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About Jon
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
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4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
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Scoops
2003-08-12 09:45
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

When Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg wrote on Baseball Prospectus on Tuesday morning that unnamed sources had told them that Pete Rose would be reinstated by Major League Baseball by 2004, I believed them completely.

I even believed the sources were telling the truth.

But I never believed that any of them were right.

Anytime anyone says something is going to happen, you have to hold your breath until that thing actually does happen. Say it ain't so? Well, saying it ain't so don't make it not so.

For unnamed sources, you have to redouble your level of skepticism.

There are many reasons why sources won't go on the record. One reason is that they might get in trouble for talking. Another reason - maybe they're just shy. But as likely a reason as any other for doing the non-porn Deep Throat is this: the sources can't completely trust their own story. And they don't want to be caught face-egged.

Staying off the record inherently, fundamentally diminishes one's credibility. Will and Derek are on the record - so I can believe their story: "Anonymous sources are telling us X." They're telling the truth. But they may well be wrong.

Just recently, for example, sources told everyone that Arnold would not run for governor. Where are those sources now?

The pressure for a scoop is absolutely intense - intense enough that one local sportswriter you've come to know simply did not want to put up with it and quit doing the work full-time. Eleven years later, I'm still not really sure why scoops are so prized. Sure, a reputation for being first in the business will drive readers to you, the way starving supermarket shoppers flock to the woman serving the sample wieners. But imagine trying to live your life off pigs-in-a-blanket. Scoops don't come every day, and so ultimately, it's clear that what keeps readers coming back is sustained quality coverage.

My first source for sports news is ESPN. If Fox breaks a story, that's great. But I would still want ESPN's take on it. And for that matter, I would want the Times' take on it - even if it's the next day. And for that matter, I'll wait as long as it takes for my Babes in Blogland to articulate their thoughts. (And for that matter, I hope a few of you want my take on things, however late I am.)

I can understand the desire for Baseball Prospectus to go with its Pete Rose story. Nailing this story splashes them across the map in a way that daily, nose-to-the-grindstone intelligent baseball coverage (unfortunately) does not. One type of story is not a substitute for the other - nor is it intended to be. Those who have written online that Baseball Prospectus lost sight of its mission by pursuing the Rose story are wrong. Baseball Prospectus reports baseball news, whether that news is Cesar Izturis and his OBP or Pete Rose and his OTB.

From a true journalistic perspective, however, I simply do not see the value of publishing the Rose story without named sources. This would be my litmus test for depending on unnamed sources for a story: Will people suffer if this story is not published? Example 1: Watergate. Example 2: Hypothetically, unnamed sources tell me that, say, a bridge is in danger of collapsing. I'd weigh the risk of being right vs. being wrong, and go forward if I felt confident that the risk of holding back would harm people other than myself. (But you can be damn sure I'd try to convince people to go on the record. In my experience, many - not all, but many - people who start off by saying "this is off the record" can be talked into changing their minds.)

Now, here's a diabolical thought - perhaps Carroll and Zumsteg are convinced that Rose's return will cause great harm to the game, and they published their true story in the hopes that the ensuing cacophony would prevent Rose's return from actually happening. Thus, the greater good is achieved. (I doubt it, but it's got a nice Wag the Dog feel.)

More likely, the writers thought they had something and simply did not feel the need to be patient enough for others to go on the record with the story. It's not a choice I would make - but it's a choice people make all the time.

For example, ESPN makes that choice all the time. That network has used anonymousources (sounds like stegosauruses) for stories. Peter Gammons, who said Tuesday that Will Carroll is a great writer but is dead wrong on the Rose story, practically reports a rumor a day - and I'm sure he wouldn't want Will keeping score on him.

ESPN responded the way most competitors respond to a scoop (putting aside that ESPN and Baseball Prospectus have an affiliation). ESPN put out its own take on the BP story - namely, that the story was wrong. Furthermore, ESPN got a source to go on the record saying that the story was wrong - MLB president and COO Bob DuPuy. All the credibility in the world, right?

Well, it just goes to show you how little value unnamed sources have when MLB can come out looking as stand-up as Walter Cronkite.

Perhaps the final irony was that in its promos for SportsCenter in the evening, ESPN felt perfectly comfortable teasing its audience with, "Is it finally coming up roses for Pete?" Talk about having the last laugh - ESPN steals the promotional value of Baseball Prospectus' reporting, knowing full well it will trash the story at the top of the hour.

In a manner no different from trying to predict election results from Florida too quickly, "The Scoop" is journalism's Achilles' heel. I'm only one person, but folks, you all have my permission to take a breath before pressing "send." Unless I need to hightail it out of town 'cause an unnamed source with the initials C.L. says the sky is falling, I'll know what I need to know soon enough anyway.

Eric Gagne : Closer :: Adrian Beltre: Cleanup Hitter?

Wishful thinking, I suppose. But Beltre, the Dodgers' biggest disappointment this season, rode the No. 4 spot Monday to take the team lead in home runs. Shawn Green, with only one home run since the All-Star break, has dropped into second ...

His playing time has declined since Robin Ventura arrived, and he still strikes out too often, but Dave Ross definitely has power. Having crossed the 100 plate appearance mark, Ross still has the highest slugging percentage on the team and the most home runs per at-bat...

Victor Alvarez will go to Las Vegas when Kazuhisa Ishii returns from the disabled list, and Jason "Jose Gonzalez" Romano will head there if Fred McGriff completes his rehab. But if Todd Hundley is somehow ready to go before September 1, look for Ross to make a quick gambling run to the 51s until the rosters expand...

The guy who's playing time has suffered the most since the new arrivals: Mike Kinkade. He has only two at-bats in August, and is 1 for 18 since the All-Star break...

Aaron Boone, with the New York Yankees: 4 for 37, 0 walks, .108 batting average, .108 on-base percentage, .135 slugging percentage, .243 OPS. This is not an evaluation or projection, just reporting what's happened so far...

Jolbert Cabrera has an OPS of .962 as a second baseman. But I wish broadcasters would stop marveling at the great record Cabrera has in games that he starts. Cabrera starts mostly against lefthanders, whom the Dodgers have been pounding (relatively) all season. The team OPS is .755 vs. lefties, .629 vs. righties. Yet Cabrera, as I've mentioned before, has hit righties better than lefties this year. It all doesn't quite add up ...

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