Dan Warthen

Jon Niese bristles at the media reporting Dan Warthen’s racial slur — and I sorta understand why

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I usually have super strong and certain opinions about things. Especially when they concern the media. But this situation has me waffling and wondering all over the place, and I feel like just talking through it. Cool? Cool.

Yesterday a story by Stu Woo of the Wall Street Journal was published in which he described Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen using a racial slur in the Mets’ clubhouse. Last night the Mets and Warthan issued statements apologizing. End of story?

I didn’t think it would be at the time. Mostly because I assumed that there would be some blowback at Woo for writing the story to begin with. Blowback from either reporters or the Mets about Woo repeating or describing things which took place in the clubhouse and perhaps some quibbling about what is and what is not off the record. The first instance of it came a few minutes ago:

We are definitely in an interesting, gray and/or fine line area with all of this. I can see both sides of it.

On the one hand, the clubhouse was open to reporters at the time. It’s not open that much. An hour or so in the morning and then for a while after game time. Players and coaches have several hours in the morning  when the clubhouse is, most definitely, their castle and sanctuary. And heck, even when it is open to the press, there are several places players can and often do go to avoid the media. Workout rooms, lounges, breakfast/lunch areas, trainer’s rooms, offices and the like, all marked clearly with “no media beyond this point” signs. While they may say the media is intruding on their space and privacy, it’s a very small intrusion for a very short amount of time for a reason their team and most players and coaches are perfectly fine with.

On the other hand: even if one spends as little time in a clubhouse as I do, the vibe and, dare I say it, unwritten rules of the place become almost immediately apparent. As a reporter you’re a guest there and you just get a feeling that some stuff is fair game and some isn’t. I’ve heard players tell the most crude jokes ever. Make comments about the news or whatever is on the clubhouse TV that one does not say in polite company. Look at videos on their iPads that make it very clear there are no filters on the team’s internet connection.  Stuff that, if it was on the record in a newspaper, would turn these players and coaches into public enemy number one. My personal feeling about that is that most of that stuff is not really newsworthy in and of itself; and it feels wrong to put it out there for it’s own sake without some sort of compelling reason.

Certainly not just to put the player or coach in a bad light. I mean, last week I talked about a poster in Clint Hurdle’s office and the particular arrangement Brad Ausmus’ office supplies. Those things, I felt, provided some flavor and insight into these guys’ character. And, unless I’ve greatly miscalculated, are not things that would make any reasonable person think poorly of those two. Quite the opposite, actually. Not that I care so much about what people think of them. I mean, it’s not my job to protect their images. It’s just that making a positive or neutral observation about someone from a subjective position feels OK to me. If you’re wrong about what you observed, well, no harm, you made them look better, actually. If you’re going to pass along subjective observations of potential negative things, however, it’s way more important to make sure you’ve gotten all sides and all of the context and everything because you don’t want to misrepresent anyone.

And of course, trumping all of those concerns is newsworthiness. When AP reporter Steve Wilstein reported about PEDs sitting in Mark McGwire’s locker as he assaulted Roger Maris’ home run record in 1998, well, that was newsworthy. It was newsworthy because of McGwire’s comments about it, the way in which power hitting and pumped-up sluggers had taken over the game, and everything else that surrounded Big Mac and baseball at the time. Wilstein got a TON of blowback from players, coaches and other reporters about what he reported from inside the Cardinals’ clubhouse (and what he probably would have Tweeted from there had Twitter been around back then), but balancing his legitimate presence in the clubhouse at the time, his lack of violation of any clubhouse rules (he didn’t take a photo of it, as photos are strictly prohibited) and the newsworthiness of the subject, he was in the right.

Which brings us back to Warthen and Woo. Warthen was in a place where the media was properly present and either knew or didn’t take the time to figure out if he was around reporters. And what he said — his use of a racial slur and reference to previous use of it — was more notable in that particular context than it would be if I overheard some players telling dirty jokes. Woo and the translator to whom he was speaking are both Asian and the interaction at least suggests that maybe Warthen isn’t racially sensitive around team employees or media members of other races. Could be newsworthy, may not be. Hard to say. It’s at least worth thinking about.

But I also can’t help but think that this snapshot of Warthen is something I wouldn’t have reported. Or reported in this particular way. I’m not saying Woo was wrong to report it. I can’t put myself in his shoes here, both because I wasn’t there and because the slur Warthen uttered is not something I’ve ever had to live with or hear directed at me. I’m just saying that, were I in his shoes, I wouldn’t have. I feel like if you asked 50 different reporters you’d get tons of different approaches here.

The general point here is that I can see why Woo reported what he reported. But I can also see why Niese is bristling. It’s a fascinating situation in that it speaks to just how weird and oftentimes uncertain player-media interaction really is. The uneasy relationship between the covered and those who cover them. It also gets to the heart of a subject I wonder about often: why do we care about these players beyond what they do on the field and why do we cover them the way in which we cover them? I have some strong opinions about this in certain narrow areas — I think most player on-the-record-quotes are less-than illuminating — and I have nothing but uncertainty about others — I love to know what makes these guys tick, but have no confidence that anyone can really know, no matter how good a reporter they are.

Anyway, food for thought. And debate.

Dusty Baker on struggling Jonathan Papelbon: “He doesn’t look very good.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24:  Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Washington Nationals looks on after coming out in the ninth inning during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 24, 2016 in Washington, DC.  The Padres won 10-6.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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The Nationals lost a heartbreaker on Tuesday night, as the Indians overcame a two-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Nationals 7-6. Closer Jonathan Papelbon faced five batters but was unable to record an out, yielding a leadoff walk, a double, a bunt that ended up very successful due to a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error, an intentional walk, and a single. Oliver Perez came in and eventually allowed one of his inherited runners to score, saddling Papelbon with the loss.

Papelbon also served up four runs in the outing before Tuesday’s, on Saturday against the Padres. The two clubs entered the top of the ninth tied 6-6, but a walk followed by three two-out singles and a bases-clearing double off of Papelbon allowed the Padres to take a 10-6 lead.

On the season, Papelbon is 19-for-22 in save chances with a 4.18 ERA and a 30/12 K/BB ratio in 32 1/3 innings. If the season were to end today, the right-hander’s 21.4 percent strikeout rate would be the lowest mark of his career and his 8.6 percent walk rate would be his highest mark since 2010.

Manager Dusty Baker didn’t indicate that he’s going to make a change at closer, but he sounded dissatisfied with Papelbon’s performance thus far. Via Mark Zuckerberg of MASN, Baker said, “He doesn’t have his command, which is evident when you walk the leadoff hitter. But it’s like, what do you say? How does he look? Right now he doesn’t look like Pap. He doesn’t look very good. Usually he doesn’t walk people like that.”

The non-waiver trade deadline is on Monday, August 1. The Nationals, at 58-42, still have a four-game lead over the Marlins and a 4.5-game lead over the Mets. Tuesday’s loss has motivated the club to attempt to upgrade the bullpen, Jon Morosi reports. The Nationals were in the mix for Aroldis Chapman before the Yankees sent him to the Cubs. Perhaps Andrew Miller could be next on the Nats’ wish list.

Blue Jays trade Drew Storen to the Mariners for Joaquin Benoit

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 29: Drew Storen #45 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the eleventh inning during MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on May 29, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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The Blue Jays announced on Tuesday night that the club traded reliever Drew Storen and some cash to the Mariners in exchange for reliever Joaquin Benoit.

Storen, 28, was designated for assignment by the Jays on Sunday after posting a 6.21 ERA with a 32/10 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings. The Jays acquired him during the offseason from the Nationals in exchange for Ben Revere and a player to be named later.

Benoit, 38, struggled as well, putting up a 5.18 ERA with a 28/15 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings with the Mariners.