photo credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Good morning sports media watchers. Jonah and I have been trading texts over the last week about the possibility of Anthopoulos leaving the Jays and how the media would react. His theory was that the industry would go bananas. My view was that while there was a media angle here, the focus would mostly be on Alex and his decision making process instead. Shows how much I know … So without further ado let’s get to work breaking down the media meltdown we witnessed this week.
It started with the tweet heard round the world.
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) October 29, 2015
After a lot of media debate about why AA had not yet been signed and how unfathomable it would for him not to return, the verdict was in and Shi had the scoop: Alex rejected an extension from the club that included a downgraded job portfolio and chose to walk away from the playoff roster he built over the last several years.
Shi Davidi has come a long way from his Canadian Press days. Great to see hard work paying off. He has cemented his position in this market with his valuable contributions over the last couple of years. Great hire by Sportsnet.
The details surrounding this incredible development emerged in small bites in the reporting that ensued. Rick Westhead of TSN wrote that Shapiro recently met AA along with the latter’s lieutenants and expressed concern about the number of prospects that were traded. This aspect of the story was confirmed by others who wrote about the reasons for Alex’s departure. I have no idea if everyone is relying on Rick’s reporting or have their own sources on this, but many people are now talking about a “chilly” meeting between AA and Shapiro.
In the build-up to AA’s press conference, tweets and takes were hotly flying back and forth about how this situation ever reached this point, and at whose feet the fault belongs. In the minutes before the conference call started, news leaked out that AA was just named executive of the year. Amazing. The presser was boring and predictable, and Rogers and the Blue Jays released statements wishing Alex well.
So here we sit, left to pick up the pieces of the story and try to make sense of how and why the Jays parted ways with their award winning GM who just engineered the team’s most successful season in 22 years.
A lot of great reporting saw the light of day in the last week. (This list is not exhaustive since I am a mere human with finite time and energy. TSM HQ doesn’t include interns.)
Let’s start with the Jays’ crushing loss in game 6 of the ALCS. A gold star goes to Eric Koreen of the National Post for this piece. If you follow Eric on twitter, as 19.5k of you do, then you’re used to his occasional existential musings. I’m glad his editor let him write this very personal article. Highly recommended, and great work by someone who is not usually on the Jays beat.
As we moved into full off-season mode Richard Griffin of the Star wrote an excellent warning piece on why the Jays might have a mess on their hands if they promised Shapiro more control than his predecessor. This article describes precisely the tension that we all assume ultimately led to AA’s departure.
“If Rogers does not side with the Canadian kid when it comes to personnel moves, he’s on the street. If that happens, his MLB brotherhood will be dumbstruck and Rogers will just be dumb.”
Griff followed that up with an angry but fair article the morning after.
“This team will not fall apart under Shapiro. They may even repeat the run for a full season with all of the position bats coming back. Shapiro is a good baseball man. But Rogers is proving they are bad baseball people.”
The angry voices came from other corners as well. Here is Bruce Arthur from Friday’s paper:
“Ed [Rogers] didn’t mention the terms, though. Anthopoulos wasn’t going to accept being anything less than the general manager of this team. Would you? He built a top-four team in baseball, so of course that’s how he felt. That’s why he left.”
Scott Stinson of the post added his voice to the dialogue.
“But perhaps we should not be surprised. It was Team Rogers, after all, that began searching for an executive to replace Paul Beeston as team president by trying to poach Kenny Williams from the Chicago White Sox, a team owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, who happens to be a close friend of Beeston. Trying to push out a long-time employee by surreptitiously contacting one of his confidants: that’s some shrewd management right there.”
Looking forward to 2016, Brendan Kennedy of the Star looks at the corps of assistants Alex is leaving behind. It will be interesting to see how many of them are with the team in April. Ken Fidlin at the Sun talks about how Shapiro will deal with the “steamy manure pile of hurt” into which he has stepped. Andrew Stoeten, special to the National Post, has a very balanced piece on the bittersweet nature of Alex’s departure. Steve Buffery writes about the writing being on the wall for the likeable John Gibbons.
The good reporting was able to walk the tightrope between slamming Ed Rogers and his band of meddlesome misfits and slamming Rogers as an employer. Everyone agrees that Rogers (in the former sense) screwed this up in spectacular fashion. But keeping separate things separate is hard and not everyone was up to the task.
Let’s start with this article by Steve Simmons. It’s for the most part a very thoughtful and accurate discussion of Alex’s successes in the context of his failures. The piece goes off the rails here:
“The clowns at Rogers who wouldn’t know a sacrifice fly from a tsetse fly were authors of their own demise. They have been tripping all over themselves from the day it was determined they would stab Paul Beeston in his baseball back. They did their own little dance of Tinkers to Evers to Chance — but, in this case, that meant it went Dan Duquette to John Hart to Kenny Williams.”
Steve has been at this a long time and should know that this kind of invective is just unnecessary. I understand he’s a columnist and you want to put some of yourself into your columns to give them a personal touch. He’s making the same point as some authors linked above, but the wrapping is all wrong here. You’re a regular face and voice on TSN. You have to know that framing this in terms of “the clowns at Rogers” is dangling red meat in front of a group of people at Sportsnet who are more than up for a fight.
Why not put it in terms of that one clown Ed Rogers rather than insulting the whole company?
The bait worked on FAN midday co-host Greg Brady. (note: I have no inside knowledge what in particular set Mr. Brady off). He came out swinging on Thursday and let everyone know: 1) Sportsnet is killing TSN in the ratings, and 2) Some people who work for Bell are biased against Rogers and will spin any angle on the AA story to make Rogers look bad. The full details can be heard here.
I had 300 words breaking down everything that was wrong with this take, but Brady took a minute the following day (Friday October 30th, 1pm hour) to express regret for taking a “cheap shot” at TSN and Bell, and wishing that he had some of those sentences back. The statement sounded sincere and while not quite an apology, I suspect that it went some way in repairing relations with the other employer in the market, and with the audience who frankly doesn’t give a damn about the ratings.
Brady is a polarizing figure. Some find him brash and condescending. No one questions his sports knowledge. Personally, I think Greg is one of the better talents at radio. He’s one of a very small number of people who have managed to crack this market as an outsider, and he has carved out his own distinctive brand here over the years. Enlisting in the bias police should not be part of that brand. Lots of other people are already happy to carry that torch. This episode was beneath him and it was good to hear him acknowledge that.
The next contribution from the nonsense brigade came when Brady and Walker threw to Wilner who promptly denied Westhead’s report (cited above) and the other stories mentioning the Shapiro-AA meeting. Wilner said the report is not true, mocked fans for believing it, and followed up by saying that he had no idea what Shapiro thought of the trades and the amount of prospects given up. Classic Wilner … 10/10. Here is Westhead talking about his report (500 comments!). Make up your own minds based on the bodies of work involved.
Even the reputable Bob Elliott couldn’t quite walk the line perfectly:
“Now, Eddie Rogers has done something we did not think was possible, topping the bungled December-January search for a new president while president Paul Beeston was in office. The Rogers spin doctors will try to sell this that the Jays were a .500 team when they began talking to Shapiro in June or July and the GM deserved to be fired.”
What does a reference to “Rogers spin doctors” add to the discussion. Nothing. It’s gratuitous and inflammatory. There is no need to talk about anyone other than Ed Rogers and his henchmen. They (and Guy Laurence I suppose) are the ones responsible for this. When someone at Sportsnet writes a spin doctoring piece then go ahead and rip it. But launching a preemptive scattershot strike is unprofessional and petty.
The worst offence by far was Richard Griffin calling out Sportsnet’s Barry Davis.
Why on earth would you pick on Barry of all people? His job is to give reports from field level, interview players, coaches, and family, and basically be a friendly face on the TV broadcast. The NESN (Red Sox) version of Barry’s job involves trying out the local ballpark food for the delight of the home audience. No one is going to Barry for hard hitting baseball analysis. That’s not his job. Furthermore, his point is really straightforward and basically uncontroversial. Shapiro is not being brought in to dismantle the team (as far as we know).
Griff is a great asset to the baseball beat. He’s funny, self-effacing, established, and plugged in. This incident makes it seem like he has a personal rather than a professional issue with Barry. This is a horrible mistake and I hope he apologizes to Barry.
The above shows just how fragile the Toronto sports media market is in 2015. Almost everyone has some connection to Bell or Rogers which means that everyone is a stone’s throw away from being called out as a shill.
This is terrible for everyone. It’s terrible for the audience, as can be seen above. Wouldn’t it have been nice to not have to sift through all that crap to get to the good stuff? It’s terrible for those established in the industry since, despite their best efforts, they can always have their good work swept out from underneath them by someone from the other tribe accusing them of bias. And it’s terrible for those trying to get into in the business because there is this looming question of whether what they write or say will make them unhireable if they piss off the wrong people. Certainly seems like the ones shouting “shill!” are among the 1%. Maybe that’s how you get ahead?
Here is my lowly proposal as someone on the fringe looking in. How about we all agree to take a break from calling each other shills. No one at either radio station or TV network is being given memos on what to say and what not to say. Some people are more likely to suck up to their bosses and some people certainly aren’t. But the proof of that lies in the body of work. So let’s evaluate the merits of the arguments, not the merits of those making them, or who they happen to work for.
Here is where I stand on the AA issue. Something doesn’t make sense. Why would Alex want to leave unless he wasn’t comfortable under the new regime? He wouldn’t. So he must be uncomfortable with Shapiro’s reported expanded baseball role. Next question: why would Rogers hire someone with whom AA wouldn’t be comfortable? What could explain wanting to rein in your GM? Maybe he was pushing Beeston around and they wanted a more top-down management system? If that’s the case, what soured them on AA such that they made him an offer he couldn’t help but refuse?
Answering these questions is where the real journalistic work needs to be done. It would be great if the real journalists got to work on that.
Note – Shi is reporting this morning that Ed Rogers denies AA’s job would have changed under Shapiro.
I’ll have some stuff on the new MLSE CEO next week. I don’t want to waste good material this week.
Grantland is dead. It will be interesting to see who steps up to claim the space that this publication proved exists. Lots of talented people just need a legitimate forum. ESPN has decided to shut this one down.
Yahoo! gave us an insight into what the future of sports rights may look like. Their NFL stream reached 15 million people in glorious HD. (Someone let Bobcat know they have internet on TVs now.) The interesting thing to watch will be how soon Apple, Google, Netflix, and other tech giants get into this space. The NFL have shown they like to spread their content around … you know, the opposite of the Bettman single-partner model.
If this were a different week we’d debate the balance between the quest to be first and the desire to get it right and how these things are in tension with each other. Deadspin reports on how the media handled and mishandled the news of Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez’s father’s passing while Volquez was on the mound. Good topic.
Mike Babcock answering a reporter’s question about chemistry: “I think chemistry is good but I also think having a couple of guys together, you can move people around to spark them once in a while. But, you guys have to write stories too right? So you’ve got to make some stuff up every once in a while. Nothing wrong with that.” Welcome to Toronto Mike. Many brave men have come before you.
Adam Proteau ex of the Hockey News has landed on his feet at MapleLeafs.com
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)