How Online Media Has Shifted the Trade Rumor Market

Many knowledgeable baseball fans are already aware of the website MLB Trade Rumors, started by Tim Dierkes in 2005 as a catch-all clearinghouse for … well, major league baseball trade rumors.  Since its launch, Dierkes has become pickier about which scoops he runs with, as he has become more savvy about how the rumor market works in baseball, with players, agents, teams and reporters all pariticpating with interest in some way in order to increase their chances of being signed or traded, or to gain a competitive advantage versus another team, or to reward allies and punish rivals.

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There is a really good article about the site over at VICE Sports—Leaks, Agendas, and Old-Fashioned Gossip: Inside Baseball’s Internet Trade Rumor Economy, written by Rick Paulas—that lays this all out very well.  This article highlights how baseball media digital-style have changed things about how an important aspect of the baseball business conducts itself. I recommend you go over and read it when you have about six minutes to spare.

To me, the most interesting part of the article is how certain members of the the traditional baseball media further their own agenda as power-brokers of the game.  Here’s an interesting snippet to consider:

If a player’s reportedly gaining interest from a very specific number of teams—say: “12 teams interested in Yasiel Puig”—that’s information being planted by the agents. “Either the reporter called 12-plus teams, or more likely, the agent told the reporter and they went with it,” says Dierkes. Which highlights the other, more insidious way through which rumors proliferate, which in turn makes it even more difficult to read the hidden messages.

“You see the favor exchange between journalists and agents, and that’s kind of slimy,” says Dierkes. Notice a national reporter mentioning a player who wouldn’t generate interest in a 19-team NL-only fantasy league? That’s a favor to an agent. See a reporter bashing a free agent signing? That reporter didn’t get the information he wanted. “You’d think if that agent was a good buddy of the reporter, he wouldn’t have written that same article,” says Dierkes. “Quid pro quo can be pretty dangerous.”

Now, it’s understandable that when you’re confronted by a fire hose of information every day as the modern print or web reporter is, it seems defensible to sometimes make the decision to go with the tip from an associate in the biz without exhaustively checking it out. But the “favor exchange” seems to be walking the fine line between acceptable and slimy, and we know where Dierkes comes out on it.

Dierkes notes, too, that it’s not only agents reaching out to reporters with a thin statement they hope might blossom into a full-blown reportable rumor. Players, too, participate in this charade, and baseball bloggers operating just off the beaten path of baseball journalism can develop relationships with various players to help them get a leg up on their richer corporate media rivals:

“The [new] wild card is players,” Dierkes says. “They’re becoming sources more than they were pre-Twitter. Young reporters have made names for themselves by messaging some of these players directly, forming relationships that way.”

One such reporter is Dave Williams, a blogger for Barstool Chicago since 2012. While he didn’t get into baseball writing to break rumors, his access has grown alongside his readership. This past year, Williams has seen both the highs and lows of dipping into the rumor mill.

Over the winter, Williams announced that the White Sox had signed Yoenis Cespedes. They did not. “I got burned,” Williams says. Since, he’s been more careful about what he runs, and has been rewarded. On June 10, he announced the team was calling up shortstop prospect Tim Anderson. “I got a text from a minor league teammate of his,” he says. This came a week after his biggest scoop of the year, when he broke the story that the White Sox had traded for James Shields. How’d he get the scoop? “A guy I bought tickets off of followed me on Twitter because he thought I was funny,” he says. “He heard from his mother’s sister’s father’s girlfriend type of deals.”

One quick email to a San Diego beat writer later, and there was enough for Williams to post. With the news soon proven legit by the official announcement of the trade, national reporters had no choice but to admit they’d been scooped by a new breed of trade-rumor reporter—an inadvertent master of Internet discourse, mostly just doing it for fun. “It’s a rush,” Williams says.

I recommend you read the entire article here:

Leaks, Agendas, and Old-Fashioned Gossip: Inside Baseball’s Internet Trade Rumor Economy

New Video on YouTube: “Sportscasters: Behind The Mike”

Committee member Norm King has shared a link to something any sports media acolyte should relish: a History Channel documentary called “Sportscasters: Behind The Mike”, a 1999-2000 effort that was narrated by Joe Mantegna and that features interview pieces with luminaries such as Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Curt Gowdy, Bob Costas, Jack Whitaker, Jim McKay, author Curt Smith, a young David Halberstam, and more.

The tone of the documentary is rather heroic and superficial, with the kind of dramatic martial type musical bed frequently associated with televised sports in general. But that is, of course, perfectly fine, because the point of the doc is to feature historical clips of TV and radio calls of yore, as well as to give us some topline backgrounding on the history of sports broadcasting and its most famous practitioners.

This is a VCR recording converted to digital to be uploaded to YouTube, so it includes commercials from its broadcast. I am assuming this was the broadcast premier of the doc, since one of the commercials is for Ameritrade, and during the spot they have an offer to rebate half your trade commissions if you open an account “between 1/1/00 and 2/29/00.” This was back during the go-go stock trading atmosphere of the Dot-com Bubble which came crashing down later that year, and I apologize for dredging up flashbacks if your own portfolio got creamed in the melee. (My 401(k) certainly took a hit). But as a snapshot in time, not only does this video capture vintage broadcasters in their relative youth (or even alive), but it reflects a unique moment in American history.

This doc also contemplates more than just baseball, giving a significant amount of time over to the history of the broadcasting of football as it, too, was emerging to prominence.

The doc wraps up around the 49:00 mark but runs another fifteen minutes of commercials and the intro to the next program, the NBA All-Star Game Slam Dunk contest on TSN.  Not relevant to the doc, of course, but again, if you’re an amateur anthropologist, you might have an amateur’s interest in how a person viewed TV in the year 2000.

Enjoy!

The Cleveland Baseball Writers Association of America’s Annual ‘Ribs and Roasts’ Shows

Back in the olden days, it was very common for a city’s BBWAA chapter to have a banquet—or perhaps, more accurately, a bacchanalia—at which they present various awards and recognition of the mighty deeds of bat, ball and pen that took place during the regular season.

Some chapters had highly theatrical affairs. Leonard Koppett provided a detailed description of the New York chapters’ affairs in his terrific book, The Rise and Fall of the Press Box.  But research from Media Committee member Lou Boyd contends that the banquets held by the Cleveland writers’ chapter were at least the equal of that of New York’s.


The Cleveland Baseball Writers Association of America’s Annual ‘Ribs and Roasts’ Shows

‘The Forgotten Cleveland Indian MVP’s’

by Lou Boyd

 “Our Dinners Are Terrible”, screamed the headline in a February 1, 1949 article in the Boston Herald, written by Bill Cunningham[i]. This pronouncement was related to the midwinter baseball awards dinner season that was held annually in major baseball cities across the United States to celebrate and skewer their baseball heroes, managers, owners and anyone else who dared to have an impact on the previous year’s baseball season.

Invariably, these presentations were the responsibility of the local baseball writers from the various big league cities. The events ranged from a host of speakers and awards being presented to the winners of select categories up to massive productions of theatrical skits. These so-called skits could take the form of gentle taps on the wrist of their target all the way up to outright embarrassment for the subject.

The article went on to indicate that different cities were producing considerably different shows. New York, as expected, was considered the ‘most stylish of the lot’, yet, there was another city that seemed to be taking the crown away from the Big Apple. It was Cleveland.

The article goes on to say, “To put on a show such as the Clevelanders staged, you need some newspaper men who can really be funny. You need some, or somebody, who can write clever parodies and, if you’re going to lampoon the leading baseball characters of your immediate locality, you need scribes who bear, or who can manufacture, reasonable resemblances to the gentlemen being given the business. That type of affair takes a real talent and a lot of hard work. Maybe it’s worth it. The customers generally think so. Sometimes the organizers have their doubts. Such shenanigans, however, have to be good. Nothing can fall flatter than a string of these firecrackers that fall to explode. All of us have seen some that were utterly awful. It’s hard to foresee what’s going to be done about Cleveland. The place is taking all the honors that exist. It has the world championship in baseball. Its professional football team is the pace-setter and crowd collector of its particular division. Now its literary section is challenging for top honors in the field of Hammerstein, Booth and Barrymore.”

While the 1948 Cleveland baseball season was monumental, the baseball writers exploits during this off-season celebration in early 1949 was not their first. The Cleveland Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) had been conducting these dinners for the local American League representative Indians beginning in 1938, and each year they selected a ‘Most Valuable Player’ of the Cleveland Indians.

1939 Cleveland BBWAA Ribs & Roasts show, their second annual awards dinner. Mel Harder was elected team MVP.
1939 Cleveland BBWAA Ribs & Roasts show, their second annual awards dinner. Mel Harder was elected team MVP.

1938 – 1944 Ribs & Roasts Shows

On November 9, 1937, the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America met at the sports offices of the Cleveland Plain Dealer to hold their annual elections for officers.[ii] It is very probable that the genesis of the Cleveland version of a sportswriter’s dinner awards show began at that meeting. The following day, it was announced that Stuart Bell, Sports Editor of the Cleveland Press was elected chairman of the chapter. Eugene Whitney was re-elected secretary and Herm Goldstein was chosen as treasurer.

According to ‘The Sporting News’ on December 30, 1937, “The Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association will hold its annual dinner on January 4 with Steve O’Neill as the guest of honor. In addition to this affair, the chapter has decided to have monthly dinner meetings and to investigate the possibility of a major party along the lines already popular in several other cities.”[iii]

The Cleveland Chapter did decide to hold a major party and award the honor of “Most Valuable Player” for the 1937 season. The award was presented on February 23, 1938 to Johnny Allen at the first annual banquet referred to as the ‘Ribs and Roasts of 1938’. The awards and banquets continued uninterrupted through the 1943 season. It is assumed that due to the war, no shows or awards were given for the 1944 and 1945 seasons.

Throughout the early years, the formal event to honor these individuals was more often than not known as the annual “Ribs and Roasts” show, with the intent behind the name to present an enjoyable evening of poking fun at the members of the Cleveland sporting community, including the writers, players and management of not only the Cleveland Indians, but also on occasion, the Browns, Barons and any other organization rooted in local Cleveland sports.

Beginning in 1946, the Cleveland writers renamed the award as the “Man of the Year” and presented the honor to Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians. The name of the award was changed in order to include “non-players such as owners and other more sedentary personnel”.[iv] In addition to Bill Veeck, the only other non-players awarded the honor were Mel Harder for the 1961 season when he was the pitching coach and Dave Garcia in 1979 when he was manager of the team. The award was officially changed to the “Bob Feller Man of the Year” award beginning in 2010.

For some reason, the MVPs recognized by the sportswriters beginning with the 1937 season through 1943 were forgotten by the local record books and publications. An article by long time Cleveland writer Howard Preston was published in 1969 that said “Late last month the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America presented another ‘Ribs and Roasts Show’ which it dubbed the 23rd annual affair, designed to put the spotlight on the previous year’s sports activities in Cleveland. Somebody can’t count. I have in my possession the program from the first annual Ribs and Roasts show and the date is 31 years ago last night, Feb. 23, 1938.”[v]

Even the Cleveland Indians publicity department somehow forgot about these player awards. Beginning with the 1968 Cleveland Indians Pressbook, the organization started to expand the historical information included in the booklet given to sportswriters covering major league baseball. Included was a list of members of the organization chosen as the Cleveland ‘Man of the Year’ award beginning in 1946. It can be surmised that Marshall Samuel, long time Indians publicist joined the Tribe with Bill Veeck in 1946 from Chicago and was not aware of the previous awards and shows since there had been a lapse of two years.

The Forgotten MVP’s

 In addition to Johnny Allen, the 1937 MVP, another six Indians have been lost to the record books for their accomplishments in the annals of Cleveland Indian history. Here is a list of those Tribesmen who should be recognized for their achievements recognized by the Cleveland BBWAA.[vi]

Indians Season         Date of Ribs & Roast Show                     “MVP”

1937                                       February 23, 1938                           Johnny Allen

1938                                       February 8, 1939                              Mel Harder

1939                                       February 6, 1940                              Bob Feller

1940                                       January 14, 1941                              Lou Boudreau

1941                                       January 20, 1942                              Jeff Heath

1942                                       January 26, 1943                              Ken Keltner

1943                                       May 23, 1944                                      Al Smith

Hopefully, this information will someday be recognized by the historians for the outstanding contributions these men made on the field for the Cleveland Indians.

[i] Cunningham, Bill. “Our Dinners Are Terrible,” The Boston Herald, February 1, 1949.

[ii] Unknown, “Writers Elect Bell”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 10, 1937.

[iii] Unknown, “In the Press Box”, The Sporting News, December 30, 1937.

[iv] Preston, Howard, “Who’s Where, 31 Years Later”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 24, 1969.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Unknown, “Honor Bearden at Banquet Here”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 19, 1948.

Further confirmation of MVP awardees and Ribs & Roasts shows for the years 1938 – 1944 were compiled primarily from articles written in The Cleveland Plain Dealer and other various Cleveland newspapers during the timeframe of the awards shows.