Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2004-01-06 08:28
by Alex Belth


As the Pete Rose story (a.ka. "The Hustler's Convention")hits the streets via the nation's newspapers this morning, I just wanted to do a quick follow-up on the piece I wrote yesterday. After I posted the article, I had the opportunity to ask a couple of questions to Tim Machman of The New York Sun, who is one of the brightest young baseball writers in the country.

Bronx Banter: Now that the Pete Rose affair has finally come out in the mainstream how will this effect Basball Prospectus' standing?

Tim Marchman: Honestly, I don't think it will one way or the other. The most you're going to see in the mainstream press is that "a website" broke this story a while ago.

BB: Will they be absolved by the mainstream media? Should they be?

TM: I think the mainstream baseball press, insofar as this is an issue to them, will judge this by results and not process. As I understand it, what Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg reported was to the best of their knowledge true, and met a level of sourcing that would hold up at a newspaper. That doesn't mean that what their sources told them was accurate, although it seems probable to me that it was. From my angle, they met their obligations as journalists whether or not- and these are two distinct things- a)their sources were accurate and b)what they reported actually occurs the way their sources told them it would. Either, both or neither of this could be true. In regards to a), they had a responsibility to make sure the information met a certain threshold of credibility; I'm quite certain they met it. In regards to b), whether or not events unfold the way they predicted is irrelevant as long as they met their ethical obligations to ensure the information was credible. The world is dynamic. Unfortunately, I think they will be judged by whether or not events unfold in the way they had reason to predict they would, which is of course out of their control.

BB: Do you think BP wants to remain known as "outsiders" or are they trying to get on the inside and are merely running into static trying to do so?

TM: It's not my place to say how they want to position themselves, but I think a few points hold. First, they're not a monolithic entity. Joe Sheehan might call up Brian Cashman and get his call returned in five minutes; Will Carroll might call up Brian Cashman later that afternoon and find that he's out having a root canal. Forever. Second, I think Baseball Prospectus writers occupy a unique niche in that they have a great deal of access, but it's not neccessarily always on their terms, and I think at least some of that access has been thrust upon them more than they've sought it. (The Pete Rose story, if I understand correctly, is a perfect example of this). Anyway, for my money too big a distinction is made between insiders and outsiders. Plenty of good writers on big papers with tremendous access to front offices remain neutral and objective; plenty of self-styled objective analysts rely on conjecture and innuendo. What matters is sound thought.

BB: Was BP in over their heads breaking the story in the first place?

TM: Absolutely not. I think there are certain things they wish they'd known to do, but they did a solid and professional job of breaking an important story.

BB: Was it simply a matter that MLB and the mainstream press were in cahoots, and the story was only going to break when MLB was good and ready
to have it out there?

TM: Yes. Writers with the access that Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark have break stories of this scale on their source's terms; it's just how things are done. This is a real problem in sportswriting: is it journalism or is it boosterism? What does it mean when the two best-connected and most influential baseball writers work for an MLB broadcast partner? I don't mean to impugn Gammons' or Stark's integrity, but the appearance of a conflict of interest, in addition to the normal reporter/source dynamic, is troubling. They clearly knew about the story before Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg; why didn't they break it? The only reason I can think of is that they were serving the interests of their sources before that of their public. One of the advantages of not relying so heavily on sources is that if a story like this does come your way you can break it without worrying about consequences.

I think Marchman hits the nail on head in saying that too much of a distinction is being made between the outsiders and insiders. Broad labels like this make me inherently uneasy, and yet I've used them as a way to start examining the contemporary culture of baseball writing. But Tim is right: What matters is sound thought. And the Internet-based writers don't hold a monopoly on it, that's for sure. Gordon Edes, the head baseball writer at The Boston Globe, wrote a wonderfully definitive and thorough piece on the Alex Rodriguez negotiations late last week, which proves that some of the most sound, and responsible work is coming out of a mainstream outlet. If you didn't catch it, I suggest you go back and take a peak.

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