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.

Rangers, Rougned Odor finalize contract extension

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The Texas Rangers announced today that they have finalized a six-year, $49.5 million extension for second baseman Rougned Odor. There is an option for a seventh year that could bring the deal to $52.5 million. That a deal was done was reported over the weekend by Jon Heyman and Evan Grant.

The deal covers Odor’s first three years of arbitration eligibility. Odor had previously agreed to a $563,180 salary for 2017.

The 23-year-old second baseman tallied 33 home runs, 88 RBI, 14 stolen bases, and 89 runs scored in 150 games last season.

2017 Preview: Our Predictions

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By now I don’t need to tell you how silly it is to predict the outcome of a baseball season in which over 2,400 baseball games are played by over a thousand players, all of whom are subject to injury and/or wild variation from past performance or reasonable expectations. Baseball is freakin’ chaos, my friends. And while that is one of the top things to recommend it, it’s also the thing that makes predicting its outcomes a fool’s errand.

Let no one say that Bill, Ashley and I aren’t fools. We’re gonna make our picks anyway, because that’s what we do:

 

ASHLEY’S PREDICTIONS

AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: Indians
AL West: Mariners
AL Wild Cards: Astros, Blue Jays

NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cubs
NL West: Giants
NL Wild Cards: Mets, Dodgers

ALCS: Astros vs. Indians
NLCS: Giants vs. Nationals
World Series: Astros vs. Nationals … Nationals win!

AL MVP: Mookie Betts
NL MVP: Kris Bryant
AL CYA: Chris Sale
NL CYA: Madison Bumgarner
AL ROY: Andrew Benintendi
NL ROY: Dansby Swanson
AL MOY: A.J. Hinch
NL MOY: Bruce Bochy

 

BILL’S PREDICTIONS

AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: Indians
AL West: Astros
AL Wild Cards: Rangers, Blue Jays

NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cubs
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: Mets, Cardinals

ALCS: Indians vs. Rangers
NLCS: Cubs vs. Dodgers
World Series: Dodgers vs. Rangers, Dodgers win in five games.

AL MVP: Manny Machado
NL MVP: Corey Seager
AL CYA: Chris Sale
NL CYA: Noah Syndergaard
AL ROY: Yoan Moncada
NL ROY: Dansby Swanson
NOTE: Bill did not pick Manager of the Year recipients because he is a communist who does not believe in honoring those who benefit from the labor of others. Then I shamed him about it on Twitter, so he pitched A.J. Hinch and Dusty Baker.

 

CRAIG’S PREDICTIONS

AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: Indians
AL West: Astros
AL Wild Cards: Mariners, Tigers

NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cubs
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: Mets, Giants

ALCS: Red Sox vs. Indians
NLCS: Cubs vs. Dodgers
World Series: Red Sox vs. Cubs, Cubs win in seven games

AL MVP: Mookie Betts
NL MVP: Yoenis Cespedes
AL CYA: Justin Verlander
NL CYA: Clayton Kershaw
AL ROY: Andrew Benintendi
NL ROY: Hunter Renfroe
AL MOY: A.J. Hinch
NL MOY: Joe Maddon

Mark it down, you guys. And then please forget it, because we’re gonna pretend these predictions never happened come October.