Wednesday, January 8, 2014

It is National Judgment Day among America's scions of morality, the sentries who keep impurities out of the Hall of Fame

Cotton Mather was a punk. Those creampuffs who sent the Salem witches to the gallows, or the cranberry bogs, or whatever - they were K-mart cheapos when it comes to indignation. To be a true moral superstar, you must write about sports. And today is National Judgment Day: When the professional Gammonites of America elect their human beacons of super-purified morality to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Nothing against Greg Maddox and Tom Glavine, et al. Bravo to them. But more than likely, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire - and in the future Alex Rodriguez - will never see a Cooperstown plaque during their lives. After they are dead, a generation will look back on the morality cops who singled them out (as opposed to all those who were not caught) - and they will be elected. Their grandsons and granddaughters will accept the awards. We might not be alive. But it will happen. Because everybody knows they weren't created in a lab like Captain America. What separates them from many others was getting caught. I think history will judge them more kindly.

Which brings us back to Jan. 8, 2014: America's Day of Moral Indignation... The day the sportswriters' votes are announced.

Doesn't matter if you're a beat writer in New York or the featured columnist in Kalamazoo: Become a Gammonite, and in the Hall of Fame vote, morality flows from your exalted lips like recycled sewerage from a theme park waterfall. 

I've written in the past about why some sportswriters turned into overbearing morality thugs on the matter of A-Rod. And let me stress that not every writer goes this route.  Some close friends write sports. Some great people write sports. But again, I wrote news for more than 30 years, and here are my best reasons why some Gammonites become pig-headed slop-slingers.
1. Arrested Development. In fifth grade,  every baseball nut who can finish a sentence wants to be a big time sportswriter someday. Most grow out of it. They end up covering politics or culture - or - if they're working in today's markets, celebrities.  Something keeps sportswriters from abandoning that original childhood dream. And some, at basic levels, maintain an element of childishness in everything they write. They call people names. They never think in shades: just winners and losers, villains and heroes. Worst of all, they fall down to authority figures. They automatically follow any old white guy who sits behind the big desk. It's like a flashback trip to the Principal's office.
2. The one-stop shop.
If you cover politics or war, or just profile one person, the complexities are overwhelming. You can never do enough interviews. The stresses of uncertainty never leave your belly. You're always wondering, Did I get it right? Sportswriters don't face this as often. The game is played, the stats are compiled - (actually, supplied) - and the players are trotted out to be interviewed. (It is part of their job.) Everything is laid out. Most writers almost never have to stand on a stranger's doorstep and talk somebody who hates the media into an interview. In every other form of journalism, writers make a million decisions on what and whom to believe. The sportswriter can report the score and what the jocks said in their underwear, and his job is done. The real mission is to sound wittier than they do. (And that's a low, low bar.)
3. The press box.
If you're profiling a junkie's scorched life in a housing project, odds are, no other journalist in the world is competing for your story. You are on your own. But sportswriters sit together in a press box, chewing fat for hours, in a place where civilians are not allowed. They compare notes about good guys, bad guys, managers and the free buffet. Most importantly, they can get a sense what everybody else will write tomorrow. There is a huge pack mentality here, a need to run with the herd. It's not their fault, but it's almost impossible to avoid.
4. The economic disparity.  Most beat writers have a nice middle class gig going. But they must cover pro athletes who drive cars worth more than they'll make in a year - and some jocks can't even speak coherently. It aint right! There is a class thing here. There is a youth thing here. There is a race thing here. Yeah, that's a touchy subject, and writers are no better or worse than the rest of us. But that economic rift between jocks and writers shows up in every story about A-Rod, or LeBron, or anybody who makes too much money - which is everybody in sports but sportswriters. It's always there, whether they acknowledge it or not.
5. The folly of humanity.
Keep this in mind: Half the people you meet in life will be of below average intelligence. Sportswriters are no exception. Nobody notices an idiot taxi driver. A stupid sportswriter - woah - that's hard to ignore. The dumber they are, the more fervent they will be in their sense of righteousness.
6. The access.
If a writer's phone calls are being returned, he or she has an incredible advantage over the competition. When in doubt, you can quote the GM or the owner, anonymously, and never go wrong. Thus, Selig and his minions took batting practice on A-Rod for most of last year, until his legal team fought back and recruited their own mouthpieces. When writers quote anonymous sources, can they really act so oblivious to the reasons why those sources would be inclined to lie? Well, if they do, the guy might not return their calls. And they're in trouble.
So today, we learn who they liked, and who they didn't like. And someday, after we're all in the ground, Bonds and Clemens will get their day in the sun. I hope their grandchildren can write the perfect words. Writing is an art, you know.

1 comment:

KD said...

A-Rod et al. should not leave their HOF acceptance speeches to be written by some perhaps yet-to-be-born relative. They should write and record their speeches now to be played back in Cooperstown posthumously. Use Mark Twain’s autobiography as an example and LET IT RIP!!
El Duque: why not take a stab at A-Rod’s speech?