Thursday, July 02, 2009

Rany Jazayerli provides the ultimate 'It's not you, it's them'

At least we know what it means when a sports franchise comes down hard on the media.

Baseball Prospectus co-founder Rany Jazayerli does a radio show about his beloved Kansas City Royals. Long story short, he wrote a post saying the Royals should fire their long-time head athletic trainer. The Royals retaliated by banning team personnel from going on his show (they also tried to ban team personnel from all stations which carry it, but backed off once word spread virally).

(Update: There is a relatively happy resolution. Yay!)

Out of that, ShysterBaller Craig Calcaterra proffered an explanation of what it says about a team who rides herd on someone who speaks critically of the team:
"There's no escaping that they're focused on the wrong things. There's also no escaping that, if this how they respond to external dissent, there's no reason to believe that they're making the right decisions internally either, because all good decisions are made in a setting where people can feel free to say anything without fear of reprisal."
In other words, this is not on Rany, this is on the Royals. Seeing how a team treats the media as an off-shoot of how they go about their business is pretty ingenious. The ones who are hyper-sensitive about honest criticism or insist that coverage of the team be "positive" are typically the bad organizations.

The principle is pretty simple. Teams which worry about media coverage probably should be spending more time worrying about themselves and less time worrying about what's said on a blog, news website, message board, radio or television. Outsiders have always had opinions about how well the coach, general manager and owner are doing their jobs. There are just so many ways to now journal them. Dealing with it is a sign of character.

This is inside baseball, but it is germane when you think of stories like the Edmonton Oilers turfing a reporter for blogging from the press box. More recently, a media friend who wouldn't her/his name used, lost a media gig because a team did not like what was said about it on the air. Thankfully, this friend is in a much better place, with bigger and brighter things in the offing.

No one can say for sure how every semi-halfway significant sports franchise in Canada and the U.S. deals with the media. It is not clear if there are thinner skins than compared to 20 or 30 years ago. Back then, teams did not have to worry about what was said about them floating around on the Internet in perpetuity. People threw away newspapers, they could not record what was said over the air so easily.

The situation with Rany was a pretty clear case of shoot-the-messenger. Jazayerli, a co-founder of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to (the political analysis website) who at is a diehard Royals fan, was only saying what was borne out by his research. He noted the one constant in the Royals' surpassing suckiness over the past two decades has been its head athletic trainer, a guy named Nick Swartz, and that time and again, the team has mishandled player injuries.

For those who don't pay the Royals much mind (present company included), their closer, Joakim Soria, ended up having a stint on the 15-day disabled list extend to six weeks. Centrefielder Coco Crisp is done for the year due to shoulder surgery. It was announced the other day that shortstop Mike Aviles is going to need Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. Injuries are part of the game, but in this case there was a pattern:
"The handling of Coco Crisp’s shoulder injury is by itself a fireable offense. Crisp was playing – terribly, mind you – with a bum shoulder FOR FIVE WEEKS, and even after his shoulder pain became severe enough that he could no longer play, the Royals kept shuffling him in and out of the lineup for three weeks, putting him back out there as soon as the pain became tolerable again.

"But the pain didn’t go away. It only got worse, and presumably his shoulder only got worse. The question that no one can answer is whether, five weeks ago, Crisp already had a torn labrum, or whether the injury occurred while trying to play through the inflammation. We can’t answer it, but we sure as hell can speculate. As far as I’m concerned, the Royals’ ham-fisted approach to Coco Crisp’s shoulder turned an injury which might have healed with a few weeks of rest into a season-ender.

"The ham-fisted approach to Soria’s shoulder turned a quick 15-day DL stint into a six-week drama . We don't know the nature of Aviles' prognosis yet, but the fact that the Royals commandeered him into playing again even after he came clean with the injury certainly could not have helped.

" .... This is a trend, people. When the Royals downplay the extent of an injury, then give the player a few days off before sticking him back out there, and only later realize the injury was worse than expected THREE TIMES in the span of less than three months, this is not bad luck. This is incompetence, plain and simple. And while (manager Trey) Hillman and (GM Dayton) Moore are the ones quoted above, they’re making those decisions based on the medical information they’ve been given. And the point man for all that information is Nick Swartz."

"... it seems like every year some Royals player has an injury that lingers beyond any reasonable timeframe, or an injury that we’re told for weeks is minor turns out to be season-ending."
The point is the obvious. Jazayerli was being even-handed. He wasn't making anything up. He simply said there probably is a cause-and-effect between who's minding the store and the results. It's like, random example, pointing out that the Kingston Frontenacs have gone longer than any other Ontario Hockey League team without winning a playoff series, so maybe it's time to replace the general manager they have had over that entire 11-year run. Perhaps the Kansas City Star would not call for a trainer most people have never heard of to get fired, just as calling Larry Mavety "The Royal Mavesty (Rhymes With...)" is going to be restricted to a couple blogs. For anyone who has an issue with that, well, welcome to the web. The standard of decorum is a bit different, plus you can't pull punches if you want to differentiate oneself from traditional media.

Meantime, point being, what does it say about a team which has a problem with what people say about them?


BJ Maack said...

As a sports fan, I can see the guy's point about there's SOMETHING going on....and I agree with you about it's rather "thin-skinned" of the Royals to be so rash with this decision.

But, as a athletic trainer myself, there are other deciding factors that go into a team's injury history---not just the skill level of the athletic trainer. Management pressure, dollars/contracts, and the individual player's "toughness" are things that get overlooked sometimes when a player is being handled for an injury. Disclaimer: while I did spend some time in the minors as an athletic trainer, I do not personally know Mr. Swartz, and cannot speak to how good he is at his job.

BJ Maack said...

btw, good blog