Yesterday Jon Heyman said there was a “Mystery Team” in on Cliff Lee. Many mocked, but we mocked harder than anyone. Indeed, if you do a Google search for “Heyman Cliff Lee Mystery Team,” HardballTalk posts take the top three spots. And you know what happened next. There was a Mystery Team. And it actually signed the guy they were rumored to be courting.
How … awkward.
In light of this, many have asked me since last night if I believe Heyman is owed an apology. My answer: yes. But a qualified one, as I shall explain.
To the extent that we cast doubt on the very existence of the Mystery Team — which we did until sometime mid-yesterday afternoon — we certainly owe him an apology for that. To the extent our tone was snotty and dismissive, we absolutely owe him an apology for that. In the former case we were wrong and in the latter case we were rude, and when one is wrong or rude, one must stand accountable for that. We hereby apologize for both of those things. No matter who may be the source of information or the target of our barbs, and no matter what our own history is with that person, they are owed better than that. Mr. Heyman is no exception.
That said, our apology to Mr. Heyman is not unequivocal. For one thing, it should not be taken as an acknowledgment that Heyman was completely omniscient here. His original report of the Mystery Team had him saying “hear it’s not the Phillies.” It was other reporters such as Jayson Stark, Jerry Crasnick, Jim Salisbury and Ken Rosenthal who uncovered the identity of the team. It was Jack Curry who reported on the sense of Lee’s actual intentions. Minutes after Heyman reported that a decision was unlikely last night, Lee decided to go to Philly. The decision was reported by T.R. Sullivan. The terms of the deal were first reported by Crasnick. I don’t believe that who got something first is the most important thing on Earth — scoops are ephemeral things — but to the extent the media story that comes out of this is “Heyman was right all along,” that’s simply not accurate. He was right about one small, detail-light part of it and he was unfairly maligned for that, but this was not Heyman’s story by any reasonable estimate.
And we must also weigh the significance and implication of the portion of the story about which Heyman was correct. One of the reasons Heyman was not believed in this instance — and not just by us, but by multiple mainstream reporters and fans — was because he has made frequent use of the Mystery Team thing over the years, and this is the first time anyone can recall that it was actually borne out. Aesop has covered this territory. If we disbelieved Mr. Heyman here, well, we had good reason to do so.
Moreover, we must ask what is really being accomplished when one puts out a report of a Mystery Team. However correct the report was, it only existed because someone — likely the agent — told him there was such a team but wouldn’t tell him who it was. If Heyman didn’t ask who it was, he wasn’t doing the basic job of a reporter. If Heyman did ask and the agent simply wouldn’t tell him, Heyman had a decision to make: deal with the information critically given the extreme lack of detail provided and/or dig for more, or merely parrot it and move on to the next thing. He chose the latter here and invariably chooses the latter when this sort of thing comes up, leaving the heavy lifting to others. In doing so he is either an unwitting or an active accomplice of PR. Which is his prerogative — I would never suggest that Heyman has an obligation to report in just such a way that makes others happy — but which also means that one must still take his reports along these lines with an extreme dose of skepticism. Which we long have and which we will continue to do in the future.
But again, there’s a difference between skepticism and rudeness. I believe we crossed that line at some point with Heyman yesterday. That was unfair to him and unprofessional. And for that, again, we apologize.