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.