Thursday, August 22, 2013

Slant Pattern’s Odds and Ends

By Kevin Beane

* Congratulations to Ichiro Suzuki for getting his 4,000th hit between MLB and the NPB of Japan. Two thoughts on that. First, it's a shame that he's never going to recognized, except unofficially, for possibly breaking hit records because such a big chunk of it happened in Japan.

If the NPB isn't greater than or equal to the MLB in terms of talent, it's damn close. There's a reason that Japan has finished in the top three in all three World Baseball Classics (and won two ... the United States has never made the top three). I call it the Herschel Walker Problem, as Walker would be fifth on the all-time rushing list if USFL stats counted. While I'd say the disparity between the USFL and the NFL was greater than that between the NPB and MLB, it was still legitimate enough that I think the keepers of the record books — yes, even the league record books maintained by the MLB and NFL — ought to broaden their scope to recognize worthy players rather than simply protecting their brand.

Secondly, Ichiro is one of the reasons that it seems impossible to dislike the Mariners. They have been a dumpster fire for most of their existence, but turned their fortunes around in the mid-'90s, and did with flair and panache — all of their stars were likeable or at least colorful. Any list of Mariners greats has to begin with Ken Griffey, Jr., of course, and end with Ichiro. But many more have their likenesses etched into the Mariners pantheon in stone just as permanent — Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez. Indeed, in acquiring Buhner, the Mariners accomplished a rare feat in baseball — hosing the Yankees.

* While we are traipsing down memory lane, not long after the Mariners heyday, I was a beat reporter for a weekly shopper called The Suburbanite, covering high school football in the Southern suburbs of Akron, Ohio.

It was there that I realized by my calling: I wanted to be a journalist, a pundit, a writer, and I absolutely did not want to be a reporter. The culture of coverage of American sports from high school to the pros was, and is, poisonous to everyone involved. In a fascinating interview, former Portland Trail Blazers beat writer reveals that he learned of this hard truth with what I consider a surprising amount of slowness and naiveté.

First, he mentions being disheartened when he interviews players and they wax sentimental about kissing their kids goodnight, and then sleeping around on the road. He has much to say about getting to know players, and then they let you down (he's also making some assumptions about relationship dynamics, which differ from couple to couple, but let me not go there).

I would posit two things: number one, and most importantly, players in all sports are coached to death on what to say and what not to say to the media, and some players are very talented at following the company line and conveying the sort of image they want to convey. Maybe I'm the one being naive here, but I just cannot imagine covering a team, getting to know the players, and falling for some sort of, "This player is different. He's honest." bit. The piece also makes me think that Quick has an overly inflated sense of his own importance to the players. Being a professional athlete is very ... busy. Your mind is consumed with practices, games, your families, and your secret affairs. Probably in that order. Reporters don't even register.

He also does himself no favors by pillorying the current object of his coverage, the Oregon football team. He complains that the coaching staff is "almost trying to be difficult. It's frustrating. It's obvious they have no respect for our profession."

They aren't almost trying to be difficult, they are trying to be difficult, unreservedly. And succeeding, sounds like. Here are the rules for dealing with the media that every franchise and program follows.

1. Close ranks.

2. It's not enough to say that criticism isn't allowed. One musn't even give the slightest acknowledgement of poor coaching or game-planning. Everything is fine, we're on the cusp of greatness, we just need to tweak a little more. Criticizing performance and execution is a bit more acceptable, as those are lowly players we're talking about.

3. If you speak in nothing but clichés, you have both fulfilled your obligations to the media and succeeded in giving out no information or insight.

4. Reporters are expected to toe the line. Truth, the cornerstone of good journalism, does not apply here. Sure, the paper should stick it to the politicos and the con artists. For us, their priority needs to be to do PR for us and protect us. Run afoul of this rule, journos, and be prepared to lose access to team facilities.

Granted, some of these rules make sense if applied with sense. If Alex Smith felt entitled to blast Colin Kaepernick in a press conference, that would seriously undermine the team in countless ways. But you can also be interesting and insightful without giving the game away. Chris Kluwe does it. Bill Lee did it. Hell, I'll give Clinton Portis credit for at least coming to press conferences in funny getups. Charles Barkley is not exactly Mr. Popular, but I give him a huge amount of credit for speaking his mind without getting himself drummed out of the league, and now any network that covers the NBA would kill to have him.

The most interesting part of the interview was when Quick revealed that Damon Stoudamire, of all people, showed him a moment of quiet solidarity with the press.

* Contrast that with Kevin Smith, who I suspect, sadly, holds the more common template of a typical player's attitude towards the media.

Maybe he's upset he will never be more than the second-most famous Kevin Smith in America, but, wow. The only word that can be used to describe Smith's treatment of a 19-(!!)-year-old reporter is "abusive." He told the guy that he wanted no "f* *king b* *tches" in the locker room, and, when he asked the reporter if he ever took a curious look at a naked player in the locker room and got a non-affirmative answer, took off his towel.

Shouldn't Smith be straight-up arrested for that? He should be, but of course it won't happen. In 1990, New England tight end Zeke Mowatt exposed himself, this time to a female reporter (Lisa Olson), inviting her to "step up to the mic." For this, he was find a whopping $12,500, which he apparently never paid. For Olson's part, she still gets harassed by fans to this day.

So abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation, non-answers, and general uncooperation is what any sports reporter should expect going in. Never again, for me. But as much as I sort of needle Jason Quick in this column, I'm glad that he and his colleagues have decided to continue to fight the good fight.

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