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The good kind of sports journalism rumors

December 16, 2009
Cliff Lee

Source: artolog's Flickr page

I and every other Mariners fan had a huge day Monday; we apparently traded for Philadelphia Phillies ace Cliff Lee. I don’t have time to count how many of my Monday afternoon Tweets were Cliff Lee-related, but it’s way more than I usually give to a non-journalism topic.

Besides being a “this doesn’t happen here” kind of thing for Seattle and a “this is why baseball is exciting all year” thing for Major League Baseball, this out-of-nowhere blockbuster trade was a breath of fresh air for the sports media mill.

Too much attention has been given to Tiger Woods. His story wasn’t even a story till last Friday, when he announced he’d be taking a break from golf to clean up his personal life. Rumor has a place in sports journalism, but not this dumbass, Entertainment Tonight-esque rumor that’s enveloped Tiger. Sure, he’s an adulterer and a jackass and he deserves all the dropped sponsors and bad publicity he gets, but for any news org to try claim to have a “hard journalism” piece on Tiger before last Friday…it was a blatant mad grab at the giant pool of media ad dollars. (Hey, I know—I shouldn’t be surprised.)

The evolution of the Mariners/Blue Jays/Phillies deal, on the other hand, was rampant sports rumor at its absolute best. Half the reason we watch sports in the first place is to wonder: What would happen if…? (That goes double or triple for outposts like Seattle, where championship runs are few and far between.) We buy video games and construct fake trades; we assemble fantasy teams to play fake GM against our friends—it’s competitive, good-natured and fun. Unlike the Tiger Woods saga (prior to his golf hiatus), this warranted speculation. The trade going through will mean any or all of the following:

  • The entire AL West power structure is in question;
  • Both Los Angeles teams (Angels and Dodgers) are on the defensive, after years of relative comfort and dominance;
  • There’s a third elite team in MLB (re: Boston, the Yankees and Philly);
  • Everything will likely be thrown into flux again in seven months when the M’s try and deal Lee at the trade deadline (likely, since Lee’s contract is up at the end of 2010, he wants a ton of money and we probably won’t be able to meet his demands).

I could easily produce another 20 bullet points, but I’ll spare you.

Sports are supposed to take our minds off all the dumb, depressing and hopeless headlines that seem to dominate the news cycle. I’m not naïve—I know sports betray us, too, and I’m not suggesting that we should just ignore it when they do. What I am flat out saying, though, is that we need to stop reporting so much on what happens in atheletes’ personal lives. I honestly don’t care what Tiger Woods does in his free time, unless it’s affecting his golf game. Same goes for Cliff Lee and baseball, etc.

This isn’t 1970, for God’s sake. We’re living in an era when superstars switch teams regularly—there’s enough to report on without resorting to making things up.

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