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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Commence The Blogger Circular Firing Squad

A curious thing happened to my RSS reader in the past couple of days: there was this article in the L.A. Times on Sunday that basically was the same old “us v. them” narrative about the mainstream media and sports blogging, and it made me yawn, because it was stoking the fires of the whole Buzz Bissinger vs. Will Leitch mess from Costas Now awhile back and I simply found it boring and innocuous enough. This is probably because I have very little professional investment in any “movement.”

I must have missed something. because the quotes provided by The Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre in the piece have managed to piss off Leitch, who wondered why McIntyre (or anyone else) would admit to changing based on Bissinger’s ranting. Following suit are Matt Ufford of KSK/With Leather and the eponymous Dan Shanoff. Will’s missive is now getting blowback from SML over at Sports on my Mind and Dave Lozo.

Frankly, it’s starting to make me a bit ill after reading all of it. So, McIntyre speaking for the blog world is a problem with a bad quote, but Leitch’s poor defense of blogging during Bissinger’s spittle was any better? For most of the media, Will Leitch is still the face of sports blogging and not too many have made forceful and loud objections about that (I’m thinking SOMM and Can’t Stop The Bleeding are the obvious exceptions.)

Look, the quote itself by McIntyre isn’t good: what proof do he or PFT’s Mike Florio have that there was this massive self-assessment post-Bissinger? I don’t see it. I think the medium was always fluctuating, well before Bissinger spewed — because page views and outside factors changed; people got book deals, decided to not use pseudonyms, got offers to get paid for their work, etc.  Deadspin brought back A.J. Daulerio and has a ton of outside contributors now, and Leitch wrote a book (which, in full disclosure, I helped review for the site) and toured for it.

I totally agree with Leitch on this part: do it because it’s fun. So, with that in mind, try not to listen or read the BS articles and tripe pushed by media forces who probably don’t get it, and don’t get so upset about it. I’m not quite sure why everyone presumes McIntyre thinks he’s speaking for everyone now, and it’s not like a lot of the same people criticizing him now had as sizable a problem with Leitch being the one to speak for the medium. (Please see Shanoff’s endorsement of Leitch to replace Rick Reilly on the back page of Sports Illustrated.)

I’ve said before that Bissinger had a salient point: he undermined it with his language and anger.  But why can’t writers alter how they do things to be more professional, to have more confidence in what they stand behind and write?  Anyone advocating the essential position “don’t change what you do because of the loudmouths” has a point, but what if those loudmouths happen to have one of their own?

In a 24-7 cycle for both mainstream news and blogs, sometimes both mediums ape the worst of the other: feeding off the cheap, bottom-of-the-barrel stories and instant speculation. This leads to the perpetuation of established media narratives on every platform (favoring management and teams over players, presuming the arrested athlete is guilty until proven innocent, etc.)  Very, very few of the sports blogs that are popular are immune to this.  Maybe some sort of self-examination of what you post and why you do it isn’t such a bad thing.

As usual, when this sort of thing happens, the real truth is probably somewhere between the sides taken on this.