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Friday, June 12, 2009

Bloggers versus Newspapers: The Ibanez Chapter

The ongoing war of words between newspaper writers and bloggers continued this week with a most unusual subject – Raul Ibanez, the Philadelphia Phillies left fielder. It also reached a new level of absurdity, which I wish I could call the “height” of stupidity, but I’m quite sure something even more absurd will come along soon enough.

It’s probably impossible for me to take the side of the bloggers without being viewed as self-serving. That said, this seems to be a clear-cut example of a newspaper writer simply lashing out at bloggers.

Someone most of us likely never heard of wrote a post at Midwest Sports Fans essentially detailing the hot start of the 37-year-old Ibanez, comparing it to his previous seasons, and doing little more than noting the speculation that was bound to start based on the current atmosphere in baseball.

The Philadelphia Inquirer writer John Gonzalez brought the post, which the blogger admits was a response to a message posted in his fantasy league, to what quickly became national attention. But, as much as I hate to rip a fellow graduate of the high school I attended, the “Page 2” columnist charged with bringing some levity to the sports page simply got it wrong.

“Gonzo,” as he’s known, let’s his bias against bloggers be known early in his article:
There was a time when a small, regional site like MSF could write something like that and no one would notice. Not anymore. Not long after the Ibanez post went up, Hugging Harold Reynolds - a popular national blog - linked to it on its Twitter feed. And just like that, we were off. Less than an hour later, I had several e-mails in my inbox asking if I read the MSF story and whether I believe Ibanez is chemically enhanced.

From zero to heated debate in under 60 minutes. That's both impressive and distressing.

I briefly worked for the Inquirer on as small a scale as someone can. I left because I wasn’t able to pursue being a full-time writer due to my physical limitations, and freely admit I would love to have a shot to resume working for a paper now that the internet makes it a more viable option. When my posts are occasionally printed in the Inquirer’s Blog Zone on the same “Page 2,” I consider it a compliment and an indication that I wrote something worthwhile. My only point in all of that is to emphasize that I completely respect the idea of being good enough to write for an established publication, getting a story right, having it pass through the critical eye of an editor if not a few editors, and being responsible for what you write.

But every time I hear a writer from a newspaper whine about the speed with which a blog post can get national attention it smacks of jealousy. It happens far too often in the Inquirer.

Now that I’ve had my little rant, let’s focus on Gonzo’s criticism of the Ibanez post:

The MSF post, written by the previously undiscovered poet "JRod," noted that Ibanez has bashed the majority of his 19 homers at hitter-friendly parks like the new Yankee Stadium, Great American Ball Park in Cincy, and Citizens Bank Park. It also conceded that Ibanez has taken advantage of some really terrible pitchers - guys like Daniel Cabrera, Scott Olsen and Saul Rivera, all of whom have badly bloated ERAs.

So far, the evil blogger has done nothing wrong, even by the standards of the Bastion of Credibility. He goes on:

Then JRod dismissed all the evidence of opportunism, pivoted like a second baseman turning a double play, and fired his conclusion into the mitts of conspiracy theorists and amateur drug testers everywhere: "Any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers are not natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer. . . . Maybe the 37-year-old Ibanez trained differently this off-season with the pressure of joining the Phillies' great lineup and is in the best shape he's ever been in. And maybe that training included. . . . Well, you know where that one was going, but I'd prefer to leave it as unstated speculation."

First of all, the blogger did not dismiss any of “the evidence of opportunism,” and if he did I’m guessing he would have found less awkward wording. He simply points out the reality of the current environment in sports created by Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy “Suddenly Speak No English” Sosa, and their allegedly . . . see how I slipped that in their all professional like . . . juiced-up friends.
Yeah, except when you put the words "under the influence" in close proximity to "performance enhancer," that's not really "unstated speculation." That's pretty much an updated version of the old "Hey, pal, have you stopped beating your wife yet?" trick.

I'm not a blog hater.

Uhm, what? That’s it? That’s the complaint?

The implication from the for-pay, I-really-know-how-to-write Gonzo is that somehow the blogger wasn’t connecting “under the influence” and “performance enhancer” on purpose. Or that somehow he was trying to say something without really saying it.

Close proximity? The words are separated by the words “some sort of.” There was no effort not to use the words together. It’s such an absurd complaint it’s almost difficult to clearly point out how ridiculous it is.

If the exact same words were spoken by Michael Wilbon on PTI, Bob Ryan on Sports Reporters, or even John Gonzalez on ESPN 950, it would have been a witty turning of a phrase.

The post made no allegations whatsoever. If anything, besides a rather dull look at a statistical analysis of where and against whom Ibanez had hit home runs, the post was commenting on how the current atmosphere causes fans – and media members – to jump to speculation about steroids when a career mediocre player emerges as an all-star.

The truly dangerous thing was the number of people that read Gonzo’s piece and offered enraged opinions – including Ibanez – apparently without ever reading the blog.

But I’m not a Gonzo hater.

Week-in-Review:

McNabb gets a raise. I was all set to question why the Eagles would give Donovan McNabb a raise in the last two years of his contract without extending the number of years in the contract. Was this a “tax” for benching their over-sensitive quarterback last season? Was this a confession from the Eagles that Kevin Kolb stinks, and they need McNabb to “feel the love” until they find his real successor? Was this a backhanded way of at least trying to avoid two years of questions about McNabb’s future status?

Then I heard Jody MacDonald on ESPN 950 say that the Eagles needed to get above the salary cap floor. Not the ceiling, the floor, meaning the Eagles had to spend the money on someone.

Oh.

So the Birds are still cheap. Now it makes sense.

(To be fair, the station’s beat reporter Brian Seltzer later suggested that the possibility of a non-capped year likely had a lot to do with it.)

Phillies rollin’. The Phillies completed a long road trip by taking 2 of 3 games from the Mets in New York. That would have been good enough to make any Phillies fan smile, but this team is on fire. They went 7-3 on the trip, sweeping the San Diego Padres – a hot team at the time – and split 4 games with the NL West division leading L.A. Dodgers. Remember all of the “forget the World Series, this is this year” talk? Didn’t think so.

The one caveat, of course, is that Brad Lidge went on the disabled list, but even that hasn’t burned the Phillies yet. Considering that he blew two saves, both losses, in Los Angeles, it may actually be helping them.

The Phils have to get it together at home, and it’s a long season. But it’s looking a lot like October baseball will be returning to Philadelphia.

Sixers trade for 3-point specialist. The Sixers got an early start to their off-season player acquisitions, trading for Jason Kapono from Toronto in exchange for Reggie Evans. I keep waiting to hear something that clears up why the Raptors would do this. Kapono is a big piece of what the Sixers need, at least on paper. He’s a little younger than Evans, and it reportedly isn’t a cap move for either team. According to the Daily News’ Sixers blog, “Kapono won the NBA All-Star Weekend three-point contest in 2006 and 2007 and is tied with Steve Kerr for the highest three-point percentage in league history at 45.4.” His career stats temper the excitement a little, but this looks like a very good trade.

Quick Shots:

-Asante Samuel skipped “voluntary” team workouts to be at home. So, clearly he’s not looking to fill Brian Dawkins’ shoes as a leader, and apparently neither is anyone else. This is weak.

-Scottie Reynolds has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and is returning to Villanova for his senior year. Good to see that Main Line education kicking in.

-The NHL putting two Stanley Cup games up against NBA Finals games has to be one of the dumbest scheduling moves in history.

-The Flyers signing of controversial but apparently very talented goalie Ray Emery is the first thing to peak my interest about the team in years.

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