the Yankees’ offseason spending, and the impending retirement of Yankees captain Derek Jeter. You can watch a clip of “The Deal” here: and the film in it’s entirety on Sunday, February 16th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.~BB

BB: First of all, tell me a little bit about your background as a baseball fan.

CB: I’m from Boston, so I’ve been a lifelong Red Sox fan, and ten years ago I worked for the Red Sox in the mailroom and in the clubhouse for two years when they won the World Series in 2007. I’m kinda ingrained in the baseball experience and the ups and downs of a baseball season. From there, we went to work for ESPN Sunday Night Baseball doing some little ads and such in 2012.

BB: How did the idea for “The Deal” first come about?

CB: We had known for awhile that Alex was almost a Red Sox, and we had been wanting to do a comprehensive piece from the Aaron Boone home run to the Alex Rodriguez & Jason Varitek fight at the end of July, and we decided to research the Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox deal, and as we got in to it, we figured out it was a little more complicated and involved, at some point we thought, “Let’s just make this one snipet with one window of time and see what we can get out of it.”

BB: What was your brother’s (Nick Barnicle, the producer of “The Deal”) involvement with the project other than being the producer? Were you both very hands-on with your research and interviews and all of that?

CB: Yeah, so basically, typically, the way it goes for us, is we are a small company, so Nick is the guy who got everybody to sit down, so he’ll call Brian Cashman, and say “Hey, can you do this?” And get him to sit down and explain “It’s your moment”, so he got every single person you see in the film, Nick called and got them to sit down.

The first time I ever spoke to them is when they went in front of a camera. Nick would make sure they were all fit, get them there, which is a logistical nightmare, when you’re dealing with Theo (Epstein) who is in Chicago, Larry Lucchino who is in Boston, Brian Cashman who is in New York, and we all kinda got them when they were down in the owner’s and GM meetings down in Orlando, we tried to get a bunch of them, so he did that, we obviously both did all of the background research on it, and our third guy, Jeff Siegel, there’s only three of us, and I guess you’d call him our director of photography, he kind of is the guy, who would as I was interviewing, was working the cameras, and then we are all in the editing room together, kinda piecing it together.

BB: Okay big question, was Alex (Rodriguez) approached about participating in your project?

CB: You know, we had contacted his lawyer. We had made him aware of the project, but in the end, it was a creative decision not to have him in it. We thought that if we had put him in it, and he was up there on-screen, it might be a negative connotation to him, and the whole point of the film is that Alex at that point, ten years ago, was the face of baseball, that he was the “Golden Boy” of baseball. We felt “Let’s just keep him as the Golden Boy” because as soon as you see him today, you immediately begin to think of the steroids, and the legal trouble, and everything that happened after 2003. So we kinda wanted to keep him in a bubble in that time period where he was still the face of baseball.

BB: What were some of the obstacles during the project?

CB: You know, there was a bunch. During our meetings, coordinating everything was really tough. All the principle characters in it were really easy to talk to, and were very willing to talk and willing to sit down, but it’s also hard trying to get that many people coordinated to sit down and having to get footage from 2003, it’s always tough. You’re dealing with ESPN, and they’re great, but you have to be very specific like “I want this clip from October 16th, 2003 at this exact moment” and it’s hard to get sometimes, because a lot of that stuff is on beta tape.

But easily, I would say, the number one obstacle was making people not afraid to talk about Alex Rodriguez at a time when he was still going through legal troubles with Major League Baseball. So we had to be very clear with everybody that this was not about steroids, that this was not about his legal troubles, that this was about him still being the face of baseball, and it ended up, the piece is really more about New York and Boston, and the lengths they’ll go in the rivalry to get to the World Series, and how much pressure that is on them. Alex just happens to be the linchpin of that moment. It’s not about him, it’s more about the two teams.

BB: Sure, it’s just basically trying to renew the rivalry, because I remember that rivalry very well from my childhood, and it became white hot at that point in time, especially coming off the heels of the Aaron Boone home run. Did you guys approach Commissioner Selig or Donald Fehr (former head of the Player’s Union) at all to participate in this with direct comments or on-camera comments?

CB: No, we didn’t approach them for on-camera, we didn’t approach the MLBPA basically because of the MLBPA’s involvement. A lot of this stuff is confusing as to why they killed the deal (disallowing A-Rod and the Red Sox to restructure his deal to come to Boston), we kind of wanted it to be just the judge, the guy who says his peace and then he’s out of there, we didn’t want them to have to explain the background.

We did inform Bud Selig and Rob Manfred (MLB’s COO) that we were making this piece, and we told them that it’s just a moment in time piece, it’s not about Alex Rodriguez being a bad guy, and it has nothing to do really with Major League Baseball or steroids and legal troubles, and they were fine with that, they were cool with that, they said cool, happy hunting.

BB: Did the final product come out the way you and Nick and Jeff had envisioned it when you first sat down and started brainstorming on this? What came out on film is that what you guys had envisioned, or could you guys have gone longer or could you have shortened it up? What were some things that were left out that you had hoped to see in the film?

CB: Oh sure, there were a ton of little details that we wanted to put in there that we just didn’t have the time to do. One of them, which was very funny, is that Tyler Kepner, who is in the film, he is a New York Times reporter, he actually was on vacation, he went to a small island in January 2004, and he’s there with his family, and he runs into like 50 people, and one of them was Brian Cashman. So he goes half a world away, and runs into the most important person on his beat. So he’s sitting there, having dinner with Brian Cashman, and Brian Cashman gets a phone call, gets up from the table, Brian Cashman gets the news that Aaron Boone has blown out his knee, and for the whole rest of this trip, they see each other two or three times a day, and Brian Cashman can’t say anything about it. He’s got this huge burden, this huge secret, and he can’t say anything about it, and he’s starting to work the phones, and he’s doing it out of the earshot of Tyler Kepner, and Kepner’s thinking “What’s going on here?” “I feel so bad for this guy that he has to work this hard on vacation to just fill out a spring training roster.”

BB: That is a funny story. A couple of non-film-related questions. Are you going to be at Fenway for the ring ceremony this spring?

CB: Yeah, yeah of course. I’m constantly trying to shirk any sort of work to get back to Fenway Park or to Yankee Stadium for that matter. I usually say it is work, but I end up kinda just sitting there watching the game.

BB: What are your thoughts on the Yankees’ offseason with them signing Jacoby Ellsbury, spending half a billion dollars and a lot of people believe they’re not much better than they were a year ago, what are your thoughts on that?

CB: Yeah, I think they’re better, I think it was a good move not signing Robinson Cano, the amount of money they used instead to get (Brian) McCann, to get Ellsbury, to shore up more holes. Obviously you guys have a little bit of a hole at second base now. I think overall it’s a better team, maybe a little bit of bullpen work needs to be had, you know, the starting pitching, I really like the Tanaka signing, especially with C.C. (Sabathia) who is such a horse, and had such a down season last year. He can’t be a number three, but a number two or a number one. I think it’s been a pretty good offseason for the New York Yankees, and I think Jacoby is gonna be great in a Yankee uniform.

BB: Does it break your heart to see him like Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs and Johnny Damon and see him joining the “Evil Empire”?

CB: You know, no, I don’t think so. I think most people in Boston, when they saw him go, we figured it was a “it’s gonna happen” sort of thing, just because we’ve had such a good minor league system over the last couple of years, that people become more secure in the fact that we’ll be able to replace him, not adequately, but replace him with a good enough player.

You saw Clemens, who was an institution in Boston for so long, when he was in pinstripes, we were like “Oh my God” and saw Wade Boggs, people were like “jeez Louise” you know, and even with Johnny Damon, which isn’t to take anything away from Ellsbury, but Ellsbury, it just came about at a time when we felt as Red Sox fans, that we were secure in the fact that if we lose a very good All-Star, MVP-caliber center fielder like Jacoby Ellsbury, we could possibly replace him, again not adequately, but maybe with a good farmhand like a Jackie Bradley, Jr. or someone.

BB: Two more questions, and I’ll let you get back to your snow day.

CB: (Laughs)

BB: With the news yesterday (Wednesday) of Derek Jeter’s announcement that this is it, what are your takes as a lifelong Red Sox fan about Derek Jeter and his legacy and how it pertains to what I call “The greatest rivalry in professional sports”?

CB: Well, I hope he didn’t choose to retire after he saw our piece and just said “I’m done.” You know, Derek Jeter to me, is very much like Mariano every year. He’s very, I don’t see how he can’t be…he’s incredibly well-respected by Boston Red Sox fans. And it’s going to be for me personally, I could always look across the diamond at the Yankees, that’s the rival, and the one constant to that was Derek Jeter, and I was talking to my brother “How weird is it gonna be next season to look across the diamond and Derek Jeter’s not gonna be there?”

And it’s going to be like the end of a very definite time period where the Red Sox and Yankees  were THE rivalry that they were, and not just one season or two seasons, but from pretty much 2003 to the Yankees winning in 2009, through 2010, a good six-year chunk of it. Where it was a pretty intensive rivalry, you know there was fights, there were close games, they were playing each other 20 times a year including the playoffs. Players kept changing on every side, I mean even Nomar Garciaparra left the rivalry very early on, but Derek Jeter’s always been there. So he’s been pretty much the pinnacle of the whole rivalry whether you’re a Red Sox-Yankees fan, and now that he’s leaving, it’s gonna be like a part of that rivalry has left also.

BB: Okay, last question for you Colin, and again, I appreciate you taking the time with us this morning.

CB: No prob!

BB: I really enjoyed “Holy Grail: The T-206″ film that you guys did, I’m a big baseball card collector. Where does “The Deal” rank for your team in terms of creative satisfaction, professional satisfaction, the whole package, at the end of the day, compared to the other films, where does “The Deal” rank for you guys?

CB: Well, I…I can’t say exactly. They were two different projects, one had a lot of moving parts to it. “The Deal” had a ton of moving parts to it, a ton of little stories within the big story. There was big personalities involved, and I think in terms of how proud we are that we got everybody to sit down and talk about it, it’s unbelievable. We couldn’t have asked for anymore when it came to “The Deal”. We were very surprised that everyone was willing to sit down, and were so affable with just talking about what happened ten years ago.

We are extremely proud of that, and on the other side, with “Holy Grail”, it was really the first time we had ever tried that kind of project, and you think of baseball cards, you don’t exactly think of anything that’s too exciting. So creatively, that was a very big challenge for us, and it was the first time we ever really attempted anything like that. I am equally as proud of both, and I know it’s a cop-out, I guess the fact that the “The Deal” is going to air on ESPN this Sunday (tonight) at 8 p.m. ET, it’s gonna be a big moment for a small company.

BB: Very good. Well Colin, we love your work over at Yanks Go Yard, we are big fans, we’re baseball fans, we appreciate the rivalry, we love the rivalry, and I want to thank you again for taking the time to sit down and speak with us today.

CB: No prob, no prob. And hopefully with Jacoby putting on the pinstripes we can renew this thing and you guys can get back in the playoff hunt.

A special thanks goes out to Anne Feldman for making Colin available to Yanks Go Yard for this interview.

Catch “The Deal” Sunday night at 8 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

Be sure to follow @YanksGoYardFS on Twitter along with our Yanks Go Yard Facebook page!

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