There was a time, not terribly long ago, when newspaper columnists more or less set the baseball news agenda. No one truly does that anymore. Too many voices, too many people, too much news. But back then a motivated columnist could get people truly talking merely by leaning back in their chair for a while and imagining stuff that sounded fun to them. Bam! — there’s a column and there’s a talking point for fans and radio hosts and everyone.
We don’t see a ton of that these days. Some, but not as much. Partially because of all of those other voices, but more because the debunking cycle goes too fast. In 1992, a columnist could invent some fantastical thing that sounded cool to them — “Mudville should trade for Shlabotnik, and probably will!” — and it’d be many hours before team spokesman could deny it and 24 hours before that denial would appear in print anyplace. Johnny Columnist OWNED the Shlabotnik-to-Mudville story for a whole day and a night. It’s much riskier now, given that by the time anyone has read your little speculative/analytical/newsy piece, someone has denied it or debunked it.
But sometimes they happen. This from Chris DeLuca of the Chicago Sun-Times is pretty close to the old genre. In it he argues — based on nothing more than Ozzie Guillen being in town for a 2005 team reunion and the White Sox struggling — that the White Sox should hire Ozzie Guillen. He doesn’t report it’s going to happen, but he spends enough time reading the minds, more or less, of the White Sox brass and trying to convince you, dear reader, that it makes too much sense NOT to happen.
Then, as the style practically dictates, he brings home the logic of the idea in terms of how it interests him, the sportswriter leaning back in his chair and imagining things:
Say what you will about Guillen, but he would pump life into a team that needs some CPR. Players would have no choice but to listen.
Win or lose, he would make the Sox interesting again. The most important part: He’s a damn good manager. And he has been humbled since his 2012 departure from the Miami Marlins, who still are sending him paychecks. The front-office friction would vanish.
Please do not read this as a harsh criticism of DeLuca here. Because you know what? I like Ozzie Guillen. He’s fun. And I’ve never been terribly impressed by Robin Ventura. I feel like Guillen deserves another shot and it makes all kinds of sense for him to have it happen again in Chicago. As far as columnist wishcasting goes, I’m intrigued by DeLuca’s ideas and want to subscribe to his newsletter.
But let’s watch to see if the old-style news dynamic happens as a result of this piece. If the harmless wishcasting and imagining here turns into talk radio chatter and if the “it’d be neat if Ozzie took over” subtly shifts to “what do you make of this Ozzie-back-to-Chicago rumor!” remember that it is basically made up of whole cloth because it’s a neat idea for a column, not because it has any legs. And that’s one of the biggest differences between sports coverage of 2015 and sports coverage back in the Shlabotnik-to-Mudville era.