New York Times' steroids beat writer gets some perspective

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Michael Schmidt is the New York Times’ steroids beat writer. He’s probably best remembered for taking a lot of heat last year after reporting names from the famous list of 103 ballplayers who tested positive back in 2003. The reason for the heat: the list was and remains subject to a court order sealing its contents and thus Schmidt’s source is almost certainly violating court orders in order to make the names public, which could constitute criminal contempt of court. Contrary to Don Fehr’s scaremongering, Schmidt isn’t himself subject to the court orders and thus did nothing illegal himself, but as my friend Johnny Caspar likes to say: ettickly, it’s kinda shaky.*

While still covering PEDs in baseball, Schmidt has since split time with the NYPD beat. The Big Lead interviewed him recently, and Schmidt says that the new beat has opened his eyes a bit:

Q: What’s the biggest difference between covering the NYPD
beat and covering steroids? What’s it like to cover a story about, say, a murder-suicide involving an entire family
versus
breaking news that a baseball players was caught using steroids. Has it
changed your attitude towards sports journalism?

Of
course. At times on my steroids beat, I believe I fell into the trap
that many journalists do and believed that everything that occurred on
my beat was really important. Not surprisingly, my perspective changed
when I came downtown and wrote stories about murders, the deaths of
children and hit-and-runs. As awful as it’s been to write those stories,
it has given me a much better sense of the big picture and how to
evaluate a story’s significance.

I obviously have no objection to people covering the steroids beat in baseball. I’d just like to see those who opine on the subject to get a little perspective is all. Taking steroids is a violation of the rules of the sport we love and it likely has some adverse effects on the drug user in question. But it’s not life and death, nor is it so starkly a question of wrong and right as it is so often portrayed.

Schmidt has had a chance to see that recently and I have no doubt that it will affect his reporting on the subject.  One can only hope that the other folks who cover that beat gain a little perspective as well.

* To elaborate, even if I was provided with the names on the list I don’t think I would report it myself because I’m a licensed lawyer and
I think my professional ethical obligations would prevent me from doing
so unless and until the sealing order is disposed of. Neither Schmidt nor anyone else who isn’t a lawyer is subject to the same restriction.

I do think, however, that anyone who gets into the subject of the famous 103 needs to be mindful that while they may be breaking news (a) they’re getting that information from someone who is knowingly violating a court order; and (b) they’re disseminating the private medical information of people who had every expectation that it would remain private and which multiple courts have since ruled was illegally seized by government agents acting outside of the scope of the Fourth Amendment. While I disagree with Don Fehr about whether reporting that sort of thing is illegal, it certainly carries with it some non-trivial ethical considerations, none of which anyone who likes to play the who’s-doing-steroids parlor games ever seem to want to acknowledge.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian King writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on King’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same. It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “The Sandlot,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not at as mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.