Sunday, June 06, 2010

Standing to the side of the Mike Wilner controversy

Three of the more absurd aspects of FAN 590's Mike Wilner receiving an "unscheduled vacation" (National Post) for the Blue Jays' biggest series of the season against the Yankees:
  1. The Manager, in accordance with Tao of Stieb editorial policy, either not remembering or exercising/feigning selective amnesia.

    He tried to get away with not knowing which relievers he had used prior to Kevin Gregg's ninth-inning meltdown on Wednesday: "I think (Shawn) Camp finished the inning, didn’t he?"

    Wilner pointed out Scott Downs had come in to retire Reid Brignac to end the Tampa Bay Rays eighth. Downs was thus unavailable when Gregg walked the universe in the ninth and the Jays lost 7-6.

    Call this a value judgment, but sportspeople usually have good recall.

    Put it this way: Hockey Night in Canada's Mike Milbury was a failure as a NHL general manager. Yet, when Milbury was playing for the Boston Bruins in the 1970s, he said he could describe in detail every goal the Bruins allowed that season. Honestly, Cito Gaston couldn't remember which pitcher he used in a game the previous evening?

    (As an epilogue, the Jays went 3-3 on their homestand against the Rays and Yankees. The thread in all three losses was they had a lead entering the late innings.)

  2. William Houston positing there is such a creature as "a radio executive with backbone."

    That deserves the Stinsonian "please." In fairness to Houston and others who pointed it out, this likely plays out differently if Nelson Millman was still FAN 590's program director instead of Don Kollins.

    The rub is professional teams have rode herd on their quote, unquote radio partners for a dog's years. It's the spoken-word medium where there's still an expectation of independent sports commentary, largely by default.

    The TV side is often left alone. People forget what was said by the next commercial break (or at least did prior to viral video). People have come to terms with team-employed TV voices overemphasizing the positive. Cheerleader isn't even an insult anymore.

    The rule of thumb with the written word always was anything negative in the newspaper had a short shelf life. The way it translates to today is no one can read, let alone bookmark, everything written on the Internet. That leaves radio is in no-person's land.

    (P.S. to the Toronto Sun: the Spanish word for testicles is spelled cojones.)

  3. Wilner being almost as much of a Teflon man in Toronto on par with yesterday's men, Cito Gaston and Jays president Paul Beeston.

    It's not a shock the reaction is nearly 100 per cent pro-Wilner. Tyler King did a definitive takedown times two of that during 2008's Tothilnergate.

    Jeff Blair did tweet Wilner's line of questioning was better suited to a one-on-one situation, where The Manager would be less likely to get defensive. Wilner's ensuing blog posting was the real smoking gun.

    For the behind-the-curvers and/or control freaks at Rogers Media, saying, "I don’t need to be belittled by the skipper in front of the entire assemblage when I’m asking legitimate, rational questions about a situation that he brought up earlier in a conversation," might come off like airing dirty laundry in public.

    Wilner's wordage, belittled, doesn't sit well. Belittled is a victim's word, and like what was said about NFL owner Al Davis in the Straight Outta L.A. 30-for-30 documentary, if you play the victim long enough, you'll become a victim.

    In a sports journalism context, it hints at hell having no fury like a sports nerd scorned (we can smell our own). Being condescended to by a coach or manager is the What Is, slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune of getting paid to take a world of games so seriously.

    The give-and-take between jocks and journos and is a clash of multiple intelligences that can never be decided. The athletes' intelligence -- the very term dumb jock should rate a smack in the head -- is focused on surviving and thriving in their sport. Their minds are hyper-disciplined, from necessity.

    It is like what David Foster Wallace said, they have to accept living in a child's world. Peter Gent had a great line in North Dallas Forty: "Football players aren't people who leave home and try to play football. They are football players, who come home and try to play people."

    A journalist can have a more encyclopedic knowledge of Super Bowl and World Series winners, more formal education and a greater ease with using $50 words in casual conversation. Most of us could not abide the trade-off Gent and Wallace outlined.

    That has to be considered when you are on the jocks' turf. As a sports mediaite, you have to like it and lump it by definition. We're there since we fell in thrall with sports, but couldn't play them.

    No doubt Wilner's blog posting cheesed off old media types more than those who have grown up digital. He could claim he's there to inform and entertain, so people should know that someone who critiques Cito clashed with Cito. He didn't even play it up, putting it well down in his posting.

    It fit with how a Maple Leafs blog (it might have been Pension Plan Puppets) once admonished beat reporters who kvetch about being inconvenienced on the job or feeling insulted by a source. The audience only cares about what comes out of journalism, not what goes into journalism.

    Saying Gaston could not recall if Scott Downs was available and offered a weak "you need to look at some stats" defence, then pointing out said stats or lack thereof, would have sufficed. Or he could have set up a FakeCitoGaston Twitter.

    It would have affirmed that what happened was an instance of Classic Cito, painting his team into a corner and setting it up for failure while the media put it on the player(s).

    Framing it in personal terms did cross a line, just not necessarily one that warranted Wilner having his wrist slapped or worse. He got a raw deal from his Rogers overlords. Please do not overlook that he flew a little too close to the sun on the wings of Seamheaditude. Belittled? It comes with the territory.

    (Also, there is total awareness of the irony this post might prevent this writer ever appearing on a Rogers-owned radio station, so don't bother pointing it out.)


Sarah said...

Nice points, especially the third one which is where I've been leaning for this whole "scandal" (waiting for the Wilner-gate label to start now).

I think what may have pushed it all over the edge is that it was airing dirty laundry on a company blog that got Wilner in trouble. Though, I guess if that were the case, the posting in question would have been deleted by now.

Still it gave the blogosphere and Twitterverse something to talk about this weekend.

PPP said...

We've definitely noted on more than one occassion that it would be good of journalists to note that we don't care to hear about the trials and tribulations of dealing with your subjects.

The biggest example I can remember, which might parallel Wilner's at least a bit, was when Howard Berger got torn a new one by Ron Wilson. He proceeded to whine about Wilson despite the fact that anyone that heard the exchange knew that it was warranted because Howard asked and pursued a demonstrably stupid line of questioning.

Tao of Stieb said...

It's kind of a weird thing, this Wilner "suspension" or whatever it is.

I can see how Wilner might carry on the argument a step farther than some might feel comfortable with, but if you've listened to him at all, you know that THAT is precisely who Wilner is. He doesn't make nicey nice, and he doesn't back down from an argument that he disagrees with.

I don't know...having been in the sausage factory and at the sausage cart, I think I can say this: I'm really sick of sausages.

TheGuysmily said...

Being that the commentary in question was created on a blog, and blogs being inherently personal in their musings, I don't have a problem with Wilner's expression of frustration. I have often wondered how locker room and beat writers/reporters can stomach the single mindedness of most pre and post-contest drivel. We need another Charlie Stiner to right this sinking ship; the media need to get their asses into the gym and "start building some hurt'n bombs."