"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yankee Panky # 46: Get In The Game

Please allow me to start the column by saying I miscalculated. I had intended to review the various papers’ pullout/special sections on the Yankees, but they will be available this Sunday. Since rosters are complete now, the last vestiges of those sections can now go to print.

In order to truly appreciate those sections — regardless of the quality of writing — think of the planning that goes into it. Editors meet on the content for those sections and begin doling assignments starting from the time they send reporters to Tampa. It’s a long, painstaking process.

I’ll tie in the reviews with some Opening Day missives in the next column. …

… This week, I wanted to veer off the beaten path (not the "beatin’ path," as in "dead horse," or Canseco v. A-Rod: A Juicing and Wife-Ogling Tale), to discuss how various media members view their function in the baseball establishment. But before I do, a quick tangent: Reading about the Red Sox’ whining about the Japan trip took me into the DeLorean and the last week of March, 2004. My colleagues and I were on two-week rotations for Spring Training, and I had the final two weeks leading up to the Yankees’ exodus to Japan, where they opened the season against the Devil Rays. I actually watched their charter take off from my hotel room.

At any rate, the quotes from various Sox players and coaches were eerily reminiscent of those of Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina and a couple of other Yankees who vocalized their disdain for the long haul across the International Date Line. There was concern of how the trip would affect the team long-term for the season. The first three weeks of April were terrible; the Yankees went 8-11 in their first 19 games, including a 1-6 mark against the Red Sox. An eight-game win streak ended the first month of the season and bled into May, and set the tone for a 101-61 record that included 61 come-from-behind victories.

But the early effects of the Japan trip were still talked about on Sept. 30, the night the Yankees clinched the AL East on a game-winning home run by Bernie Williams. As I was scampering through the clubhouse, steno pad in hand trying to avoid a champagne shower that would have ruined my notes, I recall one local television reporter introducing a question to Mussina (and I’m paraphrasing): "Moose, it’s been a long season, you’ve been outspoken about the Japan trip and voiced your complaints, etc. …" To which Mussina replied, "Complained? You’ve been here like 10 minutes all year, how do you know?" Now while I may not be the biggest fan of Mussina, especially in his treatment of media members, I thought this was hilarious and if I were in his position, I can’t say I’d have reacted differently. I’d love to find out if something similar occurs in Boston later this year. That would be hilarious.

To the point of the column: media members’ opinions of their place in the game. In her most recent column, ESPN.com Ombudsman (Ombudsperson?) Le Anne Schreiber interviewed many ESPN reporters and analysts about how they juggle their multiple roles, specifically the injection of opinion when serving as guests on ESPN Radio programming, SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, etc., compared to managing their "objectivity" in reporting. It’s an old-school/new-school debate that’s raging in Journalism schools, going back to when I was in college, and there isn’t a real answer.

I found the last half-dozen paragraphs most interesting. Schreiber discusses Steve Phillips’ role in the Mitchell Report analysis, which led to the question of, "How much are the media and other non-players a part of the game?"

On a recent "Outside the Lines" report, Phillips seemed to take a giant step onto the media side of the fence when he acknowledged that, as general manager of the Mets, he had signed a player whose performance declined upon joining the team. When Phillips learned the cause was the player’s going off amphetamines, he thought, "Well, dear God, will somebody please get him back on those? That’s the truth, and I say it with some sense of shame and responsibility."

After that show, Phillips says, "I got a lot of reaction from people at ESPN, pats on the back, and I wondered if I had opened up too much about it."

Such disclosure may not be in the best interest of baseball, but it is essential for an ESPN baseball analyst who is asked to comment on others’ complicity in the steroids era. To me, it seemed Phillips had chosen the media side of the line, but I also noticed that when asked later in that same show what baseball management should do now to clean up the game, he began talking about what "they should do" and then shifted to what "we should do."

"I wasn’t aware of switching from ‘they’ to ‘we,’" Phillips says. "But I do believe that we as broadcasters are part of the game. We still have an impact on the game. I don’t know whether this crosses the line in broadcasting or not. I don’t know if writers like Buster Olney and Peter Gammons consider themselves part of the game, but as a GM I always thought of the media covering the game as part of the game."

I knew what Olney’s answer would be, but still I asked him whether he thought he was part of the game.

"No," Olney said. "There is definitely a hard line there for me. I don’t think of myself as part of the institution of baseball."

(TJ) Quinn, Olney, Phillips — all drawing different lines or trying to locate them within the shifting landscape of journalism. Old-school straight lines may have toppled to the ground like a pile of overlapping pick-up sticks, but I think ESPN should make sure all its reporters, analysts, producers and editors know where the old lines are so they can recognize when it is in everyone’s best interest to pick them up again.

I found Olney’s quote astonishing. If he, or any other writer, doesn’t consider himself part of the institution of baseball, then the institution of baseball should not give members of the BBWAA such elevated status. Remove the writers’ wing from the Hall of Fame. Don’t allow them to vote for any regular-season honors. Writers are an integral part of the game’s culture, makeup and have helped develop some of its vernacular. When I worked at YES, I wasn’t around the team every day. For my first three years there, until I cut back my game assignments, I worked roughly 50+ games a year on-site and at least 100 more on the editorial side. I felt like I was part of the game because my summaries, columns, etc., were helping shape fans’ views of the team. On a different level, when I did TV and radio play-by-play for my college sports teams, I didn’t feel like I was a part of the team, but I was a part of the game. I was an element of the way people received information on the game.

What do you think? Are writers, broadcasters, front office members, owners, etc., separate from the Institution of Baseball? Is Phillips right? Is Olney?

I’m curious to review your comments.

Until next week …

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver