In which I am accused of being part of the problem in modern sports writing

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Remember that stuff I wrote the other day about the future of sports writing?  Well, not everyone’s buying it.  Particularly not Andrew Humphries of the Let’s Go Tribe blog, who argues that the sort of blogging I do here at HBT is not in keeping with the “meaning-building pieces” that Jason Fry described in his excellent column that launched this conversation. Rather, I’m accused of trafficking in the “me-too tweets and blog bits” that Fry identified as the problem with modern sports writing.

Hurm.

While I obviously don’t agree that I’m part of the problem, Humphries’ piece is worth a read if you care about the subject because it covers a lot of territory and adds depth to the discussion even as it criticizes me. And it should also be noted that Humphries was good enough to send me a copy of his post before he published it to ask me for my thoughts.  That’s both admirable and gutsy. Would that everyone who went after someone be so damn decent about it.

My defense, to the extent I have one, is that I think Humphries is focused too much on the “long-form features are what’s important” part of Fry’s original analysis and less on the “readers want someone to tell them what the news means” part Fry mentioned.  I don’t profess — at all — to be a long form feature writer or to get into the kinds of in-depth feature reporting that Humphries cites.  But I do endeavor to do more than merely link-and-snark the bloggy bits, as it were.

I’m obviously not an objective viewer of my own work, but the goal is that, if you read my stuff most days, you’ll come away with an understanding of the topics I cover and  my take on how I feel about them. The idea: that no matter where you get the news item, you’ll still want to come to HBT to see what I have to say about it. It is my hope — as it is the hope of any opinion writer — that my opinions will help influence general opinion.   In this, I fancy my function as being roughly similar to that of a traditional sports columnist. Except I’m hitting more subjects and, rather than doing it in one or two 750 word columns a week, I’m doing it with 90+ blog posts a week.

I shot that defense to Humphries in an email last night.  His response in the addendum to his piece is that “a writer covering a dozen topics a day is writing too much” to be really adding meaning to anything.  I don’t know that I agree with that, but he may have a point. The signal-to-noise ratio of a machine gun blogger like me is probably a worthy offshoot of this discussion, actually, and it’s one I haven’t seriously considered before he mentioned it. Consider me to be considering it now.

However you come down on all of this, Humphries’ piece is food for thought in a broader discussion that I find quite important.  I know media stuff isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope you find it somewhat important too, if for no other reason than because the kind of discussion Fry, Humphries and I are having is what is going to shape the sports writing you read going forward.

The Braves’ top minor league team to rename itself

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Whereas once it was expected that all sports teams would be named after ferocious animals, notable historic figures or events or something else otherwise inspiring, there has been a trend in the minor leagues over the past few years to give teams somewhat silly names.

The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. The Binghamton Rumble Ponies. The New Orleans Baby Cakes. The Down East Wood Ducks. Etc.

I suspect a lot of that is fueled by a desire to sell intentionally uncool merchandise to ironic hipsters. Some of it may simply be a function of branding and creating a team identity that will not, for a moment, cause the local nine to be confused with anyone else. Not that those things are mutually exclusive. Whatever the impulse, the trend will no doubt continue.

The next place we could see it: Gwinnett County Georgia, where the Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A team plays:

Gwinnett Braves general manager North Johnson announced a contest to rename the Triple-A team for the 2018 season and beyond.

Fans and members of the Gwinnett community can suggest new team names starting Monday through June 2. After all team name suggestions are submitted, a final round of voting on the top choices will last from June 19-July 3 on the Gwinnett Braves’ website.

Like all but one of its other affiliates, Gwinnett is named the Braves, just like the parent club. Being so close to Atlanta has caused it some identify problems, however, as one suburban Atlantan telling another that he’s “going to the Braves game” tomorrow could be confusing. Especially now that the major league team also plays in suburban Atlanta, about 35 miles apart. It makes sense.

So, go to the website, folks, and suggest a new name. The sillier the better. Basebally McBaseball Face? The Gwinnett Crackers?

 

David Ortiz thinks the Yankees leaked his 2003 drug test results

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David Ortiz was one of the hundred or so ballplayers who tested positive for PEDs during the 2003 survey testing which was designed to determine whether or not baseball’s drug problem was significant enough to warrant full-blown testing the following year.  His and everyone else’s name was supposed to remain confidential — indeed, the test results were supposed to be destroyed — but the government illegally seized them and, eventually, his, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa’s names were leaked.

While most people have long moved on from those survey test results — and while Rob Manfred himself recently said that those results may not, in fact, establish that Ortiz took banned substances  — the story still sticks in Ortiz’s craw. So much so that he’s still out speculating about how his results were made public. His theory? The Yankees did it. From an interview on WEEI:

“What was the reason for them to come out with something like that?” he said. “The only thing that I can think of, to be honest with you, a lot of big guys from the Yankees were being caught. And no one from Boston. This was just something that leaked out of New York, and they had zero explanation about it.”

I’m gonna call B.S. on that.

At the time names were surfacing in connection with those test results, in the summer of 2009, I was given a list of players by an anonymous source. This person claimed it was a list of all 100+ players who tested positive in 2003. Given the nature in which they were provided to me and given that, at the time, there were a lot of people circulating hoax lists, I was dubious to say the least. I had a separate source at the time who knew people who had access to the actual list of players. The source would not tell me who was on the actual list — it was and continues to be confidential — but the knowledgable source did confirm for me that, as I suspected, my list was bunk. I obviously didn’t write anything about it and moved on.

Some added value from that conversation, however, was learning just how few people actually had access to the real list. A small handful of top officials at the union and the league office did, I was told, and obviously the government had it given that they seized it in their idiotic and illegal raid, but that was it. Clubs, I was specifically told, did not have the list.

We’ll never know for sure, but I strongly, strongly suspect that the source of the leak was either IRS/FDA agent Jeff Novitzky, who spearheaded the government’s investigation into PEDs or someone close to him, such as the prosecutors with whom he worked. Novitzky spent close to a decade outing and prosecuting athletes for PED use and, in my view and the view of many others who followed the story at the time, he saw his work as an almost holy crusade. As the above-linked story about the federal court smacking down his seizure of the 2003 test results as illegal, he was often overzealous.

The reporter who broke the story of David Ortiz’s positive test result was Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times. Schmidt almost always had the first stories about players being outed as PED users during that period and his reporting on steroids in baseball in general almost always carried with it a pro-government slant. As I said, we’ll never know for sure, but it seems obvious to me that federal investigators and prosecutors were his sources. I suspect they were his sources for the name-naming articles as well. When Ortiz’s name leaked, Novitzky’s investigation was on the brink of being smacked down hard by a federal court and, I suspect, he leaked Ortiz’s name to the New York Times as a means of putting a face on the story and getting public sentiment on the side of those who would name names.

Like I said, though, that’s all ancient history at this point. At least to most people. It’s not to David Ortiz, which is understandable given that the whole incident affected him personally. But I think he’s wrong on the Yankees being the ones to out him. I don’t think anyone with the Yankees knew who was actually on the list. And even if they did, they had no incentive to get into some sort of P.R. war about PED users given that they already at least one prominent superstar getting killed for PED use and a lot of other ones who could possibly have been on the list as well.

But the feds had the list. And a desire to have the bad guys they were trying to prosecute shamed in the public arena. I’d bet a decent sum of money that they’re the ones who leaked your name, Big Papi. I’d aim your rhetorical guns at them if I were you.