By: Holly Horning
Now that the baseball season is solidly underway (fingers crossed), Kurt and I are once again reminded of one of the reasons why we started Totally Tigers.
The need for fair, informative and honest evaluations of our beloved team. The need to make sense of what is going on and plausible explanations for why things sometimes don’t work out as expected.
Because now, as the team struggles with being under .500 once again, combined with the 9 straight losses and 20 straight losses to the Indians, the spin doctors have come out in full force.
All on cue. All at the same time.
And they are using new techniques. Reaching new levels of effort.
I continue to be shocked at the head-burying by many (too many) within the Detroit media. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it. Especially appalling when you read quite the opposite in the national media.
I grew up in Detroit’s ‘burbs – when the columns by Joe Falls, George Puscas and Jim Hawkins were part of my daily routine. They were never afraid to tell it like it was. And since high school graduation, I’ve been living on the East Coast and exposed regularly to the sports writers from Boston, NYC and Washington, DC.
None of them are afraid to touch their sports teams’ sacred cows. Here in DC, they regularly go after the Washington Football Team (new temporary name), especially the owner. With the Nationals, they’ve also targeted their owner, former GM and manager – and even the top players, like Bryce Harper, when they weren’t performing.
They may be spinning non-stop on Capitol Hill, but not in the local sports pages here.
The point of all of this is when your organization is called out publicly for moves made – or not made – teams eventually make changes and perform better. Public scrutiny and pressure have a way of achieving that.
But when your city’s media consistently covers up ineptitude, you get……
…multiple years, if not decades, of horrific record-setting losing.
It’s not just a coincidence that the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons are all horrible.
It’s because they have enablers. Sports “wizards” who are constantly telling fans to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” as they pull the levers and spin the dials.
And when you are never called out, or have pressure put upon you, you have no fear or motivation to change. Or improve.
All of the untalented or incompetent people are protected. And their jobs saved. All in order to keep on doing what they’re doing. Or not doing.
Sure, some cities have a few journalists who protect their hometown teams from criticism. But it’s a whole new ballgame when they start spinning to ridiculous levels.
Let’s go through just a few of these, shall we? These just from the first few weeks of baseball….
Miguel Cabrera is having the worst year of his career so far, hitting .176 with a very mediocre .588 OPS. There is zero criticism of him from the major Detroit papers. Instead, we are told to “be patient” and that Miggy is “slightly struggling.” On national television, all the alarm bells are going off.
Nationally, numerous stories are covering the rise of JaCoby Jones and the hitting coach he hired last year after a scout’s suggestion that he go outside the organization for help. And credit is being given to the Tigers’ Scott Bream, not Lloyd McClendon, for telling Jones he should change his batting stance. But the local dailies, all on cue, wrote articles full of support for Lloyd, who they claim worked “tirelessly” with JaCoby.
One paper went even further, suggesting that Jones’ better offensive skills were the result of him becoming a father.
Almost as good as the story about how much Chris Ilitch loves the Tigers and would never sell because he volunteered on his son’s baseball team.
This same newspaper also had an explanation for Miguel Cabrera’s blowing past Ramon Santiago’s clear stop sign at third base last week. A move that had him cut down at the plate and facilitated a double play that stopped a Tigers’ rally.
Everyone knows that Miggy has routinely ignored the third base coach. (These dailies shrug this all off as “Miggy being Miggy.”) And his latest move angered fans. But this writer had the audacity to state that Miggy no longer has the ability to stop at third base while he’s running because he has a bad knee.
At least I give this journalist an “A” for creativity.
Of course, the list goes on but there are bigger fish to fry here. Not just the writers who are complicit in the white-washing, but the newspapers as well.
We’ve all read several years ago about how the Tigers went to one of the major dailies and asked that a certain journalist be taken off the beat. All because this journalist told it like it was, warts and all. And the paper did it.
Now it’s happened at the other newspaper as well. (Disclaimer: To date, there is no information to suggest that the Tigers made a request to change beat writers.) To the guy who only recently started writing honest pieces about the team and questioning some of their practices. He, too, has been taken off the Tigers beat. He’s still covering some other sports on occasion, but his latest stories are about earthquakes, lotteries and Covid testing.
His replacement, covering the Tigers, is an intern.
Maybe lightning does strike twice….
And now, in the boldest of moves, the beat writer for the other major daily is calling games for the Tigers on the radio. A station that is owned, btw, by the Detroit Tigers Radio Network – and the Detroit Tigers.
The blurring of lines is now complete. It seems some organizations don’t have a problem with conflict of interest anymore.
But, sadly, we can go on. Both of the major dailies have now adopted a new format for their comment sections that can only be described as……er, how do I put it? This is a user-friendly blog afterall….. Ok, let’s call it a doo-doo show.
Whatever intelligent dialog remained on these social media threads is now gone. It’s been shut down. The regulars have gone elsewhere and these threads are now a jumble of angry posters with specific agendas – oftentimes not even related to the Tigers.
Worst of all, many of the long-time posters, known to generally be voices of reason, are regularly writing that their comments are being removed by the moderators. The common factor? They post comments critical of the team.
And that is the scariest part of all. Freedom of speech is being curtailed.
Is it all for the sake of job security, access and the almighty advertising dollar?
Who knows, but it’s a good place to start.
But maybe, just maybe, if the major Detroit media outlets behaved like the majority of their counterparts in other cities, the Tigers may have earned another World Series title since 1984. Thirty-six years ago.
Maybe the Tigers would have been pushed to adopt analytics much earlier.
Maybe Brad Ausmus wouldn’t have stayed the full 4 years.
Maybe they would have been forced to build a real bullpen.
And maybe the entire Front Office that’s been together for 20-30 years, along with a significant collection of former manager hangers-on, would not still be granted permanent job security.
As long as the media continues to sugar-coat the sports coverage, mediocrity and incompetence will thrive in the shadows it creates.
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