Media, Retaliation

Jim Fregosi on the Concepts of Hierarchy, Respect and Appropriate Response

Jim FregosiIn the wake of Jim Fregosi’s passing last week, Rick Bozich, longtime writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal, shared a story of some behind-the-scenes insight he gained into baseball’s retaliatory process, courtesy of the former big leaguer.

In short: In 1985, Cubs minor leaguer Shawon Dunston big-leagued a pre-game interview request from Bozich. When Fregosi—then managing the opposing Louisville Redbirds—heard about it, he responded on the field. The details are well worth a read.

(Although Dunston doesn’t come out looking great here, since I started interviewing him in the latter stages of his career and on into his current role as a part-time coach with the Giants, he has been among the most open, accessible people around. Maturity … and maybe the occasional well-placed fastball … works wonders.)

Fregosi will be missed.

[h/t to reader CBF.]


‘Baseball Forever!’ Debuts on the Audio Charts


Baseball Forever II

A project I worked on this winter just came out this week. It’s an audio book called “Baseball Forever,” for which I mined the game tape, dating back to the 1930s, assembled by the country’s preeminent collector of such things, John Miley. My goal was to present the collection in a somewhat unusual way; where many highlights packages offer little more than the moment in question (“Here’s the swing, it’s hit hard … and gone!”), I endeavored to allow space for as many plays as possible to breathe, using entire at-bats and even full innings to present classic moments more comprehensively than they are commonly heard. Bob Costas narrates.

(To see the alternate cover demanded for reasons beyond my comprehension by Amazon, click directly to their page. You can also find it on iTunes.)


On Outside the Lines

So I was on ESPN’s Outside the Lines yesterday, talking catcher collisions. They asked, I said yes. Then I found out I’d be on alongside Terry KennedyBob Boone and Darin Erstad, each of whom … how best to say this … has just a touch more experience with the subject than myself.

Especially the two longtime catchers.

Still, I tended to agree with what they had to say, and Bob Ley kept on throwing to me, so I kept on returning it. Aside from the fact that my studio in Berkeley had no monitor with which to see the clip he referenced, all went very well.

If I find the video, I’ll post it. In the meantime, hear it here.

(Thanks to Steve Stein for the screen grabs.)




Hayhurst Takes Notes in the Clubhouse, Gets Offended When People Take Exception To his Taking of Notes in the Clubhouse

So Dirk Hayhurst got hazed. In an interview with the Toronto Star, the former big league pitcher—and author of The Bullpen Gospels and Out of My League, which comes out later this month—expresses dismay at the reaction of some of his Blue Jays teammates when it came to his role as a part-time writer:

But then you had guys that were jackasses. And every team has them. These are the guys that look at baseball as a religious thing, and you never break the code. And nobody knows where the code came from, but you just can’t break it. So here comes Dirk Hayhurst, fringy guy on a search for meaning and purpose and maybe big-league fame if I could get it, and I’m just writing down stories and asking big, uncomfortable questions about the validity of our existence as ballplayers, and guys were not happy about that. And as long as you’re playing well, they’re not going to call you out about it, and I was pitching well. But then I got hurt and the gloves came off, and it was like, “Dirk, you need to apologize to the team. You need to bring everybody together and tell them you’re out of line for what you’re doing.”

He goes on to quote anonymous teammates who told him that he was making the team uncomfortable by writing about his baseball experience.

Well, of course he was.

Hayhurst should know more than most about the insular nature of a big league clubhouse, how even players who are media-friendly—by no means in the majority—frequently keep their distance from the press.

He should also know that a clubhouse is sacrosanct in the minds of its occupants. It’s the one place they can be loud, loose and raunchy, as ballplayers are, with nobody to judge them because nobody outside the team knows the true depth of what goes on.

Hayhurst must understand that an insider who starts to take notes, regardless of his intentions, will invariably make his teammates uncomfortable. Never mind that The Bullpen Gospels—a fine book, it should be mentioned—hardly burned any bridges. Hayhurst was tactful and respectful with his execution, telling stories in which nobody (save occasionally for Hayhurst himself) came out much the worse for wear.

Still, if he had no inkling that his literary aspirations would be interpreted poorly by at least some of his teammates—and that a few guys is all it takes to turn a clubhouse—he was willfully ignorant. A squeaky-clean publication record doesn’t count for a whole lot in a group that doesn’t count reading as one of its favorite pursuits.

Jim Bouton went through similar travails after Ball Four came out, but by that point he was a former 20-game winner very close to the end of his career. Hayhurst, in contrast, had pitched all of 10 big league games prior to that season in Toronto, with a 9.72 ERA. Stars get away with things that average players do not, and veterans have more leeway than rookies; Hayhurst was neither star nor veteran.

Hayhurst’s mistake was in approaching the situation rationally, as a normal human being would. He expected that because he was open about his plans, and made his work public for teammates to review, that he would subsequently be afforded a modicum of leeway, and that his literary endeavors would not affect his clubhouse standing.

Had Hayhurst approached the situation from the perspective of a ballplayer—not an intellectually inquisitive one, like himself, but an overgrown kid who gets to live the frat-house life into his 20s and 30s, and whose natural enemy is anyone who might impede upon his unique lifestyle—he might have been more cautious. At the very least, he wouldn’t have been surprised at the reaction he ultimately received.

– Jason


The Code isn’t for Everyone – Just Those who Care

The inimitable Charles P. Pierce.

Charles P. Pierce is a writer for the Boston Globe. He’s one of the more gifted sportswriters in the field. (One of my favorite pieces he’s written ran a few years back in Sports Illustrated.)

He also doesn’t like baseball’s unwritten rules. Said so himself today, right there on his Globe blog:

You know one of the reasons I don’t get (baseball)? This kind of nonsense. A young guy’s not supposed to swing away in a situation because of some secret Templar code that Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter have tattooed on the inside of their eyelids? “Baseball etiquette,” my Aunt Fanny. Get over yourselves, the lot of you.

Of course, in hating on the Code he cuts to the heart of the Code: Those who don’t care don’t get it. Try explaining to somebody who doesn’t love baseball the justifiable propriety of a pitcher putting a fastball into a hitter’s backside in response to something that happened earlier in the game.

Can’t be done.

Pierce calls himself a baseball agnostic, immune to that “extra thing” that “makes maundering children out of slumming poets and distinguished professors of history.” (The problem with gifted writers is that when they snark against things you like, it’s frequently high-quality stuff.)

Which is just fine. I am not a baseball agnostic. I’m not even born-again. I’ve been there since the beginning, still cherishing that first game with my dad, a subject Pierce also savages in his blog. (Okay, he savages the clichéd overuse in memoirs of the First Game with Dad narrative, something with which I’m kind of inclined to agree.)

Still, to those who care about the game—a group that includes most of the people within the game—the Code is vital. It’s what sets baseball apart as a sport, the thing that defines, in concrete terms and with concrete repercussions, that respect is paramount and mandatory.

To put it in other terms: If LeBron James played baseball and left the Indians for the Yankees, then opted to do a baseball version of his chalk-throwing routine before his first game as a visitor at Jacobs Field, do you think he might be wearing a fastball before the end of the series? Do you think he’d do it again after that?

It doesn’t matter what our fictional baseball-playing LeBron James thinks about the unwritten rules. It matters only that they exist and that he would abide by them, because everybody ultimately does.

Baseball mandates as much. It’s one of the things that make the sport special to many of those who care about it. Should Charles Pierce ever come around to caring, perhaps he’ll discover as much.

– Jason

Bengie Molina, Media

Molina Coverage Illustrates Line Between News and Opinion

The unwritten rules are designed to enforce respect on the ballfield, but they carry over into the media, as well. Criticism of players’ ability and effort is expected; they open themselves up to it when they agree to perform in public for vast sums of money.

Crossing into mocking, however, can ruffle some feathers. Jim Rome famously calling Jim Everett “Chris,” or labeling Eric Gagne a “piece of crap” for weeks on end, is one thing; part of a talk-show host’s job description is to incite.

When a sports-news show crosses that line, however, things can get touchy.

Earlier this month, ESPN showed a replay of Giants catcher Bengie Molina trying to score when Marlins pitcher Ricky Nolasco overthrew third base. A full minute of the 1:12 highlight package was devoted to Molina’s effort—including a slow-motion replay with a Chariots of Fire-esque theme playing in the background. Afterward, the anchor offered Molina a “slow clap,” he said, “just for making the effort.” (Watch it here.)

Molina was suitably offended. “When I was growing up, respect was the most important thing to my father,” he wrote on his blog. “That’s what he talked about every day . . . You respect your parents and your teachers and your fellow human beings.  . . . You can say I’m the slowest guy in baseball or in all of sports or in the entire world. I don’t take issue with that because I AM the slowest guy. I have always been the slowest guy. I can’t challenge that criticism. But ESPN’s intention was not to criticize but to humiliate.”

Henry Schulman, who handles the Giants beat for the San Francisco Chronicle, weighed in, writing, “The media don’t have to like certain players. They can criticize players, but to show that kind of disrespect to a player such as Molina, who has been a Major League catcher for more than 12 seasons, who owns a World Series ring, who shepherds what might be the best starting rotation in baseball, is beyond belief.”

The same concept holds true in mainstream news. It’s why Fox News goes to such lengths—believably or not—to claim that the high percentage of opinions on the network are delivered by pundits, not news anchors.

The distinction is an important one. It’s why when ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption mocked Molina’s speed last year after he was nearly run over by a racing sausage in Milwaukee—“Whose agility were you more impressed by,” asked a reader comment read aloud on the air, “Molina’s or the sausuge’s?”—nobody said a word.

“All I can do is play the way I always have—with respect and professionalism,” wrote Molina. “It’s shame that ESPN, a once great network, won’t have any idea what I’m talking about.”

– Jason