The Jump To Conclusions Mat Has Way Too Many Footprints On It

burressphone

Look, I’m not going to state that the facts out there surrounding Plaxico Burress’ shooting himself in the thigh aren’t there. It’s monumentally stupid of him to be carrying a gun illegally, only having a permit that had expired in Florida and at the very least, not applying for one in either New York or New Jersey. The fact that it went off in his pants suggests he has no clue about how to operate the safety on a gun, which is even more disturbing.

But I can’t help but sit back and want to smack the usual suspects like Bob Costas, Mike Ditka, and the rest of the NFL studio show crews make the usual suggestions about how players shouldn’t be allowed to own guns, and that they shouldn’t be out late after certain hours. Witness Ditka on the guns bit:

“This is all about priorities. When you get stature in life, you get the kind of contract, you have an obligation and responsibility to your teammates, to the organization, to the National Football League and to the fans. He just flaunted this money in their face. He has no respect for anybody but himself. I feel sorry for him, in the sense that, I don’t understand the league, why can anybody have a gun? I will have a policy, no guns, any NFL players we find out, period, you’re suspended.”

Lucky for us he never ran as the GOP candidate for Senate from Illinois. Jesus, who thought this guy would make a good senatorial candidate?  As long as he has the permits (which he apparently didn’t), it shouldn’t have mattered, period. The NFL is not big enough to where it should decide to take away people’s individual rights.

When I witnessesd Costas’ outrage on Football Night in America, I thought, “Spoken like a man who has never understood what it’s like to have to fear for your life.” It took Tiki Barber to correct Costas, by saying that many black athletes grow up in tough situations with gangs where they are protected because of their athletic abilities, and are used to a world where you have to protect yourself — you do not trust security people or the police. I don’t know if this is reflective of Burress’ background, but if you are a black man with millionaire money, you’re going to be wary inside and outside your home.

The situations are not comparable, as Burress was out on the town with teammates Antonio Pierce and either Derrick Ward or Ahmad Bradshaw (depending on who you read or hear)( but it’s silly not to think of how Sean Taylor was killed in his home and Antoine Walker was robbed near his home in Chicago.  Again — those are at home, but don’t you think you would protect yourself even more when you were out of you think you are a target? Yet this impulse seems to elude everyone commenting on the stubject before everything is known.

It is merely another string in Burress being a bad actor; it is part of a narrative to take missed meetings and fines and conflate them into something larger and more insidious. But the cycle hasn’t played itself out yet. Burress still has to be charged, and we have to find out his side of the story, too.  It’s asking too much to back off for a little bit though — there is blood in the water.

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Pushing The Narratives

The benefit of my current work schedule is the ability to watch Pardon the Interruption, which remains the only ESPN piece of programming worth investing too much time in.  SportsCenter is not as essential as it used to be; much of the analyst shows focused on individual sports are background fodder. Outside The Lines can be very hit or miss, and is subject to the typical ESPN/mainstream blinders on much of its subject matter. Anyway, back to it.

The Four-Letter’s $3 million a year poaching, Rick Reilly, subbed for Tony Kornheiser on PTI yesterday, via satellite from Denver with Michael Wilbon in-studio in D.C., and parroted what I’m fairly sure may be a common impulse among a certain segment of sportswriters regarding the current state of the baseball playoffs: he stated his preference for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series, proclaiming the Tampa Bay Rays “bad for baseball.”

We probably need to separate that “bad for baseball” comment into two categories: bad for the sport and bad for the business of the sport. There is a vast difference: any die-hard baseball fan or one who merely follows the sport regularly would say a worst-to-first story is not only good for the sport, but also compelling and justifying smart moves by a front office.  Tampa’s entry into the playoffs already yielded more attention to manager Joe Maddon in SI, a likely Rookie of the Year award for third baseman Evan Longoria, and a front office that assembled a solid starting line-up and a roster of budding stars. That’s good for the sport; it gives some leverage behind the idea that baseball’s uncapped salary structure can still yield good things for teams who use their money wisely.

However, if you look at Reilly’s comment in the business sense, it fits. Tampa was 12th out of 14 AL teams in attendance this year, not helped by the reported shittiness of Tropicana Field, and locals are right to ignore a lousy team in a bad park for a while. That doesn’t change overnight, and it’s also part of the trend of questioning whether Florida is really interested in regular-season baseball. (We really won’t have an idea until both the Rays and Marlins’ new facilities open.)  The Dodgers and Red Sox are two of several “glamour teams”; ones that matter to people outside their home markets (the others, in my eyes, are the Cubs, Yankees, Cardinals, and Braves*.) Those are teams that have bandwagons, intense home fans, and ones who don’t drop loyalties when they move in the age of the Internet and MLB.tv.

Dodgers-Red Sox is an easier World Series to sell, and I’m sure it’s the one Fox is clamoring or as we speak.  The Rays aren’t, although everyone loves an underdog story — because there’s not enough to sell. The lore bheind L.A.-Boston is too much, two big cities, Manny Ramirez back in Betantown, the Sox seeking back-to-back titles, etc.  That’s a narrative that writes columns; that’s how Reilly kind of thinks., and it’s what Bud Selig would love to see. (Philadelphia doesn’t have the same pull as Dodgers-Sox, but it’s better to MLB than the other AL choice.)

The Tampa Bay Rays going from worst to first and capping it with a world championship is just another Marlins team beating Cleveland or the Yankees, or a Diamondbacks bloop single. It’s a blip, and won’t register outside of those of us who pay attention. Of course, you know what happens when the narrative gets openly expressed: the underdog shocks us all, and considering my loathing of both the Dodgers nad Phils, along with a need for Boston teams to cool off, I’m riding the Rays right now.

Fuck the cheap narratives, though. Let ’em do some work. Tampa is full of new stories, and that’s good for the sport.

(*I include the Braves because of their near stranglehold on the South until recently thanks to TBS and the lack of pro baseball anywhere else in that region.)

You Don’t Usually Debunk A Rumor This Way

(Again, please pardon my politics, so skip it if you don’t care.)

It’s as if I woke up in a dream world this afternoon after working overnight, when we were all Gustav-obsessed (and rightfully so, it doesn’t look as bad as Katrina, but it still sucks; my sympathies to the Gulf residents) and when I read my usual web sites, I had to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

In that picture of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, you see her daughter Bristol holding Palin’s youngest son, Trig. There had been a series of rumors (I first read about them at Sports on My Mind) that Trig might be Bristol’s child, and in order to rebut those particular things, John McCain’s campaign decided to release the information that Bristol is currently five months pregnant.

(I wasn’t quite convinced on the “Trig is Bristol’s baby” rumors, even though the signs were very, very fishy. Who flies from Dallias to Anchorage, with a stop in Seattle, and then drives way out to Wasilla to have a child?)

Asked if Ms. Palin will be able to judge the demands of the vice-presidency with her complicated family life, [McCain strategist Steve] Schmidt said, “She’s been a very effective governor and again I can’t imagine that question being asked of a man.”

The McCain campaign says it was aware of her daughter’s pregnancy before it named her as the running mate on Friday.

Mrs. Palin’s statement identified the father only by a first name, Levi. “Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family,” the statement said. “We ask the media, respect our daughter and Levi’s privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates.”

Schmidt is only now using the whole sexism angle in playing damage control — the campaign had no problem with tokenism on a very light vice presidential candidate whom they didn’t vet properly. He’s being very savvy by letting this out during Gustav and on Labor Day — very few people are going to notice.  When asked about it, Barack Obama took the smart way out of this, at least on his end.

Mr. Obama said the pregnancy “has no relevance to Governor Palin’s performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president.” He added that, “my mother had me when she was 18. How family deals with issues and teen-age children – that shouldn’t be the topic of our politics.”

Although this is the politically smart thing to say, it’s wrong.

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Rid Of Him

Normally, I don’t write a whole lot of posts about media folk leaving their outlets, particularly when it’s people I loathe both reading and seeing on TV — like former Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti — because everyone else and their mother will have written something about it online before I figure out something coherent, if not interesting, to say about it.

But when the departure of such a figure is being celebrated and used as a subscription sales tactic, that’s gone well beyond the usual parameters of a high-profile departure.

The paper is running a semi-article/column on the White Sox commenting about his leaving. There are reader letters being published. The web editor for the sports section is explaining that a tiff over who got to write an Obama/Cubs column that went in Rick Telander’s favor may be why Mariotti offered his resignation. Hell, one of the letters from a Deadspin commenter and his picture are featured on the rag’s front page. Even his former editor, Michael Cooke, is writing announcements like this one (boldface emphasis mine):

The Chicago Sun-Times had the best sports section in the city before Jay Mariotti came to town — that’s why he signed up with us — and his departure does not change that.

We still have the stars — respected veterans such as Rick Telander, fiery newcomers such as Greg Couch, quirky voices like Carol Slezak, not to mention seasoned beat reporters tracking the Cubs and White Sox toward their eventual collision in the World Series, plus the Bears, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, and all the other teams that make Chicago the sports center of the nation. We could have a World Series in Chicago in a couple of months … talk about excitement!

The Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com will continue to have the scores and the stories before anyone else, anywhere, and the deepest and most comprehensive stats and standings. We wish Jay well and will miss him — not personally, of course — but in the sense of noticing he is no longer here, at least for a few days.

A paper, like a sports franchise, is something that moves into the future. Stars come and stars go, but the Sun-Times sports section was, is and will continue to be the best in the city.

I wonder if the Sun-Times and its staff would like to tell us how they all really feel about the man. That is colder than a witch’s teat, and rival Telander isn’t holding back either, talking to the Chicago Reader about it:

“Because the damage a ‘humorless loner,’ as you described him [I did], can do to an overstressed sports department is incalculable.” He said the sports department lost its cohesion and  became “sinister and secretive and fuck your buddy. It was the worst possible teamwork conditions.”

Yikes. Look, this is hellishly amusing to me, watching a media meltdown and human nature in an embattled industry lash out against what appears to be a singularly loathsome figure among the ranks of newspaper columnists — so much so that rumors of him heading to Boston are causing angst among that city’s sports fan — but let’s face it, it’s also brutally unprofessional.

You’re likely to respond, “well, so was Mariotti,” and you’d likely be right. However, there’s got to be some semblance of decorum regarding the departure of a hated figure — the enmity in the pages of the paper and the airing of dirty laundry tells me a lot more about the staffers still on the masthead of the Sun-Times’ sports section that it does about Mariotti. We already knew a sizable contingent (if not the majority) of Chicago sports fans disliked his Lupica-style attitude about not visiting the locker room and tendency to stir shit up for kicks (nothing is more annoying in a columnist than a reflexive contrarian.)

But the dirt-dishing about Mariotti’s tantrums seems, well, beneath a professional journalist.  I was a solid reader of the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune in college (my small little school had this newspaper program where students got free copies of those two papers plus USA Today, the New York Times, and the Des Moines Register), and while the latter is certainly the more tabloid of the two, this kind of pissing match just goes further than it ought to.

Maybe this is the natural outreach of sportswriters like Mariotti inserting themselves into the news cycle via TV appearances and outsized presences online and in print — he became just as much of a media story for his ranting and raving as those he covered, so now he is a public figure and, in this realm of Chicago sports infamy, everything goes when you are universally hated.

Does Mariotti deserve it? He probably deserves every trashing his former co-workers give him and more, but you’d think his editors and the others who are happy he’s gone would be a bit quieter about it, not because they ought to be automatons, but because this isn’t the way these things should be handled internally. Release a statement without the personal digs, leave the gossip about the departure to your competitor, and move on.

Why Aren’t You Pricks More Grateful?

Hey, Peter King, lighten up. It’s a fucking pre-season game, dude: From this week’s MMQB:

4. I think I don’t want to hear what great fans the Jets have. Not for a long time. That crowd Saturday night was a disgrace. At least half the stadium was empty for Favre’s debut in a Jets’ uniform. I expressed my amazement to a few fellow scribes Saturday night — emphasizing that N.Y. traded for an all-time-great quarterback, not a broken-down one — and they gave varying reasons for the poor turnout. Like it’s the middle of vacation month for New Yorkers, and it’s a preseason game. Horsefeathers. If you really love your team, and you have season tickets, you should have been at that game unless you were in Tibet. Ridiculous.

So let me get this straight: if you are a Jets season ticket holder, you should have dropped what you were doing, braved the god-awful traffic or trains in the Tri-State area just to get there in time to see Brett Favre play two series — not a full quarter, just TWO SERIES — because you’re not really serious fans otherwise?

Considering the Jets are going the Personal Seat Licenses route for its new shared stadium with the Giants (and it’s still in Jersey), plus the fact that there[‘s no guarantee a 39-year old quarterback (despite being a living legend) will get them to the playoffs (I don’t have ’em winning a Wild Card, do you?), I’d say a half full stadium for an ultimately meaningless game is what most NFL teams should be content with until the season kicks off.

King’s just surprised that the ticket-buying public isn’t going to go down on Favre as vigorously as he does in print just because he got traded to their team.

Photo: AP/Bill Kostroun

My Prayers Were Answered

More often than not, my mental response to Bill Plaschke’s L.A. Times columns is something along the lines of, “God, this guy can go eat a dick as far as I’m concerned.”

Well, he and a Chicago Trib reporter actually did — in the name of Sino-American relations while covering the Olympics.

If you make it all the way through the video, I salute you.

The Old Man And The Internet-Based Sea

“There isn’t anything on earth as depressing as an old sportswriter.” – Ring Lardner

Generally, I like staying out of the pissing wars between print journalists and my sports blogging brothers and sisters; it’s like watching two sides scream into the ether — one yelling the usual “Get off our lawns!” and the other whining that Mom and Dad just don’t understand. However, I make an exception for the emergence of former New York Times baseball columnist Murray Chass online, complete with his “this is not a blog” manifesto in his “About” page, not to pillory him (The Big Lead and Fire Joe Morgan have already done an effective job of pointing out certain absurdities), but to offer a few thoughts as to why this obnoxiousness about the new and old media formats seems to plague baseball more than anything else.

(Side note: I’m not gonna take Chass on too much on nomenclature. Like I’ve written before, Bissinger has a point that got obscured in, ironically, vulgarity — and others have written that if the big sports bloggers were really completely committed to the journalistic end, hiding behind the “we’re just bloggers” defense doesn’t wash; internet sites covering politics frequently refer to themselves as “independent media,” with all the traditional ethics and standards implied.)

Let me preface that the comments below are not necessarily about Chass’ writings in and of themselves; he’s written good, mediocre, and bad columns, just like everyone else. They’re just generic trends I’ve noticed, reading columns about baseball over the years.

The Old Guard’s resistance against the Invasion of the Geeks and their statistical analysis has always struck me as perfectly ironic: no sport vehemently defends the sanctity of its statistical records like baseball, with the aid of said Old Guard, who is nothing if not fervent about protecting the old records from the ravages of both proven drug cheats and pillorying those not proven with suspicion or poorly sourced material without a second thought of innocence or guilt. (This defense of the old, hallowed records is also done with a slight bit of sleight-of-keyboard regarding the official discrimination policies of MLB, but don’t let that fuck you up. Whoops, I swore; Chass ain’t gonna like that. Anyway.)

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