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Yankee Panky # 46: Get In The Game
2008-03-27 10:04
by Will Weiss
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Please allow me to start the column by saying I miscalculated. I had intended to review the various papers' pullout/special sections on the Yankees, but they will be available this Sunday. Since rosters are complete now, the last vestiges of those sections can now go to print.

In order to truly appreciate those sections — regardless of the quality of writing — think of the planning that goes into it. Editors meet on the content for those sections and begin doling assignments starting from the time they send reporters to Tampa. It's a long, painstaking process.

I'll tie in the reviews with some Opening Day missives in the next column. …

… This week, I wanted to veer off the beaten path (not the "beatin' path," as in "dead horse," or Canseco v. A-Rod: A Juicing and Wife-Ogling Tale), to discuss how various media members view their function in the baseball establishment. But before I do, a quick tangent: Reading about the Red Sox' whining about the Japan trip took me into the DeLorean and the last week of March, 2004. My colleagues and I were on two-week rotations for Spring Training, and I had the final two weeks leading up to the Yankees' exodus to Japan, where they opened the season against the Devil Rays. I actually watched their charter take off from my hotel room.

At any rate, the quotes from various Sox players and coaches were eerily reminiscent of those of Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina and a couple of other Yankees who vocalized their disdain for the long haul across the International Date Line. There was concern of how the trip would affect the team long-term for the season. The first three weeks of April were terrible; the Yankees went 8-11 in their first 19 games, including a 1-6 mark against the Red Sox. An eight-game win streak ended the first month of the season and bled into May, and set the tone for a 101-61 record that included 61 come-from-behind victories.

But the early effects of the Japan trip were still talked about on Sept. 30, the night the Yankees clinched the AL East on a game-winning home run by Bernie Williams. As I was scampering through the clubhouse, steno pad in hand trying to avoid a champagne shower that would have ruined my notes, I recall one local television reporter introducing a question to Mussina (and I'm paraphrasing): "Moose, it's been a long season, you've been outspoken about the Japan trip and voiced your complaints, etc. …" To which Mussina replied, "Complained? You've been here like 10 minutes all year, how do you know?" Now while I may not be the biggest fan of Mussina, especially in his treatment of media members, I thought this was hilarious and if I were in his position, I can't say I'd have reacted differently. I'd love to find out if something similar occurs in Boston later this year. That would be hilarious.

To the point of the column: media members' opinions of their place in the game. In her most recent column, ESPN.com Ombudsman (Ombudsperson?) Le Anne Schreiber interviewed many ESPN reporters and analysts about how they juggle their multiple roles, specifically the injection of opinion when serving as guests on ESPN Radio programming, SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, etc., compared to managing their "objectivity" in reporting. It's an old-school/new-school debate that's raging in Journalism schools, going back to when I was in college, and there isn't a real answer.

I found the last half-dozen paragraphs most interesting. Schreiber discusses Steve Phillips' role in the Mitchell Report analysis, which led to the question of, "How much are the media and other non-players a part of the game?"

On a recent "Outside the Lines" report, Phillips seemed to take a giant step onto the media side of the fence when he acknowledged that, as general manager of the Mets, he had signed a player whose performance declined upon joining the team. When Phillips learned the cause was the player's going off amphetamines, he thought, "Well, dear God, will somebody please get him back on those? That's the truth, and I say it with some sense of shame and responsibility."

After that show, Phillips says, "I got a lot of reaction from people at ESPN, pats on the back, and I wondered if I had opened up too much about it."

Such disclosure may not be in the best interest of baseball, but it is essential for an ESPN baseball analyst who is asked to comment on others' complicity in the steroids era. To me, it seemed Phillips had chosen the media side of the line, but I also noticed that when asked later in that same show what baseball management should do now to clean up the game, he began talking about what "they should do" and then shifted to what "we should do."

"I wasn't aware of switching from 'they' to 'we,'" Phillips says. "But I do believe that we as broadcasters are part of the game. We still have an impact on the game. I don't know whether this crosses the line in broadcasting or not. I don't know if writers like Buster Olney and Peter Gammons consider themselves part of the game, but as a GM I always thought of the media covering the game as part of the game."

I knew what Olney's answer would be, but still I asked him whether he thought he was part of the game.

"No," Olney said. "There is definitely a hard line there for me. I don't think of myself as part of the institution of baseball."

(TJ) Quinn, Olney, Phillips — all drawing different lines or trying to locate them within the shifting landscape of journalism. Old-school straight lines may have toppled to the ground like a pile of overlapping pick-up sticks, but I think ESPN should make sure all its reporters, analysts, producers and editors know where the old lines are so they can recognize when it is in everyone's best interest to pick them up again.

I found Olney's quote astonishing. If he, or any other writer, doesn't consider himself part of the institution of baseball, then the institution of baseball should not give members of the BBWAA such elevated status. Remove the writers' wing from the Hall of Fame. Don't allow them to vote for any regular-season honors. Writers are an integral part of the game's culture, makeup and have helped develop some of its vernacular. When I worked at YES, I wasn't around the team every day. For my first three years there, until I cut back my game assignments, I worked roughly 50+ games a year on-site and at least 100 more on the editorial side. I felt like I was part of the game because my summaries, columns, etc., were helping shape fans' views of the team. On a different level, when I did TV and radio play-by-play for my college sports teams, I didn't feel like I was a part of the team, but I was a part of the game. I was an element of the way people received information on the game.

What do you think? Are writers, broadcasters, front office members, owners, etc., separate from the Institution of Baseball? Is Phillips right? Is Olney?

I'm curious to review your comments.

Until next week …

Comments
2008-03-27 10:50:23
1.   williamnyy23
First...one correction. The "institution" of baseball doesn't give the BBWAA the right to vote for post season awards. Rather, the BBWAA itself sponsors the awards.

Media members are definitely not a part of the institution of baseball. A guy like Phillips, however, probably is because as a former GM, he will always belong to a select fraternity. I think media members in general like to inflate their sense of importance, but sports media in particular seem to suffer from that disease. Sometimes, I think many writers confuse access with expertise. Walking that line is what distinguishes the good from the bad.

2008-03-27 11:13:46
2.   williamnyy23
I do agree, however, that the BBWAA should no longer be exclusively involved in selecting Hall of Famers. Before the media age, when writers were really the only people who saw a good amount of games, it made sense to have them serve as electors. Now, however, that logic no longer implies. Instead, the HoF Board and a MLB Board should select a panel of electors based on their expertise...not their tenure in a trade group. Each elector would have a term renewable at the behest of the Boards. Ideally, the panel of electors would include historians, statisticians, writers (online and print), former executives and anyone else exhibiting qualifications.
2008-03-27 11:16:37
3.   Will Weiss
1 I respectfully disagree with your second point. I think this all depends on what people define to be the "Institution of Baseball." ... On a different topic, I'd consider "Hockey Night in Canada" part of the Institution of Hockey and NFL Films/Steve Sabol/John Facenda, etc., part of the Institution of Football. Anything that is immediately identifiable with the sport is part of its institution. Do writers inflate their sense of importance? Sure. But they are a part of the game's Institution because of their role in shaping the game's perception. They do that as much as the league itself.
2008-03-27 11:23:56
4.   Shaun P
1 I've got to disagree a bit. No media members = no access to or knowledge of the games*. How many of us grew up repeating the cliches we heard from the announcers and writers in the MSM who brought the games to us? I know I did.

*This may be a little mitigated now by the Internet, but the only Yankee fans who could say they've only relied on the blogs for their entire knowledge of the team are under age 6. Some of us rely just on independent blogs now, and avoid the papers/ESPN, but we certainly weren't doing that in, say, 1998.

And, even when we rely on just independent blogs, we still listen to the games on the radio, however we get the feed, and Sterling and Waldman are media members. Ditto TV; Kay, Singleton, Murcer, and the rest are media members.

To put this another way - is Mel Allen part of the institution of baseball? Vin Scully? Red Barber? Red Smith? Shirley Povich? Dick Young? Peter Gammons?

I have a hard time saying no to any of them.

"I think media members in general like to inflate their sense of importance, but sports media in particular seem to suffer from that disease."

Now this, I wholeheartedly agree. Its not true of all of them, but definitely for some.

2008-03-27 11:28:39
5.   williamnyy23
3 I think you are defining "institution too broadly". In that case, fans are also part of the institution of baseball. If that's how broad you want to go, I can live with it.

I don't think the NFL Films example is relevant because I believe it is owned by the NFL. So, yes, it is part of institution. Buster Olney, however, does not work for MLB. He works for a news and entertainment organization that covers, among many other things, baseball.

I also don't get your point about being immediately identifiable with an institution making you part of it. For example, does a well know White House correspondent become part of the administration? Just because you cover a beat doesn't make you part of it. Now, I am sure some media members are seduced by the access and seek such recognition, but ultimately they aren't doing their job if they do.

I also completely disagree that writers shape the game's perception more than the leagues do themselves. Again, that exaggerates the influence of the media. I know some people think most Americans do not bother to think for themselves, but I disagree with that notion. That's why things like blogs are so popular.

2008-03-27 11:34:04
6.   williamnyy23
4 That's my point though...we may have grown up during a time when the mainstream media was the only outlet for information, but those days are gone.

I also think you need to make a serious distinction between game announcers and writers. Game announcers who work for RSNs aren't media...they are team employees. Also, even when networks are independent, their announcers must be approved by teams. Finally, on major networks, the announcers are often former players or executives, which as I suggested in 1 are members of the "institution" given a voice in the media.

So, to answer your question, Mel Allen, Scully, Barber and any announcer would be a part of the "institution". Writers, however, are and should be another story, although many of the ones you mentioned were essentially on the team's payroll. So, when Dick Young slammed Tom Seaver or Gammons pumps the Sox, you know you aren't consuming journalism, but team propoganda.

2008-03-27 11:53:15
7.   Shaun P
3 Err, what said Will, and a lot more succinctly. Work gets in the way again.

6 "Game announcers who work for RSNs aren't media...they are team employees. . . . So, to answer your question, Mel Allen, Scully, Barber and any announcer would be a part of the "institution"."

So are all team employees part of the "institution"? The ticket-takers at the Stadium eagerly await your answer. =) I'm teasing you a bit, but I think saying "anyone who works for a team = part of the institution" is a bit over-broad. (And if you respond with, "But the NYC Park Dept. owns the Stadium, and the ticket takers work for them, not the team", I'll say, touche, and reply, "The Yankee PR department interns eagerly await your answer".)

And, not all announcers are team employees, or ex-participants. What about the Joe Bucks and Jon Millers of the world? (Or does Miller count because he also works as a team announcer, too?)

And, as for the writers, my best counterexample to you is Bill James (pre-2004). And that not all writers were/are "essentially on the team's payroll".

Maybe the best answer to Will's question is that there is no clearly definable answer. Or as he said in 3 , "I think this all depends on what people define to be the "Institution of Baseball.""

2008-03-27 12:04:19
8.   JL25and3
2 I'm not sure what you mean by "expertise" and "qualifications." In a lot of discussions here and elsewhere, those tend to mean "looking at WARP3 and voting for Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines." But what makes you think that a board of electors, selected by MLB and the HOF, is going to do any better?

I think the BBWAA has done a pretty good job with the Hall. Not perfect, to be sure, but pretty good, and I think "pretty good" is as good as we're likely to get. The vast majority of the really bad choices have been made by the Veteran's Committee.

2008-03-27 12:05:22
9.   williamnyy23
7 Again, it depends on how you define institution, but I think the context we were discussing has to do with employees who perform a material function that is directly related to the game. Again, that definition is open to debate, but I think we can agree that announcers and ticket takers are far apart on the scale to not cause any confusion.

As for PR interns, I'd imagine they don't get paid. Regardless, an intern isn't an employee :) In fact, they exist to allow the team to not have to hire an employee.

Back to announcers...national announcers like Buck are example that can blur the line, but that probably depends on the deal FOX has with MLB. If they give MLB approval of announcers, tacit or direct, then the line blurs further.

To what point does Bill James serves as a counter example. For starters, he IS on the Red Sox payroll :) Before he was, however, I don't think you'd consider him a part of the media, not to mention the institution of MLB. If anything, he was a maverick outsider pushing new ways of thinking that the institution resisted.

2008-03-27 12:10:28
10.   williamnyy23
8 I just think that a diverse panel of electors would be more informed than a body selected simply based on tenure in a trade group. The BBWAA hasn't done a horrible job (with 75% of the vote needed, it would be hard to do a horrible job), but that doesn't mean it can't get better. Personally, I know I would much rather have guys like Neyer, Keith Law and Bill James having a vote than any writer who happens to keep his job for 10 seasons. I don't think writers should be excluded from the process, but they shouldn't own it exclusively.
2008-03-27 12:14:40
11.   JL25and3
10 Fine, but it's just as likely to be Steve Phillips as Rob Neyer.
2008-03-27 12:47:14
12.   Knuckles
It's DeLorean.
I have nothing else to add today- sorry.
2008-03-27 14:08:36
13.   Schteeve
I only need 5 words to defend my POV that broadcasters and announcers are part of the Institution of Baseball, whatever that means, anyway.

Vin Scully

and

Bob Sheppard.

Neither man has ever done anything noteworthy with a bat or a ball, but they are part of the fabric of the game nonetheless.

2008-03-27 14:09:56
14.   Schteeve
And really I don't count most sports journalism as journalism, it's PR for the league.

Glaring exceptions would be things like Pat Jordan's work.

2008-03-27 14:14:59
15.   OldYanksFan
"I think many writers confuse access with expertise".
Good line William. Many are VERY confused.

"I think this all depends on what people define to be the Institution of Baseball."
"I think you are defining institution too broadly".
This is very important. How many debates/arguments go to hell because debaters have a different definition of the subject? I guess janitors are part of the institution of a school, but they don't have a lot of impact on the cirriculum.

Certainly writers have a great impact on what fans think and feel. Are fans part of the "Institution of Baseball"? What would people think of ARod if there were NO media or commentators opinions to influence us?

We would like to think that sports writers have a responsibilities to the fans, as they greatly influence our feelings. But their real rsponsibilites is to sell papers, not to enlighten us. You sell more by being outrageously provacative and opinionated they by being removed and analytical.

It is not unlike politics. We look to our politicians for truth and insight. Instead, they say anything and everything to get our vote. We look to sports writers for truth and insight. Instead, they say anything and everything to sell papers/get hits.

I saw these 2 lines, one directly below the other on a newspaper site:

"Klapisch: A-Rod talking too much?
A-Rod: No comment on new Canseco allegations"

That about says it all, doesn't it?

2008-03-27 14:24:46
16.   Will Weiss
12 Bonehead move. For a Back to the Future fan like me, that's inexcusable. ... For williamnyy23, etc., aren't we all shapers of the game, too, as fans? Aren't we a part of the Institution of Baseball, since we help fund it and use these forums to become more involved in the game?
2008-03-27 14:25:00
17.   OldYanksFan
"That's my point though...we may have grown up during a time when the mainstream media was the only outlet for information, but those days are gone."

That's an interesting thought, but not quite true yet. How many 'fans' are blog-literate as opposed to stuck on ESPN/Fox? 2%? 10% 25%
I don't know, but I suspect it's WAY less then 50%.

Across the globe, how many Yankee fans are there? 3 or 4 million in the NY metropolitan area alone? How many of them get the majority of their sports fix from blogs/Internet?

It usually takes at LEAST a full generation for a new technology to become dominant. I got my first computer in 1981, 27 years go, but many people still think computers are 'new-fangled', that they 'think' and 'make decisions' (and might yet take over the world).

My guess is it will be at least 15 years before blogs have an equal following of TV/print media.... unless they invent a 17" screen which folds and fits in your pocket.

2008-03-27 14:36:50
18.   Will Weiss
6 I take issue with this: "I also think you need to make a serious distinction between game announcers and writers. Game announcers who work for RSNs aren't media, they are team employees." ... Having been in that position, let me tell you: Yes, the announcers must be approved by the teams. However, they are still media because they're associated with a media outlet. I had a media pass for five seasons. I was a YES Network employee, not a NYY employee. Separate entities. However, they're still part of the fabric of the game.
2008-03-27 14:39:36
19.   Emma Span
Well, I'm a huge Buster Olney fan -- I grew up with his Times stories on the Yankees, and I still think he was one of the best beat writers I've ever read. My take on that statement is not that he'd deny that the media is a huge part of, and influence on, baseball culture, but just that a reporter can't see himself as part of the thing he's covering, or he risks losing his accuracy, impartiality, etc. You need to keep that outsider perspective to do the best job you can, I think.

True and total objectivity might not really be possible; most people can't help but think kindly of someone who's likable and nice to them, in contrast to someone who treats them like crap and makes their job harder. And no matter how hard you try, it's probably impossible to know just how much of those feelings are subconsciously coming through in the way you see events. But that doesn't mean you don't have to at least make the effort to be neutral and a bit detached, otherwise you're doing your readers a disservice. (If you're a reporter like Olney, that is. It's different for opinion writers, as long as they're honest about their perspective going in).

One of the things I like so much about Olney is that he never sounds like he has an axe to grind or any kind of agenda. I don't always agree with him, but unlike a significant number of ESPN analysts (Phillips included), I completely trust his motives.

2008-03-27 14:53:35
20.   markp
Some writers (and announcers/'analysts') are not part of "the institution of baseball." They obviously hate the sport and seize any and every opportunity to rip it and/or predict its demise.
A good example of the double standard ESPN (for example) holds baseball to compared to the NFL was the discussion of Pacman Jones just this AM. No mention was made of his repulsive behavior and when asked about his 'off the field antics' hurting as much as his talent would help, every analyst scoffed at the notion.
Meanwhile, Canseco's stupidity, obvious motives, and questionable accuracy are never mentioned-only that Arod needs to respond to his 'accusations'.
2008-03-27 15:15:31
21.   rilkefan
19 I completely agree re Olney. And I think part of his comment can be understood in the following context: he covered the Yankees but he wasn't (by his own avowal) a fan of the team - he was a reporter who covered them. He might have covered chess or the poetry scene or whatever, so naturally he doesn't have an institutional perspective.
2008-03-27 15:47:04
22.   Will Weiss
19 21 You can still make every effort to be impartial and detached from your subjects, etc., and have an "outsider" mentality, as Emma put it. That's essential to good reporting. I made every effort to do that in every story I wrote. However, I don't think it's a stretch to acknowledge that your job is part of the game itself. If you can compartmentalize, that viewpoint shouldn't compromise objective reporting.
2008-03-27 15:47:18
23.   Will Weiss
19 21 You can still make every effort to be impartial and detached from your subjects, etc., and have an "outsider" mentality, as Emma put it. That's essential to good reporting. I made every effort to do that in every story I wrote. However, I don't think it's a stretch to acknowledge that your job is part of the game itself. If you can compartmentalize, that viewpoint shouldn't compromise objective reporting.
2008-03-27 15:51:14
24.   Will Weiss
23 Sorry about the repeat offender post. Bad connection.
2008-03-27 16:31:07
25.   rilkefan
22 My point regarded only Olney. The Great and Lonely, for any Spinrad fans out there.
2008-03-27 16:34:48
26.   Will Weiss
25 Understood. It's not a matter of having an institutional perspective, though, it's how you view yourself and your job in the scope of the game. Olney is a reporter, yes, and a damn good one. However, he is part of the Institution of Baseball, whether he considers himself to be or not, because of his affiliations in the game. It's an interesting debate, which is why I brought it up.
2008-03-27 16:34:50
27.   Will Weiss
25 Understood. It's not a matter of having an institutional perspective, though, it's how you view yourself and your job in the scope of the game. Olney is a reporter, yes, and a damn good one. However, he is part of the Institution of Baseball, whether he considers himself to be or not, because of his affiliations in the game. It's an interesting debate, which is why I brought it up.
2008-03-27 18:50:59
28.   DarrenF
I'd say they are part of the institution of baseball.. Many writers want to affect the game and how many believe they affect the game. Take Randy Johnson as an example. From day one, the New York writers were on a mission to rattle this player and make a point of how much they were rattling this player. The NY writers are completely obsessed with the notion that it takes a special kind of player to deal with the pressure of being scrutinized by them. I think it's mostly nonsense, but it's a pervasive notion, to put it mildly.
2008-03-27 19:33:56
29.   OldYanksFan
Please.... if you really love your wife, or girlfriend, give them a gift that shows you really care.
http://www.artsnow.com/bronxblock
2008-03-28 04:22:05
30.   williamnyy23
16 In 5 , I pretty much agreed with that point. If you want to define "institution" broadly, and include media and fans as a result, I don't think it's inaccurate.

17 True. Most fans probably do still depend on mass media more than blogs, but they aren't restricted to beat writers for local papers. Also, the more important difference is most fans now have easy access to every game. They may still turn to the media for additional information and/or entertainment, but ultimately, they do not rely on a beat writer, for example, to be their conduit. That's the distinction I am trying to make more than any other.

18 No offense was intended, but ultimately, any employee for a team owned entity is not really journalism-media in my eyes. It may be media in the sense it is using a mass medium to disseminate information, but ultimately, that information is going through a filter, no matter the team's claims of objectivity. There are lots of examples of this being the case.

19 I agree with most of that. I also really like Olney because he seems to: (1) really love and enjoy baseball (not a curmudgeon who seems to think he should instead be covering international diplomacy and looks down on his subject); and (2) doesn't seem to have an agenda.

2008-03-28 04:25:48
31.   monkeypants
I'm with Williamnyy23 on this one. I'm not going to debate about the meaning of the "institution of baseball. That said, the following conclusion--the upshot to Will Weiss' post--makes no sense to me:

Remove the writers' wing from the Hall of Fame. Don't allow them to vote for any regular-season honors.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is a private institution. It can decide to have or not have a writers wing. It can include janitors or Hollywood stars or even football players in its wings, if that's what it decides. It can choose to allow writers to vote for inductees, or former players, or fans. There is no way to "take away the writers wing," unless it is done by the Hall itself. No "institution of baseball" has the power to do so.

Likewise, the BBWAA itself has decided to give out awards, based on its own internal criteria. There is no "institution of baseball" to allow it or disallow it or the awards.

In both cases, the legitimacy of the HOF and BBWAA awards is not determined by the "institution of baseball," but by the consumers. I long ago decided that most BBWAA awards were flaky, and I am not much interested in the HOF (except for the forensic activity of comparing various members and potential members). These are certainly part of the broader culture--the galaxy of institutions and activities--that is related to the game of professional baseball, but I see them in no as intrinsic to or part of the game itself.

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