Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2004-01-05 13:52
by Alex Belth

The last night I was in New Orleans at the winter meetings, Jay Jaffe and I were huddled around some of the guys from Baseball Prospectus when Jack Curry from the Times rolled around. I had introduced myself to Curry the day before and had wanted to introduce Jay to him as well. Curry smiled as he approached and said, "What are you guys doing anyway? Stalking us?" He was busting chops, but it wasn't until that point that I asked myself: I wonder what the mainstream press makes of guys like Jay and me being here?
Curry chatted with us for a good while. He was friendly and generous with his time, which both Jay and I appreciated. I think he was more curious than bemused. I can't say for sure, but my assumption is that Jay and I would be associated with Prospectus simply because that's who we were hanging around. And since it's Jack Curry's job to know who is who at these kind of things, I'm sure we stuck out. Of course Prospectus isn't on the same level as us bloggers---although several of their writers initially had blogs of their own, and some still maintain blogs too---but I don't know that it would matter to a member of the mainstream media. We would all be lumped together as the Internet Nerds, or The Stat Geeks, or The Sons of Moneyball.

Either way, we were the outsiders. Now, whether or not a blogger cherishes and promotes their status as an outsider, or is merely using their blog as a vehicle to become an insider is a different story. I'm sure there people on both sides of the fence. (After all, one of the Gods of baseball bloggers is Roger Angell, the ultimate outsider on the inside.) But to the mainstream press, we are outsiders.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a fellow blogger about the impact of blogs and the Internet on baseball writing. I think it has already had an impact, which is sure to gain momentum over the next couple of years. My friend asked, "What do you think the mainstream writers make of us?" "Not much," was my answer. I said that some of them clearly read and enjoy our stuff, while others can't be bothered. But most importantly, until a blogger threatens their paycheck, they won't be overly concerned.

I don't know the future for baseball blogs, certainly as a way to make a living. But ever so slowly, Internet baseball writing is making some waves. The most famous example came late last summer when Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg of Baseball Prospectus wrote that MLB planned to reinstate Pete Rose. MLB denied the story and Carroll and Zumsteg were essentially left hung out to dry. Prospectus had not been in the business of scooping major stories, and suddenly they appeared to be in over their heads.

But as Will Carroll explained to me, he didn't set out to break the Pete Rose story. "We literally fell into it - it wasn't something we sought out or something we normally do (how many stories have we broken since?) so there was no gain to just blue-skying it."

As David Pinto pointed out today, the BP story stated that Rose would not have to admit to betting on baseball in order to be reinstated. That hasn't turned out to be the case. Playing Devil's Advocate, I asked Carroll, "If and when Rose does get reinstated by MLB, do you feel you'll be vindicated? Isn't it like saying it's going to rain? Eventually, you'll be right."

Carroll answered, "Then why didn't someone else do it?" That's a good question. I don't know the behind-the-scenes relationships between MLB and the mainstream media. But judging by their reaction to the BP story, MLB was furious that the story was leaked so early.

"It's speculation," Carroll continued, "but I think they wanted to handle this in their own way on their own time - which is their right - but our publication caused them to go early and because they had no other way to go, they went negative. It's a symbiotic relationship that MLB has with the media and it's clear that some have a relationship that allows them more access than others."

(For an all access take on the Rose story, look no further than Tom Verducci's latest column.)

I asked Carroll, that for all the trouble it's caused him, would he break the story again? "Without a doubt. I'd change small things - I'd know to ask for a copy of the memo rather than being shocked into stupidity. I'd know better how to conduct the investigation and confirm sources. Really, I wouldn't so much change anything as hope to be a better journalist."

Carroll believes the criticism he's faced will slow once Rose is resinstated, but he's not looking for credit or apologies. "I'd like for BP to be taken seriously as a media outlet with the respect due that type of credible, productive enterprise."

Jon Weisman wrote a compelling article about the BP story when it first broke. When I asked him how he felt about the story now that Pete Rose is on ABC, Weisman replied, "The issue of whether Pete admits guilt is relevant, at least to the widespread discussion if not whether he should be excused. On the other hand, I don't think this should prevent BP for being credited for being ahead of the pack on the story, however relevant one deems that to be.

"Alex, I don't want BP and bloggers like us to be dependent on scoops to gain respect. I want us to gain respect because our analysis deserves it and our writing deserves it - before, during or after the fact."

With that in mind, please head over to Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, and take in Rich Lederer's latest article, "One Small Step for Blyleven," which suggests that the influence of Internet-based writers is here to stay. Just as Michael Lewis wrote about the hostilities of baseball's old gaurd in "Moneyball," Lederer encounters similar resistance from an old newspaper lion like Bill Conlin. Remember what Satchel said about looking back.

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