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JJ's opinion: NYT writer is five days late and misguided in assessing Weaver vs. Verlander - Through The Fence Baseball

JJ’s opinion: NYT writer is five days late and misguided in assessing Weaver vs. Verlander

by JJ Stoppard | Posted on Sunday, August 7th, 2011
| 702 baseball fanatics read this article

Who was to blame when Angels pitcher Jered Weaver lost his cool and was ejected during his matchup with Justin Verlander and the Tigers last week? (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

First things first.

One. The following excerpts are from a New York Times article that ran Friday, August 5, about a baseball game that took place on Sunday, July 31. The infamous Verlander-Weaver game.

Yes. Five-day-old news.

If someone has to explain to the New York Times why “news” has the word “new” in it, well, newspapers are in worse shape than I thought.

Two. It’s an opinion piece masquerading as “news” in the Sports section.

Three. I expected more from the New York Times. I did. I expected greatness. I mean, the only reason to run an old story is because of great writing, right? I expected wit. Humor. Specific comparisons of members of Congress to players in the game. Awesome!

But, no.

Four. I’ll mainly be commenting on the article itself and its construction. As Tigers TV announcer Mario Impemba said on Twitter when he was asked about the story: “First thought is that the author doesn’t watch much baseball.” I’ll leave it at that.

Five. Where I stand on the game, because I’m sure someone will call that into question, is in Torii Hunter-land: “That was stupid—it was all stupid. Everybody was stupid.”

I think it was one giant misunderstanding. And I’m a Tigers fan.

But I’m allowed to have an opinion. I write for a blog – not the New York Times.

You should have to ask Jonathan Mahler where he stands on the game, but his Angels-hat-of-an-article pretty much gives it all away.

When Baseball Imitates Congress, and Not in a Good Way
By JONATHAN MAHLER
Published: August 5, 2011

Huh. So Jonathan Mahler thinks there’s a “good way” to imitate Congress … right off the bat, I’m pretty sure we have nothing in common. Example: I actually watched this game.

What a spectacle of undignified behavior, of hypocrisy, of extremism, of civility abandoned, of epic brattiness.

Oh boy …

Could a disgraced city possibly have proved itself more worthy of its reputation?

Here it comes …

I’m talking, of course, about last Sunday’s Tigers-Angels game at Comerica Park in Detroit.

Of course! What else? Your cleverness knows no bounds! “Am I talking about DC or am I talking about Detroit. See how I did that?” Sooooooo clever. But. When you call Detroit “a disgraced city” – as in, dishonored, discredited, shamed – you better be ready for the fallout.

You are a journalist. Writing about sports. For the New York Times. You can’t just go around spewing out your opinion about a whole city as if you’ve earned that right. You haven’t.

And it’s an opinion. Not a fact. So at the very least, wrong section.

Also, it’s not even funny.

You missed. Which really sucks, because now you have to expect a retaliatory Verlander fastball at your head, there, buddy. But wait. Lucky for you, Verlander doesn’t do that sort of thing.

That’s your boy.

Maybe you were tuned in to a different channel, watching a different group of people in a different place violate a different code of conduct that has long held together another one of our nation’s most cherished institutions. I’ll recap.

Congress, right? Are you going to make real and specific comparisons? Actually have a story that measures up to the promise of your title? Explain how this baseball game is anything like Congress and the debt ceiling debate? No? I didn’t think so. (Actually, I did think so – see my comment about expecting more from the New York Times.)

And, um, no one was watching C-Span on Sunday. Seriously. No one. What’s that? Oh.

First, the setup. The stakes were high. This was the final game of a four-game series between two American League playoff contenders, teams that might collide again in the postseason. It also happened to bring together the league’s two Cy Young front-runners, a pair of lanky former first-round draft picks with starkly different pitching styles: Jered Weaver, with his magician’s deception and surgeon’s control, and Justin Verlander, with his three-digit fastball and paralyzing changeup.

The game certainly lived up to its billing. Verlander took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, and the Tigers managed to hold off a late Angels rally to win, 3-2. As a baseball game, it had everything you could possibly want: Some dominant pitching, flashes of power, a lot of hard-fought at-bats and a couple of dramatically manufactured runs complete with a botched rundown.

Yes, the setup comes first. Very good. Chronology is important. In a little while, you’re going to throw it out the window, along with some relevant information.

But what was most memorable about the game — and the reason why I’m still thinking about it almost a week later — was what you couldn’t necessarily see, or at least conclusively decipher. Like maybe no other single game in history, this one was packed with violations, both real and imagined, of baseball’s unwritten rules.

Uhhhhhhhhhhhh bullshit. The only “reason why” (nice construction, there) you’re still thinking about the game is because your editor shit-canned your article – sans Congress – when you brought it to him on Wednesday – two days too late. No way could he run your opinionated rehashing of the game – sans Congress – that relied solely on the hundreds of (better-written) articles already published. Not wanting to trash the whole thing, you added a new “angle.”

You: Congress!
Editor: No.
You: It’s fanfreakintastic!
Editor: No.
You: Come on, it’s genius!
Editor: No.
You: I’ll buy you dinner.
Editor: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon?

Honestly, the premise isn’t the problem – it’s the way it was (or wasn’t) carried out. If you’re going to compare two things, draw a parallel, then you actually have to compare the two things. Draw the parallel. Otherwise, you might as well be telling us that baseball is like a box of chocolates, without telling us how. We need specifics. Details. And I’m sure you’re getting to that. I mean, you’re writing for the New York Times, right?

Along the way, it produced roughly the same gob-smacking effect among baseball fans that most of the nation was experiencing as it watched the parallel debt-ceiling theatrics in Washington. Baseball imitates Congress.

Erick Aybar's eighth-inning bunt attempt irked Justin Verlander. (Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press)

“Roughly” does not an argument prove. Tenuous. At best.

The purpose of the baseball codebook, passed down in the clubhouse from generation to generation like an ever-evolving collection of tribal rites, was probably most succinctly described by Bob Brenly, who led the Arizona Diamondbacks to their 2001 World Series championship. “I can break it down into three simple things,” Brenly told the authors of “The Baseball Codes.” (Yes, there are enough of these rules to warrant their own book.) “Respect your teammates, respect your opponents, respect the game.”

If only it were as simple as Brenly makes it sound. As with the unwritten rules that govern any institution, baseball’s are subject to endless interpretation: You can’t steal on an opponent when you have a big lead late in the game, but what constitutes a big lead? And when, exactly, is it late in the game?

No bunting to break up a no-hitter, but what if it’s a tight game in the heat of a pennant race and the batter has been known to successfully bunt for base hits? (This last scenario isn’t hypothetical: The Angels’ Erick Aybar tried to bunt his way on in the eighth inning of the game in question, a move Verlander later described as “bush league.”)

*Waves to chronology*

The elaborate, if ill-defined, system of self-policing that is supposed to encourage players to play the game the right way can ultimately have the opposite effect. With their midgame adrenaline flowing, their sense of baseball righteousness rising up in them like, well, an ideological crusade taking root inside the mind of a zealous young politician, players can wind up following their principles right off a cliff.

A Mad-Libs paragraph – my favorite! Substitute the words “write” and “journalists” for “play” and “players”. Now substitute “stories” for “principles”.

The process quickly becomes circular: Retaliation begets retaliation. Individual reputations are compromised.

Totally.

Teams’ prospects are damaged. Not to get too Bart Giamatti on you, but the strength of the game’s social fabric is tested. Did I say that baseball imitates Congress?

Three times, last count, which totally proves your point.

And Congress invented “an eye for an eye”? Huh. I had no idea – I thought it went back a little further than that … it was that Al Gore, wasn’t it?

It was pretty easy for even the most partisan among us, which is to say Tigers and Angels fans, to see who went over the edge in Detroit.

Yep. Jered Weaver.

If opinion research firms conducted approval-ratings polls for baseball players, the Tigers’ Carlos Guillen would have suffered the steepest decline after Sunday’s game.

Oh. Huh? Guess it’s not so “easy” for some of us to see – and by us, I mean you.

This would all be so much clearer if only you had written the story in chronological order.

Aha!

Now I see why you did that!

If you hadn’t shoved chronology over that cliff you mentioned, you would have started with the fact that Weaver thought Maggs had started some shit, so Weaver, in turn, started some shit.

It was all one big misunderstanding.

Sort of like an article I read once.

In the seventh inning, when Guillen smashed a ball into the right-field seats, he lingered in the batter’s box to admire his handiwork and pointedly flipped his bat, a strictly prohibited form of grandstanding known as home-run pimping. He compounded the infraction by trotting slowly down to first, angled toward the mound, taunting Weaver all the way.

Yes. That happened. Totally unprovoked, according to your timeline so far …

Bear with me, because this is where the narrative gets a little convoluted.

Well, at least you admit it. It’s not too late to go back and rewrite it in order, you know … well, now it is, but it wasn’t when you wrote that line.

In Guillen’s mind, he was actually taking the moral high ground by paying Weaver back for disrespecting one of his teammates, Magglio Ordonez, earlier in the game. (In the third inning, Weaver had shouted at Ordonez as he circled the bases slowly after a home run, another variation of home-run pimping.)

I’ll wait until the laughter dies down here. Magglio Ordonez – Home Run Pimp. Now, that’s funny!

1) What you fail to realize: Ordonez is a lot of things, young, fast and pimp-like are not three of them. He missed parts of this season and last with an ankle injury – first a broken bone, then an Achilles tendon injury. When we call him “Wheels” Ordonez, we’re being sarcastic.

2) What you fail to recount: Ordonez stood at the plate, watching to see if the ball was fair or foul. This is the inciting incident. This is what pissed off Weaver. He mistook energy conservation for grandstanding – something Ordonez has never done. And that’s what started everything.

3) What you fail to mention: So by the time the ball settled in the left field stands and Maggs began his jog (he always jogs) around the bases, what did Weaver yell to him? He yelled, “Run!” And what did Ordonez do? He replied! It is, after all, the polite thing to do. He said, “I’m old. That’s as fast as I can run.” True story.

Magglio Ordonez gets a stare from Jered Weaver after his third-inning homer. (Jeff Kowalsky/European Pressphoto Agency)

4) What you fail to acknowledge: Weaver yelling, “Run!” at Ordonez – a six-time All Star and 13-year veteran – was disrespectful. That was his intent: He thought he’d been dissed by Maggs, so he was going to give it right back. I get it. And that’s how the whole thing started. How your story should have started, so I wouldn’t have to jump in and clear it all up. Jeez. I mean, I have stories of my own to write, you know.

5) What you fail: Journalism 101. Check your sources. Now, if your source was you, I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but you’re an unreliable source. If your source was another article on the game, I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but next time, read two. If your source was the actual game and all of the coverage, then I’m really sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but you’re an unreliable journalist, showing your bias at every turn.

Weaver responded to Guillen’s taunts by throwing at the Tigers’ next hitter, Alex Avila. The beanball has been an accepted part of baseball’s code pretty much since the game’s inception. But it’s one thing for a pitcher to make a rhetorical point with a knockdown or brush-back pitch. It’s another to throw near a hitter’s head, which is what Weaver did.

Ooh. I like this little dance: Weaver threw “at” Avila “near” his head. You make it sound so … delicate.

He was instantly kicked out of the game, and on his way to the locker room was so worked up that he had to be physically restrained from the umpire by his teammates. He was later suspended for six games.

The fact that the suspension had already been handed down at the time of publication tells me your story is too old to be news. *beats dead horse*

Considering the tightness of the pennant race — the Angels and the Rangers are running neck and neck — it’s entirely possible that the start he’ll miss will make the difference for his team’s season. Not that Weaver had any regrets. “I wouldn’t do anything different,” he said when he learned of his suspension.

The problem I have here is with Weaver, not you, so I’ll just let that one go. Notateamplayer! Oops.

So there you go. That’s what happens when dogma and misguided principle win the day.

But enough about your article …

In no time at all, our combatants could very well be at it again when the playoffs start — I am already envisioning the Fox pregame lead-in of a showboating Guillen and a fury-filled Weaver — …

Me, too.

… and Congress returns to the debt drawing board.

You know what? You’re totally right! You don’t need specific examples, to make comparisons – just a general, over-arching premise and a timeline that somewhat jives in both realms.

It will certainly make for some more compelling theater.

More compelling theater than what?

Whether it will make for good legislation is a different question.

The Verlander-Weaver bill? See, that doesn’t work there. At all.

It’s hard to believe we’re in a good place when our elected representatives and our professional baseball players start to look so much alike.

Uhhhhhhhhhhh. Literally? Look alike? You really don’t watch baseball, do you.

In all fairness, I think the word you meant there was “act,” not “look.” But without specific examples comparing the actions of players in the game to players in Congress, I’m not buying that argument either. It’s cheap and shoddily made.

So, all I’m really saying here is this: If you don’t have/don’t use/don’t want to use all of the relevant information and compelling comparisons to write a fresh story about a five-day-old event that was already written to death five days earlier, just leave it alone.

Walk away.

Or write a blog.

But, please, for the love of God, don’t turn it in to your editors at the New York Times … apparently, they’ll eat it up.

Post By JJ Stoppard (24 Posts)

JJ Stoppard is a Detroit-based writer with strong beliefs in the Church of Baseball, Ernie Harwell and the Detroit Tigers. jjstoppard@gmail.com

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