Duvall Natural

Blah, blah, blah and the future of baseball beat writing


Did you see Andy Martino’s game story from the Mets-Astros in the New York Daily News?  If not, here’s how it started:

Blah blah blah blah rain blah blah blah Niese blah blah Astros blah blah Mets got spanked. Blah blah, 6-1. We really don’t know what else to tell you about this one. But we will try:

He goes on to keep up that tone, providing the game information but couching it in terms of “well, if you must know I suppose we’ll tell you about this miserable game.” I highly suggest you read it all.

Guess what? I love it.

Not that it’s perfect on its own merits. I just love the fact that Martino it trying to take the game story in a new direction.  Which I feel is essential to the the future of baseball beat reporting.

Traditional game stories are all but dead.  Oh, they’re still dutifully written by many, but they’re almost completely irrelevant now.  Their original purpose — to paint a picture of a game people missed with a thousand words — has been supplanted by the actual pictures. Highlight packages on ESPN or on the web. Or at least by fewer words in the form of contemporaneous blog posts, tweets, or what have you.  The game stories that appear soon after a game ends are almost pointless given how bare-boned they are (you can do better with an inning-by-inning recap of the scoring plays).  The ones that show up the next morning’s paper are better — they have quotes and stuff — but they’re too late.

At least they’re too late if all they’re providing is a mere factual account of the game’s events.  Which, if I ran a newspaper, would be the last thing the beat writer would be in the business of doing. Rather, I’d have them turning the daily game story into an editorial platform rather than a reporting platform. I’d have them create a daily product that is infused with not just the facts of the game but with their analysis — their personal analysis and opinion — thereby making the game story from a given writer a unique product and thereby making that writer’s work far more important to both readers and to the newspaper or website that employs them.

And don’t think for a minute that the current crop of beat writers — the vast majority of them a smart and savvy bunch — couldn’t do it.  I mean think about it: the one thing that the beat writer has over everyone is that he or she is with the team every day from February until October. They know the vibe of the team inside and out. They know when someone is dogging it, when someone is hurt but not saying it and when players aren’t getting along.

The beat writer will tell you that they hear and see tons of stuff that they simply can’t report, and I get that.  But why not use that flavor — if not the specific facts — to create a season-long editorial creation about the state of the team?  As of now newspaper columnists pop in and out with their takes a couple of times a week, but those are different people than the beat guys. They’re former beat guys — you tend to graduate up to becoming a columnist in the newspaper business — who may have more experience but are farther away from the team and the game on a day-to-day basis. Instead of leaving it to them to provide the 10,000 foot overview on Sunday and Wednesday, why not have the beat guys do this every single day?

There a lot of different forms this could take, but my first thought on it would be to do something that could work for both the web and print edition: a contemporaneous opinion-based riff on the game. A live blog, as it were, which could go on the web in close to real time (MLB doesn’t like that though, so we’d have to figure out how to do it) but which can be cleaned up and enhanced a bit before the hard copy deadline.  This nuevo game story would read like a live blog, but would appear the next morning. Before you scoff, remember, Bill Simmons has made a hell of a career out of posting “live blogs” after the fact. It could read like this:

“Bottom of the First

Girardi had Jeter bunt with Gardner on first and nobody out. In a 0-0 game. This makes very little sense. A sacrifice is essentially a one-run strategy. You absolutely do that if it’s the seventh inning of a tight game and you’re about to face the back end of a tough bullpen. You don’t do it in the first inning when, one would hope anyway, you plan on scoring more than one run.  When Gardner was stranded at second — where he may have gotten anyway given that the weak-armed Jason Varitek was behind the plate — I bet Girardi wished he had that extra out.”

You put together a dozen or two of those plus some introduction and some final thoughts and you have a piece that would be easy to write each day. It wouldn’t have to be comprehensive because it could run alongside the box score or a capsule scoring recap or what have you (and remember: people already have the basics from the web or TV).  The story would give readers something they couldn’t get elsewhere, however: the voice of a guy they’ve come to trust over the past couple of years telling it like it is, informed by his close-to-the-team perspective.

If a beat writer does this 162 times a year — or if he provides sharp, opinion-oriented game stories in another form — it would give him a chance to develop hobby horses and running jokes. If it was done well it would be a unique product that readers would seek out every day. People don’t reach for a specific paper as much as they used to because the news has become so commoditzed. People would seek out something like this, however. That’s good for the paper. It’s also good for the writers personally, as it would provide them a chance to set themselves apart from the crowd and cultivate a personal brand. Best of all: it would give the reader a fresh, informed take on the game which the current brand of off-the-shelf gamers really don’t provide.

Andy Martino will probably take a lot of crap for his Mets-Astros gamer today.  It’s misplaced crap, however, because I think it’s exactly that sort of thing that could constitute the future of baseball reporting.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.

Marlins announcer Tommy Hutton was let go because he was “too negative”

marlins logo wide

We heard earlier this week that Marlins television analyst Tommy Hutton was let go after 19 seasons on the job. By all accounts, he’s well-liked and respected, so it smelled a little fishy with a team that has owner Jeffrey Loria calling the shots. Well, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald was told by a source close to the Marlins that Hutton was let go because he was “too negative.”

Jackson was also able to get in touch with Hutton, who provided some details about how things went down.

“I know there were times I was negative, but I thought those times were called for,” he said. “Ninety percent of what I said was positive. I tried not to be a homer, but you could tell I wanted the Marlins to do well.”

After being told that his salary wasn’t a factor in the decision, Hutton suspected that his candid, blunt analysis might be the impetus for his ouster.

So after learning his fate on Monday, he asked that question – whether they thought he was too negative — to both a Fox producer (at a meeting at Starbucks) and the Marlins’ vice president/communications (by phone).

He said the question was met with silence by both executives.

“I couldn’t get a yes or a no,” he said.

Hutton said there were three incident in recent years where he was told the Marlins were uncomfortable with something he said. He disclosed one example where he was exasperated at the ballpark’s dimensions after former catcher John Buck flew out to the warning track for the final out of a game. He was told by a Marlins vice president after the game that Loria prefer he not talk about the ballpark’s dimensions. Of course, the team is moving in the fences this winter.

To be clear, Hutton said he was told it was a “mutual decision” between the Marlins and FOX to let him go, but Jackson’s source hears that the concern about his “negativity” came from the team.

Hey, do you know the best way to prevent “negative” talk about your team? Fielding a winning baseball team without a dysfunctional ownership and front office. Crazy idea, I know, but it could be cool?