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.
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