- Faith and Fear in Flushing - https://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

The Beat Before the Tweet

The headline [1] didn’t have much on The Onion. “Farnsworth,” it reported, “rides bus without being Met.” Well, I thought, that’s too bad. It would have been nice if somebody had picked up Farnsworth, but sometimes you just have to walk home from the bus stop.

Of course it didn’t require much of a double-take to realize what the headline on ESPN New York’s dedicated Mets blog was really conveying. I knew the contractual status of Farnsworth (Kyle) had been double-parked for a couple of days, though it was mostly a matter of t-crossing and i-dotting to provisionally retain his Quadruple-A services. If you were a reasonably engaged Mets fan in the last week of Spring Training 2014, this bit of roster minutia was readily accessible and regularly disseminated to the point where there was little chance you wouldn’t understand what “Farnsworth rides bus without being Met” meant.

Then again, given the tarpaulin of coverage applied to every last Met tic of Spring Training, would it really surprise you if it had been a story about Kyle Farnsworth needing a ride home?

If it had occurred to me to have invented a medium through which I could have been kept continually updated on a hundred details of what dozens of people with Mets connections were up to around the clock, I would have invented it. Oh, to have been privy to the transportation manifest of Mac Scarce when I was 12! Except I’m not that kind of imaginative. I couldn’t have imagined Twitter. I couldn’t have imagined blogs. I’m still fascinated that when my parents took us to Florida for Christmas vacation when we were kids, I could insert a dime in a slot, pull down a door on a box and remove a very recently printed copy of the Miami News every weekday afternoon. I was more amazed that the paper itself existed, coming out as it did hours after the bigger-deal Miami Herald, replete with final basketball scores from the West Coast and slightly fresher information overall.

I’m instinctually a very one-and-done consumer of technological advances. I can handle a single major new development every couple of years. It’s the constant upgrading that blows me away. I’m not yet bereft of surprise that I can communicate competently on a phone without ever speaking into it. It’s not the technology that captures my fancy. It’s that the technology delivers me the content I want, and that I occasionally deliver content through it. And I’m just some reader/blogger.

Those who are professionally filling my devices with Metsiana live from Port St. Lucie, Montreal, wherever…here’s to them. Here’s especially to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, the guy who Tweeted the Farnsworth bus note [2] at 2:07 PM on March 25 and had a brief, explanatory story [1] blogged and posted at 2:43. It’s so routine to receive a dispatch like this that we probably don’t fully grasp how amazing it is that we live in a world where all the news that’s fit to print — as well as a large majority of the stuff that’s no more than vaguely interesting to us — winds up recorded for something akin to posterity.

Did we need to know that Kyle Farnsworth wasn’t technically signed to the Mets’ organization on Tuesday when he rode their bus from St. Lucie to Viera? Inform to taste, I suppose. Point is, I know it. I follow Rubin on Twitter [3] (as I recommend you do) and I check his blog frequently [4] (as I also recommend you do). The information snowball rolls downhill at astounding speeds. It’s hard to not want to grab a handful even as it does nothing but accelerate.

Gone in the bargain for volume and velocity isn’t necessarily depth; the Internet’s an expansive playing field and if your favorite beat reporter isn’t painting a big picture every day, you can always find somebody who is. What really turned out to be the element to be named later in the trade-off for immediacy was a certain strain of romance. That is if you can be romantic about how you get your baseball news.

Which of course I am.

I loved newspapers, whether they came out of a box outside the entrance to the Chateau Motel on Collins Avenue in North Miami Beach or were stacked up against the front window at the Cozy Nook on East Park Street in Long Beach or wherever and however I got them. I still love much of what’s in newspapers but even my romance gave way to technology (except on Sundays, when I maintain my diehard habit). The act of purchasing, opening and reading was one of my most reliable thrills as a baseball fan. The clicking and scrolling, now matter how much more it gives me and how much sooner I get it, just doesn’t feel as much a part of the game that I embraced growing up.

You rooted for your team. You watched or listened to their games. You read about them the next day. Maybe you picked up on a partial line score if it was a day game and your dad brought home the afternoon Post, but you were conditioned to wait. It didn’t occur to you that it was a wait. It was just the way it worked. Somebody who was watching the game at the same time you were — at the ballpark in some unseen place called the press box — had to write about it. Then it had to get printed and put on a truck. These things took time. Would have you wanted it sooner? Maybe, but reading about last night’s game the next morning helped keep the game alive that much longer. It smoothed the transition to the next game. Over 162 games, the flow couldn’t have felt more natural.

Where's a Western Union operator when you need one? [5]

Where’s a Western Union operator when you need one?

My deeply ingrained fondness for that aspect of rooting for my team is what led me to (irony of ironies) download a book about how baseball used to be covered by newspapers onto my iPad’s Kindle app during the offseason. In 2013’s Keepers Of The Game [6] by Dennis D’Agostino, twenty-three mostly former beat writers from across the major league map hold forth oral history-style on how they did their jobs when their kind, as the author puts it, “was the unquestioned primary source for any and all baseball news, opinion and analysis.”

D’Agostino, who worked for a while in the Mets PR department (and before that wrote the essential This Date In New York Mets History [7]), confesses to a bit of a proprietary interest in the subject. He was, albeit for a single season, a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, a body we tend to think about mostly in terms of what a clumsy job they did in not electing who we wanted to the Hall of Fame. D’Agostino knew and worked among these BBWAA men. He was in baseball and they were in baseball. Now he worries their collective significance is “quietly being lost to history”.

Those the author sought out were often synonymous with the clubs they covered. If you read The Sporting News’s team-by-team reports, you learned who they were from afar, but within their home cities, they were authentic celebrities. In New York, where we had a few more newspapers than most towns, you certainly knew “our” writers’ bylines even if, pre-Twitter, you didn’t necessarily know much else about them.

It’s a splendid idea for a book, borrowed, D’Agostino happily admits, from Jerome Holtzman’s seminal No Cheering In The Press Box [8], which brought the same approach to an earlier generation of baseball writers. It’s also well executed. These writers were on the beat primarily between the ’60s and the ’90s, with some lasting into the 21st century and others remaining on the scene today as columnists, be they in print or pixel. They lived the changes that we read. It’s fascinating to learn what it was like for the likes of them to get their stories to the likes of me.

One name came up repeatedly in Keepers Of The Game, a name that tells you these writers entered a business far different from the one that exists today. It wasn’t Pete Rose or Hank Aaron or Bowie Kuhn. It was Western Union. Almost everybody who went back far enough seemed to have a Western Union story. No second baseman on a 6-4-3 double play was ever as important as the middleman whose cooperation ensured deadlines were met and white space didn’t sit where a story was supposed to run. You had to take care of the Western Union operator at the ballpark or you had to know where to find one on the road if you were writing for an afternoon paper. Later deadlines meant more time spent gathering quotes, and the Western Union operator didn’t necessarily stick around just for you.

That’ll slow your avalanche of news, won’t it? Yet these Keepers Of The Game don’t seem to mind having coming along in prehistoric technological times. “I don’t think they have as much fun today,” Phil Pepe reflected on those who’ve succeeded him, “but I used to hear the same thing from the old guys.”

There may be a wisp of “in our day” edge to some of the reminiscences, but little rancor is spewed toward modernity and only episodic grudges are held. And the ones that are you can’t help but admire for their longevity. For example, Chicago Sun-Times veteran Joe Goddard — who said it was “difficult [for him] to be critical of somebody” — found our lovable Dave Kingman [9] “aloof and rude” as a Cub and didn’t mind mentioning decades after the fact that he drank heartily when he learned Kingman’s career was over. (The less than delightful baseball player apparently remains an evergreen occupational hazard, per this revealing first-person account from Eno Sarris [10] at The Hardball Times.)

The writers D’Agostino interviewed in 2010 — whose New York ranks included Pepe, Bill Madden and the since-deceased Maury Allen and Stan Isaacs — expressed a real respect and affection for the craft they plied on a daily and nightly basis. It mattered to Wayne Minshew of the Atlanta Constitution that he was covering Aaron’s quest for a 715th home run, yet “when Hank hit it, I had a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter, and the words wouldn’t come.” Minshew “wanted it to be classic,” but settled for whatever came. More than thirty-five years later, he seemed both regretful and proud that, “It’d never win an award, but I got it in.”

Not every game is that historic, but they are all history in their own way, and the baseball fan who relished the game story, the sidebar and the “diamond dust” type elliptical notes that accompanied them appreciated the output even if that fan was never all that aware of how the complete package arrived in his hands every day. “I was writing for the guy on the subway,” Allen said, stressing that he tried his best “to entertain that that fourteen- or fifteen-year-old kid that’s really a fanatic about sports”.

As someone who’s been both that guy and that kid, it’s nice to know someone was looking out for us.