Getting Washed by the Sports-News Spin Cycle

When my editors and I were finishing up last week's story about Alex Rodriguez's (and agent Scott Boras's) hold on Yankees Nation, our main concern was whether we spelled "vituperate" correctly (we had) and whether anyone had taken a photo of Yankees COO Lonn Trost in the last ten years (apparently not). The piece was meant to capture a unique snapshot in the history of a team that has owned this town for a decade, a once-dictatorial enterprise facing a pivotal moment and held hostage by the best baseball player on the planet and his evil-genius agent. I didn't expect much fuss.

But when the Post printed an excerpt from the story in its Sunday editions about discussions Boras had with a group trying to buy the Chicago Cubs, saying Boras had talked about A-Rod potentially owning a piece of the team after his career ended, I was sucked into the all-too-familiar sports-news-cycle vortex.

A 2,500-word piece that featured the word "Cubs" four times had become a "controversy," and "controversy" is the only word most sportswriters understand. Next thing I knew, the story — which most commentators had not read, skimming only the Post item — was being vivisected by every ESPN talking head, denied by Boras (obviously), and called "silly" by Yankees president Randy Levine. (My blog brethren, to either their credit or their detriment, had similar reactions.) The highlight of this was Yankees broadcaster John Sterling referencing the story on a YES telecast by saying, "Who's that writer? Never heard of him." (Clearly, John Sterling has talked to my parents.) It was a typical sports story; fed into the ESPN machine, chewed on, digested, and excreted, all in time for the next SportsCenter. Hey, look, some middle-aged white guy has some opinions on Michael Vick; let's listen in!

First, a note about the item: It says that Boras "has already been in touch with that group about the possibility of a contract that could reach $30 million a year over the next ten years while deferring a certain portion of money toward an eventual stake in the franchise." This does not say "a deal is imminent" or "Boras and the Cubs group have already agreed." It simply states that the concept has come up. Technically speaking, such deals are against baseball rules (as is "tampering," by expressing interest in a player with another team), which of course means no one would ever, ever dare violate them in an informal, untraceable fashion. Right? No! If Scott Boras didn't have conversations like that, he wouldn't be Scott Boras. The reaction was simplistic and typical; if Boras says he didn't have that conversation, then he didn't, and that reporter must be LYING!

Mostly, though, the whole episode reiterated the existence of the endless circle jerk of sports reporters, the immediate suspicion of outsiders, the insular back-slapping Protect the Franchise nature of sports media. The most outraged were the Yankees beat reporters, who see these guys every day and, jeez, they've never told us anything like that! The best was the Journal News' Peter Abraham (who's actually a fine reporter), who wrote in his blog that, "New York [Magazine] is a good read if you find a new sushi restaurant or you're dying for the gossip about Fashion Week. But sports?" To be fair, I find NYMag.com's sushi listings comprehensive and informative, though Fashion Week scares and confuses me.

But all in all, it was kind of fun being at the center of the wheezing ESPN news cycle for a few hours. You're no one, really, until you've been insulted by Mike and Mike "In the Morning" about a story they haven't even read. Just one step closer to John Sterling knowing my name! —Will Leitch

A-Rod's Endgame [NYM]