Tom Hanks famously shouted, “There’s no crying in baseball” in the film, “A League of Their Own,” but he was wrong. There was crying in Major League Baseball in 2015 and Twitter was the reason for it.
The sports writer is likely the grandest stereotype in all of newspaper journalism. Roger Kahn immortalized the life in his book, “The Boys of Summer,” about his time covering the revered Brooklyn Dodgers. Deadlines. Hotel bars. More deadlines.
But times have changed, and on July 29, we saw an example of the crossing lines of traditional sports reporting and modern sports reporting, which includes the use of Twitter.
Let’s set the scene. July 31 is the deadline when Major League Baseball team can trade players without them having to go through a process called waivers. Dozens of players trade jerseys in what is often a frantic time. Baseball writers work overtime trying to find out which players are moving. They burn up phone lines. Send countless texts. All of this work done in the name of getting the scoop on who is being traded. And they often use Twitter to report who might be traded.
The New York Mets have a young shortstop named Wilmer Flores. It was strongly rumored that the Mets might trade him. Flores is a baby-faced 24-year-old from Venezuela who had been with the Mets since he was 16 years old. It was the only life in America that he knew for the past seven years. The team was like his family.
During the July 29 game the rumors grow hotter that he was being traded to Milwaukee. The Mets are covered by nearly a dozen reporters and several tweeted that Flores was being traded “pending physicals” for all the players involved in the trade. That’s a standard line teams use before finalizing these trades.
While Flores waited in the on deck circle for a turn at bat, a fan near the front row with a cell phone who had read the tweets informed the player that he was being traded. So when Wilmer Flores trotted out to take his position on the field the next inning, his eyes were red. He consistently wiped the tears that filled those eyes. And it was all televised live.
There was one problem. The trade never happened. One team got cold feet about the physicals and they called off the trade.
In days before social media, the tearful scene would never have occurred. Writers would have waited until the game’s end to question the general manager about the trade. By that time, the proposed trade would have been scuttled. No trade. No harm to Flores. No national embarrassment on TV.
Michael Baron, who writes the JustMets blog for the MLB website, and Kristie Ackert, who covers the Mets for the New York Daily News, agree the media did nothing wrong that night.
“A tweet is a glimpse of where the story is in that minute. The paper is a more permanent snapshot of the point of the night you wrote it,” Ackert wrote in an email interview. Interestingly, she said the general manager could have—and probably should have—cleared up the matter with a text message to one or two key reporters who had tweeted about the deal. “All he had to do was text one or two reporters and tell them ‘deal’s dead,’ or ‘deal’s close to falling through.’”
Baron doesn’t have a print deadline to worry about. He thinks the media got this one right, and that’s important to him whether you are tweeting, blogging or writing for the posterity of a printed newspaper.
“The fundamentals of journalism have not changed just because there’s a new medium. There are still rules, there are still procedures, and they must be followed. It’s partly why I never actually reported anything—I never had all of the facts in my hand,” Baron wrote, also in an email interview.
But, the reporters see a danger—a temptation to put first over accurate.
“Twitter in particular is, as I said, has created an avenue where everyone wants to be a reporter, and everyone wants to be first,” Baron said.
Ackert told me her bosses have never cared if she was first on social media with a story. They want her to be correct. “I don’t think social media sets my deadline. If something is out there, then I have already been beaten on that, I work to confirm and move the story forward.”
Both see social media as a way to propel followers toward something more traditional—a longer article. Baron wrote: “My goal is to answer ‘why,’ and give people a reason to step back and read for the sake of gaining knowledge and insight for a change. It’s a never ending struggle, but one day perhaps people will return to reading books and magazines.
“That’s where I hope JustMets will fit in. I hope Twitter is just my headline tool, and people want to go read 500-1500 words as to, “why,” learn something new and either agree or disagree intelligently.”
And as a footnote, two nights after he was not traded, Flores hit a game-winning home run in extra innings.
Tim Gallagher is president of The 20/20 Network, a public relations and strategic communications firm. He is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and publisher at The Albuquerque Tribune and the Ventura County Star newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.