I've never really bought it when managers and front office execs and players say they don't read the sports page. To me it's always seemed sort of akin to 450,000 people claiming they were in the stands for Nolan's 7th no-hitter. Some are telling the truth. Most aren't.
But this week I retreated a little on that. It started to make sense to me why ballplayers and team personnel might choose to ignore what's being written about them. This week, I felt like trying the boycott out. Never did, but I was tempted, at least on one particular subject.
It's been stunning to me how abruptly the Michael Young story, which began on Sunday evening with a national Fox Sports article that everyone in the local press had the same access to, and was followed by a conference call with Jon Daniels that everyone in the local press was on, rotted into a self-righteous column-inch scrap between writers who cover the Rangers.
(Yes, I get the possible irony, the potential for coming across as self-righteous myself here. I'm sure I'm guilty of it at times, though on this story I've tried to keep my eye on the ball and not try to make what someone else wrote the story, or even part of it.)
There are lots of writers in town whose opinions I respect a lot and, more importantly, whose access and diligence and writing ability I depend on. But this has turned into Kenny Rogers & the Cameraman, a story that has writers taking sides and taking shots (some less veiled than others) at each other because of what they did or didn't do (or get to do) and because of the stance they are taking.
It's as if these writers decided that this story required them, after taking sides on the issue at hand (assigning guilt to one party or the other, ignoring the less provocative possibility that all who were involved could have handled things a bit better), to throw a low blow at the writers in town who took a different position. "I'm Bloggy McColumnist, and I approve this message."
If the object, for at least one of the writers in question, is to attempt to drive a wedge at the top of the Rangers' front office, or at least create a perception among Rangers fans that such a wedge already exists, that's pretty sad.
One sorta funny offshoot of this is that we now have columnists training bloggers in their crosshairs; meanwhile, the style some of them have resorted to this week smacks of blogging at its worst (and to some who don't pay better attention, blogging as a whole).
When's the last time the local media has behaved so badly on a baseball story? I suggested to a fellow blogger yesterday that it was the Rogers fiasco. He said no, this has been worse. He's probably right.
I do get that nerves are probably on edge like never before in that industry. Hours after the Young story broke, the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram acknowledged in print a development that had been rumored for weeks: that in February the two papers - the two rivals - would begin to collaborate on a huge chunk of their sports coverage. The Star-Telegram will be responsible for the Rangers beat. The News will keep the Mavericks and Stars beats. Each will cover the Cowboys.
That's really sad. A survival tactic, sure, given the deathbed that many have suggested the newspaper industry was on even before the economy fell apart. But sad.
The following happened the morning after the Cowboys' final game of the season.
I watched the pathetic game, I watched the postgame interviews, I watched the studio shows. I read the papers the next morning. But the best piece of reporting I heard after the disaster came not from any of the above, but rather a radio producer.
The Ticket's Mark Friedman said on Norm Hitzges's air on Monday morning, December 29, that he was on the team plane the night before, coming back to Dallas from Philadelphia, and that a significant fraction of the players who had just embarrassed themselves and their organization, arguably worse than any collection from the nearly 50-year-old franchise had ever done in a 60-minute span, were goofing around during the flight, laughing, playing games, acting as if it were the last day of school.
Friedo didn't raise a megaphone and bluster on about what Jimmy Johnson would have done about it if he were still coaching here, or whether a team with Bob Lilly or Roger Staubach or Lee Roy Jordan or Michael Irvin or Troy Aikman on it would ever have acted like that.
He simply reported, and I thought it was a pretty useful piece of information. Said a lot, by itself, about what the Cowboys are, and what they aren't. There were interesting columns written that week, but none I appreciated more than that one brief report I got by listening to the radio that morning.
This newspaper beat merger is very disappointing, as a Rangers fan. I have no doubt that the Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson and Anthony Andro will continue to do a great job, as will MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, but as fans we're all better off if Evan Grant and Richard Durrett are out there on the beat as well.
This is not a flare crying for baseball bloggers to get more credibility, more credit. Far from it. Really, it's just the opposite. Without beat reporters, good ones, columnists are emasculated. And so are bloggers. And so are fans.
This is also not a comment on the bigger picture, the advent of a newspaper as established and influential as the Dallas Morning News dropping one of its major pro sports beats. That's another issue, a larger one. Nothing about it signals anything good. But that's not what this is about.
We've been fortunate to have very good beat reporters covering the Rangers for years. The idea that the two lead papers are trading in good old-fashioned competition and all the good that that entails in exchange for a joint enterprise, in the name of economic measure, means several things to us, some by definition: the result will be less volume of information, fewer feature stories (which generally don't overlap), fewer perspectives.
Will it also mean the reporters surviving the transition, faced with less competition, will be less aggressive, in their sense of urgency if not in their approach?
Don't know. Hope not.
But nobody would dispute that heightened competition tends to bring out the best in talented people.
Without beat reporters, why read the sports page? I have friends among this market's columnists, but if I want to read analysis on the Texas Rangers, I'm not sure there's one of them whose work I'd seek out before checking Adam Morris's daily blog work, or Mike Hindman's, or Joey Matschulat and Jason Parks's.
That's not a knock on our local columnists (at least not all of them), but while those who write with a major newspaper byline have more access to the organization than the blogging community, that's less of an issue considering how infrequently most of them use that access. There's so little hard-hitting baseball column-writing done in DFW - not because the baseball columns are weak, but because they are non-existent (or at least were until this week's story that everyone weighed in on). Go grab a stack of local papers from any given July - July! - and scoreboard the number of Rangers columns against the number of Cowboys training camp columns. Bet even in the baseball team's playoff years, the tally wasn't close.
But the beat reporters are there every day. Talking to the players, to the General Manager, to the President, to the Owner. No team's General Manager or President is as accessible, cooperative, or candid as Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan. Having fewer good reporters on the beat to take advantage of that availability is no good.
Is the "beatwriter co-operative" idea that Mark Cuban floated last month (www.blogmaverick.com) the solution? I don't know. Cuban's idea is to create a company that funds multiple writers in each market, charged with covering multiple sports but in greater print-only depth than space permits in their current situations.
Even if it has legs, it's impossible to imagine that anything would be in place this baseball season.
Hopefully there are some smart, bold folks out there already working on ways to keep the Rangers beat from depopulating.
A few quick things:
Bravo, Michael Young.
Omar Vizquel is from Caracas, Venezuela, which is closer to Elvis Andrus's hometown of Maracay than Andrus's 2008 home (Frisco) is to his expected 2009 address (Arlington).
There's some merit to this speculation that Texas could sign the 41-year-old Vizquel now that Young has agreed to become the Rangers' third baseman. Young will be a terrific mentor to Andrus (he's already begun: check out the pointed remarks he made this week about how unfair the media treatment of this story has been to the 20-year-old), but on the field he'll be busy working his tail off to get comfortable with the nuances of his new position. Ian Kinsler will surely be to Andrus what Alex Rodriguez was to Young, and what Young was to Kinsler, taking Andrus under his wing as they grow into a long-term double play combination. But as for the mindset and the actions of a shortstop, it makes huge sense to have the 11-time Gold Glove winner, who should be very affordable and happy to take a one-year deal, around to work with his fellow Venezuelan in camp.
As for whether it makes sense to have a player like Vizquel on the bench in April is another question. He offers less versatility than a player like Joaquin Arias or German Duran would, but if Andrus hits .150 for a month and prompts an option to Oklahoma (whether that's in March or May), neither Arias nor Duran is likely to be counted on to play shortstop every day - and you certainly wouldn't move Young back to shortstop and interrupt the rhythm he'll be developing at third base. Vizquel would be an ideal stopgap.
But hey: maybe having Vizquel around in March as a mentor makes it less likely, even slightly, that Andrus gets overwhelmed and overmatched in his first run through the American League.
Plus, Vizquel has been a 20-year favorite of mine. Stupid little story; I may tell it if he signs here.
Another thought to tuck away: unless the CBA were to change in this regard over the next six years (which I'd guess is unlikely), if Andrus spends a dozen days in the minor leagues this year, he can't become a free agent until after the 2015 season. If he never sees another day on the farm, he'll be a free agent after the 2014 season, at age 26.
If Andrus has an outstanding camp, I expect him to be the Opening Day shortstop, but remember: Evan Longoria had an OPS over 1.000 for the Rays in spring training last year and didn't make the team. Tampa Bay purchased his contract on April 12, and while that club probably didn't admit that it was securing an extra year of control by doing so, it was obviously a factor, given the almost immediate purchase less than two weeks into the season. (Although, six days after that, the Rays signed Longoria to a six-year contract with three club option years, wiping out the issue except to the extent that the first option year, if declined, becomes an arbitration year rather than a free agency year.)
If Andrus were to spend close to two months on the farm, it could also prevent him from becoming a Super Two arbitration-eligible after the 2011 season. But that's less significant, obviously, than the free agency issue.
By the way, Arias has one option remaining. Travis Metcalf, same.
Righthander Freddy Garcia - also from Caracas - has reportedly narrowed his choices for his next employer down to the Rangers, White Sox, Yankees, and Mets, with Chicago considered the possible frontrunner. Righthander Kris Benson is apparently considering the Rangers, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks. He'll throw for scouts a week from today.
As Scott Lucas pointed out on Wednesday, Texas signed catcher Brandon Harrigan to a minor league contract (surely he's related to former Rangers farmhand Hunter Harrigan, also a catcher - both attended the same Colorado high school and played collegiately at Cowley County Community College), and released righthander Keisuke Ueno, lefthander Ryan Turner, and outfielders Rafael Hill and Kyle Murphy.
The Rangers also signed infielder Royce Huffman to a minor league contract. The 32-year-old TCU product spent the first eight of his 10 pro seasons in the Astros chain.
Florida signed lefthander John Koronka (who spent part of 2008 pitching in Japan) to a minor league deal. The White Sox signed righthander Franklyn German and catcher Chris Stewart to minor league deals. Pittsburgh signed outfielder Craig Monroe to a minor league deal. Seattle signed outfielder Freddy Guzman to a minor league deal. Kansas City gave catcher Cody Clark a new minor league deal.
Seattle hired Steve Hecht to be its performance coach. Tampa Bay named Todd Greene its quality assurance coach.
The Sioux Falls Canaries of the independent American Association released outfielder Will Smith.
You need to read Jason Parks's spectacular interview with lefthander Martin Perez, whose upside is as great as Derek Holland's and Neftali Feliz's and Michael Main's. Check it out at http://www.bbtia.com/home/2009/1/13/prospect-interview-series-martin-perez.html.
Texas invited Holland, Feliz, Andrus, first baseman Justin Smoak, and catchers Manny Pina and Kevin Richardson to big league spring training (no surprises there), joining righthanders Casey Daigle, Brian Gordon, Doug Mathis, Elizardo Ramirez, and Derrick Turnbow and lefthander Joe Torres as non-roster invites so far.
The club is holding a Winter Development Camp Monday through Friday, with 19 pitchers and three catchers (Richardson, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Taylor Teagarden) attending. One pitchers' group (John Bannister, Blake Beavan, Thomas Diamond, Matt Harrison, Holland, Kasey Kiker, Luis Mendoza, Guillermo Moscoso, and Tim Murphy) will throw on Monday and Wednesday. The second group (Michael Ballard, Feliz, Tommy Hunter, Eric Hurley, Andrew Laughter, Warner Madrigal, Michael Main, Mathis, Brandon McCarthy, and Omar Poveda) will throw on Tuesday and Thursday. The Friday session is optional. There will be on-field workouts, conditioning drills, and classroom sessions.
The list of 19 pitchers appears to encompass the group slated to be at Bakersfield or higher this spring with the best chance of impacting the big league rotation in the next few years. The two names I might have expected to be included that weren't: left-handed relievers Beau Jones and Corey Young.
Lots, if not all, of the campers will be on hand for next Saturday's FanFest, and historically players not on the 40-man roster end up at the Newberg Report booth to sign autographs. I'll have a lot more detail to share with you about FanFest on Monday, with updates as the week progresses.
Catcher Max Ramirez, who led the Venezuelan Winter League in regular season home runs and hit .298/.391/.618, finishing among the league leaders in almost every key production category, was named VWL Rookie of the Year.
ESPN apparently won't show the "Homecoming with Rick Reilly" episode featuring Josh Hamilton again until April 22.
I won't get into the debate I had with Norm Hitzges Thursday night at the House of Blues, which he took briefly to the air on Friday morning and which I spent too much time talking about on message boards on Friday afternoon. All I'll say here is two things: (1) I don't understand his preference of moving Young to second base, Kinsler to left field, Chris Davis to third base, and Ramirez to first base (and David Murphy or Nelson Cruz to the bench) - seems to me that you'd be putting half your lineup at positions that wouldn't be their best, and asking that many players to learn new positions at once would be a recipe for some very bad defensive nights early in the year; and (2) as for his argument that Young would be less-than-average at third base offensively, so what? Your lineup is your lineup.
Don't you want your best defensive lineup on the field, not worrying about how your players compare offensively to others in the league at their position? Let's say, hypothetically, that Young's offense measures up better vis a vis others at his position if he were at second base, and that Kinsler's production looks more like a third baseman's. Either way, Young and Kinsler are in your lineup - don't you want them at that point at the defensive positions that make the most sense?
Plus, again hypothetically, let's say your offense suffers some, for whatever reason, because Young is at third instead of second (which makes no sense to me). So you go from the game's best offense to, what, its third or fourth best? Doesn't seem like a big problem.
But I'm just disagreeing with Norm, respectfully as I can. If that's pot addressing kettle, considering how I started this report, my apologies.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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