Sunday, March 31, 2013

It Happens Every Spring, Also Summer, Fall and Winter

The title refers to the need for mass media sports journalism to note that one of the major sports has begun another season. This requires expanded coverage of what, after all, isn't exactly an unexpected or novel event. The need for more words (or video) to describe the same old thing causes the press to start pressing. Errors and strikeouts ensue, the same as pressing does for any player in a slump.

The country and world's journal of record is "The New York Times." For this day, the editors of that august journal decided that the most important story about mankind's stay on the planet was this: Alex Rodriguez's contract hasn't quite worked out for the New York Yankees.

Heard about the Lindbergh baby? Kindergarten children know A-Rod's sad (from the Yanks' point of view) story, and have since 2010 at least. The contract was forecast to be an albatross right about now back when the deal got done in 2007.  Why break this non-news out as the paper's harbinger of the baseball season? Was the mundane reality that A-Rod is part of the bigger, even older story that dynastic sports teams often come to unhappy endings as their great players get past their expiration dates too depressing for the Yankees fans in the "Times" hierarchy to contemplate? Or, sadder still, did the editors just figure that anti-hero A-Rod was click-bait for a very slow news day? The inclusion of a "whither Hillary Clinton" feature on page one argues strongly for the latter proposition.

Click-whoring, while deplorable, is a frequent venial media sin. This blogger, whose amateur status remains, alas, pristine enough for the Royal & Ancient, let alone the NCAA, has done it and will probably do it again. It beats what the "Globe" did today in its baseball preview section, though. Opportunism is less offensive than re-chewed public relations spin.

The Globe baseball preview always has a Big Theme. Some years it works, others it doesn't. For the 2013 preview, the paper chose Chemistry, the specious bromide beloved within baseball that good interpersonal relations and cheerful attitudes among ballplayers can be an important element of winning.

I haven't the patience to debunk that chestnut one more time, so let's just specify that the Chemistry idea gets it backwards because winning makes teams happy, losing makes them unhappy, and the kind of driven personalities who become world-class professional athletes do not take failure, frustration and unhappiness in their stride. What's interesting here is that the "Globe" devoted so much space to an idea being actively sold by the Red Sox franchise to its customers. By golly, we like each other better now, so you'll like us better, too.

One six-game losing streak will be enough to shatter that marketing ploy. For the Globe to give Chemistry the dignity of so much ink and so many pixels is a baffling exercise in intellectual rhythmic gymnastics. Nick Cafardo might be the nicest person in sportswriting I ever encountered, so it is with no pleasure that I say that to cite the World Champion San Francisco Giants as an example of Chemistry at its finest without mentioning that the team had the finest pitching staff in baseball is simply cheating the reader.

As with the Times, the "Globe" had another, more valid story it could have chosen to discuss the 2013 Sox. The team is likely to be much better than it was in 2012 not because it'll be nicer to be around, but because it almost has to be. A season full of career worst performances is as difficult to duplicate as a season full of career bests. The Sox have hired actual major leaguers to replace the players liquidated in the Trade Deadline Purge of 2012, so they probably won't go oh-for-September this time around.

"Nowhere to Go But Up" isn't a very exciting headline or story. It has only the simple virtue of not being nonsense. For season previews, which I admit are nightmares for all sports media organizations everywhere, that virtue ought to be its own reward.


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