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.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.