Press

More stuff on the future of beat writing, featuring Marc Carig and Baseball Prospectus

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Marc Carig, who covers the Yankees for the Newark Star-Ledger, is one of my favorite beat writers in the business. In addition to covering the beat bases as he should, he’s intellectually curious, inquisitive and analytical, which allows him to pull off the tough trick of appealing to both the common fan and to the obsessive whack jobs like us. Oh, and he’s a really nice guy too, even if he does use the term “hella” way, way too much.

Today Marc makes his debut over at Baseball Prospectus with a column that, in its form, provides the kind of writing that I think represents the future of the beat reporter. Sourced with quotes and insider insight, but also a work of independent, outsider analysis the kind of which made Baseball Prospectus what it is in the first place.  A nice hybrid that adds more to the party than your typical sabermetric analysis, yet eschews the faux-knowing  “I know more than you do because I interview ballplayers in their underwear” tone that you see from a lot of weekly newspaper columnists as they get older.

And maybe that’s the key. Carig is a young guy who, if he waited for the traditional newspaper career path to take its course, would be doing the straight beat thing for several more years and then move up to column work where his daily reporting skills and ability to manage tough deadlines would no longer be as much of an asset as they are now. Assuming there still are traditional newspaper columns a decade from now.

The key, I think, is for the reporting and opinion/analysis roles to merge to a significant degree. The trick, of course — and it’s a big trick — is to make sure that the reporting remains accurate and the analysis remains sharp despite the fact that there are various tensions in those things. There are a few guys doing a good job with this now. Beat writers who also blog in a significant way as opposed to merely repurposing reporting bits into blog posts. Ken Davidoff of Newsday is one. There are a handful of others. Marc is doing that here today, giving us good stuff about the fearsomeness of Miguel Cabrera and some thought on defensive metrics, unhindered by strict AP style and newspaper column inches.

It’s the kind of stuff that, along with some of the other quasi-radical ideas that people like to float, will help baseball writing successfully navigate its way from the past to the future while maintaining its quality, integrity and self-respect.

The Blue Jays will . . . not be blue some days next year

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The Toronto Blue Jays, like a lot of teams, will wear an alternate jersey next year. It’ll be for Sunday home games. They call it their “Canadiana,” uniforms. Which, hey, let’s hear it for national pride.

(question to Canada: my grandmother and my three of my four maternal great-grandparents were Canadian. Does that give me any rights to emigrate? You know, just in case? No reason for asking that today. Just curious!).

Anyway, these are the uniforms:

More like RED Jays, am I right?

OK, I am not going to leave this country. I’m going to stay here and fight for what’s right: a Major League Baseball-wide ban on all red alternate jerseys for anyone except the Cincinnati Reds, who make theirs work somehow. All of the rest of them look terrible.

Oh, Canada indeed.

Sports and politics share some of their worst excesses

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 19:  Montana alternative delegate Susan Reneau shouts "guilty" as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post writes a column today — likely part of the Post’s overall Inauguration coverage — about how the world of sports and sports fandom is a refreshing change from the world of politics. It’s a place where “facts are still facts,” he says. Where  “debates, though sometimes loud, are surrounded by oceans of substantiated facts and often informed by respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points.” Contrasted with politics, of course, where objective fact has turned into opinion and vice-versa.

I get what he’s trying to say and I think he’s well-intentioned. But I also think he badly misreads both sports discourse and political discourse, each of which have borrowed the worst excesses from the other. And by this I do not mean the extent to which the substance of sports and politics overlap, which we have often argued about in this space. This is not a “stick to sports” point. I’m talking about the way in which sports fans interact with sports and political people interact with politics, even in a relative vacuum.

Politics has coopted sports discourse in the most toxic and wrongheaded of ways. The idea that “scoreboard!” is all that matters. The belief that winning is the only objective as opposed to a means to an end. Notions of rooting and tribalism, and that “our team” and “the opposing team” is the proper way to view the parties to the contest. All of those things — each of which make sense to varying degrees in a sports context — have been imported into politics and have served to degrade them.

Likewise, contrary to what Boswell says, sports fans and commentators have eagerly begun to traffic in political-style reality creation, distortion and spin. He takes an oblique swipe at the “hot takers” like Skip Bayless and talk radio shouters, but he’s deluded if he thinks that they do not have more influence over sports fans than do than “the respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points” which he describes. Bayless and his crowd are a direct aping of “Crossfire”-style political shows.

Likewise, the concept of fan loyalty is increasingly discussed and routinely encouraged by sports leagues and teams in terms that were once reserved for party politics. The notion that those who have succeeded have done so because they are worthy and all of those who are worthy have succeeded is likewise fully believed by both sports fans and political actors. The idea that validation of one sort — electoral or competitive — justifies overlooking the political or athletic actor’s real life transgressions likewise crosses political and athletic lines. How much do sports fans and citizens overlook crimes and misdemeanors if there is a sufficient redemption or comeback narrative to cloak them?

Yet Boswell believes there to be a fundamental gap between how sports and politics are practiced and consumed. To explain it, he says this:

One partial explanation for the gap between the way we talk about sports and the way we talk about some other subjects may be the distorting force field of ideology. When we have a deep attachment to unprovable beliefs, ideas and emotions get intertwined. The psychological cost of disentangling them can be profound.

Tell me that you have not witnessed that dynamic among people whose identities have become far too wound up in the sports teams for which they root. There is ideology among sports fans just as much as there is among political partisans, even if the stakes aren’t as high.

He also says this:

For example, Clemson and Alabama have split the past two college football titles. Yet both coaches, in both years, deferred respectfully to the results, didn’t seek scapegoats, didn’t claim the results were invalid and, by their example, encouraged their fans to take pride in the battle — won or lost — and analyze it with enthusiasm but without distortion.

As if sports fans haven’t spent years re-litigating the Tuck Rule, Don Denkinger or Maradona’s Hand of God. As if notions of good sportsmanship and proper perspective are satisfied by merely accepting results. As if cheating scandals, real, imagined or inflated beyond all perspective, have not caused people to question the very legitimacy of the players in question.

As I said at the outset, I get what Boswell is trying to get at. And I find it admirable that he’s looking to sports to find some grace in an increasingly graceless world. Moreover, none of this is to say that sports don’t provide some refuge from raging political storms. They do.

But the world of sports is every bit as susceptible to the reality-denying, magical thinking storms which have increasingly come to characterize politics. And those raging political storms are very much fueled by a type and mode of passion that was first cultivated in sports and repurposed for a larger stage.

I mean, are these things really all that different?

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