Jeff Passan, Sports Media, and the Loss of Power

Daniel McGowinCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 23:  Jason Kubel #16 of the Minnesotta Twins is congratulated by teammate Joe Maur #7 after hitting a two-run home run off pitcher Jered Weaver #36 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the first inning of the baseball game on July 23, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  mauer scored on the home run.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Jeff Passan is a writer for Yahoo! Sports and formerly of The Kansas City Star; the latter a newspaper, for those who did not know (yes, newspapers do still exist).  And apparently he is a bitter man.

Passan recently wrote a column ridiculing Tony Faust’s assessment that the Minnesota Twins, in particular soon-to-be MVP Joe Mauer, were stealing signals from the Detroit Tigers

Passan is quick to discredit Faust’s analysis by claiming that the latter “does not play baseball, nor is he a scout.”  He later continues to attack Faust by insinuating that it is completely made up; that Faust “manufactured” it.

In another column, Passan takes another shot at Faust by playing off the conspiracy theory aspect a la “the grassy knoll.”  In this shot, Passan attempts to paint Faust as a bit loopy.

Is Faust accurate?  Well, I am not sold that Mauer was stealing signs to relay to Jason Kubel.  The video and Kubel’s reactions did not seem to fit the theory.

But it is interesting how quickly Passan tries to de-legitimate the claim by stressing how players would be more subtle; “an exaggerated lean that looks natural, or a hand tap that is familiar between only two players.”

But grabbing the earhole of one’s helmet, something that the Twins claim that Mauer does “all the time,” seems subtle enough to me.  Or wiping the face.

Plus, I seriously doubt that Mauer or any of the Twins would claim, “Heck yeah we were stealing signs.  That Gerald Laird is easy to read!”  So their negative reaction to that is only natural.  As is the Tigers' reaction that Twins are known for stealing signs.

But I am not here to debate whether or not Mauer stole signs.  As I noted above, I do not completely buy that the video Faust provided proves it.  (But I do believe that sign-stealing does happen).

However, my concern here is Passan’s attack and reaction towards the “28-year-old graphic designer from Maple Grove, Minnesota.”

In general, there seems to be a fear of the overall power of the Internet.  Remember the days of stealing, ERRRR I mean downloading music for free.  Record companies and Metallica had a conniption fit!  Lawsuits abound and soon “free” Internet downloads went the way of New Coke while iTunes and other pay sites filled the gaps.

What was the motivating factor in the shutdown of free Internet music downloading?  Greed?  Copyright infringement?  Perhaps.  I mean, the artists were having their work passed around for free.

But consider this.  People had been recording cassette tapes for years (you do remember cassette tapes, yeah?  Whether it was tape-to-tape recording or straight from the FM, people had copied music.

And people recorded television shows or movies onto VHS tapes.  Okay, I am aging myself by referencing VHS.  But the use of tapes to record your favorite music or sitcom has been in play for awhile.

The technology existed to record CDs.  And certainly people did that.  Borrow a buddy’s ABBA CD so you could make a copy for yourself.  The technology was there then and the record execs said little to nothing.

But things changed with Napster and peer-to-peer sharing.  Suddenly sharing files accelerated and it was a whole new ballgame.  It was a great way to discover new music, or get that awesome Britney Spears song.  Record companies should have embraced it!

Well, they certainly did embrace it.  A giant bearhug called “lawsuit.”  And they went hard after people, from 13-year-old Marilyn Manson fans to 89-year-old Marilyn Manson fans.  “Don’t take our music without paying for it!” was their reply.

But what were the record execs and artists really upset about?  Was it the sharing of music, something that had occurred for a long period of time?  Or was it simply that the record companies did not capitalize on the technology first?  Many argue that it is the latter that upsets the music industry.  I tend to side with the latter, but the former plays a role, as well.

Point is, the music industry was upset that someone beat them to the punch.  And they did whatever they could to discredit those involved until they had control of it.

What does this have to do with Passan?  Well, it is more directed at the attempts of reporters to discredit blogs and bloggers in general than it is a shot at Passan specifically.

Go back to June.  Jerod Morris, a blogger for Midwest Sports Fan, wrote a piece concerning Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez.  In the piece, Morris wondered in print what could be the cause of Ibanez’s seemingly dramatic increase in power numbers.

Morris does examine many explanatory factors, but also references the use of steroids.  The piece is careful not to outright call Ibanez a cheater or claim he was definitely taking any type of “performance-enhancer.”

"…any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers are not natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer."

"And since I was not able to draw any absolute parallels between his prodigiously [sic] improved HR rate and his new ballpark’s hitter-friendliness, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that 'other' performance enhancers could be part of the equation (emphasis added)."

The key words are really "suspicion" and "possibility."  This did not stop Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Gonzalez from blasting Morris’ blog.  Although, to Gonzalez’s credit, he did seem to at least understand where Morris was writing from and did not slight the power of blogs.

Ken Rosenthal, on the other hand, spent a great deal of time belittling Morris, as can be seen on this Outside the Lines segment.

Hmm.  Barry Bonds’ increase in power numbers (and head size) have driven speculation.  Game of Shadows helped solidify those speculations.  There was much made of Alex Rodriguez and the use of steroids as well.  Reporter Selena Roberts helped drive much of that speculation.

But where was the outcry then?  Well, who was "reporting" those speculations?  Reporters!  People in the media.  Gatekeepers!

And that is the fear.  With declines in newspaper circulations, there is a fear that these reporters, including those on online media outlets, are becoming obsolete.  And when they are not the ones who are breaking the stories, it means that they are losing their power to dictate knowledge.

Controlling and dictating the construction of knowledge is critically important in maintaining power.  And for much of our lifetimes, and those of our parents and grandparents, newspapers and newspaper writers have been the ones in power and controlled information, and therefore knowledge.

What blogs in particular and the Internet in general have done is empower the previously powerless masses.  And when it comes to sports, fans now have a voice.  And evidently, that voice is becoming audible.

This disempowers sports reporters.  And, in turn, they lose their gatekeeper status.  Hence the reaction towards blogs that break stories.  Like the music industry, when reporters are beaten to the punch, the natural reaction seems to be to discredit those who write in the "new media."

Hence Gonzalez’s sarcastic use of “poet” when referring to Morris.

Hence Rosenthal’s parental lecture of “don’t do that” (complete with finger waving).

And hence Passan’s attack of a Twins’ fan’s occupation and competence.

I am not claiming that Morris or Faust are correct in their assessments.  I think Morris’ speculation is warranted, but that is all it was—speculation.  And Faust’s analysis seems fuzzy at best.

And this is not an anti-Passan article.  I like a good deal of his work and think he does a fine job on many of his stories.

But the point is not about the bloggers and the “grainy” videos, but simply the vitriolic reaction from those in the media, such as Passan and Gonzalez and Rosenthal. 

The reactions and criticism of bloggers and user-driven sites such as Bleacher Report comes across as bitter.  Perhaps the bitterness comes from that slip in power and the loss of the gatekeeper status.

Or maybe, in the case of Passan, he is just bitter because, like Faust, he “does not play baseball, nor is he a scout.”

But then again, I am not a “sports writer” either.  What do I know?


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