Monday, August 5, 2013

They're calling tonight's game "a circus." But you can't have a midway without barkers. Can A-Rod conquer the tabloids?

Apparently, Alex Rodriguez will step from the dugout tonight to a deluge of thunderous boos, hearing chants of "Cheater, Cheater, Cheater," while thrown cups of beer fly through the air.

And that will just be from the press box.

For the last eight months, many of the professional journalists who cover New York baseball have screamed full-throated indignation about the evil, the greed - the horror, Mr. Kurtz, the horror! - of A-Rod, while assuring us - no, yelling at us - that he will never play another inning for the pristine and innocent New York Yankees! They have furiously called him names, and the list of his wrongdoings transcends sports altogether.

"Just when you thought this Yankee season couldn't get any more embarrassing, A-Rod appears in another photo shoot. Only instead of posing bare-chested and beefcake-style in Central Park, this time he's wearing a T-shirt and jeans." 

That's the Daily News' baseball columnist Bill Madden, from May 31, belching bile about A-Rod's choice in wardrobe. Yes, he even hates A-Rod's fashion sense! All year, Madden has assured us - from unnamed sources - that A-Rod is greedy, guilty, obnoxious, pigheaded and only in this for money. This is from June 26.

"He knows (MLB) has the goods on him,” said the source. “Who knows how long the suspension will be — 100 games, whatever — he’ll try to get out ahead of it.”

And so it goes. Ever since A-Rod came to New York, a herd of writers has boiled to bring him down. Over the last six months, the tabloids have grown angrier and nastier, lasering their fury upon him. He's a cheat! He's a liar! A monster! A meglomaniac! Bad dad! He can't hit! He won't field! He doesn't dress well in public! KILL THE BEAST! SAVE THE CHILDREN! KILL HIM!

Today, as A-Rod goes to Chicago with his lawyers, literally fighting for the Yankees' last chance to save the season - (NO, the writers will say, HE'S ONLY TRYING TO GET HIS MONEY!) - it's a perfect moment to wonder why sportswriters are the way they are.

Listen: I was a newspaper reporter for more than 30 years, but never wrote sports. Some of my best friends do. They are smart, honest, caring and funny. But I've also met a few flat-out idiots. What turns an intelligent journalist into an angry, indignant and self-righteous buffoon? What creates the Dick Young?
I've been thinking about this lately. Here are my best reasons why sportswriters sometimes become boars.
1. Arrested Development. In fifth grade,  every baseball fan who can complete a sentence decides he or she wants to be a sports writer someday. Most of us evolve out of it. They grow up to cover politics or culture, or whatever shows up on the plate. Something keeps sportswriters from never leaving that childhood dream. And some writers - at basic levels - exhibit an element of childishness in everything they produce. They call people names. They don't think incrementally - there are only winners and losers, villains and heroes. And worst of all - they believe authority figures, without questioning them. They automatically follow anybody who wears the silly hat or sits behind the big desk. It's like a trip to the Principal's office.

2. The one-stop shop. If you cover politics or war - or write about one person's life, the complexity of every story is supremely daunting. There are never enough interviews to be conducted. You always carry an element of uncertainty in your belly. Did you get the story right? Sportswriters don't face this on such a regular basis. The game is played, the stats are supplied, and the players and coaches are trotted out for interviews. Everything is laid out. Most sportswriters never have to appear on a stranger's doorstep and convince somebody to do an interview. In every other form of journalism, a writer must make a million decisions on whom to believe. The sportswriters can simply write what the athletes say, and then the only real job is to be wittier than them.

3. The press box. If you're writing about a kid's life in a housing project, odds are there is no other journalist in the town - maybe the world - who is as similarly involved in the story. But sportswriters sit together in the press box, chewing the fat for four hours at a time, in a place where food is furnished and civilians are not allowed. They compare notes about what player dissed them. They can vent about the manager or the cold pasta They can size up what everybody else is going to write. There is a huge pack mentality here. It's almost impossible to avoid.
4. The economic disparity.  Most sportswriters have a nice middle class gig going. Still, they are covering pro athletes who - in some cases - can't even string a sentence together, and yet who are earning $15 million a year. Dammit, it's not right. It's not fair. There is a class thing here. There is a race thing here. Obviously, that's a touchy subject, and sportswriters are no better or worse than any of us. But an economic unfairness exists between the jocks and the writers - and how much of A-Rod story always seems to balance on his money? He's already worth a billion, yet the way some writers have it, he'll steal silverware from the clubhouse.

5. The folly of humanity. Keep this in mind: Half the people you meet in life will be of below average intelligence. Well, sportswriters are no exception. Nobody notices an idiot taxi driver. A gullible sportswriter - woah - that's impossible to ignore.

6. The access. If a sportswriter's phone calls are being returned, he or she has an incredible advantage over the competition. When in doubt, quote the GM or the owner, anonymously, and you cannot go wrong. In the case of A-Rod, one can only assume that Cashman and the Steinbrenners - through their proxies, a few certain writers - have taken batting practice on A-Rod for the last two years. And no matter what you think of A-Rod, it's obvious that the Yankees do have a stake in getting him banned from the game.  When writers quote an anonymous source who describes A-Rod's true personal intentions, can the writer really act oblivious to the reasons why that person would be inclined to lie? 

Listen, there are great sportswriters in New York. I read Joel Sherman faithfully. The Times writers are almost always above reproach. One of my heroes in journalism is Joe Sexton, formerly of the Times, now of ProPublica - a former colleague in Syracuse - who made his bones covering the Mets. And there are great sportswriters in Syracuse - smarter, more diligent, more honest than me. But there's a view in journalism - a totally ridiculous view, by the way - in which writers are judged by the size of their markets. In other words, a New York Post writer is automatically more competent than one from the Watertown Times. In my life as a writer, this is the most absurd idea of them all. Some of the biggest bozos I ever met were obsessed with getting to bigger markets simply because they had run out of credibility locally, and they needed a new place to start again.

But when A-Rod returns tonight - if it does happen - the word being bandied about will be "circus." Well, you can't have one without barkers. 
Let's just hope he doesn't show up in jeans and T-shirt. What an embarrassment that would be!


JM said...

I don't think I've watched a complete game all season, mostly out of sanity preservation (can't watch CC at all, can't watch Hughes, can't help going off my rocker at Girardi's genius).

But tonight...tonight...let it be Lowenbrau.

Go get 'em, Alex.

I'm Bill White said...

I call for a live blog of tonight's game.

Mustang said...

Bravo, Duque. The Six Reasons Sportswriting Is Bad deserves wide circulation.

joe de pastry, who is also glad Grandy is back said...

I used to root for the Yankees despite A-Fraud. Tonight I'll root for A-Rod, despite what the Steinbrothers have done to the Yankees.