*sigh*

Earlier today I had SNY on in the background and heard Daily News baseball writer Bill Madden say something immensely stupid. This is normally the part where I’d relate what it was and do my best to take it apart in a snarky and insulting fashion except a) my superior mental faculties must’ve sensed the danger in allowing a full digestion of Madden’s tripe and so subconsciously expunged such bile from my memory (aka I forgot what he said except it had something to do with the Phillies) and b) the unrelenting deluge of moronic sports commentating has slowly but surely eroded my capacity for outrage and reduced it to an exasperated but resigned *sigh*.

In my younger days, however, I did pen a commentary on this subject, which I now present in full to my doubtlessly slavering audience. It’s a little over a year old and, like all my material, holds up as well as the day it was written. So, submitted for your approval: a brief indictment of the world of sports journalism by a simple, disillusioned fan who in the yeoman days of yesteryear could summon more energy for shouting at the rain on this particular subject than he finds himself presently able.

Two weeks ago HBO aired an episode of its series Costas Now that examined the sports media world. The 90 minute town hall style discussion featured Bob Costas interviewing and moderating discussions between prominent athletes and sports media members, examining the topic from several different angles. One of the segments focused on the emergence over the last decade of the Internet as a source of news and information for fans, and specifically the rising popularity of sports blogs.

This quickly devolved into a new media vs old media “debate” between Pulitzer prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger, who has written several books both sports related and non including the well known Friday Night Lights, and Will Leitch, the founder of Deadspin, the most widely read sports blog today. The word debate is in quotation marks because it implies a certain order and intelligence to the proceedings, whereas what took place was Bissinger doing his best to fuse unintentional irony and ad hominem into one homogeneous act of indignation as he simultaneously denounced “the blogs” as vile and crass, all the while peppering his outrage with all manner of fucks and shits and other not so nice words. And then there was Leitch, who kept his cool but tried to play the viewers for fools by refusing to acknowledge the gossip rag standard of journalism many blogs adhere to (including his own), and instead defended the integrity and relevance of publishing a photo of a drunk Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart by claiming that it humanized the sports star to the fans.

In any event, the tactics and behavior of the two completely obscured any legitimate points they had (and they did have them). But regardless of that, there was an issue here that was totally skipped over, and it’s a vital one. Missing it was understandable, as a discussion of the validity of where we get our information from, sports or otherwise, is certainly one worth having, and you can’t cover even that alone adequately in the twenty minutes alloted to the segment, much less this other issue as well. Nonetheless it remains the elephant in the room of the sports media, the naked emperor that only those outside of the industry’s sphere of influence are willing to point out for what it is. And what it is is that many, if not most, of the people covering the world of sports, the broadcasters, the beat writers, the analysts, are impassively, willingly and sadly… stupid.

Misery loves company but stupidity loves a crowd, and it has surely found one in the people who comprise the sports media, a group that is so riddled with the ignorant and untalented that it would surely roll over and die from pure embarrassment if it had the pinch of self-awareness it takes to simply look in a mirror. Now, “stupid” is clearly hyperbole on my part, used for the effect and feeling it conjures rather than the technical accuracy. The people I’m designating as such surely aren’t stupid in the literal sense; they possess enough skill to comment on their area of coverage with enough understanding so as to continue to be employed, and of course it takes (in most cases, anyway) some smarts to get there to begin with. Rather, I mean stupid in the sense that beyond that basic understanding that gets them by with Joe Average reading their column or watching them on television, they just don’t know what they’re talking about much of the time.

To be clear, this is not a Bissinger-inspired denunciation of an entire group as a whole. There are many members of the sports media that are models of their profession. Jayson Stark at ESPN, Peter Abraham at the The Journal News, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated; these are people whose reporting is concise, well-informed and literate on a consistent basis. They have worthwhile things to write and to say, and there are a lot more like them out there. Unfortunately there are even more who aren’t, people who remain either ignorant or defiant of the fact that they haven’t got a clue as to what they’re talking about much of the time. The John Kruk’s of television, the Mike Francesa’s of radio, the Murray Chass’ of print, the patron gatekeepers to the Promised Land of Ignorance, where sustenance comes in bite size helpings of circular logic: they’ve been at this so long so they must know what they’re talking about, and they must know what they’re talking about since they’ve been at this so long.

These people and their ilk don’t just take comfort in their ignorance, they champion it, they revel in it. Kruk can tell me on Baseball Tonight how Gavin Floyd is a great pitcher because his ERA is so low, not just ignoring that his peripheral stats such as WHIP or K/9 or BABIP show this to more than likely be a fluke, but being barely aware of the concept of peripheral stats to begin with. Sean Salisbury on NFL Now can pontificate on how the Detroit Lions have turned a corner and become a good team, completely unaware that their poor points scored/allowed differential says that a regression to the mean is likely to come as the season goes on. Wallace Matthews can write a column excoriating Tim Wakefield’s value as a pitcher because he think he’s boring to watch. And no, I didn’t make that last one up; a columnist at a major newspaper (Newsday) in a major market can actually get away with filling his column space with a diatribe about a “boring” pitcher.

The point isn’t that these people are bad at their jobs because they’re loud or obnoxious or disagree with me. Actually, I take that back, those three people above are bad at their jobs because of all of that. But beyond that, they’re bad at their jobs because they’re stubborn. It’s just that simple; it all stems from that. Kruk can’t be bothered to learn why on base percentage is the single most important individual stat for a position player in baseball. Francesa has no interest in realizing that wins for a pitcher are an awful barometer of success. Salisbury doesn’t get that an interception prone quarterback with a low completion percentage hasn’t had a good season just because the guys around him have played well enough to give the team a good record. These aren’t matters of personal disagreement any more than 2 + 2 = 5 is an opinion; it’s not, it’s just wrong. And these people demonstrate over and over and over again that they just don’t get it. And they do it with smugness and aplomb. Chass, one of the biggest names in the print sports media, showed himself to be perhaps it’s biggest fool as well when he penned an ode to the pervasive ignorance in his industry in the form of an article decrying those of his peers who had the audacity to use statistics and concepts he couldn’t wrap his mind around in their work. It was so singularly stupid that it deserves it’s own word: Chass-tise – to buffoonishly attack people for failing to match your own level of idiocy. (Double points for this working as a bad pun also.)

To bring this back to the Costas discussion for a moment, the true value of the sports blog is providing a respite for those who don’t march to the tune of the Pied Pipers of Bristol. I don’t just get news from blogs like Fire Joe Morgan or Awful Announcing or The Big Lead. I go there for the sheer enjoyment of seeing all the screw-ups the people in the “real” media make day in and day out. (I also read blogs by “real” media members like Stark and Abraham, and they’re just as good sources of information and entertainment.)

You would think that the existence of such places might embarrass the industry enough that they would try raising their expectations in the overall level of quality of those they choose to hire, but nope. And it’s not like I’m really setting the bar that high here; two or three genuinely lucid, cogent pieces of analysis a week would be an Armstrong-sized giant leap. Really, the fact that the people who write FJM purely as a hobby are still better equipped to offer commentary on the sports world than many of those who have made careers of it, it flat out vexes me sometimes.

But only for a moment; and then I remember the annoying yet immutable truth that quality and popularity are oftentimes mutually exclusive.

Too often.

Too bad.

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