Saturday, February 12, 2011

Digital Digest.

Well, another Arab dictator has been sent packing, which means it’s time to get back to baseball. And not a moment too soon, what with Pitchers And Catchers Reporting on Monday (I capitalize the event out of respect).

I’m pretty sure I’m the last Royals blogger to chime in on the Royals’ promotional idea of conducting a contest which allowed bloggers to be credentialed, and hold their own press conference with Royals’ officials, for the Royals Fanfest on January 21st and 22nd.

I thought it was a good idea, if not a ground-breaking one – I think the Pirates and Giants held similar events for their bloggers. It’s a sign that the Royals – along with a lot of sports franchises – are slowly catching on to the idea that sports coverage in this century is a lot different than in the last. Every year, more and more fans are getting news and analysis of their favorite teams from what we might call “non-professional” sources: sources that have no insider access but are informed, opinionated, and well-written. And more and more fans are using the opportunity to engage with other passionate fans online.

In the long run, having a more involved fan base can only be a good thing for a sports franchise. In the short run, teams have to figure out how to encourage that involvement while still keeping some sort of barrier that prevents any Joe Fan from starting a blog that’s profane, uninformed, and unread, then crashing the press box at Kauffman Stadium.

I was worried that this might be a window dressing event, where the Royals randomly pick fans with no blogging experience, or where they hand-select the five people in the blogosphere who praised Dayton Moore for the Jason Kendall signing. Fortunately, judging from the winners, the contest was legitimate. The guys (and one gal) who were picked are, for the most part, well-known members of the Royals’ online community, and they don’t just blow rainbows and sunshine when they write.

I have to give the Royals extra credit, as well, for the truly inspired lineup they trotted out there. As expected, Dayton Moore was the first to take questions, and then Ned Yost held court. But the Royals finished with a pair of players – Billy Butler, an obvious choice…and Jeff Francoeur.

My initial reaction was to Frenchy’s inclusion, I must admit, kind of juvenile – I reveled in the train-wreck image of bloggers asking Francoeur to his face variations of the question, “why do you suck so bad?” But after some reflection, I realized how diabolically brilliant a move this was. Knowing how the blogosphere felt towards Francoeur, the Royals (specifically VP of Communications Mike Swanson and Director of Media Relations Dave Holtzman) decided to unleash the full force of Francoeur’s intangibles on his biggest critics.

Friendliness? Articulate, well-thought-out answers? A willingness to admit his weaknesses as a player and recognize the criticisms leveled against him? The confidence that he is addressing those weaknesses and will prove his doubters wrong this season? It was all there – a tour de force of an interview. By the time he finished speaking – and you can download the entire press conference here, courtesy of Nick Scott from Broken Bat Single – you couldn’t help but root for Francoeur to prove his doubters wrong. Not even if you were one of those doubters, and not even if – judging from what the Braves’ and Mets’ contingent of bloggers have written – you knew he’s played this act before.

Like I said: diabolical. Well-played, guys. Well-played.

I don’t know if this will become a regular event, but I hope it will. I think the Royals understand that independent bloggers are an inexorable part of the future of sports coverage, and they might as well embrace it. When Swanson and I met and buried the hatchet at the Winter Meetings in December 2009 – over a year ago – he told me even then that he was hoping to plan blogger-specific media events in the future. This was clearly a premeditated event, so I’m hopeful that it won’t be an isolated one.

And from my vantage point here in Chicago, it seemed like it went well – with the exception of one borderline-creepy question asked of Billy Butler, the bloggers acquitted themselves well in asking pointed but respectful questions, and the Royals acquitted themselves well by answering those questions with the same seriousness that they would answer questions from the mainstream media. That doesn’t necessarily mean answering the questions head-on – as Scott put it, Moore did a terrific job of “filibustering” to answer the question he wanted to answer. But then, Moore does that when he’s answering questions from Soren Petro or Sam Mellinger as well. Being a part of the media means accepting that sometimes the answers you get aren’t the answers you’re looking for – but even those answers are revealing in their own way.

Judging from what those bloggers felt about the event afterwards, it seems like it accomplished what the Royals wanted it to: they gave bloggers credibility, earned goodwill from a community of their most devoted fans, presented the Royals as a transparent organization unafraid of a little criticism, and did so without compromising anyone’s integrity. There are precious few win-win situations in sports, so even though this wasn’t a momentous event, it’s worth tipping your cap to the Royals for thinking outside the box a little and coming up with one.

The event also resurrected the topic of whether bloggers should be treated like full-fledged members of the sports media, which is to say whether they should receive press credentials, be allowed to sit in the press box, etc. How you answer that question depends in large part on whether you feel that press credentials are a perk of the job, or a prerequisite. If you think that press credentials are some kind of an award for hard work, then you can make a solid case that the most passionate bloggers, who spend as many hours a week covering the Royals as most professional sportswriters, deserve credentials as compensation for their services.

But if you think that the press box and clubhouse access are there simply to facilitate the job of people who cover the team from an up-close perspective, then it’s hard to make the case that bloggers need that kind of access. By definition, a blogger doesn’t need that access; the fact that we are capable of blogging in the first place is proof of that.

I don’t think that bloggers need access to do our job, but I do think that we can do our job better with it. I was in the press box for the four-game series against Baltimore at Kauffman Stadium last July. My credentials came courtesy of my work with 810 WHB, and it certainly made that job easier – for one thing, we broadcast our trade deadline show from inside the stadium, from the very room that the press conference was held in. And there’s no better place to write a column while watching a ballgame than in a press box. But truthfully, the most valuable part of being credentialed for me wasn’t the access to the press box or even the clubhouse – it was the access to the writers and broadcasters and other people who cover the team. The ability to network and meet with people who cover the game professionally – that’s the kind of access that a blogger can benefit from.

I could name a half-dozen Royals bloggers (I don’t want to name names and inadvertently leave someone out) who deserve the same opportunities that I’ve had. And I think that the Royals (and all of MLB) should begin re-considering their across-the-board denial of credentials for all bloggers. But I don’t blame them for taking it slow. There are benefits to giving bloggers credentials, but they are modest compared to the potential harm that would come from giving the wrong person access.

And I think as bloggers we need to remember that press credentials are a double-edged sword. Yes, it means you have access to the players and front office types that you write about every day – but it also means the players and front office types have access to you. Would I write the harsh (but fair!) criticisms of people like Jason Kendall and Yuniesky Betancourt and Nick Swartz if I knew I was going to see them every day?

On the one hand, you probably should never write something about a person that you wouldn’t be willing to say to their face. On the other hand, it’s one thing to say something personal about a person’s conduct or character, and quite another to simply point out how ineffective they are at playing a game. Implicit in my criticisms of Betancourt is that he is still 100 times better at playing baseball than I am – criticizing his performance in no way ought to suggest that he is a lousy human being. Whatever I say about the effectiveness of a player or a trainer or a general manager, I try not to comment about their off-field behavior or character – and when I do, it almost invariably is something that has already been reported by a reputable news source.

I think that saying that Player X is a terrible player is completely within my rights as a blogger, because Player X’s ability to play baseball only matters if you accept the fictional construct that baseball actually matters. Professional sports only have as much meaning as its fans give it. If you don't care about how good a player is, you are tearing down the construct that it matters how good any player is. It’s far better for Yuniesky Betancourt that I rail about how bad he is – and by railing about how bad he is, I give relevance to the game of baseball that he is so bad at, which draws fans to the ballpark and keeps television sets on and pays his salary – than for me to ignore his performance and spend my summer evenings at the movie theater or playing golf instead.

But I’m human, and it would be hard for me to write unflattering things about a person who I run into regularly, even if they are unflattering things about his ability to play an ultimately meaningless game. Being a blogger is liberating because we can be brutally honest without repercussions, but sometimes being brutally honest means being, well, brutal. I enjoy having press credentials every now and then, but I wouldn’t want to have them all the time. When you’re in the press box, you’re a journalist first and a fan second. But I’m a fan first and a journalist second, and I want to stay that way. I suspect most bloggers feel the same.


ksuim4u said...

Rany, you forgot to link to the "borderline creepy question asked of Billy Butler." Who asked, and what was the question?

Andy G. said...

This is very well put & I agree that keeping some space between the commentator & the team is essential for the sake of objectivity. The reason bloggers have been kept at arms length by MLB is that there is no way to determine their professional credibility to pass judgement on the subject; no way to tell if they understand baseball, or the nature of sport itself. This is why I think bloggers will usually be kept in the background & perhaps should be.

Clint/kcscoliny said...

Great piece Rany.

As far as what Dave points out determining credibility and understanding of the sport would take a team about ten minutes reading what someone blogs about. Some bloggers came about because the everyday writer didn't have a good understanding of the game.

Teams could weed out most bloggers by just going with writers who have had stuff picked up outside their own blogs. Ex. Royals Authority on ESPN or Matt Klaassen (anywhere and everywhere)

I also don't think most bloggers would actually apply for credentials because what they do is not their full time job and using them would prove difficult anyway.

Old Man Duggan said...

@ksuim4u - KCYeti asked Billy if he was staring him down in the stands or something to that effect.

Unknown said...

Hey Rany
Nice column as always. Your last point struck home with me as I get the feeling sometimes that reporters have too much access. They are around all the time, and while I'm sure most of them would say they get turned away too often; I feel like this close proximity really effects what they write about any particular player, good and bad. One of the benefits of blogging is being kept at arms length and (hopefully) not caught up in the have to get copy out so I get a paycheck treadmill, which definitely can lead to less than laser focused articles.

Jayboid said...

Don't know much about Blogging Rany, but sure took me a long time get my password and log-on for this site.

Well, one, Keep writing about the Mideast. I know others are fascinated with your perspective too.

Two, outstanding analysis of sports blogging.

Three, maybe you already have this idea in the works, but one I'm scratching my head over.

New manager, new starting players, most with upside, add a few average starting pitchers, to below average starting pitchers, add an above average bullpen, top 3 ace reliever, above average coaches, young replacement players perched to gain playing time, why???????

Why is everybody so down on the Royals this year?????? Who really knows what kind of team they have.

Michael said...

Jayboid, I LOVE your optimism! I too am optimistic. If Billy continues to improve (and maybe a few more of those doubles clear the wall), if the light finally comes on in Gordon's head, and if Jeff Francis is fully healthy, and Bruce Chen proves last year was not a fluke, Hochevar finds consistency, etc, then the Royals could be a decent team. And thats not even considering if Francouer proves his doubters wrong, and Moustakas comes up and bashes ML pitchers the way he has AAA pitchers!

If all of them happen, the Royals could be looking at a possible playoff birth. Chances are that all of them won't happen, but a few will. If more than half happen, they could at least be .500.

Anonymous said...

I too am guardedly optimistic.

This team is better than the previous two years teams. How much better we will see, but it is possible they are much better.

One thing I have to say is Melky Cabrera needs to be packing his bags. It is still being reported that because DM made a promise to him that has to be fulfilled we will have Cabrera in CF.

One, to promise a definite position to anyone is bunk. You can promise them they will be given every opportunity to compete for the job, but to out and out promise something like that is a huge mistake.

Two, Cabrera made a busness decision at the time he signed his contract that this was the best place to get playing time. That all changed when the Greinke trade was made, but that should not prevent having what should happen go ahead and take place. Not all business decisions work out.

Three, aren't we past the point where we need to play someone so they can get traded in July. Let's play to win this year. Now. We have a boatload of prospects. Let's let them play. We don't need to create more prospects. Let's move forward with the process.

Four, I hope we are also past the point where we will need to promise someone playing time so they will sign with us. One of the comments Dutton made was that if we don't keep the promise that was made to Cabrera, then other Free Agents will think twice before signing. If we are not past the point where we need to be able to promise playing time to free agents then it is time to fire Moore now. If that is the case the process has failed. It is time to move to the next stage of the process and not promise free agents playing time so they will sign so that they can be moved in July for more talent. Dayton Moore has done reasonably well at this, but move forward. That ship has sailed. Sign free agents now because they are the final pieces and because they want to play for a winner. Besides, promises broken or not, money always talks in those situations.

So, move on, move up and lets get the process into winnning mode.

sedated ape said...

>>...and by railing about how bad he is, I give relevance to the game of baseball that he is so bad at, which draws fans to the ballpark and keeps television sets on and pays his salary – than for me to ignore his performance and spend my summer evenings at the movie theater or playing golf instead>>

you don't think you're overstating your importance here by almost infinity?

Michael said...

Bryan, for the most part, I agree with you. I think our outfield should consist of Gordon, Cain, and Francouer starting, with Cabrera as the fourth outfielder. Pick either Blanco or Maier, I don't care which, as the fifth outfielder, and cut the other one. Neither have much value in my opinion.

Michael said...

Sadly though, because Cain has options and none of the other outfielders have any, I think he'll start the year in AAA.

Scott Anglemyer said...

Loved your comments about Francoeur's inclusion in the event. I got in his autograph line at FanFest, and I've never encountered an athlete who seemed so genuinely excited about signing autographs. He thanked every person who came through the line with a big smile. Like you describe his performance at the blogger event, it made me hope even more than ever that he proves his doubters (including me) wrong.

Michael said...

Happy Pitchers and Catchers Report Day!! :)

Paul P said...

I know you wrote about Carl Crawford, but what are your thoughts on Pujols and the 10 year/ 300 million contract.
Move Hosmer to RF (which I would do anyhow)
Here is a potential lineup:
1. Cain CF
2. Moose 3B
3. Pujols 1B
4, Hosmer RF
5. Myers LF
6. Butler DH
7. Colon 2B
8. May/Pina/Perez C
9. Escobar SS

Plus the stud pitching.

Michael said...

Lets put this to bed. The Royals WILL NOT be players for Albert Pujols. There is no way that they will risk the entire fate of the organization for the next decade on one player. If we signed him, that would severely hamper our ability to re-sign guys like Hosmer, Moustakas, Myers, etc. when they become free agents. There just wouldn't be any money available, because we'd be giving it to a 38 year old DH (I'm assuming by that age that's all he'll be doing on an AL club).

Jayboid said...

Pujols is unlucky if you can call a multi-millionaire made from baseball unlucky in my view.

His second big contract hit when he was too old. Good Gravy, signing Pujols to 10 years would most certainly make us Royals fans forget Sweeney.

Should have done the 10 year deal years ago.

Maybe not, but Pujols looks like he could be fragile in coming years.

Paul P said...

I think there is room for discussion:A) KC is considered his hometown.
B)They do have the money. (they could easily do it and have a payroll under 100 million while all the top prospects are pre arb)
C)Pujols would draw more fans: an extra 1k fans per game is an extra 1.5 million of revenue for the club. If they don't raise ticket prices (which they most likely would, I think Pujols might draw an extra 7k per game, which is 10.5more million of revenue.
D)He doesn't make sense for a NL team. Maybe STL. There has to be a DH option for the guy.
E)The Royals might not have to give him 10 years. I think the Yankees would be out of the deal which is huge. They have Texeira till 2016 and AROD till 2017. Plus Jesus Monterro. All look like 1b/dh to me in 3 years.
I see Boston being a player, but the odds certainly have him staying with STL. But if he goes somewhere else, it is fun to think of him in blue. I can dream can't I?

Antonio. said...

Two simple things:

How about we see Moose/Hosmer/Myers first six games before we think about whether a Pujols contract would hinder their extensions. Give them an effin' break! It's bad enough most of the kids will be rookies when they're expected to turn us into division champs, but to already talk about what to do financially six years into their careers?!

A Pujols contract may play a role in keeping us from extending any young players playing well enough to warrant extensions, but Scott Boras being their agent will play a much bigger role.

Michael said...

There is no discussion. The biggest contract the Royals have ever given out is $55 mill. There is absolutely zero chance that Pujols comes to KC. If he was going to take a lesser deal anywhere, it'd be St. Louis, and he doesn't sound too willing to do it for them either.

And Antonio, enough of these guys will hit or pitch their way to being worthy of big money extensions in 5 or 6 years. The Royals are never (at least anytime soon) going to have a 100 mill payroll, so you can't have one guy taking up almost a third of your entire payroll.

Dream all you want, but there is no chance that Pujols comes to KC, except to spend his offseasons.

Antonio. said...

I'm sure the '07 Diamondbacks thought the same thing. As did the '97 Pirates. Not to mention the early century Twins, the most recent Rays.

The Backs, the Bucs...they didn't get too far.
The Twins? They have what, two? The Rays? Not many.

I am plenty excited and hopeful and I tell non-passionate followers to be prepare, but all I am saying on as many forums as possible is don't count on it. It's hoping v expecting.

Michael said...

Anyone else think that Toronto will be regretting Bautista's extension within 2 years? They just traded one albatross of a contract (V. Wells) for another.