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Yankee Panky #13: Press Off
2007-06-12 10:03
by Will Weiss
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Amid a six-game win streak and everything being hunky dory in Yankeeland, save for the cynics who decry Roger Clemens’ debut as not being a worthy test of his readiness, I wanted to take a detour to discuss a mediacentric issue.

Monday’s New York Times featured an article from sports business reporter Richard Sandomir on the relocation of the press box at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago from the second level, about 20 or so feet right behind home plate to two tiers higher and between home plate and the first base line. The article, which features reactions from reporters, fans, and Reinsdorf himself, got me thinking about the perception that professional teams pamper the media with their accommodations.

This perception is false. My experience is that most teams, especially in the major markets, tolerate the media, as opposed to helping them do their jobs. It's not an adversarial relationship, but it's not exactly a symbiotic one, either.

Aside from unparalleled access to players and organization types, beat writers, columnists, TV and radio casters receive numerous perks. Some of these perks include free parking, season passes affording an entree into the clubhouses, dugouts, and the field. Card-carrying members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are awarded access to any Major League press box because of their affiliation. Non-BBWAA members aren’t so lucky. While at YES, my dot.com colleagues and I had the same access as BBWAA members with our media passes, and our seat was on the second level of the YES TV booth right above home plate. These concessions made up for the fact that we paid for parking — we were considered part of the TV crew and parked with the YES production folks in Lot 10, on 158th St. and River Ave.

The YES booth wasn’t our permanent seat at the Stadium, though. On non-YES/Channel 9 — and until 2005, Channel 2 — games, we were booted from the booth and had to either finagle a seat in the main press area, which is in the Loge section, stretching from the Yankees’ on-deck circle to about first base, or we sat in the makeshift YES studio in the basement. The only benefit to the basement spot was being able to walk about 15 yards to the clubhouse to get quotes. We could work in the nearby press workroom, but couldn’t file, as we didn’t have a phone line from which to access the Internet and file (the Stadium alleviated this problem last year by going wireless). In all honesty, we could have covered the FOX or ESPN games from home, written stories and grabbed our quotes from the postgame show. (We never did that.)

The situation is worse in the playoffs, where seats are at a premium. No baseball stadium or hockey or basketball arena that I know of has a press box large enough to accommodate the number of media present to report on these games. As a result, tens of writers are strewn across the outfield seats or in blocked off areas of the arena, seated among fans. This arrangement is problematic, because a writer could potentially miss a big play on the walk to the media workroom or auxiliary press area near the locker room/clubhouse, which could take 15 to 20 minutes if you happen upon a mob of people.

Getting bumped happens in other stadiums, and quite frequently. Fenway Park has a four-tiered press box, but doesn’t have nearly enough seats to hold the throng of local, national and Japanese writers on hand to cover a Yankees-Red Sox series. Unless you’re in one of the first two rows, you can’t really see the game (the view is over the visitors’ dugout, between home and third). The glare off the glass from the fluorescent lights makes picking up nuances of the game impossible.

Four years ago for the Roger Clemens-Kerry Wood showdown at Wrigley, the day Acevedo blew a chance for Clemens to pick his 300th career victory (and Funny Cide failed to win the Belmont Stakes and win the Triple Crown), I sat with two dozen writers from the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times in the media cafeteria, where we listened to the fans and watched the game on television. The interesting part about that was trying to guess the time delay between crowd noise and what caused the reaction on TV.

I apologize if it sounds like I'm bitching. I’m just sharing my experiences in the field, and Sandomir’s piece brought many memories to the front of my mind. I’m privileged and lucky to have had the opportunity to cover hundreds of games at some of the game’s most hallowed ballparks. Would I have preferred to keep my seat in the YES booth all the time? You bet. But the more it happened, the more I understood the reasons for our displacement at those designated times. The fact that so many other columnists were forced into the same situation as me quelled my agita.

The part about parking in Lot 10, yes, I was bitching. Repeated efforts to earn us a parking pass to the media lot across from the press entrance were denied. The reason I tried to make this happen was fear of having my car stolen. In 2002 and ’03, the first two years at YES, there were four separate instances of attendants locking the gates to the lot while my colleagues’ cars were still parked — were unsuccessful. My car was never stolen, but there were many nights when it was the last vehicle in the lot and I had to open the gate in order to leave.

I recount these stories because I respect the work involved in covering a game and I know how a good seat helps you do your job well. Sure, nearby TV monitors are great if you miss a play, but there’s nothing like seeing it all develop in front of you, picking up on things the camera doesn’t. Those are the things that aid a writer — provided he or she has a strong knowledge of the game — in describing the action or putting a game situation into context. You can’t write what you can’t see. As to the space issue, I can attest that it’s difficult to concentrate when you’re cramped into tight quarters and you’re simultaneously trying to keep your materials organized and out of the way of the person on either side of you.

This brings me back to Sandomir’s column. I understand Jerry Reinsdorf’s desire to maximize revenue by converting the old press area and charging $265 to $315 for the club seating. But I don’t understand his apparent glee in angering the local media as a result of the renovation. If I were on the White Sox beat, I’d be upset not at being relocated, but at Reinsdorf’s lack of concern for my peers and me.

“We were giving the press the best real estate in the building, slightly elevated behind home plate, which they don’t need,” he told the Times, adding that the reason for the renovation was “financial.” The new seats could help the White Sox bring in an extra $4 million in revenue.

Fans love the change. And they should. For the aforementioned price, they get the best seat in the house, in a posh environment, and eat like royalty.

“There’s nothing like this. You can call the balls and strikes and see the outfield plays develop,” one fan said. That same fan, referring to the Sun-Times’ national baseball writer, said, “It doesn’t matter if Dave van Dyck can see how much the ball breaks.”

It helps if he wants to use that breaking ball to make an analogy in his column. If reporting is based on observation, how can a writer have credibility in a game story or column if the ability to appropriately observe what’s happening on the field is hampered?

The relocations also hurt the official scorer, who in most parks sits among the writers. How does the scorer benefit from being moved to a spot where his view can be obstructed?

I agree with all the writer beefs Sandomir highlights except one: that Reinsdorf should have consulted the writers on relocation options before making the changes. It’s his ballpark. He can do what he wants. A different owner might have considered pleasing the media without pampering them.

In reviewing the renderings of the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field in Queens, I haven’t seen where the press boxes will be located or what field views they will provide. But I would hope the two media-savvy owners, George Steinbrenner and Fred Wilpon, consider the men and women who grind to make New York a baseball city on a year-round basis.

Writers and broadcasters aren’t entitled to the best seats in the house. But if they don’t get them, they should at least be in a favorable position to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

What do you think? As a fan, do you agree with the patrons of the Cell? Can you put yourself in the shoes of a Dave van Dyck or myself and see our point? Do you care about this at all? I’m curious to read and respond to your comments.

Next week … which outlet provided the best coverage of the Subway Series?

Food for thought … over/under on the number of times the Clemens/Piazza and Clemens/Estes incidents are replayed on YES and SNY: 3 per channel.

Comments
2007-06-12 10:16:05
1.   monkeypants
In the current environment of media saturation--when I sit in Canada and watch every Yankees game for a relative pittance on my computer--I pretty much could care less about what the press sees at the game. I am not convinced that they observe any more than I do, certainly not if the play-by-play folks are any indication. The only real advantage the press has is access to the players for interviews and behind the scenes stuff, which does not seem to rely on having good seats for the game.

I understand a sportswriter's perspective about wanting to do the best job (s)he can, but I truly wonder if the traditional sportswriter--who especially in the days before TV had a virtual monopoly on visual information at the ballpark, whish was diseminated in newspapers to millions of fans who lacked access to one of the 16 stadiums in the nation--is simply being phased out by technology and a changing market.

2007-06-12 11:17:12
2.   Will Weiss
Good points. ... PBP teams, in general, try to hard to fill every bit of air time. Since newspapers still ascribe to the view of considering game stories necessary, with a great deal of play-by-play within them, it's important for writers to have a good view of the action. Otherwise, it's simply regurgitating inning-by-inning recaps. There isn't an easy answer to this question.
2007-06-12 11:24:13
3.   williamnyy23
Quite frankly, I haven't read a game story in years and see no reason why I'd want to. Between television saturation and the internet, there really is no need to read the beat writer's account of the game. Not only do beat writers strike me as less than astute observers, but by the time their articles hit the newsstands, the game has already been dissected in a variety of alternative mediums. Thanks to sites like Bronx Banter, newspaper game accounts have been rendered time filler. In that sense, I agree completely with Reinsdorf. The sports media does not need the prime real estate formerly afforded to them. In fact, in many cities, the sports media has become glorified critics, so I can also understand Reinsdorf's glee.

The sportswriter of today who is worth his pen is the one who can write well and uncover news. To do that, the writers would probably be better off watching the game in the club house because that's the one part of baseball that has yet to be exposed to the scrutiny of the new information age.

2007-06-12 11:46:42
4.   Keith R A DeCandido
http://www.newsday.com/sports/columnists/ny-spwally125252808jun12,0,6773390.column?coll=ny-sports-columnists

I see imbecilic screeds like that, and I don't blame owners for not wanting to treat journalists with the greatest of respect.

sigh

An unfair reaction, I know, but it's endemic of the appalling state of sports "journalism" right now. For every Rob Neyer and Pete Abraham there are about eight thousand Bill Maddens and Mike Lupicas and Wallace Matthewses and Steve Phillipses.

2007-06-12 11:54:11
5.   markp
With so many sportswriters having descended into self-righteous, judgemental psychobabble, I really don't care if they were denied access entirely.

How many articles demeaning the latest arch-villain, always citing his complete lack of character, his "phoniness" (always a crowd pleaser", surliness, etc., etc. does it take to realize most of these guys and gals are pompous, self-impotant asses?

How much inaccuracy, complete lack of understanding stats, and absurd rationalizations does it take to realize most of these guys shouldn't be writing about Little League instead of MLB.

Lastly, how many more articles about what's horribly wrong with MLB does it take to realize the vast majority of these people don't even like the game nearly enough to be allowed to cover it at all,

2007-06-12 12:11:34
6.   joejoejoe
MLB should standardize some access for the press but only a limited number. Provided choice access to 20-50 members of the press isn't a burden in stadiums that seat more than 40,000 fans. If the overflow is less than ideal like a cafeteria or standing room in the wing decks than so be it.

If the daily coverage of a team exceeds the limited number of slots that I proposed as a MLB standard (20-50) then rotate the beat media between the good spots and overflow so that everybody gets an equal chance.

News doesn't just happen behind home plate from the best vantage points. The Jeffery Maier play, the Bartman play, Jeter's dive into the stands behind 3B/LF - overflow press box coverage that appeared to be 'bad seats' could actually turn out to be the best vantage point for covering the events as they unfold.

I think giving special guaranteed access to a core group of the press serves neither the press nor the institution it is covering. The White House press corps is like veal - kept in a pen and reduced to repeating the same pat answers and spin again and again. Beat writers can and do sometimes fall into the same trap.

2007-06-12 12:20:22
7.   RIYank
4 Wow, that article is mind-boggling-- for a minute I thought it was parody. I especially liked the part where he asks what he would "write about when the Yankees are slogging through some meaningless August tilt with the Devil Rays" if he didn't have A-Rod to excoriate. Right! You'd have to watch the game or something!

But, Keith, use TinyURL, for the sake of readers whose browsers are messed up by very long lines.

2007-06-12 12:22:16
8.   bhsportsguy
Hey fellow Baseball Toasters, I usually linger in Dodger Thoughts but I am making my first trip to Yankee Stadium in a couple of weeks and I wanted to know a couple of things:

1. Best place to sit for a first time attendee to get the best overall experience.
2. Best place to get food in or outside the stadium.
3. Any other suggestions, like should I buy a NY cap and wear no Dodger colors in the stadium.
4. Stub-Hub, EBay or the Yankee's site to buy tickets.

Thanks for the anticipated help.

2007-06-12 12:31:20
9.   vockins
8 I'd like to think everyone got over 1981 and 1955. Wear whatever you want.

Well, don't come dressed like Wally the Red Sox mascot.

2007-06-12 12:36:31
10.   vockins
If anyone needs rain, buy me a ticket to a Yankees home game. I've had a ticket to every rainout the Yanks have had this year, and it looks like I ain't going tonight.
2007-06-12 12:49:32
11.   monkeypants
8 I would say Tier seats behind home and Stan's Sports Bar--I don't know if these are the best seats/food, but they strike me as the quintessential experience.
2007-06-12 13:02:44
12.   yankz
8 Yankees site has always worked well for me.

Oh, and definitely the right field bleachers. The people are friendly!

2007-06-12 13:07:16
13.   yankz
From 4: "Those teams were built on small ball - incredibly, Bernie Williams' 30 homers in 2000 represents the peak of Yankees power for that era - on timely hitting, on role players who worked together like the cast of "The Sopranos," and on pitching."

What the deuce? Does Tino Martinez not count? 44 in '97 and 34 in '01. Oh wait...only homers hit in championship years count. A-Rod has 0 career homers. How could I have forgotten.

2007-06-12 13:08:53
14.   yanster
Recently, I've been frustrated by newspaper coverage of the games. I love reading about baseball - I'm a big fan of Roger Angell and have read a couple of anthologies of his. But I'm finding that when I watch a game or listen to it on the radio, my impression varies significantly from the article. For example, last week Arod was called out stealing second base. It was a pretty big play - the next hit was a double. Joe Torre came out to talk about it. Arod was steamed and vocal and was restrained. And the replay clearly showed that it was a bad call by a pretty good margin. It was mentioned after the game both by Arod and by Torre. At the same time the Times (Tyler Kepner I believe) glossed over it briefly as a "close call at second." That's WAAAY too diplomatic for me as a reader. The call was bogus and it had a big impact not just on the score but on the attitude of the team.

Personally, I'm much more interested in the development of the game than the outcome, and it seems like a lot of the articles don't talk about the plays that really matter in a game - a big strikeout or a 12 pitch battle - instead articles lean on the results and after-game comments.

If that's the kind of reporting I get from the Times, then I certainly don't care where the reporters sit in the stadium.

Locker room comments are interesting, but I'd prefer to read them in the off day color pieces, not in the game coverage.

Anyone else feel like I do?

2007-06-12 13:10:51
15.   Peter
8 I personally prefer to buy tickets through the Yankees website just because I know they're sure to be legit, but having said that, I had some good experiences with Craigslist in the past.

10 I had a stretch where I always seemed to have tix for the day after a rainout. It's not as bad as your situation, but it always threw a monkey wrench into the expected pitching matchups. Twice I was supposed to see Randy but ended up with Wright at the last minute.

2007-06-12 13:16:25
16.   williamnyy23
8

1- The best seat DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR in Yankee Stadium is behind homeplate in the Tier section (reserved or box; doesn't matter how the row is). Obviously, if you can get your hands on a pair behind the screen and don't mind paying for it, all the better. I personally would avoid the bleachers...the charm wears off quickly and then you start to realize how uncomfortable it is to be sitting on a bench with no defined seating area and no chair back.

2-Don't get food in the stadium...it's mostly bad and always way overpriced. Take a walk to the Court Street Deli for a good sandwich (check back in the April archives - Alex had a nice write up).

3-Dodger hats wont be met with much recognition, if any at all. A Met hat gets some mild taunting and a Red Sox hat will get a colorful word or two. Other than that, you should feel free to wear what you'd like.

4-The Yankees have very few good seats remaining for most games this season. If you want your choice of seats, eBay is probably best (StubHub tends to be easier to use, but more expensive).

Have fun!

2007-06-12 13:20:09
17.   williamnyy23
4 Wally Matthews is the definition of a hack...how he continues to resurface after wearing out his welcome across the NY media landscape is mind boggling. I guess that doesn't say much for overall depth of talent among local sports scribes.
2007-06-12 13:25:17
18.   RIYank
...8, 16 of course, it depends on the Dodger cap. One of these might earn you an appreciative nod:

http://tinyurl.com/2wjrt5

2007-06-12 13:25:30
19.   Chyll Will
I should be extremely happy to express my point of view on this very topic, since I agree in principle with everything that has been said and often rant on this very subject...

But I do feel some slight empathy here. There are many places where people do not have the luxury of internet access and thus get their news via TV or the paper, and likewise with sports. Uncle Woodrow, for example, has just overseen the acquisition of several new computers for various adult homes in his immediate area (he's the president of an elderly and disabled advocacy organization), yet he is not internet savvy and lacks the basic skills to competently operate a computer alone; in his population, few are. That said, there are scores of sports fans, himself included, that rely on television and newspapers for the type of info we have relatively instantly and with varied points of view to appeal to our tastes and opinions.

It sure would be nice if everyone was up-to-speed with prevailing technology, but we're not. Thus we have to either improvise or make due. As objectionable as the content of most papers are, due to their various biases, vendettas and capital obligations, I would hope that the internet does not completely eliminate sportswriters, but forces them to become more responsible and observant in their reporting, offering content that is relevant and insightful as opposed to stilted, pandering, hollow and riddled with manipulated facts.

Maybe that's asking too much, but I want to see newspapers and television compete with internet in terms of quality, not with each other for revenue and the largest share of a desireable demograph.

2007-06-12 13:27:09
20.   Shaun P
Actually Will, New Comiskey (who says I have to use the corporate name?) is owned and operated by the state of Illinois, not Reinsdorf (according to Neil deMause's Field of Schemes: http://tinyurl.com/2vtjje). Knowing Reinsdorf, I'll bet he didn't pay a cent for the place, and so I'm sure he's very happy to rake in an extra $4mil/season while making the press's job a little harder. Its not like he's always been pleased with their coverage.

I wonder if the state authority that actually owns and technically operates New Comiskey was consulted. (When it comes to stadium stuff, I presume nothing.) The press ought to complain to them. After all, its a public-owned (and probably financed) facility; if the public wants the best game coverage via newspapers, and you'd think many do, you'd think they wouldn't have moved the press box.

But money does make the world go 'round . . .

2007-06-12 13:33:00
21.   Shaun P
19 Exactly! How many residents of the greater Chicago area still rely on newspapers for their sports info? Probably a great many, especially among the older and poorer. Not that access to sports info is by any means a public right, but if one is paying for a facility through tax dollars - which I'm sure is how New Comiskey was build - then one ought to see some tangible benefit as a result, without having to buy a ticket, concessions, etc. Or at least that's how I'd try to argue it. =) I'm not sure if that's a winner or not.
2007-06-12 13:35:29
22.   Will Weiss
Thanks for the correction, Shaun. Interesting take that the press should complain to the State of Illinois. I wonder if they'd have a case. It's clear from the comments here that the views of that one fan in Chicago are shared.
2007-06-12 13:57:06
23.   Shaun P
22 You're welcome, Will. If the press is upset, I don't see what they have to lose by complaining to whatever the state authority is. Sure, some fans would be against them, because now those fans can buy those seats. But plenty of other fans, who can't afford those seats, and who rely on the papers for their Sox coverage, are going to be upset.

The worst that can happen is the authority does nothing.

2007-06-12 14:15:50
24.   monkeypants
21 Honestly, though, how many people really rely on newspapers for ssports coverage? Something like 85% of US homes have access to cable TV (whether they subscribe or not), and most urban homes have access to network TV (and indeed the vast majority of Americans have TVs). Most anyone can afford a radio, and I dare say nearly every American home has a radio. Of the very poor who cannot afford radio or TV or cable TV, I suspect many do not subscribe to newspapers, and if they do, the recap of last night's game should not be the highest priority. And of that (what I suspect is a) very small minority who could only follow sports via the newspaper, a certain percentage are almost certainly not even sports fans so don't care. Finally, if we are talking about the very poor, shouldn't the soluion to their sports-information needs be helping them not be poor, not worrying about what seats the local beat writer has at the ball game.

Really, this seems like a bit of a specious argument.

2007-06-12 14:32:51
25.   Chyll Will
24 You're forgetting the percentage of people who do read the paper, even though they have access to cable, radio, TV, etc. A writer's commentary/op-ed should be noted as such, not presented as fact when it was either poorly written and researched or not diligently fact-checked. The crux of the issue to me is not how many people read the paper columns, but how little or how much quality goes into writing them.
2007-06-12 14:38:37
26.   Shaun P
24 It probably is a bit of a specious argument, but I'm a lawyer, and coming up with arguments is my job. I do the best I can with what I'm given. ;)

17 I'd like to see a study done, where average folks on the street are given garbage like that to read, and then asked their opinion on it. You wonder if there's actually a significant segment of the population who gets Newsweek to read that crap. It would make me inclined to not give them any money or support.

2007-06-12 15:15:49
27.   Will Weiss
I live in Long Island and commute into the city via the train. A large number of newspaper readers are commuters, many of whom don't stay up late enough to see the end of games, and these guys aren't exactly internet savvy, so they get their info from the paper. We're a different breed of consumer. I can see all sides of this issue. I just know that being able to see the action from where I did made a big difference in how I constructed my stories. ... Regarding the "crap" column issue, it's a shame how guys like Wally Matthews, who are intelligent, are so inconsistent with their columns. In a sense, he's doing his job in being provocative, but there's a way to do it smartly.
2007-06-12 15:35:05
28.   Max
24 Do you ever take the train? There are many, many newspaper readers -- print may be suffering in the Internet age, but to suggest that it has no role and is being completely phased out by technology is ludicrous.

I empathize with Will's position -- even with hacks like Matthews and Heyman and Lupica, I'm not ready to burn down all beat reporters and columnists and relegate them to the cheap seats. I appreciate that there are thoughtful writers who still care about the nuances of the game and convey their insights with some grace. I would hate to see what Reinsdorf has done become a trend for future parks.

If anything, I wish there were a way for reporters to have better wireless access, so they could blog live in the way Pete Abraham does, so that some of the nuances of games that don't get reported in the morning stories get conveyed somehow.

2007-06-12 16:31:30
29.   monkeypants
28 I do not live in NYC, but I do take the train in my city, and you are correct that many people read the newspaper on teh train. But it is, to use you word, ludicrous to think that this is the ONLY way these commuters get their news. Indeed, I suspect that many people on teh train read to pass the time, not because they are depriced of cable television or can't afford an internet connection at home (or don't occasionally surf the web at work).

I never said that it had no role, but newspapers are simply not as crucial to society as they once were, and in particular sportswriting and sportsnews are just not the domain of newspapers as they were in days of old. Thus, my argument implies that newspapers still have a role in covering sports, but their emphasis should shift from providing game summaries (since vastly more people now get those summaries from other media) and focus instead on stories that cannot be accessed by MLB.tv or Bronxbanter--clubhouse stories, interviews with players, uncovering privileged information, etc.

But, to return to the original question posed by Will Wiess, do I really care if beat writers sometimes don't have good seats at the ballpark? My answer is still "no."And I still stand by my contentiion that the underclasses and train commuters are not suffering grave injustice because Pete Abraham missed a play or two in last night's game because his view was obstructed. Really.

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