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Scenes from Spring Training: Phun with the Phillie Phanatics Part 2

Mar 15, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT

I went into the Phillies clubhouse. Charlie Manuel was there. As was Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and all the other guys which make the Phillies perhaps the most recognizable team in baseball. Yes, even more so than the Yankees. Quick: describe Brett Gardner’s facial features. Now tell me if there’s any Phillie starter you couldn’t pick out of a linuep.

I chatted informally with several players as they suited up and got ready for morning drills, but as I did, I was struck by something I read on a political blog earlier in the week about the value of getting quotes from big sources vs. observing, talking off the record and generally trying to get a handle on the scene instead of getting “the news” as we’ve come to understand it:

I do think anonymity has some value in that by preventing journalists
from doing sensationalist stories based around a single direct quote it
forces you to focus on the big picture of what the officials in
question are trying to say . . . it’s much easier to build an item
around a direct quote so it’s more professionally valuable to
be on the record. But it seems to me that the people who do the real
value-adding reporting are mostly talking to lower-level people–nobody
ever gets the real scoop from anyone remotely senior.

I think this applies to baseball just as much as it applies to reporting on government. If I go up to Ryan Howard with my notepad out or my tape recorder going, and get him to say some things on the record, I’m going to be tempted — or, if I have an editor bird dogging me, required — to build a story around those quotes.  Howard says that everyone in camp is focused to maintain the success they’ve had the past few years. The story the next day leads with that quote and builds around it.  It’s not particularly illuminating, at best serving as the basis for a recap of the competitive challenges facing the team this year, at worst just a quote in a notes column.

I guess my point to all of this is that I think there’s very, very limited value in actually talking to ballplayers on the record and printing those quotes. All of the baseball writers I like tend to limit the amount of that kind of stuff they do. They walk around and talk to guys with their notepads in their bag. They get the big picture of what’s going on and build stories on those themes, but they use their own observations and reason as a filter.  The fans care about what what happens on the field, and they have to report that accurately, but the background stories, the flavor and the non-game info that appears in columns are almost always better when a writer is telling you what he observes and writes thoughtfully about it, not when he’s telling you what a ballplayer, manager or GM says.  Just my two cents.

Enough with these philosophical meta-musings. I took pictures and observed things myself, and I’ll have that post up in about an hour.

  1. enough already - Mar 15, 2010 at 9:42 AM

    Good point. It’s like the controversy stirred by Carlos Beltran’s declaration a couple of years back that the Mets were the team to beat in the NL East. What was he supposed to say: I think we’ll come in 3rd, 2nd if we work very, very hard? Thems fightin’ words!

  2. YankeesfanLen - Mar 15, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    Your approach works in almost every situation. Everyone knows what is going to come out of a situation where a direct comment is asked for, however a spontaneous observation is much more valuable.
    Ever apply for a job where HR gives an idealist view, and then go to work there under the direction of Harry Bennett?

  3. Ray - Mar 15, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    When I did radio news for a living, we were usually encouraged to build from the sound bite rather than take the time to develop a story, so it isn’t just baseball. Having as many soundbites as possible in your newscast was more important to some news directors than the actual content of the ‘cast.
    http://braveslifer.wordpress.com

  4. Will - Mar 15, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    Just so long as the anonymous off-the-record sources don’t turn out to be the reporter’s own imagination. As James Taranto (of the WSJ) likes to point out “In journalese, many, like some, is a first-person singular pronoun.” It’s fine to make observations and reflections, but at some point, you need to hold someone’s feet to the fire and get an on-the-record statement.

  5. Preston - Mar 15, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    Definitely agree, Craig – and furthermore, I suspect this is exactly why Gammons was (and is) such a terrific baseball writer and reporter – this is his element.

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