Sunday, November 28, 2004

Takes a Turkey to Know a Turkey

Sorry for the quiet week -- computer trouble on the home front and a late-scheduled Turkey Day (observed on Saturday because just about everyone was out of town on Thursday) have held things up a little bit.

The link up top is to one of Madden's columns in the Daily News, in which he elects -- in the true Thanksgiving Spirit -- to declare 10 Major Leaguers "Turkeys". Ain't that sweet? Here's his list:

1. Nomar Garciaparra
2. Sammy Sosa
3. Kevin Brown
4. Kevin Millwood
5. Jerry Colangelo
6. Jason Giambi
7. Jose Valentin
8. Brian Anderson
9. Jimy Williams
10. Alex Gonzalez (Marlins Edition)

The offseason lends itself to three kinds of baseball columns in the mainstream media. There are the gossip columns where our pals in the Fourth Estate tell us what "highly-placed" sources in such-and-such organization tell them are sure-fire deals, 95% of which never come to fruition. Lots of others mind the gossip column because of its abysmally low accuracy rate, but I think that rumors, so long as you take them with an appropriately large grain of salt, have value even if they're completely wrong. I mean, I'd rather hear an inaccurate baseball trade rumor than not have any baseball news at all.

Second type of story is the fluff-piece. These are human interest stories, reports of charity events the players or teams are throwing, whose parent survived cancer, that kind of thing. Fluff-pieces also cover profiles of obscure team personnel.

The third type of story, which gets delivered with much more gusto than the two others, is the hatchet job. This is where the columnist gets to even scores -- real or imagined -- by dissing those that have wronged them. Sometimes they're simple, mildly embarassing reproaches -- if you see an article where the columnist takes a player to task for not being the leader that the team needs, and then calls on the player to "make his voice heard", that's code for the player needs to do better post-game interviews. Often, they're nastier, like this "Turkey List."

Sammy Sosa, #2 on the Turkey list, is Madden's white whale. I doubt Madden has skipped an opportunity to to slam Sammy in three or four years. If I recall correctly, the feud goes back to Sosa snubbing the New York Baseball Writers dinner, which Madden organizes. Ever since, Madden has taken unusual pleasure in Sammy's drops in production, his corked bat scandal, the unsubstantiated rumors of steroid use.

Aside from Sosa, Madden picks on three players (Garciaparra, Brown, and Giambi) each of whose prime sin was getting injured. Aside from Brown's broken hand, none of those injuries was intentional -- unless you doubt that Giambi actually had parasites and a tumor, or that Nomar actually had a torn Achilles tendon.

Madden's slam of Jerry Colangelo, while accurate, seems an outgrowth of the Steinbrenner/Colangelo feud that dates back to 2001 or earlier. Kevin Millwood's place of honor is an oblique attack on universally-despised agent Scott Boras, who has apparently screwed his client by misreading last year's free agent market. No idea what sins, if any, Valentin, Anderson, Williams and Gonzalez committed against Madden -- heck, maybe they were just thrown in to round out the list.

I guess that's why I object to this kind of column. There's a lot of personal stuff that seems to go into these hatchet job pieces, of which the public is seldom made aware. Last year, after Madden changed his mind on the "Bert Blyleven to the Hall of Fame" issue, Madden related an anecdote in which Blyleven was extremely rude to Madden and another reporter back during Bert's playing days. Madden averred that Blyleven's rude act had absolutely nothing to do with Madden's refusal to give Bert his Hall of Fame vote for the first several years Blyleven was on the ballot. I'll take him at his word on that. But there's still the problem that all those years Madden wrote that Blyleven just wasn't great enough for the Hall of Fame, no one knew about this potential bias.

I guess I just wish that when Hatchet Job time comes, the columnists would come clean about any unreported bad business between themselves and the hatcheted ones. Next time Lisa Olson puts the smackdown to Jason Giambi, I'd like to know if he's been one of the long list of clubhouse sexists she's encountered in her career. I'd love to know why no one likes Jose Valentin (although, looking at his numbers, that .286 OBP last year is scary) and what on earth Brian Anderson has done to earn a reporters ire.

I'll tell you one thing, I doubt that any of this is just based on what's happening on the field.

[UPDATE: There's a lesson here about trusting yourself. About 10 minutes after first posting this article, I was re-reading the Madden article where he talks about Blyleven farting in his face. I noticed that Madden spelled Blyleven's first name "Burt" (like the guy that used to play Robin on the Batman TV Show) rather than "Bert" (as in "...and Ernie"). So I thought "Good heavens, I've been misspelling Blyleven's name for the past 17 years!" and immediately changed all my "Berts" to "Burts". Turns out I was right, Madden and the Daily News' editors were wrong. I correct myself, which just puts me right back where I started from.]

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