Sportswriters — the good ones anyway — have long bristled at the lack of respect they are given by the media at large and the general public. There has long been this cliche that the sports section is the newspaper’s toy box, that many sportswriters were hacks and that sports reporting and commentary were not as serious nor should they be taken as seriously as “real” news.
This is unfortunate, because for as much bad sportswriting as can be pointed out — and we point out our fair share around here — there is just as much if not more good sportswriting and sportswriters out there. Roger Angell, Gary Smith and Charlie Pierce working up at higher altitudes, Tyler Kepner, Derrick Goold, Bill Shaikin and many, many others doing it day-in, day-out. The common denominator among the good ones: brains, reason and the ability to balance both the fun and occasional frivolous nature of sports and entertainment on the one hand and the actual seriousness of some sports news on the other. They all possess the ability and the willingness to treat their audience with respect rather than contempt and to discuss things in a reasonable manner rather than throw raw meat or offer disingenuous hot takes.
But then there are those who give sportswriting the bad reputation it so often deserves. Who jump to wild conclusions and offer outrageous, over-the-top hyperbole either because they think that sports fans are mouth-breathing rabble who deserve nothing better, because they themselves are so dumb they actually believe it or because, hell, it’s just sports, man, so why not act crazy and get on some of those sweet, lucrative shout-fests on ESPN?
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times has long since cast his lot with the latter group. And one of his best (worst?) demonstrations of his contempt for his audience and his profession was on display with the column he filed regarding the Cardinals hacking scandal last night:
There is no evidence the Cardinals’ alleged spying involved any team other than the Astros. When asked Tuesday, the Dodgers publicly dismissed speculation their postseason losses involved any sort of digital espionage.
Yet, just as any NFL team can raise their eyebrows after the Patriots’ Delfategate and Spygate, so too can Dodgers fans now reasonably wonder.
If the Cardinals would sneak into an opponent’s computer, which is a federal crime and far worse than deflating a few footballs, what else would they do to gain an edge? If they would cheat against a long-struggling team such as the Astros, why wouldn’t they cheat to beat the richest team in baseball and their Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw?
After Kershaw disclaimed any semblance of agreement with that and after Plaschke could find no other person who would go on the record even coming close to crediting his unhinged hypothesis, he offered this closing take:
But still … were the Dodgers beaten by the Cardinal Way, or the Cardinal Con? It might be unfair to reach that conclusion, but it is now fair to ask that question.
No, it’s not fair at all. The acts of some Cardinals employees and the performance of their players are less an apples-and-oranges comparison than they are an apples-and-Ununpentium comp. They share no similar characteristics and no common thread, even if you squint. There is nothing reported that would even suggest that the alleged hacking had anything to do with on-field activities and copious reporting suggesting that it has nothing to do with it whatsoever. To make the connections Plashcke makes here, if you can even call them connections, is about as bomb-throwing and journalistically irresponsible as can be, and either he or his editors know that or should know that.
Yet there it is. Directly from the keyboard of a man who likely makes in the high six-figures as his newspaper’s leading sports columnist and as one of the largest sports network’s smiling faces on one of its signature TV shows. There it sits, in all of its contemptible and smug glory, an easily churned out bit of hyperbole, made all the worse by the fact that it involves a story that is already one of the bigger things to hit baseball in recent memory, thereby obviating the need for hyperbole in the first instance.
People use the phrase “this is why we can’t have nice things” pretty often these days, usually in jest after someone beats a joke into the ground or engages in some sort of excess which reflects poorly on others.
But this column, from this columnist, truly is why we as the consumers of sports media and we in the sportswriting world can’t be treated with the respect we deserve. Lazy, dumb and cynical pays just as much if not more than reasoned and intelligent, so why do things the hard way?