Once upon a time, sports news was simple. If you weren't at the game, you had no picture. You had a radio, you had the noise of the game (maybe), a running play-by-play and a little "color commentary." You had an explanation of what was happening, with a little storytelling thrown in to make it interesting. If you missed the game you caught up the next day in the newspaper. You looked at the box score, you read the written piece that highlighted the scoring plays of the game, with a little storytelling thrown in to make it interesting.
The sports journalists were some of the few people that got to see every game, every pitch, every field goal, and every basket. They were the experts. They had to know the game inside and out so that they could translate the nuances of a complex series of interrelated events into words that any random jackass could understand over their knish and coffee. Then something happened. I'm tempted to label it "The Internet," but in reality it's probably television that started the tumble from grace.
Sports journalism today is hardly news. Sure, if you look long enough you can still find a recap here or there that gives you a basic rundown of the game in a mostly factual manner, but they are few and far between. I suspect that interns or rookie reporters get tagged for these. No self-respecting sports journalist would take their time to write an actual play-by-play when they can churn out a column based entirely on bullshit and pop culture references.
Let me point you at Baseball America's Top 100 Rookies for 2006. Not because I think you should care about the Top 100 Rookies, so much as you should take a look at the reasons why they're the Top 100 Rookies.
Stats? Feh. Reasons? Hah.
Check out #8:
"He's got the arm, the heart and the head to do some very, very great things for that organization."
Arm, heart, and head! Valuable for a baseball player. Hopefully he has legs and stuff, too.
How about #11:
"He's the Prince of Power. He does that one thing that makes guys the most money."
And that one thing is... investing? He opened a savings account? He bought real estate? He's a nude model? Help me out here.
"You get the feeling he's going to get a hit every time up. He must have Superman vision or something."
He can see through the ball! Unless it's made of lead, of course.
My absolute favorite, though, is from the 2005 list:
"He's athletic and he's got some juice in his bat, and I like his haircut."
Awesome. The haircut makes the man, juicy bat not withstanding.
I'm not saying that these guys aren't talented, or that they shouldn't be top rookies. I'm saying that these statements were ridiculous to start with and then used as a reference for their place in a Top 100 list that, at this point, appears to be entirely arbitrary. There's nothing in that list that tells you why #1 is #1 and not #89. Somebody made the whole thing up and for the rest of the year it will be referenced by journalists as law.
In no other forum would this type of writing be tolerated as serious journalism. Conjecture and opinion reign supreme. They use epithets like, "the big left-hander" which could just as easily describe Randy Johnson, David Ortiz, or Thor. Gut feelings are as reliable as statistics and are referenced just as often. Success in sports is attributed to unmeasurables like "heart" and "clutch performance." I can't count the number of times I've heard phrases like, "He doesn't look good on paper, but he has heart." or "He's not great in the field, but his contributions to the clubhouse are invaluable."
He makes everyone cookies!
It's not like relevant information doesn't exist. Statisticians have been a part of sports for decades and longer. There has been a constant quest to reduce sports performance to measurable numbers, whether it is to be able to predict the outcome of a favorite team, or to figure out how much a particular player is actually worth monetarily. The statistics are there and available to anybody with an internet connection. Instead? We get talking heads trying to come off as experts without actually using any references.
I can only imagine what it would be like if the Supreme Court were covered with this kind of journalistic integrity. [cue dream-sequence]
Swinging Into Action
The biggest news of the day came when Alito dissented on the final vote, bringing Gonzales vs. Missouri to a screeching halt with one quick motion.
"He's got all the talent and a lot of confidence," Scalia later told the press during a briefing, "He wants to be great. He wants to be something special. That's what good judges do. They give you a shot, and if you don't get them, you don't beat them."
Alito, a right-wing judge penciled in as No. 8 on the bench last year, ripped dissents into the left-wing corner in his first two votes of the day, the first scoring a big win for the lumber industry as part of a four-vote outburst that erased a 1-0 deficit to environmentalists. After voting to carry a recent decision in the South Dakota Senate, the big right-winger wrapped up his stellar afternoon with the Gonzales vs. Missouri decision, matching his career highs for pro-industry and pro-life votes in a single day.
You wouldn't stand for it. And you shouldn't. Is it more fun to read? Sure, but it lacks information. Sports op-ed? Great. I love it. (See: Bill Simmons on ESPN Page 2 - he knows exactly what he is.) But when I read a column in the paper about last night's game, I want the facts and just the facts - I can create my own bullshit reasoning, thank you very much.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
4.17.06 @ 8:38a
The only sport that gets me to go to the sports section has been baseball. During the season I read the standings and the boxscores, and know better than to read the colorful prose associated with either. You've hit the nails on all their stupid heads, Erik. Thanks. Somebody had to say it.
4.18.06 @ 11:24a
And then sometimes there's good writing. The recap of yesterday's Red Sox game, for example.
4.20.06 @ 12:03a
It's part of the persistent dumbing down of any kind of journalism because of television and talk radio. People have come to expect that level of blather from the talking heads, and so in order to woo back spastic fans who can't bother with the meat and potatoes of statistical analysis (to say nothing of...y'know...reading), sportswriters write the way they expect the weasels on ESPN to talk.