LATEST SIGNS OF A DYING INDUSTRY

By Murray Chass

November 1, 2009

PHILADELPHIA – The World Series offers a startling barometer of how critical the health of the newspaper industry is in this country. It’s not yet on life support, but it’s getting there. The latest bleak picture is exhibited in the number of newspapers that are not covering the World Series.

Twenty-nine of the 60 newspapers that cover major league teams during the season on the road as well as at home are not at this year’s World Series.

The commissioner’s office declined to provide a list of absent newspapers, concerned that it would provide a negative commentary on Major League Baseball. However, Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America, determined the number of non-covering newspapers and also the number of newspapers that cover throughout the season.

“It’s a manifestation of what’s happening in America,” Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, said Sunday before Game 4 of the World Series. “I’m saddened by it. I think newspaper coverage over the years has enabled us to succeed much more than a lot of people understand so for me this is a very, very unhappy development.”

Asked if there might be something he or baseball could do to reverse the trend as far as World Series coverage is concerned, Selig said, “I don’t know how. This is far beyond me. This transcends me and our sport and everything else.”

What is happening in the newspaper industry, he added, “is a problem far more endemic to life today. But I’m saddened by it, very saddened. Believe me, baseball will not be better off as a result,”

Selig has long been an avid newspaper reader, and as commissioner, he has regularly scoured the newspapers throughout the major leagues.

These are the newspapers that traveled during the season but are not covering the World Series:

Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal Orange County (Calif.) Register
Arizona Republic Palm Beach (Fla.) Post
Atlanta Journal & Constitution Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Baltimore Sun Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Cincinnati Enquirer Providence (R.I.) Journal
Cleveland Plain Dealer Sacramento (Calif.) Bee
Contra Costa (Calif.) Times St. Paul Pioneer Press
Dallas Morning News San Francisco Chronicle
Dayton Daily News San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News
Detroit Free Press Seattle Times
Detroit News South Florida Sun Sentinel
Fort Worth Star Telegram Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune
Houston Chronicle Tampa Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune Worcester (Mass.) Telegram.
Oakland Tribune  

The Los Angeles Daily News is not covering the World Series, but its baseball writers stopped traveling during the season this year. Taking baseball writers off the road is another economic measure that newspapers have taken. Baseball teams are on the road for half the season – three months – after spending six weeks in Florida or Arizona in spring training.

In his comment about the importance of newspapers to baseball, Selig was talking about the way newspapers have always provided daily coverage for fans to read about their teams. That daily coverage has also served as an advertisement for fans to buy tickets. Promoters of concerts and shows have to purchase advertising space in newspapers. Baseball’s space, as with other sports, comes at no cost to the teams.

 

PICK YOUR POISON

Maybe no one should feel sorry for New York Mets fans for the very reason that they are Mets fans. No one compels them to be Mets fans. Not one of the Ten Commandments says “Thou shalt be a Mets fan.”

Fans pick teams; teams don’t pick fans. You don’t like a team, pick another. Fans invest a great deal of time, energy and emotion, not to mention money, in their favorite teams. Fans have a right to expect a return for their money, their time, their energy, their emotion.

A team doesn’t have to win every year, win a championship, that is, but a championship every once in a while would be nice, a winning record and a contending team the other years would be nice. But no collapses, please, with 17 games to play. No wholesale assortment of devastating injuries. And no World Series between the two teams Mets fans most love to hate.

Not that the Mets control the World Series matchup. All they can influence is the National League representative, and they haven’t done a very good job of doing that the past three seasons, the last two especially when the division rival Phillies went to the World Series.

This year is worse than last. It was easy for Mets’ fans to root for Tampa Bay last year. No conflict there. But this year? The Yankees? It was their perfect nightmare.

Wondering how Mets’ fans were treating this World Series, I decided to conduct a survey to determine their feelings. A significant majority prefers to see the division rival Phillies win and the geographical rival Yankees lose.

Of those people who identified themselves as Mets’ fans, 65 percent said they prefered to see the Phillies win and 27 percent opted for the Yankees. The remaining 8 percent said they didn’t care or couldn’t bring themselves to prefer either team. If that group is not counted in the Phillies-or-Yankees question, the outcome becomes 71 percent favoring the Phillies and 29 percent pulling for the Yankees.

“I am rooting for 40 days of rain and hope no one wins!!  I hate both teams and their fans!” one fan wrote in the e-mail survey.

“Quite frankly,” said another, “for a Mets fan in 2009, this year features the Series From Hell: the much-hated Yankees vs. the Phillies, our current National League bugaboo. Put simply, our best-case scenario is for the whole World Series to be called off after everybody contracts pneumonia.”

But then the respondent went on and said he favored the Phillies. “Sure,” the fan wrote, “we hate them a lot now; but we didn’t hate them this much 10 years ago, and probably won’t 10 years from now. On the other hand, Yankee Hatred, and Yankee Fan Hatred in particular, springs eternal.”

“As a lifelong Mets fan, this WS is very hard,” another fan responded. “It’s more like who do I root against?”

Rooting is relative, of course. Rooting for someone is probably more rewarding than rooting against someone, and the problem with rooting against both teams is one of the teams is going to win and that sort of spoils the sentiment, not to mention the effort.

Some fans are more conflicted than others. Most fans just don’t like the two teams for obvious reasons. But there is the old Brooklyn Dodgers’ fan who responded this way: “Phillies! in spite of what they did to my teams {dodgers in 1950, mets 2008} nothing can make me root for the Yankees ['41,47,49, 52,53, 56, 2000].”

Many fans, though, took the geographical approach. As Mets fans, they don’t like the Yankees, but they are New Yorkers and remain loyal to their city, thus preferring the Yankees.

“Although I’m a die hard Met’s fan I’m still a NY fan,” a female fan wrote in a typical response. “Although I hate to admit it I have to say go Yanks.”

On the other hand, another fan wrote, “As a true Met fan, there is only one choice. You must reluctantly back the Phillies. The Mets rivals in the division change from year to year. Now, the Phillies are the Mets chief competitor, but 5 years ago (and 10 and 15) it was the Braves. Next year, it could be the Marlins. However, the Yankees are always the Mets archnemesis – that never changes. The Mets will always be measured against the Yankees and a true Met fan can never, ever back the Yankees under any circumstance.”

This Mets’ fan disagrees. “I am rooting for the yankees as I HATE the phillies and guys like jeter and pettite are much classier than rollins and victorino. they are just players you can easily root for. At the same time rooting for the yankees sucks. everytime I see arod strike out or CC give up a run I get really happy until I see stupid chase utley rounding the bases and I cringe.”

Some Mets’ fans are rooting in their own self interest.

“I live among many more Yankee than Philly fans – so if the Phillies win, I won’t have to suffer as much in the future!” a fan wrote.

“I do not want to hear my brother-in-law and nephews crow about another yanks win” wrote another.

And this fan: “It’s a hard call when it’s between the Yanks and the Phils. But I am going for the Yankees because my son is a Yankees fan and I want to see him happy.”

Now that is a good parent.

 

MCGWIRE RETURNS: HERO OR VILLAIN

The St. Louis Cardinals’ decision to hire Mark McGwire as their hitting coach was not greeted enthusiastically by many baseball fans and others. They apparently resent the fact that McGwire has never admitted using performance-enhancing substances, hasn’t apologized for his alleged use of performance-enhancing substances and hasn’t talked about the past, which he said he would not do at a Congressional hearing in March 2005.

However, Commissioner Bud Selig, for one, is delighted that McGwire is returning to baseball after his self-imposed five-year exile.

“I like him personally a great deal,” Selig said. “I have great respect for Tony La Russa, Bill DeWitt and the Cardinals organization. He’s done great work for them. They want to bring him back. I understand what happened.”

La Russa has been McGwire’s strongest supporter. He was McGwire’s manager in Oakland and St. Louis for 15 of his 16 major league seasons. Before McGwire testified in front of a Congressional committee in 2005, La Russa said he was certain that McGwire had never used anything illegal. After he said repeatedly, “I am not here to talk about the past,” while everyone else believed that McGwire had used and was avoiding admitting it, La Russa maintained his steadfast support.

For several years since the manager tried unsuccessfully to persuade the former first baseman and single-season home run record-holder to come to spring training and work with St. Louis hitters there. McGwire, however, wasn’t ready to face the onslaught of media attention he would get. Now he apparently is.

“Whatever’s been done is done,” Selig said. “He’s a wonderful guy. Tony’s had him working with young players. The guy has done wonders. I saw Pujols. Pujols is thrilled that he’s coming back.”

There’s a retired F.B.I. agent who isn’t thrilled. The New York Daily News quoted the agent, Greg Stejskal, as questioning the wisdom of giving McGwire a job in baseball, saying he had not spoken out against steroids or shown remorse.

“It’s basically rewarding a guy who hasn’t stood up and taken a stand against this stuff,” the News quoted Stejskal as saying. “There’s been no mea culpa, and instead he became a recluse. It reminds me of a passage from Proverbs: ‘The wicked flee where no man pursueth.’”

But who is Stejskal to establish the guidelines for McGwire or anyone else to work in baseball? He is entitled to his opinion, but baseball is entitled to ignore his opinion.

Some players who have tested positive for steroids or who are strongly suspected of having used them have issued public admissions and apologies. Others have not or have offered questionable explanations. Those who have readily admitted their transgressions have fared best with the public and in the news media.

However, that is not to say others, like McGwire, should be thrown to the dogs. McGwire should be treated no differently from others involved in illegal substances. He severely damaged himself by evading answers to Congressional questions. He made himself sound guilty. It appears that he got bad advice.

There will be plenty of time and opportunity for reporters to ask questions. McGwire will presumably hold a news conference at the start of spring training, a la Alex Rodriguez, and try to defuse the incendiary issue. It will hound him, though, but he knows that. He would be smart to begin the news conference with a statement: “I’m here to talk about the past.”

 

A SMALL JAPANESE EXODUS

The signing of Japanese players, whose frequency has increased in recent years, is usually heralded by the news media, but the departure of Japanese players is less noticed.

Kenji Johjima, the Seattle catcher, is going home to play after four years with the Mariners, in which he batted .268. Eschewing the last two years and $15.8 million of his Mariners’ contract, the 33-year-old Johjima signed a four-year, $21 million contract with the Hanshin Tigers of the Central League.

Previously Mac Suzuki and Hideki Irabu returned to Japan after playing in the majors. Both pitched in the majors in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Neither dazzled anybody.

Suzuki had a 16-31 record and a 5.72 earned run average in 67 starts and 50 relief appearances with Seattle and Kansas City. Irabu was a major disappointment for the Yankees and also pitched for Montreal and Texas, finishing with a 34-35 record and a 5.15 e.r.a. in 80 starts and 46 games in relief.

Johjima began his visit to the majors impressively, hitting .291 with 18 home runs and 76 runs batted in. But he didn’t reach those levels again in his other three years.

 

ANALYZE THIS

A couple of hours before the first division series game between the Yankees and the Twins I encountered Steve Phillips in the corridor leading to the field at Yankee Stadium. He was coming from the field; I was heading there.

I hadn’t seen Phillips in a long time, and I stopped to say hello. I also took advantage of the moment to tell him something I had believed for a long time. I told him I thought he was the best baseball analyst on television.

Phillips, however, is no longer a baseball analyst. For the second time in his baseball life, he got himself into serious trouble, this time fatally. When news of his sexual encounter with an ESPN production assistant surfaced, ESPN had no choice but to fire him.

For one thing, the sports cable giant set the precedent three years ago when it fired Harold Reynolds for his alleged sexual harassment of a female employee. For another, Phillips’ latest encounter made him a serial sex addict.

In 1998 Phillips took a leave of absence from his position as general manager of the New York Mets after a young Mets employee accused him of sexual harassment.

In this latest instance the woman with whom Phillips had an affair allegedly involved his family, making telephone calls to his wife, leaving a letter at their home and contacting his son via the Internet. At the same time that ESPN announced that it had fired Phillips a representative for Phillips said that he was entering a treatment center “to address his personal issues.”

Phillips was a far better analyst than he was a general manager, and it’s possible that he will resurface, as Reynolds did, with M.L.B.’s cable network. But with two strikes on him he will sit on a precarious perch because everyone knows that in baseball it’s three strikes and you’re out.

 

 

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