Press-ure tactics…by John Brattain
August 16, 2008
I’m not really sure where to go with this; my first thought reflects on the attitudes of guys like Bill Conlin, Stephen A. Smith, Bob Costas, Buzz Bissinger et al that blast the blogosphere for being ill-informed and whatnot.
The thing is—yeah, there are some pretty nasty blogs out there but there is also an awful lot of terrible work that goes on in the mainstream press that proves once again that a degree is only as good as the person possessing it.
Once again, we see the power of the press at work—at least insofar as being the lapdogs of sports’ management. It is this sort of idiocy that opened the door for the birth of blogging.
Before I go any further, as previously stated, while I’m not sure where I’m going with this it’s not going in the blogger vs. MSM direction—that was just an observation. It’s about the media using its power and platform—not to inform and enlighten, but rather to be the eager concubines of moneyed interests.
While this occurred in the NHL, we have seen this ad infinitum ad nauseum in MLB—it’s been reused and recycled more than the frames used in Krantz Animation’s Rocket Robin Hood and Spiderman. Let’s cut to the chase and see what I’m getting at:
"It wasn't a possibility ... we had to do a few things to put pressure on the city and the state, but our goal was to remain here in Pittsburgh all the way. Those trips to Kansas City and Vegas and other cities was just to go, and have a nice dinner and come back ... (pressure) was felt, and that was the important thing. A lot of things happened throughout the negotiations. Ups and downs. That was just a way for us to put more pressure, and we knew it would work at the end of the day."—Mario Lemieux
This was regarding the threatened move of the Pittsburgh Penguins if they didn’t get a new arena—adding to the hilarity is that he uttered these words during the groundbreaking ceremony of the new arena. While I’m sure ol’ “Route 66” didn’t mean for it to sound like he was saying “HA HA SUCKAHS!!” it’s hard not to take it that way.
The Penguins had nothing—no options for relocation—but the politicos in the NHL told the city they needed to put up a healthy chunk of corporate welfare or lose the team. This is the third time the city has been dinged thusly as in recent years they also anted up for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bucs.
Of course, the media faithfully parroted the corporate line that the Penguins/Steelers/Pirates needed a new publicly funded building with oodles of revenue streams to survive economically and remain competitive—if not, they would find a
Of course, the Bucs have been a resounding success in PNC Park—revenues are higher (despite being near the bottom of the NL in attendance—ah, gotta love the premium seating revenues), franchise value has increased … what’s not to love? I suppose if you wish to be pedantic you might point out that the new digs have seen the team go just 537-716 or the fact that the club hasn’t finished higher than 10th in attendance in any year they have played there including its debut season. However, Bud has assured us that these things are necessary for a team to survive and draw fans.
In city after city, the press has Xeroxed the Selig line pressuring politicians to fork over money to teams even when the electorate was unsupportive.
I realize the Pirates' history is a little more complicated than the average stadium swindle, but this isn’t about the Pirates—it’s about the media; it’s just that it was Lemeiux’s remarks that caught my eye.
Of course, their greatest recent triumph is regarding the saga of Barry Lamar Bonds.
I think it’s safe to say at this point that his career is over; there’s not enough time left in the season for him to get his timing back, let alone make a significant impact on a club. At his age, I cannot see him shaking off that much rust to be effective in 2009, plus his legal issues would keep teams at a distance even if he could still swing the bat.
Obviously MLB wanted him gone—otherwise, a team would have employed him this year. Selig’s media storm troopers made the situation go a lot easier. They faithfully toed the party lines on what would make Bonds unemployable even after such things were proven to be no longer an issue (the fact his legal issues would not impact this season). Both Selig and the press informed us that all 30 teams independently came to the same conclusion—a conclusion that had no historical precedent (that personality outweighed significant talent).
Their biggest coup was the reason teams shied away from Bonds—he’d be a clubhouse distraction and the team would become a circus.
What is odd is that nobody went into detail precisely how this distraction and circus would come about.
It would become these things because the media would make it this way.
Do you think for one moment that Bonds, left to his own devices, would be a major disruption to a team? Generally Bonds prefers to go his own way. He would be in one part of the clubhouse preferring not to be bothered and the rest of the club would be in the other part not bothering him.
There have been loners (entourages notwithstanding) on teams before and it never really was a problem—simply live and let live; play hard between the lines and go your separate ways otherwise.
What causes the disruption and circus is when the press is brought into the mix. The prevailing wisdom is that where Bonds goes, so goes the media. If Bonds is in the house, then the press descend en masse to try to question Bonds, query teammates about Bonds, talk to coaches and managers about Bonds and whether Bonds is being a distraction or an issue for the team.
Of course, what makes it a distraction or an issue are the media hordes going around asking about whether Bonds’ presence is a distraction when in reality it is the press’s insistence on finding out whether their pursuit of Bonds is causing problems in the clubhouse (although they would never ask it in so many words).
We often read about team management worrying about a backlash were they to sign Barry Lamar.
Yet, what kind of backlash were they worried about? As we discussed a month ago:
There have been a lot of nasty people employed by major league baseball teams. In recent years, there have been players that have been busted for tax evasion, dealing cocaine, abusing women, being polygamists, making death threats against their family (including children), having sexual relations with underage girls, using steroids, getting ticketed for DUI, being drug addicts and felons, being accused of sexual assault and rape, being vocal racists etc.
Evidently, employing such deviants hasn’t hurt the box office and chances are good clubs like the Tigers, Blue Jays, Athletics etc. would have benefited tremendously by his presence and let’s face it—winning ball games sells. Just look at the aforementioned Pirates—Selig has stated for years that a publicly financed ballpark equals terrific attendance yet many losing teams in new digs still struggle at the gate.
However, Bonds has something that the above slime balls lack … public interest. The press really doesn’t care what Elijah Dukes, Julio Lugo, Ryan Franklin (or any other juicers) et al have to say because the public isn’t interested in them.
They want Barry Bonds—he is their Holy Grail … he is their obsession, he is guaranteed page views. He is also their great white whale—the one they want to sink their harpoons into for 20 years of mutual disrespect. This is the backlash clubs fear (or claim to)—it becomes a guaranteed self-fulfilling prophecy; signing Barry Lamar Bonds will cause a media backlash, be a clubhouse distraction and a media circus.
The very people who create the situation have decreed that is precisely what will happen. Hire Barry Bonds and we will disrupt your clubhouse by focusing on him and criticize you non-stop for creating a situation where we descend en masse into the locker room and cause a distraction and media circus.
In reality, the problem for a team wouldn’t be Barry Bonds’ presence on the team as much as the media making it a problem. Again, this is the press helping Selig implement an agenda. They helped keep a lid on the steroid scandal for years, they parrot the corporate line about the absolute necessity of public funds being used to build ballparks and they make sure that the worst nightmare that would come from Barry Bonds’ presence would become a reality.
It has always been thus, alas—in times past they informed us that blacks couldn’t compete in the big leagues, that free agency would doom the sport, that common sense and fiscal responsibility ruled the day under Peter Ueberroth and that absent NFL-style revenue sharing and a salary cap the sport was doomed.
Is it any wonder the blogosphere exists when so large a segment of the mainstream press are little more than cheerleaders and boosters for corporate interests? Then again, what is often forgotten is that large segments of the mainstream press are owned by corporate interests and often those interests also own baseball teams that hired Selig to run their affairs.
I guess it’s just another manifestation of the golden rule—if you have the gold you make the rules. It’s just a shame that those entrusted with informing the public content themselves with simply spreading propaganda.
Oh, and Mario says thanks for the help—couldn’t have done it without you.
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.