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Mark Cuban would like the reporters out of his locker room

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Mark Cuban is a basketball owner, not a baseball owner, but I’ve gone on enough in recent weeks about team and league-controlled media usurping the role of the outside press that Cuban’s little rant from the other day is still within my bailiwick. So let’s talk about it, shall we?

Cuban’s piece is long and has some interesting and valid observations, but it boils down to this: teams have their own websites and players have their own Internet outlets, so there’s no point to deal with sports media websites and “internet reporters.” Not unpaid bloggers — he likes them — but professional Internet reporters that work for big media like ESPN.com, Yahoo! and, presumably, NBC Sports.com. This, combined with the fact that the internet reporters are TMZ-style, rumor-mongering paparazzi (at least in Cuban’s mind) means that the internet reporters should not have access to locker rooms. “Their interests are not aligned with the team’s interests,” Cuban says, and thus they are useless.

He’s right about the first part. As I discussed at length last month, teams and leagues are better positioned to disseminate certain types of information. Switching to baseball, this includes that day’s lineup. The press releases. The injury report. Anything that is information in its most neutral sense and is not given much value by virtue of its source (and actually, is closer to its original source if it comes via official team channels).

If I run a media company, I don’t want my reporters tweeting that day’s lineup or merely passing along press releases. I want my people to be offering opinion and critical thinking. Tell the readers what the lineup means and what the news release means.  For this, locker room access is not important or — if it comes with too many conditions from overly-controlling team personnel — even preferable.

But Cuban loses me when he starts going after straw men. It’s easy for us all to agree that people who simply make up rumors or act like TMZ reporters are useless, but who are they? Do they exist? Who at ESPN.com is simply inventing things from whole cloth? Who at Yahoo! is? Have any of them asked any players any “have you stopped beating your wife?” questions in the name of tabloid journalism?  If they did, they’d be laughed out of the business or kicked out of the clubhouse by media relations people for acting like idiots. The working press — even the online press — is overwhelmingly professional when they enter the clubhouse, and Cuban’s demonization of them in this regard is fantasy.

Or misdirection. Because one of the more notable things about Cuban’s piece is that he exempts a large swath of reporters from his ire: TV and print newspaper journalists. Cuban is just fine with keeping these guys in the locker room. This despite the fact that these are guys who do the same thing that the Internet reporters do to annoy Cuban. The less-salacious things Cuban complains about, anyway, such as constantly asking players about the latest rumors swirling around even if they themselves didn’t invent the rumor. Asking players “how they felt out there today” questions and other such inanities.

Why are the newspaper and TV people exempt? Cuban is actually pretty up front about it:

Newspaper has to be in the room. I know this is counter intuitive to some, but it is a fact. Why? Because there is a wealthy segment of my customer base that does not and will not go online to find out information about the Mavs.  If I don’t have a PRINT beat writer and /or PRINT columnist showing up and writing about the Mavs, both sides lose … The same logic that applies to newspapers, applies to TV.

Note use of the word “wealthy.”  This isn’t about information and accuracy and professional journalistic ethics. It’s about favoring those outlets who buy advertising panels on his scoreboard and purchase broadcast rights. Outlets that actively sell tickets for him. This is about Cuban, as an owner of a profit-generating business, wanting to control the message, limit bad publicity and, in his exception for TV and newspaper people, push customers through the turnstiles.

This is all pretty chilling, in my view. Especially considering that the fans don’t view the Mavericks as solely Cuban’s private business but, rather, they view it — rightly or wrongly — as something akin to a public trust in which they have invested their lives and their tax dollars.  The interests of the media don’t align with you Mr. Team Owner? What a shame. Unless and until your interests are something other than generating profits for your team, there’s a really good reason for that and you should understand why that is.

But yes, in the end it is Mark Cuban’s team and he can do what he likes. It wouldn’t particularly bother me on a practical level if he — or if the baseball owners — severely curtailed clubhouse access. I don’t need to get into the clubhouse to do my job. I’d probably lose three to five posts a day that I write based on clubhouse interviews conducted by others, but we’d manage, because most of what we traffic in is on-the-field action or news that occurs far enough off the field where clubhouse access isn’t an issue.

But I do wonder whether Cuban has thought this through all the way.  Whether he’s realized that even if he cut off access to his locker room, that the “Internet writers” would still write stuff and people would still read it. And that, without the need to maintain decent enough relations with the team to ensure that their credentials are in order, the aggregate coverage of the team will likely get more critical, not less. That reporters will feel liberated to rake muck and offer opinion and rumor without checking back to an official team source for comment because, hell, if they don’t need us, we don’t need them.

There’s a Faustian bargain between the media and those they cover, both in sports and on every other beat. Allowing reporter access is annoying for those being covered but useful as well. It’s empowering for the reporter but it limits them in important ways. When you’re outside and not beholden, you can’t deliver a certain sort of coverage, but thanks to direct access from newsmakers to the public via their own Internet outlets, that kind of coverage is becoming less and less important.

What does that leave? The kind of coverage that gets a lot closer to the truth of any given matter than that which Mark Cuban wants Mavericks fans to read. And if he thinks he doesn’t like the way things are, God help him if he ever decides to give a lot of smart and curious reporters a bunch of free time and a reason to resent him.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.