Frank Deford laments the passing of journalism that Frank Deford likes (and which hasn’t passed)

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The legendary Frank Deford spoke at an awards ceremony on Friday, and during  his acceptance speech he lamented what he believes to be the death of sports journalism.

He was somewhat vague on what he thinks is causing the death, but he goes after sports writing that is primarily about statistics and “texting,” suggesting that he believes internet writing, sabermetric-style analysis and social media based stuff like Twitter are killing sports writing.

This, he says, is creating a class of readers and reporters who are “optionally illiterate.” Those who can read and write weighty things, but choose not to.

And what is lost?

Like everyone else, I have no idea what’s going to happen to the future of our profession. The great thing about sportswriting is that it’s about storytelling. The drama, the glamor …. I don’t want to see sportswriting be overwhelmed by statistics. I want to read about the heart and blood of athletes and their stories, which has made sportswriting so special.

I worry who is going to pay for the expensive stuff. The long, expensive, investigative pieces, the enterprise journalism. The work that matters more than anything else and justifies the whole experience as journalists.

I understand what Deford is talking about, but I think he (a) misidentifies who the consumer of sports media is; and (b) identifies a false choice with respect to what sports media can be.

Deford has obviously enjoyed the hell out of his career, but since when is sports reporting — or any reporting — about that which “justifies the whole experience as journalists?”

Of course it’s more fun to write an in-depth piece on an athlete or a game that conveys a storyline. A story that communicates pathos. Which tells a rich story. Which requires travel to big events and meetings with exciting people. That makes a reporter’s job fun!  But it’s the readers who matter, right? What they want is what is important, not what the reporter wants, correct?

Statistics and recaps may bore the hell out of Frank Deford, but based on the consumption patterns of readers — and just how many more eyes are reading more things about sports on the Internet these days than ever subscribed to Sports Illustrated — I’d say that the readers like that stuff just fine. Maybe quickly wanting to learn what will help his fantasy team better during his lunch hour renders a given reader “optionally illiterate,” but it also gives that reader what he wants, and that’s the whole point of any consumer product. And, yes, sports media is a consumer product.*

But that leads to the second part: giving the reader tweets, texts, blurbs, charts or blog posts with that less-glamorous, less-drama-filled content does not mean that the reader cannot also enjoy the writing Deford thinks is disappearing. The investigative stuff. The in-depth features. The things that only a reporter with good access, brains, skills and the ability to tell a good story can provide. It may not be considered the flagship of sports writing like it was in Deford’s heyday, but there’s still an awful lot of that around. Amy Nelson and Jeff Passan do it for online outlets. There are still a lot of others who do it too. And, actually, it’s one area where there is a tremendous opportunity for growth in sports media.

I’ve written about this before, but there is a future in substantive sports media, and it’s not about the bits and pieces that get tweeted today. What we’ve come to call “commodity news,” which teams and leagues themselves are taking over. So much of what I suspect Deford hates actually falls under that category. That day’s lineup; official quotes from players and coaches; other things that can be easily disseminated and more effectively controlled by the team’s increasingly sophisticated media arms and which have turned so many reporters into tweet-first, think-later spokespeople, largely against their will.

The media can and should let the teams and leagues have that stuff, because it does nothing to help any given newspaper, blog or website to simply regurgitate things that will be all over the place in seconds. Rather, the media will do better by concentrating its resources on providing content that differentiates it from the competition. This can be in-depth and investigative stuff. It can be opinion writing like we do a lot of here at HBT. It can be gossip like Deadspin. It can be unique statistical analysis like Fangraphs. Anything, really.

The point is for the writer, newspaper or website to put their particular stamp on the product to make readers want to get it from them specifically as opposed from any old place. Once that unique voice or angle has been established, the opportunity for the money, which Deford specifically worries about, arrives, because you’ve created a unique product that people will come back to. One that can’t be easily repeated or replicated or undermined. All it takes is the will to commit to a given model and stick with it even if the immediate financial benefits aren’t apparent. Online media is maturing. Eventually it’s gonna shake out and there will be winners and losers. Making your outlet a winner requires it to have a plan now.

And the end result of that: a world in which people can read their fantasy updates, their statistical analysis, their in-depth reporting, their rumor mongering, their human interest features, their texts, their tweets, and their long form whatever from anyplace they want.

Not a world like Deford fears in which it’s either this or that, either good or bad, either glamorous and drama-filled or “illiterate.”

*I am aware that there are those who like to think of the press as The Fourth Estate. That it speaks truth to power and all of that stuff. Well, that’s admirable and it may be what has been taught in J-school for the past 40 years or so, but the notion of the press being some greater institution than a mere business is a relatively recent, relatively short-lived and approaching obsolete one. There have always been examples of great journalism rising above mere product and serving a social good — and reporters should clearly strive to write good important stories — but as an overarching purpose of the press, that notion flourished in the 60s and 70s and has been dying pretty slowly for several years.

And it hasn’t been the bloggers and tweeters that killed it. It’s the people and companies who own the newspapers that have done so. If you don’t believe this, ask why your local paper is smaller than it used to be and the newsroom emptier than it used to be. Papers themselves believe that they’re for-profit businesses, and they act accordingly. We pretend that’s an aberration at our peril.    

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Red Sox 5, Mariners 0: Chris Sale dominated Seattle with seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits and striking out 13 damn dudes. I’m so old that I still remember people saying he was too lanky and slight to hold up in the big leagues. Hell, I probably even said it once or twice. I’m not necessarily a fan of his really, but his continued dominance in the big leagues makes me happy if, for no other reason, than it reminds us that none of us know anything and that cool stuff happens all the time.

Indians 12, Tigers 2: I was watching the England-Panama World Cup match yesterday morning and, once it got to 5-0, I asked people on Twitter who know more about soccer than I do (i.e. everyone) to characterize the level of blowout that was in baseball terms to help me understand what I was seeing. Most people described it as the sort of score that, while occurring with at least some regularity in league or international play, was not necessarily newsworthy. A good shellacking to be sure, the sort of which you do not see every day, but one which is not historic or anything. The point was, that while you may see an occasional comeback from, say, 3-0, you NEVER see it from 5-0 (or later 6-0). Which was to say, in baseball terms, it was like the Tigers getting beat 12-2 by Cleveland.  I didn’t watch this game, so I have no opinion if anyone’s heroics here — say, Edwin Encarnacion‘s five RBI or the homers from Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez — were as cheap as Harry Kane’s hat trick (two PKs and an accidental deflection), but like Kane’s hat trick, the numbers still count.

Reds 8, Cubs 6: The Reds sweep the Chicago Cubs and have won seven in a row overall. The Cincinnati Reds. That team with Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and a bunch of guys you don’t think about all that often. This after they were down 5-0 early and 6-1 as late as the seventh inning. Jesse Winker — who on Friday I described as someone who “while not necessarily one of baseball’s future stars” — came off the bench to hit a rally-stoking three-run homer. Pitcher Mike Lorenzen, actually started the rally with a homer. This a week or so after my last time making a comment about how pitchers hitting is dumb and the DH should be universal. The Reds are surging too late to truly get back into the playoff picture, I suspect, but there are worse ways to spend the rest of the season than simply making everyone who thinks they know anything about baseball look silly.

Dodgers 8, Mets 7: The Dodgers hit seven — seven! — solo home runs. Kiké Hernandez and Cody Bellinger each hit two and Max Muncy, Joc Pederson and Justin Turner each smacked one. They needed all of them too, with Turner’s coming in the 11th inning to win the game. The Mets had a couple bombs themselves, with Kevin Plawecki hitting a three-run shot in the eighth to tie things up and force extras. The seven solo homers ties the record for the most in a big league game. The Dodgers win was their 12th straight victory over the Mets. L.A. has gone 25-9 since falling 10 games under .500 on May 16.

Rays 7, Yankees 6: Jake Bauers hit a walkoff homer in the bottom of the 12th to give the Rays a three-game sweep of the Yankees. In the ninth inning Clint Frazier of the Yankees hit a bomb that would’ve been a homer anyplace, but which hit a speaker hanging from a Tropicana Field catwalk which was caught on the ricochet for an out. That does sort of suck, but given how many homers that have flown out to the sort right field porch in Yankee Stadium would’ve been outs in other places, I think the amount of complaining Yankees fans can do about that one is somewhat limited. Everyone has a home park.

Braves 7, Orioles 3: The Braves win to avoid a four-game sweep at home at the hands of baseball’s worst team. Freddie Freeman hit a two-run single in the first, Dansby Swanson hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer late in the game and the Braves’ bullpen tossed four innings of one-hit ball against an O’s lineup that looked like it was happy to get out of town and back to their own beds in Baltimore having taken three of four.

Diamondbacks 3, Pirates 0: Clay Buchholz tossed five shutout innings but left with an injury. No worries, though, as the bullpen finished the job. David Peralta and John Ryan Murphy hit homers in the first and second innings, respectively, and there was nothing doing for anyone else for the rest of the game.

White Sox 10, Athletics 3: Yoan Moncada hit a three-run double and a three-run homer on his six-RBI day. Daniel Palka and Yolmer Sanchez also homered as the Sox broke a stretch in which they lost nine of ten. Or maybe they merely interrupted a stretch in which they lose eight of 11? I dunno, baseball has infinite end points and you can tell all kinds of stories about teams and players if you manipulate said end points.

Cardinals 8, Brewers 2Jose Martinez hit a three-run homer in the Cardinals’ five-run fourth, Harrison Bader reached four times and Luke Weaver was solid. The Cards salvage a split.

Twins 2, Rangers 0: Jose Berrios allowed only three hits in seven shutout innings, striking out 12 to help the Twins avoid a three-game sweep and to snap the Rangers’ seven-game winning streak.

Astros 11, Royals 3: Houston put up an eight-spot in the second inning with Yuli Gurriel hitting a grand slam. Jose Altuve drove in two runs and scored twice and Evan Gattis hit a pinch-hit homer. The Astros have won 15 of 17 and extend their AL West lead to 4.5 games.

Marlins 8, Rockies 5Derek Dietrich homered for this third straight game and also doubled and hit two singles. The Marlins starter, Caleb Smith, left with shoulder tightness early but the pen handled it form the second inning on, limiting the damage while Dietrich inflicted his. He’s hitting .410 in the month of June.

Giants 3, Padres 2: Hunter Pence hit a two-run double in the 11th to give the Giants the walkoff win. This after Cory Spangenberg had San Diego ahead in the top of the 11th with an RBI single. In other news, how many of you remembered that Hunter Pence was still playing?

Blue Jays 7, Angels 6: Another extra inning game, this one won by Kendrys Morales‘ homer in the top of the tenth. Curtis GrandersonAledmys Diaz and Devon Travis also homered for Toronto, who won on Saturday and Sunday to preserve a 2-2 split of the series.

Nationals 8, Phillies 6: Daniel Murphy hit a two-run single in the eighth — his third single of the night — which brought the Nats back from behind and put them ahead to stay. This after the Nats had flashed a message on the scoreboard — while they were behind — reminding fans that the last Metro train left the station in a few minutes. Nothing like the home town scoreboard encouraging fans to leave early. Anyway, Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper hit three doubles. Michael A. Taylor had three singles himself as the Nats rattled off 17 safeties.