Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Blackballed


Barry Bonds will likely not be in anyone's camp for Spring Training this season. I have seen some strange, strange things in my life as a sports fan, but I don't think I've ever seen an athlete who remains this valuable not get a shot with someone.

It may seem like I'm being purposely obtuse by expressing any measure of shock at this development, but it's a sign of my almost inexcusable hope in the human race that I am still cowed by the stupidity present in industry groupthink. The fact that Bonds isn't in someone's camp right now makes no more sense than giving a multi-million dollar severance package to a CEO who has bled his shareholders dry, but it has happened nonetheless. Perhaps the capitalists were wrong to think that financial incentive was enough to encourage the majority of people to utilize rational thought.

I've spent the last couple of days truly amazed at the glee the media is taking with the entire Bonds saga. If it's not windbags like Ken Rosenthal trying to compare Bonds' "indiscretions" to actual crimes against human beings, it's the media's dogged hounding of any team official from any team that dares to even be obvious and state that having the guy in the lineup might not be the worst thing ever.

ESPN's Rob Neyer poo-pooed the idea that Bonds' was being actively blackballed by owners and GMs, though perhaps only in terms of a strict definition of the term:

Has Bonds been blackballed? I don't think so. That term suggests conspiracy. I don't see one, nor have I heard any hint of one. As I think I mentioned recently in this space, there's a key piece of information to which we're not privy (at least not yet): How much does he want? I believe that if Bonds were willing to sign for nothing (i.e. just a few million bucks) he could find himself a roster spot.


I, too, doubt there's any kind of organization behind the efforts to keep Bonds out of baseball this year, but I nonetheless feel that Bonds is being informally blackballed, if only by a media that's made it clear they're going to make life hell for anyone who breaks rank on this thing. Believe me, when someone as generally congenial as Ken Rosenthal — we're talking about the Andy Katz of baseball here — starts mentioning Kobe Bryant's rape case in the same breath as Bonds, you know there is some serious revenge on the minds of sports writers who have taken Bonds' shit all these years. This isn't commentary, it's payback.

Pure speculation on my part, but I think the Rays were more than a little interested in Bonds for this season. It's a forward-thinking franchise that's struggled to attract fans, and no one's going to argue that Jonny Gomes is more deserving of ABs at this — or any — point in his career than Bonds. It just seemed like the right fit, not unlike the A's were. And, make no mistake, people will show up to see Bonds. Some of them may boo, some of them may "protest" the team, but there's never been a team that better understood that all attention is good attention that the Rays.

But I also think a young franchise on the verge of landing a new, publicly financed stadium, caught of whiff of the media's incoming shit storm and thought better of being so bold. Again, I could be wrong, and this is all speculation on my part. But I really do believe that the media — not Bonds, not Bonds' agent, and not Bonds' indictment — scared off teams like the Padres, A's and Rays who dared to suggest that maybe Bonds might perhaps be somewhat of a moderate upgrade, maybe, over the horseshit they're planning on trotting out in either LF or at DH.

Considering the tenor of much of what I've seen in the "established" sports media this past week — Rosenthals' thoughtless rant joins TK's anti-blogger diarrhea and Jon Heyman's comical "takedown" of statheads — it appears that the old-school media are fending off what many forecast to be their forthcoming irrelevance by proving they're capable of the same spleen they often criticize bloggers for displaying. And, in this case, it appears that the media is close to successfully taking food out of Bonds' mouth, which is what I think he was accusing them of attempting to do for so long anyway. There's probably an opportunity to tie everything into some snappy line, but I'm going to leave it at that.

# # #

Pepe's Ryan Howard post at his new blog is really interesting, even if I take issue with one of his (albeit smaller) points.

14 comments:

Pat said...

Wow.
On Bonds: Do I want him on my team?
Statistically, he would help. PR-wise, he'd be a train wreck. Legally, you run the risk of losing you starting LF because he's, well, in federal court.
That's a risk I wouldn't take.
But I'm digressing.
Really, I'm here to defend Mr. Tony.
The point many might miss is that, after Mr. Tony called bloggers "Naked Mole Rats" — and let's face it, that's Don Rickles-esque insult comedy Tony listeners expect — he was more specific.
A few minutes later, he said that "if you want to talk to me, just call me, don't talk to 'sources close to Kornheiser."
That's led many to think that Tony was talking about a DC blog that speculates damn near daily about the future of his radio and TV career.
I'll agree with you that Mr Tony shouldn't paint any group with a broad brush — namely bloggers who love to jump on the "old" media at every turn to, in part, create their own "story."
But you, in defending them, paint the "old" media as a group trying to show some nad for fear of their own careers.
The way I see it, Mr Tony rippping bloggers means "old" media members fear for their jobs and are clearly dinosaurs.
But by ripping the "old" media in the same fashion, how are you any different?

Pat said...

UH, ANOTHER COPY-EDITOR NEEDED.
LAST FEW GRAFS SHOULD BE THIS:
The way YOU see it, Mr Tony rippping bloggers means "old" media members fear for their jobs and are clearly dinosaurs.
But by ripping the "old" media in the same fashion, how are you any different?

Ryan said...

Nothing like another "Haw haw, your industry's dying!" crack to get a little reader response going on the argument blog.

Predictably, I'll bite — but not on the state of journalism or on any of Diesel's predictable points about the inevitable failure of "old" media. The "old" media versus new media debate has been an issue in this space since the days of "You would have never listened to 'Kid A' if not for me", and rehashing it will probably just lead to more hurt feelings for all parties involved. Suffice it to say, the guy who writes a blog sides with bloggers and the guys who write for a newspaper will side with newspapers. Somewhere, Mother Teresa and Penn Gillette will come up. No need to revisit all that.

Diesel makes a few good points, but — as he readily admits — most of it is pure speculation. You know why? Because WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT BONDS IS ASKING FOR.

Bonds isn't talking to the anybody in either the old or new media — and if you think he's being blackballed by the media, Diesel, you've again underestimated the competitive nature of reporters; even the most hardened Bonds-hater would climb over Pedro Gomez to get Bonds alone — and his agent is making vague and desperate, if not completely misleading, statements about Japan.

The only person who has gone on the record about Bonds is Joe Maddon, who confirmed the Rays — a team that, as Diesel notes, could use the big-name draw — were initially interested in offering a contract. Personally, I find it hard to believe Tampa would ever pull the trigger — they've historically been burned by big-name, high-priced, late-in-their career players like Fred McGriff, Greg Vaughn, Tino Martinez, Vinny Cash-stilla and even Jose Canseco. The Rays have more talented, young and impressionable outfielders than any team in baseball this side of the D-backs. And they just traded their biggest clubhouse problem in Elijah Dukes; seems to me that the team might be trying to avoid the clubhouse chaos (and media circus) that would inevitably follow Bonds to his next destination. And face it, having Bonds in the lineup MIGHT get the Rays into third place in their own division? Nobody's going to touch the Yanks or Red Sox, and the Jays are looking good, too. Seems to me that Bonds wants to play for a winner, wherever he goes, and only competing teams would take on Bonds' baggage. Can you imagine Bonds playing for a team that's 30 games under .500?

The Rays seemed like a bad fit from the start.

I can hear Diesel now: THERE SHOULDN'T BE A MEDIA SHITSTORM. LET THE MAN PLAY BASEBALL! Fine, but when a baseball legend — in this case, the all-time home run champ — signs with the Oakland A's, Yomiuri Giants or Long Island Ducks, his salary is generally justified by the bounce in attendance, public relations, media attention and merchandise sales. Sports history is full of of elite-level aging players who have signed elsewhere (most recently, Shaq's arrival in Phoenix; even Emmitt Smith comes to mind) and galvanized an entire region despite their age/ diminishing skills.

Whichever team signs Bonds won't have that luxury;
"Q" Rating might not be Diesel's kind of metric, but it definitely plays a point when teams are looking to sign someone for a significant amount of money.
At this stage in his career, with his personality flaws and pending legal issues, Bonds is more divisive than galvanizing. From a public draw standpoint, he's a push. From a media standpoint, he's uncooperative at best. From a buzz standpoint, Barry Bonds is the anti-Shaq. Even if, from a skills standpoint, he has the Big Aristotle beat.

What's my point? It comes down to mitigating risk.

Most big-league clubs have traditionally been willing to take risks when it comes to bad-personality guys — Milton Bradley's on his, what, fifth team? — based on either cost-effectiveness or upside, usually both. Look at the Nationals: They've acquired Dmitri Young, Wily Mo Pena, Lastings Milledge and Dukes in the last six months alone; all three guys are cheap and chocked full of long-term potential.

Bonds, at this stage in his career, provides neither.

Diesel said...

OK ... I just want to know if it's possible to mention the term "sports writers" in this space without offending you two. Really.

Read what I said:

"... it appears that the old-school media are fending off what many forecast to be their forthcoming irrelevance by proving they're capable of the same spleen they often criticize bloggers for displaying."

I'm not hiding behind semantics here, guys. This is not some hyperbolic rant against the media, it's making an observation that the "old" media — which many feel is dying, including just about every newspaperperson I know — is willing to do the very things it slams the Deadspins of the world for doing. That's it! I'm actually tired of offending my friends, some of whom work in the media, old or otherwise. So I'd appreciate it if you didn't assume I was poking you with a stick all the time (though I still reserve the right to do so every so often).

However, I do find it interesting that both of you think it's a foregone conclusion that signing Bonds would be a PR/fan disaster. This is a problem, because you can't possibly know. We can make educated guesses, but the lack of precedence in this circumstance makes it all so much hot air. I happen to think that people like watching good baseball players, and will come out to watch arguably the greatest player in the history of his particular sport. You seem to think that the Rays would cause irreparable damage with the 3,000 or so loyal fans they have.

Ultimately, I stand by my belief that if the media were neutral, Bonds would be an A or a Ray right now. But in both cases, the teams decided that they'd rather not deal with 7 months of fury from the Ray Rattos of the world.

Ryan said...

Diesel,

If you're going to quote yourself, don't break off fragments and play the whole "ALL I said was …" line. Here's the whole graf:

Considering the tenor of much of what I've seen in the "established" sports media this past week — Rosenthals' thoughtless rant joins TK's anti-blogger diarrhea and Jon Heyman's comical "takedown" of statheads — it appears that the old-school media are fending off what many forecast to be their forthcoming irrelevance by proving they're capable of the same spleen they often criticize bloggers for displaying. And, in this case, it appears that the media is close to successfully taking food out of Bonds' mouth, which is what I think he was accusing them of attempting to do for so long anyway.

Cute quotes around "established"? Thoughtless? Diarrhea? Comical takedown? Forthcoming irrelevance? And, my favorite, the notion that, by not campaigning to get bonds a roster spot, they're "successfully taking food out of Bonds' mouth."

Like i posted earlier, i have no problem with your take re: "old" vs. new media, especially given the media in which you choose to write such things. But I hardly think I'm being reactionary if I consider the preceding graf durogatory and worthy of mention and defense.

Diesel said...

Fine. You're right. I hate ALL sports writers and think that newspapers should die a death tomorrow.

Love,

Diesel

Pat said...

Beside the "old" media rant — which we've parsed 1,000 times already — I have two points here:
1. Doesn't "blackballed" infer that Bonds doesn't deserve whatever shit he's getting from teams, fans, corporate America, etc?
I'll grant you the point that he's been the focal point of an otherwise vague witch hunt. That said, didn't he bring the entire thing on himself?
"Game of Shadows" had rock solid arguments that he broke laws (legal and sporting) at every turn.
2. Where SHOULD Barry Bonds sign, Diesel?
Let's make the rational assumption that teams not in contention don't want him — the gain of a few wins won't mean the difference between making the playofs and not.
As a Padres fan, I'm sure you think he would have helped them. The team broke from its tendency of avoiding "cancers" last year by signing Bradley. He was FABULOUS for most of the year, but made a huge mistake when they needed him most. I was happy to see him go.
That said, there was a giant difference between signing Bradley and Bonds; Padres fans, for one, have seen Bonds destroy them for years, have a vitriol toward him usually reserved for third-world dictators.
Remember, San Diego is where they threw the giant syringe at him.
Beside the Padres, a quick look at contenders:
— Rockies -- Nope. You gonna play him instead of Holliday or Hawpe?
— D-backs — Have they ever signed a free agent? I mean, ever? And if they have, is he worth stunting the growth of Upton, or replacing Byrnes, who just got $30M?
—Dodgers — Already have 12 OFs.
—Cubs — They have the Japanese dude, complete with supposedly racist advertising campaign. Soriano, too.
—Brewers — He and Cameron could share needles.
—Cardinals — Perhaps. LaRussa IS crazy.
—Astros — They have Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee.
Reds — Have 5 OFs as is.
—Philly — Well, he IS black, Pepe.
—Mets — Ryan Church is no star, but they gave up their best prospect for him.
— Braves – Perhaps. Better than Matt Diaz. But is new ownership gonna do that?
— Angels — Nope. Torii, Vlad, Anderson and Juan Rivera are good.
— Seattle — Maybe. Bonds is better than Wilkerson in RF or Vidro at DH.
— Indians — Perhaps.
— Tigers — Mayyyyybe — he's been than Jacques Jones.
— Red Sox — Manny in LF, Papi at DH.
— Yankees — Nope.
By my approximation, there is room for him on maybe a half-dozen teams — not taking into account anything other than general depth-chart comparisons.
Are those teams conspiratorial for deciding against him?
I don't think so. I think many, many rationale people would decide he's not worth it — or at least enough that 6 votes against him wouldn't seem odd.
Is the media complicit in taking food out of Barry's mouth? I think that assumes there's a market for him otherwise — and I'm waiting for someone to prove to me there is.

Pepe B. Secessionist said...

I'm really not trying to be a wiseass by bringing this up, in light of the Howard discussion we had, but I think one of the big reasons nobody is really chasing Bonds is his health.

Obviously, PR's the biggest. And his attitude's another. But if a team could count on him playing even 140 games, I think somebody takes a shot by now. But I don't think anybody thinks he can do that anymore. (Maybe at DH ...)

Still, I also wonder what he's asking for. Even if he only gets 300 ABs, the guy's a hell of a weapon.

***

About this whole new media / old media thing. The old media's changing, obviously. And it seems to be having a hard time doing it. But there's a tremendous demand for sports coverage -- probably a growing one -- and as long as that's true, I just don't see "old" sportswriting dying. Like most big changes, it'll translate to the person watching it happen in real time -- us -- as a slow and halting evolution. Into what, I don't know exactly; I can't say what sports media will look like in ten years. Only that it'll be different, and that I seriously, seriously doubt blogs will take over any real market share.

Even the best sports blogs -- which are a very small percentage, and I think this is among them, even if it's not moving units like Deadspin -- only work as a supplement to real sports coverage. The format has some very real limitations in that regard. You can have a great newsy blog like the 700 level, which focuses on accumulating the best/funniest stories on Philly sports in one place, but it needs those stories to be written and published somewhere in order to link them. Most other sports blogs do one of two things: analyze selected issues/stories from a specialized perspective, or, more often, just bash sportswriters for their attempts to do the same. And even the ones who hate sportswriters the most depend on them to exist. Otherwise they'd actually have to write something substantive, and that's pretty hard to do consistently.

Diesel said...

Wow. No sarcasm, those are two of the best comments in the history of this blog.

Pat, you make fair points, and I have no issue with someone disagreeing with my premise — there's an effort to keep Bonds out, as opposed to a lack of interest in keeping him in — as you do. I admit it's speculation, though I'd like to think my instincts in cases like these are pretty good.

I can probably quibble with, like, two of your team analyses, but for the most part we're in concert: There's somewhere between 5-10 teams that absolutely could use, or perhaps even need, Bonds this season. That every single one of those teams is acting as if the player in question is Kevin Mitchell is, to me, what's telling.

And Pepe, you're right that injuries are a concern. Actually, they're a virtual certainty. Any team bidding on his services for this season goes into it eyes wide open, however, and are wise to price his services accordingly (and have contingency plans in place). And, to bring it back to the Howard example, if we're talking about the next 1-2 years, then injuries are merely a footnote in considerations of his value; it's only when you start talking about long-term deals into his mid-30s where I believe that the role of his injury profile becomes overwhelming.

As for your bit on the media, there's not much for me to contend.

b said...

I don’t think Diesel’s initial post intended for this argument to turn this particular way, but anyway....

Hasn’t the new media saved the old media by making the old media get off its collective ass? If anything, the old media should be thanking the new media - for challenging them to be innovative and to remain relevent - all while the old media retains its accessibility that allows them to trump any blogger by flashing its accountablity and credibility. They say newspapers are dying, but bloggers have given them life. Why do so many sportswriters feel the need to gripe about bloggers all the time then? This is a rhetorical question, btw. Just as bloggers whining about sportswriters all the time is getting old, it also is just as tiring the other way.

And Barry Bonds couldn’t carry Marcus Thames’ homer-to-at-bats ratio.

Pat said...

Because the discussion couldn't end with Doyle complimenting people and agreeing to disagree ...
B, I see your point about "new" media forcing "old" media to be more proactive.
I would argue, however, that there is a difference between news/sports web sites and blogs, per se.
To wit, sportswriters in "old" media now post stories midday, if needed, eschewing the old belief that they should sit on a story in order to beat the competition, be it television or other print groups.
I credit that, in part, to the likes of espn.com and the rest — if Daniel Dillon is struck and killed by a speeding wallaby, then it will be on espn.com in a matter of minutes; we might as well try and beat them to it.
However, I would argue that blogs — at least those not attached to the Mount Rushmores of sports web sites — rarely rival "old" media in terms of news gathering.
I agree with Pepe that some of my favorite blogs — deadspin, mlbtraderumors.com — are more clipping services than anything else, culling interesting/funny/offensive stories from mostly mainstream sites.
I don't consider the opinion-type pieces on those sites to be competition for news-gathering. I don't consider chat rooms a site for anything more than the once-in-a-blue moon story tip. (Not that it isn't interesting to see what fans, crazy or not, are saying).
I agree that "new" media has made "old" media more proactive, but I would only say that with a caveat — before the Internet, how could the "old" media be more proactive? The Internet medium didn't even exist; getting the news out ASAP meant waiting til the paper printed.
As any college Econ class would tell us, more competition is a good thing. "Old" media needs to work harder because readers and fans have more options now.
But I would hardly make the connection that "new" media has saved "old" media.
If anything else, "old" media gives blogger-type people more fuel, reactionary opportunities and, well, relevance.
And this is coming from someone who reads blogs and doesn't hate them — or feel threatened by them — in the least. Seriously.

Pat said...

Also, let's not forget that the media — "new" or "old" — writing about themselves is rarely, if ever, news.

b said...

pat, that's exactly what I mean by challenging the old media to be proactive, and you'll get no argument from me there. However, bloggers are a good/bad result of the internet, which subsequently forced the newspapers' hand to be proactive. Most newspapers, if they know what's good for them, even have videos online - imagine our professors telling us that back in the late 90s! (wow, I sound old)

One point often overlooked is that bloggers, in general, are a voice of the fans, while the newspapers, well, aren't. The news will always be there, just like disgruntled fans will. Blogs give fans a chance, like we do here, to vent what's bothering us. That's a good thing, considering most fans feel more and more alienated from their teams, despite unprecedented coverage. You guys have access we'll never quite understand or be able to really relate to, and the only reason we do is that most of us were once sportswriters. That's something a normal fan doesn't understand, but the world will keep spinning.

iwillbeginagain said...

General info, Bonds isn't going to trial anytime this season - that's a paper-thin rationalization for not signing him. Tammy Thomas was charged in the same court 12/14/06. She is not rich and was an easy target. Today, the judge ruled on the motion on whether the case can go forward. They'll select a jury and go on from there. If Bonds follows the same schedule, and he won't because he has a skilled legal team, it would be February, 2009 before the judge rules on the final dismissal motion.

Most ridiculous claim in the comment thread is Bonds would be a push attendance-wise. C'mon. There are more Bonds fans nationwide than there are Rays fans.
Then, the same poster makes my head explode comparing Barry Bonds with "Fred McGriff, Greg Vaughn, Tino Martinez, Vinny Cash-stilla and even Jose Canseco". No comment required on that comparison.