Lucky Sevens

It’s no secret that Murray Chass is — how to put this delicately? — hopelessly out of touch. Once upon a time he was a groundbreaker, pioneering coverage of the business side of baseball back in the 1970s. For that he received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the Hall of Fame equivalent for writers, back in 2003. But lately, poor Murray’s brainpan has been dripping.

You may recall that last February, Chass took a break from feeding the pigeons by the lake to take aim at Baseball Prospectus, complaining about those big mean acronyms like VORP which cluttered up the big bad daily emails he had signed up for by virtue of a complimentary subscription. He made himself look quite the fool, and we all had a good laugh at his expense (though surely, his editors deserved some opprobrium for letting him make such an ass of himself). It was rather like watching The Daily Show‘s clips of Alaska senator Ted Stevens combining his talent for self-immolation on the job with a laughable ignorance of technology.

That almost certainly wasn’t Chass’ only public gaffe in recent years, but it couldn’t have helped his cause much when it came time for the New York Times bean-counters to reckon with their dwindling inventory of staplers and paper clip holders. Reportedly, Chass is in the process of being bought out (he refuses to characterize it as involuntarily), potentially ending a run at the paper that began in 1969, the year I was born.

Now, I was prepared to forego dancing on Chass’ professional grave by letting this pass without comment, but then I saw his latest diatribe. The deathless topic of Bloggers versus Mainstream Media has been in the news again; along with many a stressed-out beat man taking his swipes, higher-profiler hacks like Bob Costas and Rick Reilly have been taking their hacks at the blogosphere, apparently unanimous in belief that their status as high priests of sports media is threatened by (talk about a lack of originality — they all use this one) guys in their underwear. Costas, generally the most reasonable of this bunch (and also the one for whom the written word isn’t a meal ticket), was forced to chug a mug of STFU and admit he’d overstepped in his generalization.

Anyway, Charley Steiner of XM Radio’s Baseball Beat had Chass on his April 3 show, and amid the conversation, Murray the Grey got a bit cranky when it came to a certain medium:

“I hate bloggers.” “Worst development in media business, anyone can be a blogger.” “No credentials required, just spouting off their opinions.” “Our wives could go on and do it if they wanted to.” “I know they’re not going away but I wish they did.”

Oooo-kay. Not sure why he introduced sexism into the equation, but clearly Chass feels even more threatened now that the wolf is at his door. One wonders how well his attitude will go over when his next employer asks him to augment his next column by keeping a blog.

Chass’ segment was followed by one from Dodger Thoughts’ Jon Weisman, a man well equipped to understand the blogger/MSM fry, having spent a few years as a baseball beat reporter long before building one of the best blogs around. Weisman elaborated his take on Chass and the issue in general:

Today on Baseball Beat with Charley Steiner, I was asked to offer my perspective on the issue of blogger credibility and credentialbility. I understand what’s prompting the questions: There’s increasing discussion on whether bloggers should be allowed locker-room access, in a world where moments before my introduction, New York Times columnist Murray Chass had expressed the all-too-common view basically comparing bloggers to the Ebola virus. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to actually find a need to defend an entire class of people — especially when the attacks are coming from a class of people that is supposed to be professional, insightful, objective and open-minded. (Yes, that passes muster with the Irony Committee.)

…But beyond self-preservation, it’s important to realize that condemning a medium, at least in this case, is bush-league. The medium doesn’t decide whether to tell a story in a thoughtful, responsible or entertaining fashion; the messenger does… trust me: There are good and bad messengers everywhere.

…If I’ve done a good job as an outsider looking in, I expect respect, not dismissal. First, some of the analysis done by bloggers is flat-out better than anything you’ll see from a major paper — and it’s done without the support system of a major paper, often without any renumeration whatsoever. In some ways, it’s harder work.

Second, while there’s value in interacting with the players and management of a baseball team, I can testify that there’s often value in not interacting with them. It can give you a level of objectivity that is often missing from mainstream reporting. And at a minimum, many kinds of analysis don’t require a locker-room presence, yet can be of tremendous value when done right.

There is no good reason for an Us vs. Them mentality when it comes to mainstream reporters and bloggers. The readership benefits from their combined presence, and really, short of the sportswriter who doubles as a great blogger, one isn’t going to take the other’s job away. (You certainly won’t see me on the Dodger beat for a local paper anytime soon.) Bottom line: A multitude of opinions and a more open debate of the issues are good things. We aren’t witnessing the downfall of written baseball coverage; we’re witnessing a flourishing, a tremendously rich era to live in. We should cherish this time.

Bless Weisman for rising above the fray while some of the rest of us are content to snark away. While I’m still tempted to tappa-tappa-tappa over Chass being run out of the Times, the larger point is that the days when the traditional media held the key to understanding in any field — or at least sports, politics, and entertainment — have been over for quite awhile.

Access and a budget don’t add up to automatic insight, and the fragmentation that’s taken place via the rise of the blogs is a reaction to the mainstream media’s limitations of space, and a lack of respect for its constituency. In broad terms, to the extent that baseball fans read blogs, it’s because they — I mean you — are not getting that kind of coverage from the mainstream outlets at your immediate disposal (exemplars like Pete Abraham and Joe Posnanski notwithstanding). Perhaps you’re bored of the jock-sniffing quote monkeys or the soapbox derby champion columnists who bore you to death with their righteous pontifications on the local nine. Perhaps you’re hungry for analysis using sharper tools than batting average, RBI, pitcher win-loss records and manager hunches, wiling to search for a bit of innovation in the service of insight. Or perhaps you simply want to have a few laughs to puncture the staid seriousness of the sports page. If so, it’s not hard to find a handful of good blogs that fill the requisite niches, particularly as the medium has matured.

As the seven-year anniversary of this site arrives today, I’d like to think this blog remains one of them. It’s no secret that The Futility Infielder ain’t quite what it used to be, given how much of my energy is devoted to my paid work at Baseball Prospectus and Fantasy Baseball Index, not to mention projects to be named later. Particularly as I’ve backed away from covering the Yankees so closely, a good chunk of this site’s regular readership has found other outlets for its fix, and deservedly so, as there’s good coverage to be had out there.

In the dead of winter, weeks between entries, I pondered whether keeping this blog running was still a worthwhile venture. The conclusion I came to in my heart of hearts was a resounding yes. While it’s not going to supplant the work I’m doing at BP or beyond, there’s no place where I feel more at home than when I’m writing here. As the exhaustive season previews give way to the peanuts and Crackerjacks of the regular season, wrangling even a short blog post or two is an exercise I’m planning to maintain on a daily basis. I hope you’ll continue along for the ride.

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