Thursday, February 4, 2010

No cheering in the pressbox

Toward the end of phone interview with a player this offseason, when the discussion had moved beyond the question-and-answer portion and into conversation mode, I was hit with an all-too familiar inquiry. Another question us baseball writers hear often.

"Hey, real quick, one last thing."

"Sure," I said.

"Is it true that reporters don't root for the teams they cover?"

Now, as far as my experience goes in my time as a beat guy in Toronto, friends and family and fans typically haved asked it this way, "So, do you root for the Blue Jays?" The fact that the player worded it differently revealed that he had learned about our dirty, little secret and he was having trouble believing it was true.

"Yes, it's true," I replied. "But, it's not that simple."

Don't get me wrong, there could be exceptions. For the most part, though, we are not fans of the teams we cover. Something happens when you begin working in professional sports. Suddenly, athletes aren't the super humans you worshipped as a kid. They essentially become coworkers -- a type of peer. Sometimes they become friends. Or, they might become spoiled jerks that you'd rather not waste your time on in some cases.

The bottom line is, they become people -- not just baseball players. That hinders you from living and dying with every win and loss the way you did when you were one of the fans in the seats. My usual response when people ask if I root for the Jays is, "I'm not a fan of one team anymore. But, I'm as big of a fan of baseball as I ever have been."

From the perspective of the pressbox, what you "root" for changes. You root for good stories. You root for good people. You definitely root for deadlines. If the team you cover is two outs away from being blown out, and your story has been sent in to the desk, you don't root for a miraculous comeback. Unless it's easy to write, and easy to write fast.

Players might not want to hear it, but covering an awful season is not always bad for a reporter, either.

I've always said that you either want the team you cover to be really good, or really bad. The teams stuck in the middle tend to create monotonous stories where you feel like you could just plug in a new score into the gamer you wrote one night earlier. The best teams create plenty of stories about great individual seasons, playoff runs and champagne celebrations. The worst teams provide stories about turnover, clubhouse problems and drama.

Those are things reporters like to write about.

What's funny about all of this is that, no matter how many times you try to explain it to people, they often just don't understand.

A few years back, my dad told me I had a cool, new Blue Jays clock heading in the mail. God Bless him, he's just proud that his son gets to write about Major League Baseball. I told him the clock would be better off on his wall and said he could cancel the order if he wanted. My brother once came to a White Sox game decked out in Blue Jays gear. He was just trying to show how proud he was of his little bro. I appreciated the sentiment. And did my best not to be seen with him.

Along the same lines, I still have people who give me a hard time when things aren't going great for the Cubs. I was a die-hard growing up. That's putting it mildly. A high school coach mockingly called me "Ryno," I ditched church and caught the 22 Clark bus to catch Sunday matinees at Wrigley, I saved every newspaper headline from Sammy Sosa's run to 66 homers in '98, ripped apart my Cubs hat after the Steve Bartman incident and attended Harry Caray's wake.

And that's just scratching the surface.

Things have changed. They've changed so much so that -- gasp! -- I was happy when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. I was thrilled to see my hometown finally get a title, no matter which team it was hoisting the trophy. That shocked some people who knew me growing up. These days, I have players I've covered on both the Cubs and the Sox. I don't root for either team, but I might root for them.

I tried my best to explain this in a few minutes with the player on the other end of the line.

"Does that make sense?" I asked.

"Yeah, I guess so," he replied. "I know some players who just can't stand the media. I don't get that, because we have to work together -- whether we like it or not."



  1. Hi Jordan,
    While I respect what you're saying I can't help but disagree.
    A reporter myself, as much as I tried to be professional and distance myself from the players and treat them like stories...I found it couldn't be done - for the exact reasons you mentioned.
    I've found, and I know it's the exact same with my best friend (and former competitor) from our radio station that when you get to truly know the individuals involved you can't help but root for them...try as you might.
    Mind you neither of us have spent a lot of time covering professional sports...we covered High School and Junior Hockey....but try as we might the lines were blurred between the professional relationship and that of truly caring about the individuals you dealt with - be it five hours bus rides, plane rides, or team couldn't help but be attached...and while you could still write an unbiased story at the end of the day you truly lived and died with the team....they considered you a member...and you couldn't help emotiontally but to agree.
    Perhaps it's different dealing with multi-millionaires on a daily basis, but when you're dealing with people - especially in our case young people - it's very difficult, if not impossible, to build the us Vs. them relationship...try as you might to prevent it.
    Just thought I'd pass my comments along.

  2. I completely get what you're saying, JJ. And I do agree to an extent. That's why I wrote that reporters tend to root for people -- not teams. The point is I'm not heading to work with a Jays hat on hoping they win that day. When/if they do finally do great, and maybe even reach the playoffs, there are a LOT of guys I will be happy for inside that clubhouse. That doesn't make me a Blue Jays fan. As you said, though, it is different than covering teams on a smaller level, where you get closer to the team. In our realm, there aren't many reporters who players feel are "a part of the team" either. I completely understand your view and am glad you shared. That's what I want! Love having these posts turn into topics for conversation and debate.

    Thanks for the comment.


  3. Jordan. Just added your blog to my bookmarks. Love to hear your stories, you've done a great job covering the Jays for us and wish you nothing but the best. When I'm feeling ambitious gumption I will chime in and give my thoughts on your thoughts.

  4. Jordan,

    Do you ever miss being a fan?

  5. James,

    Like I said, I'm still as big a fan of the game as ever. I've learned to appreaciate baseball in a whole new light. So, no, I don't really miss being a "fan" of one team. That said, I make a point each year to watch a game or two from the stands. I do miss the time when taking my wife to a baseball game was a favorite thing for us to do. I've turned my hobby into my job, so she has attended many games alone. That's a topic for a whole other post someday.


  6. Great post, Jordan. Truly a pleasure to read.

    I think it's dangerous for reporters to cheer for the teams they cover. A personal bias can negatively affect the objectivity of a beat writer's coverage. A sports writer has to have the ability to criticize and question the decisions or performances of the organization they cover. It would be a disservice to the fans and the readers if they didn't.

    But it's naive to think sports writers don't have their own biases or personal allegiances to certain teams. It's not like they weren't fans of the game growing up.

    I relate it to other forms of news reporting. For instance, political or government reporters have a lot of control over shaping public opinion when it comes to politcs. Thus,
    they are expected to cover politicians and parties fairly and without partisanship. But it would be naive to think they don't have their own personal political opinions. Just like the sports beat grunt has his or her favourite teams, the Parliament reporter has their preferred political parties or ideologies.

    The ideal of the journalist who is a blank slate and free of personal opinions and biases is false. Those individuals do not exist. The most important thing is to present factual material and practice sound journalistic ethics -- something I think you do very well, Jordan.

    I work in the university press and I always make a note of telling my staff (most of whom are still getting their feet wet in journalism) to not cheer for the university's team. Despite my best efforts, I still recieve plenty of copy from my writers blaming bad officiating for a loss or spinning a defeat into a moral victory.

    It becomes especially difficult to encourage quality journalism in a town like London, ON where the leading newspaper practices some of the cheapest, most biased and laziest journalism I've ever seen -- but that's beside the point.

    It was very refreshing to read a beat writer's take on the relationship between the grunt and the team they follow. It's also very interesting to hear players (well, maybe just the one you talked to) are interested in the relationship as well and don't all view the media as burden of their job.

    I'm really enjoying the new blog, Jordan -- keep up the good work. Looking forward to spring training.

    Arden Zwelling
    Sports Editor
    The Gazette
    The University of Western Ontario

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  8. Correction: I can't speak for your dad sending you a Blue Jays clock, but your brother didn't dress in Blue Jays stuff for a White Socks vs. Blue Jays game because he thought you were a BJ fan. Yes, it was because he was proud of the job you had landed so soon out of college, but it was actually because a Blue Jays fan dared him to wear the clothing to a White Sox home game and your brother was curious to see how White Sox fans would treat him, a White Sox fan in "enemy" attire. And because as an advid blogger I'm always looking for entertaining posts for my readers. It was a great post after all!

  9. Hi Jordan,
    I TOTALLY hear what you're saying. I'm also a journalist, and a few years ago I pitched a story to my editor (and the Blue Jays) which involved being a Batgirl for a day. I'm a die hard Jays fan (I,too, did the whole scrapbook thing) and thought this would be the most awesome experience of my lifetime.

    It was - don't get me wrong - but it also made me really happy that it was a one-time thing. It's weird when something becomes 'work' just start seeing it differently.

    Because baseball has always sort of been my escape, it was strange to see that the players were real - they weren't just characters on my television screen - and some of them were douchebags (really just one of them was...but still). I also remember sitting in the dugout and craving a beer the whole time -I just wanted to kick back with my friends in the cheap seats and enjoy the game, rather than worry about how I was going to sum up the experience in 800 words.
    Long story short, thank you! Your job isn't an easy one and I really appreciate the awesome coverage. You're definitely the first place I turn to when I'm in a fanatical stupor, craving the latest Jays news to add to my scrapbook.

  10. I'm sure you've had a great time during the last 2-3 years, covering the Jays. Lots of interesting stories (Thomas released, Gibbons fired, Ricciardi vs. Dunn, Jays hot start in 09, BJ Ryan, Ricciardi fired and Alex A hired, Halladay traded, to name a few).

    It's certainly been a treat for us to have you cover it all so thoroughly and so well.