Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When Sportswriters Are Worthy of Respect, They Get It

In my opinion, there are three main culprits behind the decaying American sports landscape.

One, I've written about several times already. It's a certain type of fan and you know who you are. The kind that runs from winner to winner. The kind that is more interested in taunting than cheering. The kind that responds to reasonable but differing opinions with personal insults and vulgar attacks.

You're helping to make the sports worlds a bitter and ugly place. Well done.

Another is a story for a different day: the insane salaries paid by owners to athletes. That one's far more complicated and, frankly, hopeless. I'm not sure we're ever getting that genie back in the bottle.

But the third has fallen into my crosshairs today. Or rather, they jumped. It's a certain kind of sportswriter.

Actually, it's a certain kind of media member. These days, though, if you're in one branch of the media, you're probably finding your way into others. We're talking semantics.

And obviously there are other culprits, but these are the major offenders.

For instance, you'll notice athletes are conspicuously absent. That's by design.

As is natural for someone who spends his/her life performing for public ridicule, they are too fundamentally insecure to really be leading in one direction or another. The average professional athlete develops his/her person by responding to external stimuli and encases it in arrogance or bravado. This hides the vulnerability and helps protect the athlete when the winds change.

It may look like they lead the way because they talk the talk and many of us emulate our favorite athletes when we compete. But that just makes them convenient scapegoats. It is a relatively insignificant and momentary influence on an individual. I'm talking macro-dynamics - whole groups using significant influence to make profound changes in our social evolution.

Which brings me back to the kind of sportswriter who is helping to destroy the sports world we love.

Once again, it's a delicate area because all I'm talking about is the world of sports. Not exactly a life-and-death proposition. And I've never met these people so I don't like to attack (let's face it, that's what I'm doing) people who may be decent human-beings for relatively innocuous sins. So I'll try to tread lightly.

Ken Rosenthal should die of gonorrhea and rot in hell.

Just kidding (and a shout out to any Ray Finkel fans).

However, he is an example of what I'm talking about: a sportswriter who is in a position to improve the sport by objectively and responsibly illuminating the parts not accessible to the average fan. Instead, he uses that position - intentionally or not, consciously or not - to help bring about its slow but imminent demise. To irresponsibly and unnecessarily stir controversy, which fosters hostility.

Take his latest article on the racial constitution of the Boston Red Sox.

It's not that the topic is ridiculous; I'm not sure it is. I think it's a bit of a stretch - an example of mistaking coincidence for causation - but I wouldn't necessarily say it is ridiculous. The insidious effects of race should certainly be discussed more openly and honestly as a preventative measure. Even if no problem ultimately exists.

But the timing is, at the very least, suspicious and irresponsible. At worse, it is cheap and parasitic.

There are literally thousands of baseball stories Rosenthal could have written that are directly relevant to the American League Championships Series. Stories that would uplift the baseball world at a time when it should be celebrated.

How about the fact that B.J. Upton had nine homeruns in the 162-game regular season and has five in eight postseason games. He has hit 56% of his regular season total in roughly 5% of the games. That's not a story?

Or how about the Rays' green pitching and its dominance over Boston's comparably battle-tested staff? Or how about the same with regards to the Rays' young hitters? Or how about the fact that B.J. stands for Bossman Junior (that HAS to be a good story)?

Or how about something else immediately relevant to the ALCS about which we, as average fans, have no idea and cannot learn as adequately from the outside?

Yet Rosenthal chooses to write an inflammatory article that has little relevance to the most important time of baseball while it is happening.

A negative story that will piggy-back on the publicity generated by Boston's positive accomplishments and possibly detract from it.

A story that may unnecessarily tarnish what should be a bright moment (understand that, as I write this, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the ONLY team I dislike more than Boston).

There are many times when we can and, in deed, should stir controversy. Times when such is necessary and appropriate to bring attention to a real and substantial problem.

The postseason is not one of these.

The postseason is a time when millions of eyes are on baseball because of its beauty and grace. Because it is one of the ultimate celebrations of what makes sports great and what unites so many people of such intense differences. It, and all sports, need these times of purity to remind us why we love them and the diversion they offer is important (to a degree).

They need it to survive.

And Rosenthal exploits the moment, thus hastening its premature conclusion.

And even more troubling, there are several indications that Ol' Kenny knew what he was doing. For instance:
  • Pointing out the timing was odd with the Sox in the ALCS and then trying to explain it away with free agency opening in a month - Rosenthal could have easily waited until the Sox were eliminated (a moment that is deliciously close) or the playoffs were over, what about this moment made the story and its possible distraction necessary?
  • Letting the Fightin' Phils off the hook despite a similar roster makeup because their two biggest stars are African-American - that actually works in the Bums' from Beantown favor because if you're racist organization or trying to placate racist fans, the best way to do it without ruffling public relations feathers would be to have a few prominent minorities while the majority of the organization remains white.
  • Choosing to emphasize the trade of Johnny Damon as support for the idea that Boston has also discarded white athletes - an obviously weak choice considering Damon is apparently multiracial as opposed to Eric Gagne, Kevin Millar, Keith Foulke, etc.
It would be the height of arrogance for me to presume Rosenthal's motivation or intent. All of the above is purely circumstantial, not probative on its own. Maybe Ken knows another columnist is working on the same idea. Maybe Ken knows something related is coming down the pipe. Maybe he has a more valid reason for his timing.

But why didn't he put that in the article?

And it's not the first article of its kind from Rosenthal.

I wrote my extensive thoughts about this piece, in which he tried to fuel the "beanball" war between Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Or take this piece, in which he joins the crowded party that is using the convenient and powerful advantage of 20/20 hindsight to blast Joe Torre's decision to pull Derek Lowe.

It's not as egregious as the hatchet-job Kevin Kennedy did a couple days ago (that was a real piece of work, check it out). But it's still weak.

Rosenthal explains Torre's pre-move logic at length and it all makes sense. I'm not saying it was ironclad, but Torre's reasoning was NOT obviously flawed. And against all of Torre's sound logic, Rosenthal (and the other Monday morning QBs) offer a mountain of hindsight. This happened, that happened, etc. etc.

The only pre-move bit of logic Ken offers is that Lowe went easily through several dangerous hitters in his previous inning. That's relevant, but it hardly amounts to a slam-dunk decision to leave Lowe in the game.

The addition of hindsight is what does that. It also enables Rosenthal and people like him to unfairly criticize a four-time World Series winner with such confidence.

None of these columns needed to be written when they were written. Nor should they have been written in the way they were.

These articles and ones like them perpetuate and emphasize the basest negativities of the sportsworld - cowardice, deceit, self-interest, arrogance, hostility, irresponsibility, etc.

Intentionally or not. Consciously or not.

Ken Rosenthal isn't the only guilty member of the media and none of the above proves the intent of the guilty parties. Again, it is all circumstantial.

But enough circumstantial evidence eventually becomes too hard to fight.

And that evidence is mounting.

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