I sent Pussy to this doctor. The guy gives him the works. MRIs, CAT Scans, dog scans, you name it. And he says there's not a fucking thing wrong with his back. Then again, he says, when it comes to backs, nobody knows anything really.
The phalanx of columnists, analysts and scouts — unnamed scouts, of course — is what brings us spring training. Yeah, it's the players we're interested in, but the exhibition games don't come until two weeks are gone and after a week of them, they're just a big tease. Unless the Mets Network is going to run B-roll footage of footwork drills, or Super Joe calls us, tells us what's going on and then hands the phone to his buddy Diamond Dave (and I wouldn't rule this out yet), we depend on an all-knowing filter to tell us what we think we wanna know.
But the filter is overrated.
Nobody knows anything really. It goes beyond the gang profiles we talked about before. Those are just the beat guys being sheep in an environment that apparently encourages herding and grazing. It's the columnists whose pages we open or click on like we're going to learn something. It's the insider analysts who promise dollops of info we can't get anywhere else. And it's the unnamed scout who can tell you why or why not something's a bad idea before it's happens.
They don't know anything. I've become convinced of that. In Wednesday's News, John Harper, who's always seemed like a solid if unremarkable in-print citizen, wrote a piece about the piece he wrote in which a scout told him Carlos Beltran would be a poor investment. Because Carlos Beltran is moody. Now, Harper said, I don't know if that scout was right because look at what a leader Carlos Beltran has already become.
What's wrong with this picture? Harper relied on an anonymous source to downgrade Beltran in the first place. By doing so, Harper poisoned the well for Beltran before he ever got here. Then Harper decides, no, the scout didn't know what he was talking about because a first-hand look at Beltran impresses him very much. What's that based on? A couple of weeks in Port St. Lucie, not that New York tinderbox that was supposedly going to make Carlos Beltran too moody to sign in the first place.
In other words, John Harper, a reasonably name-brand columnist (I see it's his byline, I assume I can trust there's knowledge behind it) and just my example for the moment, has no idea what he's talking about. Maybe Beltran was the wrong guy. No, wait, he's definitely the right guy. It's the nature of the spring training beast in this market that it has to be fed over and over again, not unlike my cat Bernie. And let's be glad we live somewhere where baseball matters that much. (Can you imagine expending this much thought on NASCAR?) But geez, give me something I can use. Six weeks from now, if Beltran is batting is batting .203, John Harper or one of his brethren will tell us it's because the centerfielder is putting too much pressure on himself to be a leader. And when Beltran says “nah, that's not it” for the 48th time, he'll be labeled moody.
On the Saturday morning before the Saturday night when we were going to learn whether Carlos Beltran would opt to return to Houston, I read three separate definitive reports from three legitimate baseball writers. One said he's close to the Mets. One said he's not leaving the Astros. The other said this is where the Yankees will swoop in. Each story had it on a very good source.
The columnists, for the most part, have their own agendas, their own pets, their own enemies on the field and in the front office. (Mostly they kiss up to success.) At least they put their names to their work. The scouts, the unnamed scouts, don't do that. Their job isn't to be quoted. Their job is to scout. But what's the point of getting a scout to say something like “Pedro's done,” when you can just as easily get another scout to say “Pedro's fine”? Some scout feeds some columnist dirt on some player the scout doesn't like and maybe the columnist doesn't like and the cycle takes off at warp speed. Plus, what the scout says isn't necessarily right. Just because he's paid to watch baseball games and file reports doesn't mean he knows what he's talking about.
Ditto for Peter Gammons and his ilk. For years I'd watch Baseball Tonight breathlessly waiting for Gammons or Jayson Stark or whoever to give me the insight I couldn't possibly glean anywhere else. It took me quite a while to understand they were telling me nothing at all. This is a typical analyst analysis: The Royals have won four in a row. The anchor says, hey Peter, what's going on with the Royals? Peter will talk over a bunch of highlights of the Royals executing well and note how well they're executing. He'll throw in some hint (“I talked to one American League GM”) of a trade for the one position where they're suspect and maybe mention a hot minor leaguer they have. Bam — Peter Gammons sure knows his Royals.
When you get right down to it, baseball coverage and political coverage are pretty much on a par. We look to a bunch of experts to bring us inside when in fact the experts have no idea what's going on inside. They feed off each other's rumors and speculations and personal prejudices and then take care to look like they know what they're talking about. And in both realms, talk radio abounds to amplify their shallow takes and dumb them down further. Those of us who consider ourselves aficionados of one or both lap it up anyway, despite our slowly building conviction that we know we shouldn't.
This morning I was watching an old This Week In Baseball on ESPN Classic. It was from August '82 when the big story was the Dodgers surging and overtaking the Braves in the NL West. In separate interviews, Phil Niekro, whose team was in free-fall, and Rick Monday, whose team was on the rise, said the same thing: We just want to get out there and play ball and not listen to what the guys in the papers and on TV are saying. Twenty-three years later, I'm beginning to see their point.