Category Archives: Journalism

Working the Game: An Interview with Pete Abraham, Boston Red Sox Beat Writer

For the next installment in our series, we switch from the broadcast booth to the press box and chat with Pete Abraham, the beat writer who covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe.

Peter ---- AbrahamPete is a Massachusetts native,  He joined the staff of the Globe in 2009 after spending nearly 10 years in New York covering the Mets and Yankees for The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y. Pete also covered the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team for the Norwich Bulletin.  You can follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

 

When did you become aware that you wanted to seriously pursue a career as a baseball beat writer or journalist?

I wanted to be a journalist since high school when I landed a part-time job at my hometown paper, the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. I loved being in the newsroom and observing all the various characters there. My ambition at the time was only to go to college then come back and cover New Bedford High games.

In terms of baseball, I loved covering amateur baseball but had no designs on covering MLB until well into my career when the opportunity presented itself while I was working for The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y. I started working there in 1999 and realized pretty quickly that getting to cover Yankees or Mets games, even sidebars, would be good for my career.

Prior to going to New York, I worked 13 years at the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin covering UConn men’s basketball. They tried to make me sports editor but I wanted to keep writing so I went to New York.

 

What was the first baseball game you ever worked (if not exactly, then approximately), and how did you get the gig?

This is a somewhat amusing story. My final year at UMass-Amherst was in 1986 and by then I had worked part-time for The Standard-Times for seven years. As a reward, they got me a credential to cover a Red Sox game. I don’t recall the date but I have a vivid memory of going to the game and being amazed that the press box at Fenway Park had beer taps that flowed all game.

The Sox lost the game and afterward the reporters were lined up in the hallway outside of manager John McNamara’s office. They were talking about why Dwight Evans had not been used as pinch hitter late in the game. As the postgame interview went on, nobody asked McNamara about Evans. So I mustered up the courage to ask him. I tried to be polite about it but he shot me a glare. “Where the hell are you from?” he said. Before I could answer he profanely told me to get out of his office. The only way out of the crowded office was through a door that led to the clubhouse. I walked out and was the only reporter in the room and all the players were looking at me.

Evans of all people was standing right there. “What did you ask him, kid?” he said.

“I asked him why you didn’t pinch hit,” I said.

“Good question,” Evans said as he walked away.

I had a beer when I got back to the press box. I needed it.

 

How did you get your break covering a beat for a major league baseball team?

I started working at The Journal News in 1999 for two terrific editors, Mark Leary and Mark Faller. I was a general assignment writer who did mostly high school and college games for a while. I volunteered to do anything and within a few months they allowed me to do sidebars for Mets and Yankees games. That progressed to writing game stories and occasional features.

In 2002, in the middle of the season, they moved the Mets writer to the Jets and I was given the Mets beat. I’ve been covering baseball ever since.  Looking back on it, I was incredibly fortunate they gave me the chance. Covering baseball in the NYC market is a huge challenge and they would have been well within their rights to have hired from outside the staff and gotten an established writer. Mark Leary, who passed away, was a huge influence on me. He taught me things I think about every day. So did my editors in Norwich, Jay Spiegel and Gary Samek.
When did you realize you were going to make it as a baseball beat writer?

I don’t know that there was a particular day. The Mets were a challenging team to cover. During my tenure there I covered Fred Wilpon buying out co-owner Nelson Doubleday, a few manager firings, the Bobby Valentine vs. Steve Phillips feud, a GM firing, assorted trades, scandals and even silly things like whether Mike Piazza was gay.  Meanwhile I was competing for stories against terrific writers from papers like the Times, Post, Daily News and Newsday.

That I survived and kept coming back for more seemed like a sign I could cover baseball.

 

Let’s take about game day: What do you do to prepare for a game before you get to the ballpark?  You wake up in the morning, and you do … what, before the game?

I prepare the night before usually. I unwind after games by updating a stat book I keep and doing a legal pad sheet of various notes that help me write on deadline. There are trends, assorted stats, how the starters fare against particular hitters, etc. I like having the information handy during games.

In the morning, for a typical night game, I’ll wake up around 9:30 (depending how late the previous game was), read the Red Sox clips we get from the team every day, then have a little breakfast. For the last few years, I’ve been pretty good about working out before I go to the park. I could stand to be better about it, for sure. On the road, it’s about the same but you have more time generally.

 

How long before a game do you arrive at the ballpark, and is it different at home versus on the road?

It’s about the same. The clubhouse opens to the media 3.5 hours before first pitch. I usually get there an hour before that to do a little work and just see what is going on at the ballpark. So for a 7:05 game, I get there at 2:30.

 

What are the key things you do at the ballpark between the time you get there and the time the game starts?

I spend time in the clubhouse and on the field during batting practice talking to the players and gathering information for stories. The manager does a pre-game media session. I’ll usually try to talk to some of the coaches or front-office types. It’s better to talk to people in person than get back three-word text messages. I work for NESN, the network that carries Sox games, and appear on their pre-game show. I also get started on my stories for the website and paper. I try to have my “notebook” story done by the second inning.

 

How long before the game do you go to the press box to watch the game from?

I generally try and get in my seat sometime around the national anthem. That can vary depending on whether I’m on the phone working on a story or even just something innocuous like seeing some friends who are at the game.

 

Once the actual game starts, what are you doing?  Are you working the entire time the game is going, and on what?

Once the game starts I try to limit how much I’m on the web (outside of Twitter) and how much I’m texting and just watch the game. It can be easy to get distracted. For night games, I need to file what is called “running” by the 7th inning and then that gets a top for first edition.  If there’s an injury or a trade, that is when it gets complicated.

 

In what way does an injury or a trade complicate your in-game routine?

An injury does not really complicate much of anything; we deal with that most every day. A significant trade adds to the workflow. I’d have to do a separate story, call around for information from scouts, perhaps get on a conference call with the GM. The Globe has at least three reporters at every home game and two on the road, so we can divide up the work pretty well.

 

What is your process once the game finishes? 

Once the game ends you get the manager then get in the clubhouse, hurry to get what you need then go back to the press box and write. You might have a little more time for day games. But it’s usually about 35 minutes tops.

 

Do you do all your writing and filing of stories while at the ballpark, or do you write and file stories after you’ve gotten home or to the hotel room?

Everything at the ballpark after a game. There’s no time to go anywhere else.  Even if there were I’d be afraid I’d get hit by a bus or something. My job is to get them a story quickly.

 

Is there anything about working every day in Fenway that makes it unique among ballparks to work in?

Fenway is not an especially good place to work beyond the vista once you sit down to watch the game. The clubhouses are small and crowded and access to the clubhouses post-game is going against the flow of the crowd. The press box at Fenway is pretty high, too. You don’t get the same view as you would at places like Camden Yards.

 

How many stories are you responsible for submitting on a daily basis, or perhaps in the course of a week?

Daily it’s usually three things. A game preview for our web site then a game story and a notebook. The game story usually has two versions and the notebook as many as three or four. With the web, the updating never ends. So for a week I night do 18-25 stories, each updated several times.

 

In addition to game accounts, are you assigned additional feature stories to write?  If so, who typically comes up with the idea for the subject of the feature?  You, your editor, combination?

Sure, I do features all the time. Typically I generate my own ideas and run them by my editors.  Sometimes they’ll come up with ideas that are good. The Globe’s executive editor, Brian McGrory, is a baseball fan and a few times a year he has some great ideas. I get caught up in the day-to-day details and it’s good when people see the big picture. For instance, in 2013 Brian asked about doing a story on the personal relationship between Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. It worked out great. Globe sports editor Joe Sullivan and his deputies are great to work with and talk ideas over with.

 

Do you get any vacation or free time during the season?

No vacation. I get a 1-2 days off a week. I like covering all the road games and taking my time off when the team is home.  I usually cover 125-128 games. That’s after spring training and then we cover the playoffs whether the Sox are in or not. Then the GM Meetings and the Winter Meetings.

 

What are the easier things, and what are the harder things, for you to do as a beat writer during the season?

The easier things? I’m not sure anything is “easy.”  It’s hard sometimes to cover the team when execs leak stories to national writers to curry favor with them.  It’s hard to cover the trade deadline, that 10 days or so generally is awful.

 

What are the most common pitfalls to avoid while covering a baseball team?

Two things. You have to remember to write for your readers and not to impress other writers, or yourself or your editors. Write for people who follow the team and care about the team. Inform them. The other thing is to remember you aren’t with the team. It’s a shared experience a lot of the times, going around the country and living in hotels and dealing with travel. But you don’t work for the team and aren’t beholden to the team. Ask what needs to be asked, write what needs to be written and be honest. It’s unpleasant sometimes to write something critical about a person you’ll be face to face with a few hours later. But that is the job sometimes. I think sometimes, especially for outlets that don’t have editors or much in the way of accountability, the “coverage” is basically a lot of back-patting and propaganda. You aren’t doing the job right if the manager doesn’t get mad at you from time to time.

 

Beyond interviews and conversations, what are some of the top resources you use to keep informed about the players, the teams and the game of baseball itself?

Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference are two sites I’m always on. I read a lot of individual writers, mostly analytical or informational reporting. Opinion doesn’t really help much. There are some podcasts I like. MLB Network Radio is really good, too.

 

When the team has a day off, how do you spend your time?  Do you get a day off too, or are you still working a full day?

I usually have a story to do. We cover the team every day of the season.

 

When you’re traveling with the team, what is your favorite thing to do while on the road?

Depends on the city. I have friends in NYC, Tampa, Baltimore and a few other places. I’ve been doing this long enough and been to every MLB city often enough that I’m out of things to see. I’ll occasionally check out museum listings to see if there is some interesting exhibit. Beyond that, it’s baseball, getting ready for baseball and trying to stay organized.

 

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

I have two nieces and a nephew and try to see them as often as I can along with other people in my family. I love attending Patriots games and we usually hit a road game every season. I’ll go on a vacation and every few weeks I’ll drive to a casino in Connecticut and play $10 blackjack all night just for fun. Blackjack is very relaxing. Movies, reading books not about baseball, binge-watching television shows I missed all summer.

 

What baseball writers do you most admire, retired and/or currently active, and why?

There are too many to list and I wouldn’t want to leave anybody out. I respect dozens of people in the business for various reasons. I will say that the camaraderie among baseball writers is strong and we help each other out a lot. I learned a so much watching and reading the people who cover baseball in NYC. A lot of real pros there.

 

What is the thing about covering a baseball beat that most surprised you, that you didn’t expect when you first started?

The general friendliness of the players. I came from a background of covering college sports and most of the players were unspoiled and easy-going with the media. I was fearful professionals would be harder to deal with. But probably 95 percent of the players I’ve covered have been gracious with their time and respectful of my job. The outliers are annoying when they’re All-Star-type players but for the most part MLB players are decent guys.

 

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in covering a baseball beat since you started in 2002?

When I started covering baseball there was no social media and newspapers did not have web sites. So the notion of being on a 24-hour news cycle was foreign. That by far is the biggest change. There’s never really a time you’re not working unless you force yourself not to work. The urge to check Twitter is overwhelming. There have been days I’ve done updates for our web site 10 times on various things.

 

If you were the King of Baseball Journalism and you could make any changes or improvements to the profession or to the process, what would they be?

Anybody who starts a question with “Talk about …” has their credential revoked for two games. Second offense is a week.  That is just lazy.  Also people on Twitter should get electric shocks for asking beat writers questions about their fantasy team.

 

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you would want people, such as ordinary fans, to know about your job?

Not really. I’m incredibly fortunate to do what I do and never take it for granted. It’s nice knowing that something you do hopefully gives people a few minutes of pleasure a day, or at least a distraction from the realities of life.

New Biography: Bob Addie

We’ve posted a new one to the site, this one written by Committee member Larry Baldassaro, about the life and times of Bob Addie, who served as the Senators beat writer for the Washington Post and the old Washington Times-Herald from 1954 until the team left for the Lone Star State after the 1971 season.

The biography is posted on our site here:

Bob Addie

… as well as on the BioProject section of the SABR website.

Here’s an excerpt:


With his trademark dark glasses and red socks, Bob Addie, the son of a New York City butcher, was a respected and popular fixture on the Washington sports and social scene for almost 40 years. A columnist and Senators beat writer for the Washington Times-Herald and the Washington Post, Addie served as president of the Baseball Writers Association of America and received a National Press Club Award and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. He served in both World War II and the Korean War and married a US Open and Wimbledon tennis champion. He was on a first-name basis with Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and counted among his friends a Supreme Court justice, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and prominent congressional figures.

[…]

Addie’s [journalism] career was interrupted … in 1951 when he was called into service during the Korean War [after having also served in World War II]. This led to another encounter with General Eisenhower, who was then in France as supreme commander of NATO. While escorting a group of American newspaper publishers interested in interviewing Eisenhower about a possible run for the presidency, Addie was assigned to deliver a secret message to the general. When asked by Eisenhower if he was a career service officer, Addie, who felt at ease with even the most eminent personalities he encountered, replied, “Hell no, I’m a sportswriter who was recalled in the Korean war.”

They discussed sports for a while, then Eisenhower asked Addie for advice as to what to say if the publishers were to ask him about the presidency. Addie suggested that he say he was focused on his job with NATO but that he would not entirely rule out the possibility of entering the presidential race. That, said Addie, led to many US papers saying for the first time that Eisenhower might become a presidential candidate. Later, when Eisenhower was president, he said to Addie: “I don’t know whether to thank you or damn you. Look at all the time you’ve taken away from my golf.”

After two years in the service, Addie returned to the Times-Herald. When the paper was purchased by, and merged into, the Washington Post in 1954, publisher Philip Graham asked Addie to stay on. With the two papers, he served as the Washington Senators beat writer for 20 years until the team moved to Texas in 1971. Addie was proud to say that he never missed a day covering the team.


Read the full biography here or here.

“America Go to the Ball Game”: A British Newspaper Reporter’s Take on the 1956 World Series

One of the things that always fascinates me, and perhaps you as well, is reading about how people in other parts of the world regard the sport of baseball. Baseball is a top sport in maybe a dozen countries around the world, if you include the Netherlands (who, believe it or not, currently place fifth in the world in the IBAF rankings).  We’re talking about a collection of countries that make up only about 10% of the world’s population, though, which means that nine-tenths of the world doesn’t give a flying flip about baseball. To them, it might as well be Olympic handball or water polo. Tragic, isn’t it?

So I find it highly entertaining when anyone from a non-baseball country talks or writes about baseball.  How much do they know about the sport? Or more entertainingly, are they describing it in an awkward or even inaccurate way? But mostly, I’m interested in how they regard the game as a cultural phenomenon. Are they amused by it? Intrigued? Dismissive? All of the above?

The article below is a perfect example of exactly the kind of thing that thrills me whenever I come across it. It appeared in the Times of London on October 10, 1956, just two days after the Larsen perfect game. It was a far different world in the Fifties: there was no Internet or sports-only cable networks, of course, which means no MLB.TV or YouTube or ESPN, so a British subject couldn’t merely seek out a baseball game, or a clip of a game, and simply watch it anytime he wanted. The game had to be presented to him either on telly, or in the cinema on a Movietone newsreel.  Which is to say, only a few Britons ever got any exposure to baseball, and almost certainly very little at that. Most Britons got no exposure to it at all.

So when the unnamed correspondent of the piece below provided his overview of the previous day’s Yankees-Dodgers tilt to his British readers, there were some very basic explanations he had to put across about how the game is even played, in addition to what baseball—or more exactly, what the (amusingly named) World Series—meant to Americans as a cultural touchstone.  The piece is an engaging example of a writer who knows nearly nothing of the game describing the proceedings to those who know absolutely nothing about the game.  The bonus here is the correspondent’s use of standard cricket terminology to put across basic baseball concepts in a way his readers can even begin to understand, which is delightful, even if he did summarize major league baseball as being merely “rounders played by strong men with a hard ball”.  No wonder Great Britain ranks only 25th on the IBAF table, even today.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.  Click on the article below to open it in a separate window and read it in even better definition.

London Times Article
The London Times published this article about the sixth game of the 1956 World Series, the one after the Don Larsen perfect game.

The Beginnings of American Sports Coverage

Committee member John Thorn has shared this fascinating account about the inception of sports journalism in America.  This article, written by William Henry Nugent, first appeared in the periodical The American Mercury in March, 1929.

Although much of the article contemplates sporting activities beyond the baseball field, it provides tremendous insight into the very beginnings of sportswriting in America in general.  As importantly, we  also learn from this article the role of the media not only in establishing a ubiquitous sports culture in the United States, but in actually spurring and guiding the development of many of the sports themselves.

I hope you especially enjoy, as I did, the wonderful period language Nugent employs in the piece.

 

The Sports Section
by William Henry Nugent, 1929

The newspapers reflected and at the same time nourished the mania for sports in the Twenties. In even the most dignified papers, principles of accurate reporting were ignored, promotion and sports news became confused, and the amount of newspaper space devoted to sports increased. William Nugent traced the evolution of the sports column and its specialized jargon in an article published in March 1929, from which the following selection is taken.

The cover of the American Mercury, March 1929The United States learned its first lessons in sports journalism and sports slang from the British Isles, where flowered the first public prints dedicated to horse racing, the hunt, the chase, cockfighting, prizefighting, and other such pursuits and spectacles. The writers for these periodicals invented a special style and vocabulary that are still used by our modern sports-page literati. …

It will not seem strange that we inherited sports journalism from the British Isles if it is further recalled that we also imported the organization of sport, the solemnities, the ceremonies, the rules, the first prizefight manager, the promoter, and the feudal distinction between amateur and professional. Again, despite those who applaud the English sporting spirit and blame everything wicked on Americans, the British initiated us into the mysteries of commercialism, faking, and publicity. But they gave us the good with the bad. The English, Irish, and Scotch immigrants in the last century helped to break down the wall of puritanical prejudice against organized play. They acted as teachers. Think of all the English and the Irish pugilists, the Scotch golf professionals! In time, the pupils learned to play as well as their instructors, and even better, and competed against them in international contests.

Anyone, then, who would trace the evolution of the present-day American sports section and its slang should examine certain early periodicals in England and their imitators in the United States. …

The first important sporting weekly in the United States appeared in New York on Dec. 10, 1831. It was the Spirit of the Times: the American Gentlemen’s Newspaper. This pioneer lived until 1901, when it merged with the Horseman of Chicago. Horace Greeley, as a young printer, set type on it in 1832. Its editor and owner, William Trotter Porter, who came of horse-loving Vermont stock, attended Dartmouth, learned the printer’s trade at a Bible House at Andover, Mass., and at twenty-one descended upon New York City with the notion that a national sporting paper devoted principally to horseracing would be a profitable venture. …

He advocated and ballyhooed the same sports played up in the papers across the Atlantic. It pleased him when his overseas contemporaries called the Spirit the Bell’s Life of the Western world. He sprinkled his columns with hunting stories about the buffalo, the wildcat, the turkey, the panther, and the ‘possum. He had articles on old sledge, the brag steamboats on the Mississippi, an Answers to Queries column, a few woodcuts, dramatic reviews, jokes, and an occasional serial novel. He popularized poker and “peaknuckle” by printing their rules and answering questions on their problems. …

The Spirit, as masculine as Godey’s Ladies’ Book was feminine, was read by horsemen, breeders, farmers, college students, Army officers, congressmen, gamblers, pugilists, ball players, bartenders, all the knowing ones. Daniel Webster, a friend of Porter’s, took it at Washington while the Senate was in session and at Boston when he returned home. The success of the Spiritgave birth to seven other papers bearing the same title. At the outbreak of the Civil War it had, according to sworn testimony in a libel suit, a circulation of 100,000. Only one weekly in America, aside from the religious press, had more, Bonner’s New York Ledger. Thousands of subscribers seceded with the South in 1861 and never came back.

By encouraging cricket in the ’40s and ’50s, just as he had sponsored other hyphenated pastimes here, Porter nearly made it the national game and indirectly helped to establish baseball. Up to a few years before the Civil War, indeed, cricket had more advocates in the nation than baseball. Elevens sprang up, not only in New York and in Philadelphia but even in Detroit and Naugatuck, Conn. The All-United States beat All-Canada in an international match and the victors considered challenging the parent Marylebone Club of London, which is to cricket what St. Andrew’s is to golf.

The St. George Cricket Club, instituted by British residents in New York, built a clubhouse on Bloomingdale Road, and its members bowled and batted and drank tea just as they had done in the Old Country. They ignored the jibes directed at them by ribald passersby. How unlike the attitude of the sensitive Philadelphians in 1828, who abandoned their wickets in a field at Camden, N.J., when onlookers and newspapers laughed at them for wasting time at a boy’s pastime!

In 1844 the activities of the English gentlemen encouraged a group of young men who had offices in Wall Street to consider exercising after office hours, but instead of playing cricket they voted for the town-ball of their boyhood. They rented a field near Madison Square, but later moved to the Elysian Fields, Hoboken. They gathered twice a week and imitated the St. Georgians by building a clubhouse, keeping a scorebook, and fixing a system of fines for nonattendance. This Knickerbocker Ball Club wrote out regulations in 1845 for a new game that it called baseball. It caught on. Just as the small-town Babbitts of today in plus fours play golf because it is the recreation of the Rockefellers, so did the young men of Brooklyn and in New York in the ’50s organize baseball clubs in imitation of high-toned Wall Street. The game took because Porter gave it publicity.

He printed the first rules, the first scores, the first picture of a match in progress, the first box score, the first allusion to it as the national game, and the first dope stories, and gave wide space to the first convention in 1858, when the players voted to make nine innings a game instead of calling it when the first side had tallied twenty-one aces. Cricketers, native and foreign-born, switched to baseball and carried over many terms to the newer game, among them,lucky breaks, fielding average, batting average, batter (instead of the old fashioned striker), fly(ing) ball, innings (instead of hands in).

Henry Chadwick, an Englishman who wrote on cricket for the Spirit of the Times, first edited Spalding’s Baseball Guide and won a press agent’s title of the Father of Baseball. Harry Wright, another Englishman who played cricket with the St. George Club and baseball with the Knickerbocker Club, organized the first salaried nine, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1868, and later managed teams in the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs which he helped to launch.

The Spirit also boomed prizefighting in America, introducing the London prizering code and the Marquis of Queensberry rules. For a considerable period the American ring, long a bootleg institution, was really only a branch of the English ring. It was under the control of Englishmen and Irishmen; they did the fighting, the managing, the training, the faking, the promoting, and the collecting. …

The Spirit of the Times, in the ’70s, imitated its two transatlantic contemporaries and introduced amateur boxing, football, rowing, and track and field competitions into America. Curtis, whom Wilkes had engaged as his editor in the ’70s, was the Chambers of the United States, forming the New York Athletic Club, defining an amateur athlete (a rewrite of the English definition), and aiding in establishing the present Amateur Athletic Union. For good and for evil, the old Spirit for half a century was the chief propagandist of British professional and amateur sports, their slang and their journalism, in the republic.

The second important sports weekly was born in New York in 1845 and still lives. It is the National Police Gazette. It circulated early among police officers, criminals, the Fancy, barbers, and saloonkeepers. It picked up stories of British criminals until the American underworld had developed its own heroes. Each week is summarized the nation’s rapes, burglaries, murders, and hangings. But it remained for a rival, the Illustrated Police News of Boston, to set a different alliterative headline each week over the countrywide harvest of executions, e.g., “Spine Stretching,” “Legally Lassoed” and “Justly Jerked.”

The Police Gazette later added news about boxing, cockfighting, and other pastimes. Wilkes, before going to the Spirit of the Times, had edited it, but it never had the Spirit’s literary tone or class of readers. …

The New York Clipper cruised the journalistic seas from 1853 to 1924, carrying boxing, baseball, and theatrical news, and, from 1897 onward, stage news only. It docked for the last time four years ago in the office of Sime Silverman’s Variety. The Clipper not only helped to spread underworld and sporting argot from abroad but also contributed idioms from the English-speaking stage and circus lot. Other weeklies containing sports news blossomed between 1830 and 1890. To note a few, there were the Whip, the Rake, the Flash, the Sunday Times, the Sunday Mercury, and the New York SportsmanLeslie’s Weekly and Harper’s Weekly pictured important athletic events. Thomas Nast drew sketches of the Heenan and Sayers fight for the New York Illustrated News. But the Spirit of the Times, the Police Gazette, and the Clipper were the big three in sports journalism in the last century.

Even before the Civil War some newspaper editors, though they looked on athletics as the province of the weeklies, printed news of any event that aroused public interest. The New YorkHerald, from its establishment in 1835 until 1885, assigned Uncle Joe Elliott, superintendent of its delivery room, to double as a reporter of prizefights and horse races. Seated at the ringside, he dictated a story to a stenographer, who later transcribed the notes for a copyreader to cut down and polish. Herald pony-express riders, in May 1847, carrying Elliott’s story of how Yankee Sullivan vanquished Caunt the Englishman early in the morning on a dew-covered battleground at Harper’s Ferry, galloped from the ringside to New York in time for the Herald to print the yarn only two days after the mill.

Less than two years later, Elliott, in relating how Tom Hyer had won the championship of America by flaxing out Yankee Sullivan in eighteen minutes at Rock Creek, Md., dispatched from Baltimore to New York the first prize-fight message ever sent over Morse’s five-year-old magnetic telegraph. This epochal dispatch, plus other pugilistic intelligence, filled the entire front page next day. In April 1860, the Herald‘s presses rumbled day and night for four days to provide an eager public with accounts of the “great international match” between the Benecia Boy, an American blacksmith’s helper, and Tom Sayers, an English brick-layer’s laborer, a landmark in ring history. Bennett did not send a representative from the home office but economically clipped his report from English and American exchanges. The Herald also reported horse races, especially the matches between Northern and Southern thoroughbreds, yacht races, and the early baseball games.

James Gordon Bennett, the younger, himself a long-distance pedestrian and polo player, offered cups in the ’70s to winners in college rowing races and track and field events. Out of this developed the present Poughkeepsie Regatta and the annual intercollegiate meets. In the ’80s he introduced polo to Newport and found space in his paper for news about it, as well as about golf and tennis, old pastimes still indifferent to newspaper publicity. His Evening Telegram, established in 1867, had a clientele among boxing and baseball zealots. When Elliott was superannuated in the late ’80s, the Herald engaged Billy Edwards, champion emeritus of the lightweights and bouncer at the Hoffman House, to dictate a blow-by-blow account of boxing bouts to a shorthand reporter. Thus he was the founder of a long hokum dynasty of prizefighters who “expert” for the newspapers at higher salaries than are paid to city editors.

Toppy Maguire, a contemporary of Elliott, served the New York Sun as a boxing and racing authority for thirty years. Sometimes Charles A. Dana accompanied him to a fight. Arthur Brisbane, while London correspondent of the New York Sun, cabled stories about Sullivan’s visit to the Prince of Wales, and at other times wrote about the bare-knuckle fights between Smith and Kilrain, Mitchell and Sullivan. The puritanical New York Tribune preached against prize-fights and horse races, but its reporters were assigned to them and turned in excellent yarns.

These early American sports writers, through oral and printed tradition, inherited a ready-made vocabulary. For a while the editors of conservative newspapers with traditions of good writing toned down their excessive slang, but today all editors allow their sports writers greater liberties than those granted to reporters in the other departments of the paper. Many terms and wisecracks borrowed from the past still survive, some without change and some with slight changes due to the wear and tear of colloquial speech. American sports writers yet use a lot of this standing-metal slang, but they likewise create their share of new phrases, idioms, and nicknames. Baseball experts, adapting boxing diction to baseball, introduced initial sack, hot corner, and so on.

William Randolph Hearst bought the New York Journal in 1895. Before turning his talents three years later to his war with Spain, he had worked out the modern newspaper sports section. Finding his rivals running from three to seven columns of sport news daily, he doubled, trebled, and quadrupled the space, and on occasional Sundays issued a bicycle or a horse supplement of twelve pages. …

Hearst not only invented the present-day sports page make-up; he whooped things up all along the line, putting the final crusher on the weekly as an authority in athletics. Before he breezed in with his open purse, other papers had appended the names of the writers at the ends of sports stories. The New York World, for instance, had baseball chatter signed by De Wolfe Hopper, the actor, who had already discovered the poem “Casey At the Bat,” and Dominick McCaffery, the heavyweight contender of 1889, explained over his own name that John L. Sullivan beat down Jake Kilrain, not by face hits but by blows to the heart.

The New York Illustrated News, in 1889, appointed John L. Sullivan sports editor, with the understanding that he would sit two hours a day at his desk. John L. collected his salary for eight months, but did no work. He blustered in once, bought the staff a drink, and then refused to come again. The publishers, after frequent telegrams to Boston, ultimately cut him off the payroll.

Hearst placed the new by-line rig on a better basis. He signed his champions to a contract and, instead of giving them an impecunious $50 a week, paid out real money. He paid James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons, successors to Sullivan, $5,000 a year each for the right to put their signatures in facsimile over articles. Furthermore, he did not ask them to associate with the staff, but gave them a ghost writer, Robert H. Davis, to do the work of composition. He hired other champions, Hobart on tennis, Bald on bicycling, Batchelder on wheeling, and Heffelfinger, the Yale hero, on football. Amos Rusie, the Giant’s pitcher, told how he threw puzzling curves; Arthur Irwin, manager of the Giants, charted the science of the hit-and-run; and under the shaky facsimile signatures of two dinge jockeys, A. Hamilton and Willie Sims, appeared the story, “How A Horse Race Is Ridden.” Hearst, in 1896 and 1897, had signed up nearly every sports champion. Of late the price of by-lines has gone up. Dempsey was paid $45,000 a year for his name, and Tunney is said to have received a still higher sum.

Hearst built up a staff of experts, including Ralph Paine of Yale on rowing, Charles Dryden on baseball, and Paul Armstrong on boxing. The World, in 1889, had boasted that Nellie Bly, in interviewing John L. Sullivan and his trainer, William Muldoon, to the extent of three columns both before and after the Kilrain fight, had been the first woman to achieve such a feat. The Journalassigned Winifred Black to visit New Haven, and in the fall of 1895 appeared a five-and-a-half column story and three sketches headed: “At Old Yale. The Journal’s Woman Reporter Trains With the Little Boys in Blue. Once Around the Clock With the Lads Who Will Uphold Yale’s Prestige. The First Time a Woman Was Invited to Dinner by a College Football Team.”

The Sun, the Herald, and the World spread out on college football reports, running seven and more columns with sketches. Hearst ran wild in covering the Yale-Princeton game in 1895. He printed two-and-a-half pages, with five sketches, one seven columns wide, and two diagrams showing “How the Ball Moved.” Richard Harding Davis filled a whole page, aside from pictures, plus a breakover. Heffelfinger presented a technical description, and Jim Corbett in a signed story approved of football by saying: “It has a tendency to make a man a strong, healthy animal and it is all right. I consider football as played today rough sport, but not brutal.” Both the team captains signed statements. On Monday Captain Thorne of Yale told his own story of how he made that great run. Not only did Hearst splurge on football but he gave space to other pastimes and a big prizefight called for five pages. All this before 1898.

Other publishers in 1896, and for a long time thereafter, shrilled that he was prostituting journalism by his yellow methods. Today the innovations of 1896 have become commonplace. All publishers have adopted those identical methods, with the eight- and the ten-page sports section, the banner headlines, the cartoons, the pictures. Even the New York Times and the Associated Press, within the last few years, have allowed their sports writers to sign their names to stories. Others have gone into the market and bid away champions from Hearst. As a result of adopting his devices and newer ones, such as the double-measure sports column popularized by Grantland Rice of the Nashville Banner, the New York Mail and the New York Herald Tribune, a feature that has a thousand imitators, other papers have overhauled and passed him.

Since the World War the sporting section has grown tremendously. The Editor and Publisher has computed that the New York World devotes 40 percent of its local news on weekdays to sports and that the Herald Tribune gives over no less than 60 percent. All large city newspapers now surrender four or five pages to sports news on weekdays and eight and even ten pages on Sunday. …

To supply this demand, the Associated Press has lately organized a segregated sports department with twelve men on its staff. The International News, out of a total of 45,000 words in a full thirteen-hour report, carried 5,000 words on sports. The United Press is sending out three times the amount it transmitted a year ago. Publishers agree that circulation, prestige, and reader interest are created by sports news. …

Today, America leads the universe in sports journalism. Our syndicated specialists sell baseball stories and box scores to Japan and Mexico, prizefight and polo yarns to the press of the world. Readers in the British Isles know the cartoons of Bud Fisher, Tad, and Edgren. Slang from our sports sections has found its way to England, often in movie captions, until nervous Bloomsbury critics write letters to the London Times that we are corrupting, that is, americanizing, the mother tongue. Few seem to know that many of these words are making a return trip to their place of origin. For it was the British who taught them to us when they gave us our first lessons in sporting journalism.

Source
American Mercury, March 1929.

Great Post: “Baseball Reporting”, from Total Baseball, 2nd Ed.

Picture of Jack Lang
Jack Lang, old timey ink-stained wretch and BBWAA hotshot.

Because we currently reside in the early 21st Century and thus the landscape of baseball media has been weighted towards broadcast for most of the past several decades, we don’t feature as much about baseball’s “ink-stained wretches”—the print journalists—as much as we would like to.  So when an opportunity presents itself, we feel compelled to seize on it.

Here’s a sterling example of such an opportunity,  Committee member John Thorn, who has a must-read historical blog called Our Game at the MLBlogs Network, recently published a post entitled “Baseball Reporting“.  As he tells it in his prologue leading into the piece:

When Total Baseball made its debut in 1989, the critical response was universally and lavishly favorable. One dissenting voice was that of Jack Lang, recently retired from the press box after 42 years of covering the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, and the Mets. He continued, however, in the role he cherished, that of paterfamilias of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He served as secretary-treasurer from 1966-88, and then in 1989 he was named executive secretary, a job created for him. How, he asked me somewhat belligerently, could you compile a baseball book of that size with no mention of the role of the press? I countered by saying that even though the book ran to 2294 pages, some worthy topics had to be left for future editions, and I invited him to tackle this one himself.

Below, from the second edition of Total Baseball, is Jack’s contribution. Because of the internet, and bloggers, and the declining appeal of newsprint (if not news itself), this is already something of a period piece. Somebody ought to update it–maybe you.

Now, I don’t know whether John meant me, specifically or necessarily, but I would bet several Baseball and the Media committee members would be well-qualified to do so, many  of them probably right off the tops of their head.

I would urge anyone interested in the history of baseball journalism to click on over and devour this piece, post haste.  Here is the link, once again:

http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2015/03/26/baseball-reporting/

 

2015 SABR Analytics: Analytics in the Broadcasters Booth

This is a reprint of an article that ran on the SABR website on the use (and lack of use) of advanced performance analytics by broadcasters before and during the games.

SABR is so well known for having pioneered the use of such analytics that the name of the organization is a key component of the colloquial term used to describe them.  Yet the adoption of such analytics by broadcasters has been relatively slow in the past couple of decades.  Three broadcasters gave their point of view on this during the SABR Analytics conference in Phoenix during the month.


 

At the 2015 SABR Analytics Conference on Thursday, March 12, in Phoenix, our Analytics in the Broadcasters Booth Panel offered perspective from baseball play-by-play announcers on how they use analytics in the broadcast booth. Panelists included, from left, Josh Suchon of the Albuquerque Isotopes; Doug Glanville of ESPN; Steve Berthiaume of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and moderator Joe Block of the Milwaukee Brewers.
At the 2015 SABR Analytics Conference on Thursday, March 12, in Phoenix, our Analytics in the Broadcasters Booth Panel offered perspective from baseball play-by-play announcers on how they use analytics in the broadcast booth. Panelists included, from left, Josh Suchon of the Albuquerque Isotopes; Doug Glanville of ESPN; Steve Berthiaume of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and moderator Joe Block of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Here are some highlights from the Analytics in the Broadcasters Booth Panel at the 2015 SABR Analytics Conference:

ON THE IDEAL USE OF SABERMETRICS IN BROADCASTS

  • Suchon: “I think the best place for (analytics) is pregame television. You can work on it in advance, you can build graphics, you don’t have to worry about the next guy hitting into a double play and ending the inning. … Or maybe it’s the weekly show, where … you can introduce some of these stats. Eventually, it’s going to catch on but it’s going to take time.”
  • Berthiaume: “The more that context evolves and the more it becomes second nature (to fans), the more that analytics will become second nature. I think we’ve seen it with OPS, we’ve seen it with WHIP, they’re in the graphics now, which I think is a big step. And I think we’ll see more of that down the road.”

ON BEING AROUND THE GAME EVERY DAY

  • Berthiaume: “I think it is a tremendous luxury to be at every game. And when you’re on the clubhouse and in the buses and on the planes and in the hotels, you become less analytical about it. … I do believe the ninth inning is different from the eighth inning, I do believe in clutch … I think you do factor in the human element, team chemistry, good clubhouse guys. And as we take a closer look and a more useful look and a more frequent look at analytics, some of the analytics community has to take a step back and say, “Well, maybe this isn’t a negative thing.’ Because when you’re on the road for 162, that stuff matters. You learn that quickly.”

ON WHETHER ALL FANS SHOULD LEARN ANALYTICS

  • Berthiaume: “I don’t think not knowing (analytics) detracts from your enjoyment of the game. I think the goal of analytics is to enhance it. You obviously don’t get to benefit from that, but … you don’t know what you don’t know, right?”
  • Glanville: “I think in the big picture, it’s valuable. Everyone can watch a game and take different types of enjoyment from things they’re focusing on. … How you digest it, whether you’re hanging out at the bar or whatever, can dictate a lot about what becomes important (to you). But I think if you play fantasy, and how you’re looking at the value of players, why they make certain moves, why they trade a guy — and if you want to understand those things, it’s available.”
  • Suchon: “It all depends on what you want to get out of it. … Do you have to watch every episode of (the hit TV program) Breaking Bad to understand (Breaking Bad spinoff) Better Call Saul? Well, it’s gonna help. And if you’re going to smile and laugh at references that you know. … But you can still enjoy Better Call Saul because it’s a great television show. Maybe you’re a high school baseball coach and you’re watching ESPN and you can learn something from Doug Glanville. If you’re just tuning in because you just want to be entertained, you just want to hear Vin Scully’s voice. You don’t care if he’s telling a story about Campy (Roy Campanella), you just what to hear his voice because he’s soothing.”

ON LINGERING OPPOSITION TO SABERMETRICS

  • Berthiaume: “I find that we’re not big fans of ‘different’ in this country. … And (analytics) is new, it’s different. But thanks to groups like SABR, it’s becoming not different anymore. And we’re growing generations of (fans) for whom it isn’t different, they’re used to this. That’s going to keep getting better and better. But when you start jamming stuff in there, a lot of people take it as different and they don’t like it. And that’s quickly changing.”

For more coverage of the 2015 SABR Analytics Conference, visit SABR.org/analytics.

News Bites for February 6, 2015

Cubs radio job draws hundreds of pros … and fans.  Over 400 resumes have poured in for the new third announcer position on Cubs radio broadcasts airing on new flagship WBBM-AM, not only from pros, but from dewey-eyed “lifetime Cubs fans who got an autograph from their favorite player when they were 7.  Because of that, they are perfect for the job.”  Yes.  That is perfect.

MLB’s Awful Blackout Rules Are Finally Under Attack In Court.  If you haven’t read this Deadspin piece, consider clicking the link and doing so.

MLB Blackout Restrictions are the Same Old Story.  An op-ed piece against the restrictions by generally excellent Vice News.

Shedding Light on Blackouts: Nothing Wrong with MLB’s Territorial Rights.  Here’s a relatively contrary point of view presented without comment, other than to say be sure to read the comments as well.

Manfred predicts resolution in Orioles, Nationals TV dispute.  The crux of the biscuit lies in what “fair market value” means, dictating what the Orioles, supermajority owner of MASN, should be paying the Nationals for their games on the RSN.  The Nats are looking for a 3x annual increase for post-2012 games versus pre-2012 games.

Tigers to appear on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball 3 times in May.  What, no Yankees?  What are we supposed to complain about now?

Nationals’ outfielder Jayson Werth’s likeability questioned by John Feinstein. Interesting question: do baseball players owe beat writers not only their time and attention, but their pleasantness and deference as well?  And are writers justified in criticizing players’ personalities when they feel players don’t sufficiently comply?

Harrisburg, Penn. radio station dumps Phillies for Nationals.  Insert Phillies on-field-performance jokes here.  Remember, also, that Harrisburg is home to the National’s Double-A affiliate.

Louisville Baseball Releases 2015 Radio Schedule.  Fifty-three of the university’s regular season games, all postseason games to be aired on 93.9 The Ville or 1450 WXVW.

Great Lakes Loons hire Chris Vosters as new play-by-play announcer.  Chris Vosters called two seasons in the collegiate summer Northwoods Baseball League.

Lexington radio station to broadcast Blowfish games. Z93.1 The Lake will broadcast play-by-play action for all 56 games for the Coastal Plain League team for the 2015 season, plus any playoff games they might play.

Signups for 2015 MLB.TV are underway. Baldly promotional release, although it’s entertaining the way the Brit calls the package “brilliant.”

In Case You Missed It …

It’s been a long time since we’ve posted anything in the way of news here.  Bad on us, and we’re working to be better in 2015.  We have to, because it’s our New Year’s resolution.

So we’re jumping back in by providing links to some of the top baseball media stories that have broken just since the end of the season.

World Series TV Ratings: Giants/Royals Game 7 Nears Ten-Year High: Game Sevens really do matter. The only game with a higher rating in the past ten years was also a Game 7 (2011 Rangers/Cardinals).

MLB’s Low National Ratings vs. Record-High Local Ratings: I love dichotomies, and not just because it’s a fun word to say.  Although as the Sporting News says in that first linked article, it might be more of a Fox problem than a general national problem. If you want to know what I think, ask me offline.

DIRECTV and Disney sign long-term agreement; adds WatchESPN and Longhorn Network: Oh my god, THANK you. Finally. This means you (and I) as a D*TV subscriber will soon be able to watch baseball on your smartphone or tablet without begging a friend for their Dish or WOW login credentials.

Early overdose: Even without Jeter, ESPN still loves Yankees for Sunday night: You probably already saw this in Chad Osborne’s post from last week.  Eye rolls, yeah, I know, but let’s face it: almost 9% of the entire US lives in the New York and Boston TV markets, but also, according to Facebook, the Yankees and Red Sox are among the top teams in basically every county in the United States. Just goes to show you: you don’t always have to rob banks to know where the money is.

Chicago news: Harrelson pumped up about White Sox moves; won’t cut back schedule: Vin Scully isn’t the only multiple decade-tenured broadcasters working well into his golden years.  And just think, Hawk Harrelson is 13 years younger than Vin, so maybe he’s got a long way to go?

ESPN goes all in on Cubs to open 2015 baseball season: And really, who doesn’t want to spend a chilly Sunday night in April gazing at a Jumbotron rising from the surrounding wreckage whence people once watched baseball games?

Networks will be active in quickening the pace in baseball; New commish expected to be ‘open to new ideas’: This is one of those rare instances in which the interests of fans and of broadcasters are well-aligned.

Long-time Detroit baseball writer retiring after 29 years on the beat: Did you know that John Lowe invented the quality start?  He may be ink-stained, but he’s not a wretch.

The Sportswriter of the Year is Si’s Tom Verducci: Tom is both a baseball journalist and a baseball broadcaster, so he’s double trouble, and thus a favorite.

SportsNet LA standoff was top story: Because of TWC’s strong-arm methods, 70% of the LA market did not have Dodger games available to them, and there doesn’t appear to be any thawing for 2015 as of yet.

Scully may travel less in 2015: And really, who can blame him? After all, the guy is 86 freaking years old.  Most people born the same year as he was aren’t traveling anywhere anymore.  (Yes, it’s because they’re dead.)

Fox’s Chatty Booth Makes Few Good Points to Speak of During World Series: Two’s company, three’s a crowd?  Four is definitely a British Invasion band, though.

Postseason Vanishing From Broadcast Networks: But with the combination of cable and “alternate delivery systems” penetrating about 90% of TV households, will anyone really miss it?

Enberg, Gage Named Ford C. Frick Award Winners: Big shout out to two Detroiters made good in baseball media.  Hat tip to you both.  Congratulations.

 

The AP Will Provide ‘Faster, More Engaging’ Game Summaries Starting 7/28/14

News from the print world this week is that the Associated Press will substantially change the way they write up games after they are played.  Instead of chronicling “every big play, every no-hitter and every controversy on the field during the hundreds of games that make up the major league baseball season”, AP will go to a “shorter, … faster” format meant to better engage readers in this ever accelerating world of ours.  (No quote marks on that last one, there—that one’s pure Chuck.)

Here’s how writeups will change:

The basics won’t change: We will continue to publish a NewsNow at game’s end, a 300-word writethru shortly after, followed by a 600-word writethru and a hometown lead.

What will change is how those stories look. The top of the story will continue to look like a traditional AP game story. After 300 words, the text will break into a chunky-text presentation featuring up to five bullet points that explain team storylines, key plays, injuries and a look ahead to what’s next for a team or player.

A “chunky-text presentation”, which looks to be a uniquely AP appellation coined specifically for this press release, appears to occur when a story breaks into short paragraphs set off by in-story headline-like phrases in capital letters, like so:

TIPPING PITCHES?

One night after Cleveland’s struggling right-hander Danny Salazar said he might be tipping his pitches, Indians manager Terry Francona said the 24-year-old Salazar is just leaving too many over the plate. Francona was surprised Salazar would say he was giving hitters clues.

“He’s not,” Francona said. “There were some instances last year in spring training that we kind of addressed with him. But, no, we really keep an eye on that.”

SLUMPS

Royals: Perez snapped an 0-for-22 slump with a drive over the center field wall off Masterson in the second inning for his first homer. The Royals catcher with a .295 average in three-plus seasons entered batting just .211 in 71 at-bats.

Indians: Third baseman-designated hitter Carlos Santana is in a 2-for-46 (.043) slide.

Both Ed Sherman (he of the eponymous Report) and Joe Lucia (at Fang’s Bites) like the idea, believing this change will make it easier for readers to digest (no more “meaningless information” that means nothing to the game’s bottom line) and for AP writers to whip up (less time-consuming and more opportunity for creative writing).  OK, we’ll go with that opinion as well.

Read more here:

A faster, new format for AP’s Major League Baseball game stories

Associated Press to go to bullet style for baseball game stories

THE AP IS CHANGING THEIR GAME STORY FORMAT