The relationship between the blogosphere and members of the traditional sports media has historically been a strained one. Among many old-school journalists, contempt existed toward bloggers who hadn’t paid their dues by going to journalism school, often wrote in a more informal (and sometimes profane) fashion, and made no attempts to feign objectivity toward the team they covered. On the flip side, bloggers tended (and have continued) to mock journalists for their reliance on narrative and emotion at the expense of empiricism, and criticize them for not making the best use of their access to players, coaches, and management.
Over time, this conflict, while still present, has mitigated somewhat. A new generation of beat-writers and journalists have embraced blogging and other forms of new media to interact with fans, and have incorporated statistical analysis concepts popular in the blogosphere. Bloggers have also gotten the opporutnity to contribute to more mainstream publications, getting the opportunity to show their writing chops in a medium with more inherent credibility, and often getting the opportunity to improve their access to the team.
As easy as it is to mock the banality of sportswriting these days (the fantastic Bad Spring Training Twitpics tumblr is a great example), beat-writers do have a tremendous opportunity by virtue of their access that allows them to do more than just post lineups, tweet breaking news, and get a few canned responses from players about working hard and playing to win the game (that’s not to say that these tasks are easy or don’t require any skill). They have the opportunity to get more insightful commentary from players on aspects of the game that casual TV watchers rarely get the chance to notice, such as pitching grips and mechanics, plate approaches, and conditioning regimens. Additionally, beat writers can also shed light on how the history and personality of the players have helped them become the player they are today.
Two great examples of this latter form of journalism were published within the last day. The first was David Waldstein’s piece in the New York Times on the toxic culture of abuse and hazing that Kuroda faced as a young ballplayer in Japan. The story described how Kuroda was forced to run for 15 hours in a day without water as punishment by a tyrannical coach, kneel on a hot roof while getting spanked with a bat, and endure all sorts of hazing from older teammates. It was a harrowing account of a traumatic past, but at the same time demonstrated the evolution of Kuroda’s resolve and impressive work ethic. After surviving what he did as a teenager, suddenly the transition to the big bad AL East doesn’t seem so imposing after all. To see a story about Kuroda this rather than some generic, vaguely racist story about honor was refreshing.
In the Wall Street Journal, Dan Barbarisi (who also deserves props for his piece on Eric Chavez’s pregame routine) took the opportunity to humanize one of the most misunderstood players on the Yankees, Rafael Soriano. It is a more light-hearted piece compared to Waldstein’s, and highlights some quirky aspects of the Yankee closer’s personality. Soriano got a tough reception from the start from Yankee fans because he signed a much-criticized contract, was hostile to the media, performed poorly, and wound up on the disabled list.
Barbarisi looked at another side of Soriano. This includes Soriano’s habit of routing of untucking his jersey after a successfully completed save (which has turned into a popular hashtag on twitter), his habit of talking to his hat before facing his first batter, and the fact that his entrance music is a dramatic song written about Soriano entitled “el Rey de Monticulo.” The Soriano Barbarisi describes also loves horses and is surprisingly a fan of “Sweet Carolin” (and will apparently sing it on request). The media representation of Soriano has typically been that of a prideful, moody player who signed a big contract with the Yankees but was unhappy working as a setup man. This may still be true, but it is nice to see that there is more to Soriano than meets the eye, as Barbarisi paints a different picture.
In both stories, Waldstein and Barbarisi looked beyond trite storylines to illuminate new aspects of two very important parts of the Yankee team in 2012. It is interesting journalism and great reading, and is the type of story that a blogger would not be able to write because of their lack of access. It gives us new insight into the personalities and motivations behind these players, providing more humanization than the lazy media-driven stereotypes that tend to predominate. Kudos to Waldstein and Barbarisi for their great work on these pieces, and I hope to see more work like this from them and the other Yankee beat writers over the course of the season.
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