Don’t Believe Everything Those ‘Experts’ Tell You

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

As wonderful as the days leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline can be, they are also as ridiculous as anything one can imagine, with all manner of press types making fools of themse lves for no evident reason.

This year in particular has seen some preposterous rumor-mongering. My very favorites have been the numerous articles claiming the Mets are shopping pitcher Mike Pelfrey. Aside from the fact that the Mets clearly have no interest in trading the talented young pitcher, they also can’t do so, as a Major League Baseball rule intended to prevent teams from working around the prohibition on trading draft picks prevents teams from trading players until a year from the date they signed their first professional contract. Pelfrey signed his contract in January.

Technically, there is a way to get around this — Pelfrey could be included in a trade as a player to be named later. In deals involving such a player, the teams have a six-month window to complete the trade; Pelfrey could thus be shipped off in January as part of a deal made now. There’s one problem with this: The player to be named later cannot be traded to a league in which he’s already played. Anyone you hear on the radio or read in a newspaper claiming that Pelfrey is being shopped to, for instance, the Marlins, is either lying or hasn’t bothered to do even the most cursory checking up on rumors passed on by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

This sort of thing is an exceptional circumst ance.More commonly, rumors that are merely idiotic and haven’t the least bit of credibility somehow end up in the press. Our current trade season has seen two particularly ripe specimens.

The first was a rumor that the San Diego Padres were supposedly about to send 25-year-old starter Jake Peavy, who’s having an off season but has won an ERA title and a strikeout crown in his young career, to the Boston Red Sox. In exchange, the Padres were to get third baseman Mike Lowell.

The second has many permutations, but basically involves the Yankees shipping Alex Rodriguez to the Chicago Cubs for some combination of expensive, undesirable veterans like brittle third baseman Aramis Ramirez, platoon outfielder Jacque Jones, and set-up men Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry.

You don’t need inside sources to tell how staggeringly preposterous these rumors are. They’re less notable for how silly they are than for how utterly divorced from reality they are, and less interesting in their own right than they are as evidence of how unhinged baseball coverage can become when reporters, columnists, and talking heads feel the pressure to become the first to report the juiciest scoops, no matter what kind of drivel it is that they actually end up reporting.

The reason this sort of material ends up on the radio, on television, and in the newspaper is simple: Sports coverage in general is held to a lower standard than any other kind of coverage.

How often do you see the most mundane information — about when a player is due to come off the disabled list, for example — attributed to sources speaking on condition of anonymity? Even worse, how often do you see anonymous third-party sourcing for ridiculous trade rumors and the like? (“One major league executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Mets were close to a deal in which they’d package Endy Chavez and Heath Bell for Francisco Liriano, Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, and cash…”)

When there are low standards, and when there is no way to hold reporters accountable for their information, you’re going to end up with these kinds of rumors in circulation.

As it relates to the trade deadline, this sort of thing is irritating, entertaining, and harmless. As it relates to other areas of coverage, it’s just about as harmless (there’s only so much damage a baseball writer can do to Western civilization), but less entertaining and more irritating.

Here’s a formulation to look out for: “One scout said.”What the scout says is often gibberish, and often easily disproved gibberish. You can pick up a newspaper and read about anonymous scouts claiming pitchers throw pitches they don’t actually throw, hitters having talents they don’t have, even minor leaguers playing in leagues they don’t actually play in.

You can, of course, also pick up a newspaper and read about anonymous scouts giving exceptionally valuable insights they couldn’t give on the record because of tampering rules and the like, but the point is that sports is the one area in which it seems to be acceptable to rely on a second party’s observations of what one can directly observe on one’s own.

How often have you read a City Hall reporter quoting anonymous historians on what was said at a public meeting of the City Council? That’s pretty much an exact parallel to the quoting of an anonymous scout on what a major league pitcher throws, how a minor league batter’s been hitting on the road, and all sorts of other things that are part of an easily available public record.

That this sort of problem intensifies right around now, when everyone wants to know the latest gossip about the big trade that’s about to happen. It’s something to keep an eye out for if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like to waste their time with utter horse puckey. As a baseball fan, you’re about to hear a lot of nonsense over the next few days. Ignore any of it that doesn’t pass the laugh test, and ignore three-quarters of what does. It’s the best way to stay sane.

tmarchman@nysun.com


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