Cup of Coffee: October 14, 2021

Double bad news for Oakland fans, murder, an unsurprising but appalling lack of journalistic ethics, NIMBYs, robot sports writing, and social media, 1907-style.

Good morning! And welcome to Free Thursday!

This is a particularly useful free Thursday, too. Why? Because often times people who aren’t subscribers ask me what I write about in the offseason, with the implicit fear that, without baseball games, they won’t get their money’s worth if they sign up. Long time subscribers know, however, that the baseball news never stops and that I never have any trouble filling space, even during the cold winter months. Consider today, a morning after an evening without baseball, proof of concept for that.

Today we talk about the Cubs getting a new general manager, the White Sox’ plans for Craig Kimbrel, Rob Manfred’s plans for the Oakland A’s, some bad health news for a young pitcher, a story of murder, a lame minor league promotion, and the passing of a beloved player and broadcaster.

In Other Stuff we take on Adam Schefter’s lack of ethics, how gambling is driving robot sports writing, solar panel NIMBYism, and how, when you think about it, social media is well over 100 years old.


The Daily Briefing

Max Scherzer won’t pitch out of the bullpen tonight

Yesterday, in one of those rote day off press conferences, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters that Max Scherzer will not be available to come out of the bullpen in tonight’s loser-go-home NLDS Game 5.

I saw some people treating this like a significant news nugget, but I don’t know why. The Dodgers have an absolutely stacked bullpen, only one member of it threw as many as 20 pitches on Tuesday night, and all of ‘em had the day off yesterday. They also have a rare-these-days 20-game winner starting tonight, which is a win total that at least suggests Julio Urías is familiar with working five innings or more. And all of that is before you note that, unless you’re talking about vintage Madison Bumgarner, the whole “bring a guy who only starts out of the bullpen in a playoff game” thing misses as often as it hits. Maybe more often.

If I’m Dave Roberts I manage Game 5 like I managed all year. Hope for the best from my starter, hope my guys score a shit-ton of runs in the first few innings and, if that doesn’t happen, feel pretty confident handing things over to all those loons I have down in the bullpen.

Carter Hawkins to be the new Cubs GM

Title inflation in baseball front office jobs is so common now that I totally forgot that the Chicago Cubs don’t have a general manager. It’s President Jed Hoyer’s team, right? Still, a GM does stuff and the Cubs haven’t had one since Hoyer took Theo Epstein’s job, so it’s high time they got one. According to The Athletic, they’re about to get one.

Their man: Carter Hawkins, who has spent the past 14 seasons climbing the ladder in Cleveland. He started really young there, actually. He’s only 37 now, but has made it all the way up from scouting intern to assistant general manager in his time with the club.

The Athletic says that the Cubs and Hawkins are “in the final stages of the hiring process” and that an announcement is expected soon. You should read that to mean that the Cubs are definitely hiring Hawkins and that they’re simply waiting for another off-day in the postseason schedule to make the announcement because MLB doesn’t like it when teams make big announcements on postseason game days.

White Sox plan to exercise Craig Kimbrel’s option, trade him

Bob Nightengale of USA Today is often wrong, but when he reports on the White Sox you should probably listen to him because he’s owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s go-to guy in the national media. So when Nightengale said yesterday that the White Sox are expected to exercise their $16 million club option on reliever Craig Kimbrel and then trade him during the winter, you should probably believe that’s their plan.

Kimbrel was dominant for the Cubs in the first half of the season but once he was dealt to the White Sox on July 30 he turned into a pumpkin, posting a 5.09 ERA in 23 innings of setup duty. He gave up three runs -- two earned -- on three hits and a walk in two ALDS against the Astros.

I’d say that $16 million for something approaching first-half Craig Kimbrel is a pretty good deal that a lot of teams would be interested in. The Sox, though, are gonna have to convince some teams that that’s the Craig Kimbrel they’d be getting.

Rob Manfred telegraphs the A’s moving out of Oakland

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at a sports business forum the other day and was asked about the A’s stadium situation. His answer continues the process of signaling that the team plans to move that he and the A’s began several months ago:

“Both Oakland and Tampa need new facilities. It's kind of beyond debate at this point. Oakland is probably critical, just in terms of the condition of the ballpark. Whatever you want to say about Tampa, it's playable for right now and they have a lease that goes through 2027. Oakland's in a critical situation. We need to find a way to get new ballparks built in those two cities or -- particularly in the case of Oakland -- we've had to open up the opportunity to explore other locations just because it's dragged on so long. Frankly, in some ways we're not sure we see a path to success in terms of getting something built in Oakland. (Relocation) is a possibility. They've been talking to Las Vegas, it's gotten a lot of publicity, but there are options in terms of relocation in addition to Las Vegas.”

Last spring when the City of Oakland didn’t simply roll over and write the A’s a check for $800 million for infrastructure for a new ballpark its president, Dave Kaval, spent a couple of weeks making a big show out of visiting Las Vegas and Portland in a transparent effort to pressure Oakland into caving to the team’s terms. Last month, after attendance declined terribly in response to the team making relocation threats and the team cratering on the field, the A’s announced a massive increase in ticket prices for 2022. Now more relocation threats, this time from Manfred.

As I’ve said each time this story has come up, it’s pretty clear what they’re doing: they’re going out of their way to alienate fans in Oakland and then will cite that alienation as the reason for their having no choice but to move. It’s aggressively fan-unfriendly behavior from a commissioner, a team ownership group, and a team management group that cares very damn little about the fans. All it wants is a subsidized stadium and massive real estate and infrastructure concessions so that it can build a side business in land development. All of which sucks terribly for longtime Oakland baseball fans.

Screw that team and screw Rob Manfred for quarterbacking this campaign. I hope the city tells them not to let the door hit them in the ass on the way out of town.

Rays’ David Hess has a tumor in his chest

David Hess, who has pitched for the Orioles, Marlins and, this past season, the Rays, announced yesterday that he is beginning treatment after a cancerous tumor has been found in his chest.

He said that about a week ago he was feeling tightness in his chest and shortness of breath so he went to the emergency room. Then:

“After some scans, blood work, and time at the hospital we learned that I had a cancerous germ cell tumor sitting in the center of my chest pressing majorly against my heart and lungs. Today we got the final diagnosis and treatment plan that has chemo starting up on Monday to shrink and hopefully eradicate the tumor entirely.”

Hess, who is just 28, said he is confident he will recover and that “this is just the beginning of a great story.”

Here’s hoping, David.

Home Runs and Murder

Chad Dotson, a writer for Cincinnati Magazine, also writes a newsletter called The Riverfront which, as you may have guessed by the name, is about Cincinnati sports. Yesterday he tweeted out a post he wrote last November that I had not seen before but I sure am glad that I’ve seen now.

It’s about the time, in 1921, the New York Yankees came to Cincinnati and played an exhibition game against the Reds. Babe Ruth was all the rage at the time, obviously. This was especially the case in a National League city which had not had a chance to see him since he began swatting longballs like crazy two years before. As the deadball era still very much existed in places like Cincinnati, there was considerable interest in the game.

That was particularly the case for two men: a truck driver named George Corcoran and a butcher named Edward Schueler. They placed a wager as to whether the Sultan of Swat could clear the fence at the very pitcher-friendly Redland Field.

How did it turn out?

Read Dotson’s wonderful account of the horrible outcome of a wonderful day of baseball at The Riverfront for the rest of the story.

And now, at this time I would like to take yet another opportunity to explain to you the perils of allowing wagering on sports—

[Editor: For Christ’s sake, Craig, give it a rest for once, will ya?]

The minors are getting a Marvel “Defender of the Diamond” promotion for some reason

I get a lot of press releases. Not all of them make me stare blankly into middle distance wondering what has happened to the damn world, but this one did:

Minor League Baseball™ (MiLB™) today announced a three-year partnership with Marvel Entertainment, one of the world’s most prominent storytelling brands, for an exciting event series that will play out in ballparks across all levels of MiLB starting in 2022 . . . The new partnership will feature 96 MiLB teams participating in an event series called “Marvel’s Defenders of the Diamond” during the 2022 through 2024 baseball seasons. The deal was facilitated by AthLife, Inc, Marvel’s longtime sports representative.

In each of the three years of the partnership, all 96 participating MiLB teams will host at least one Marvel Super Hero-themed game as part of the “Marvel’s Defenders of the Diamond” campaign, where teams will wear special edition Marvel Super Hero-branded jerseys on field during the game with other Marvel-themed activities and promotions taking place throughout the game.

Even I, the World’s Biggest Marvel Mark™ am rolling my eyes at this.

Given how MLB treats the minors these days, I imagine they’ll go cheap with this promotion and the only heroes who will ever get any face time as a result will be War Machine and, like, Karli Morgenthau from the “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” show. If the powers that be can’t be moved to pay living wages to minor leaguers, there’s no way they spring for Spider-Man.

Ray Fosse: 1947-2021

Ray Fosse, an All-Star catcher, multiple Gold Glove-winner, two-time World Series champ, and broadcasting institution died yesterday at the age of 74. He had recently revealed that he had had cancer for the past 16 years.

The A’s released the following statement:

“The Oakland A's are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Ray Fosse. Few people epitomize what it means to be an Athletic more than Ray. He was the type of franchise icon who always made sure every player, coach, colleague, and fan knew that they were part of the Oakland A's family. We send our deepest condolences to Carol, Nikki and Lindsey, his family and friends during this difficult time. We'll miss you, Ray.”

Cleveland, the club he came up with and for which he played for eight of his 12 seasons in the bigs, said this:

“The Cleveland Indians family is deeply saddened by the passing of Ray Fosse, a true fan favorite who loved wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform. He was so proud to be our top draft pick in 1965. We extend our deepest sympathy to the entire Fosse family, as well as his many teammates, Major League broadcast colleagues and the organizations impacted by his nearly 60 years in the game he loved.”

Fosse was the seventh overall pick in baseball’s first amateur draft back in 1965. After cups of coffee in 1967, 1968, and 1969, he played his first full big league season in 1970, and it was an excellent one. He won a Gold Glove, got a couple of MVP votes, and gained national attention while compiling a 23-game hitting streak from early June into early July.

He also made the All-Star team that year and it was during that game when, in the bottom of 12th inning, Pete Rose barreled into Fosse at home plate, scoring the winning run, but fracturing and separating Fosse’s shoulder in the process. Fosse continued to play for the rest of the 1970 season but because doctors didn't discover the injuries until the following season they never healed properly and Fosse would suffer lingering effects from them for the rest of his life.

Fosse would make the All-Star team again in 1971. In 1972 one of the pitchers he caught, Gaylord Perry, would win the Cy Young Award, crediting Fosse by saying that Fosse was “a big part” of his award-winning season. He’d also catch a Dennis Eckersley no-hitter later in his career, and Eck gave a big shoutout to Fosse for that.

Fosse would be traded to Oakland following the 1972 season. The A’s were already the reigning World Series champs but Fosse contributed to two more titles, catching three 20-game winners -- Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman -- in 1973 and he threw out four would-be base-stealers in the ALCS against the Orioles. He was an Orioles killer, really, as Fosse went 3-for-4 with a three-run homer against Baltimore in Game 2 of the 1974 ALCS as well.

Fosse returned to Cleveland after the 1975 season and finished his career with stints in Seattle, playing on the inaugural Mariners club, and Milwaukee, with more injuries ending his career following the 1979 season. In a 12-year career Fosse played in 924 games hitting .256/.306/.367. Fosse led AL catchers in with 854 putouts in 1970 while catching 48 baserunners attempting to steal. In 1971 he led the league with 73 assists and in 1973, he led AL catchers in baserunners caught stealing, nailing 52 for an insane 56% caught stealing percentage. He had an excellent 40% caught stealing percentage for his career.

In 1986 Fosse joined the A’s TV booth becoming a beloved mainstay for multiple generations of Athletics fans. In 2004 he was nominated for the Ford C. Frick Award. He continued in the booth until he stepped away due to his illness in August.

Rest in peace, Ray Fosse.


Other Stuff

Adam Schefter: NFL shill

I recently noted that NFL scoopster supreme Adam Schefter is ethically compromised, what with him taking an equity position in a maker of sports and casino gambling apps whose investor list also includes Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. Yesterday we learned of a more direct way he’s compromised: he gives his stories to his sources for their approval!

From the Los Angeles Times, writing about fallout from that whole John Gruden story:

Several emails between [then Washington Football Team President George] Allen and journalists are part of the filing too. In one of them from July 2011, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter sent Allen the draft of an unpublished story that was published later the same day.

“Please let me know if you see anything that should be added, changed, tweaked,” Schefter wrote. “Thanks, Mr. Editor, for that and the trust. Plan to file this to espn about 6 am ….”

ESPN quickly released a statement yesterday, but it’s a completely beside the point response:

“Without sharing all the specifics of the reporter’s process for a story from 10 years ago during the NFL lockout, we believe that nothing is more important to Adam and ESPN than providing fans the most accurate, fair and complete story.”

First off, it doesn’t matter if the story is old. The story for which he did it — about the NFL lockout — was an important one and it wasn’t any more acceptable to do this in 2011 than it is today. It’s also extremely unlikely that this is the only time he did it.

I’m more annoyed at the second part of that statement. I don’t know which PR expert came up with the “nothing is more important to us than [the thing we certainly did not do or care about in this case]” construction, but it’s everywhere now. My kids’ school sends out emails every single day about someone getting COVID prefaced with “nothing is more important to us than the safety of our children.” Companies that mangle 126 workers in poorly refurbished machinery bought third-hand on the Tajikistan black market talk about how “nothing is more important” to them than workplace safety. If the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire happened today their media people would talk about how there was nothing more important to them than keeping the doors to stairwells and emergency exists unlocked.

The facts here make it clear that, for Schefter, accurate, fair, and complete reporting is subordinated to source approval. A source, it’s worth noting, that had vested interest in spinning its side’s position in a labor dispute. Given that Schefter’s primary beat is talking to these sorts of people, it’d be shocking if he didn’t do this all the damn time.

And, despite what some other extraordinarily ethically compromised people say, it’s a wholly unacceptable practice and an uncommon one among anyone in this business worth a damn. You can fact check with sources. You can run quotes by them to make sure they are accurate. You can, within reason I suppose, shoot particular phrases — usually paraphrases of their own quotes if you’re doing that — to make sure that you retained accuracy. But you do not send them the text of unpublished stories and you do not give them the right to “add, change or tweak.”

Sports betting is driving automated sports reporting

A few years ago there was a lot of chatter out there about how sportswriting would, increasingly, become automated. Game stories written by AI and the like, in much the same way that a lot of financial reporting is now automated. And yes, there was some dabbling in that, but it quickly receded because the automated game stories, well, sucked.

Now Sportico’s JohnWallStreet newsletter reports how automated sportswriting is coming back in a big way:

If you read a preview or a recap of a game featuring Group of Five or FCS schools last weekend, there is a good chance it was written by a machine. “I wouldn’t say [automation] is ubiquitous, but it has become something on the road map of most” sportsbooks, sports media companies and sports publishers if they have not already implemented the capabilities, Data Skrive CEO Brad Weitz said. That is because in addition to helping companies save money, the technology is now boosting top lines. “By being able to produce useful content and more content with automation, we have been able to grow revenue,” said Barry Bedlan (global director of text and new markets products, Associated Press).

As implied there, gambling is pushing this. Little “game preview” things that list starters and lines and injuries that are aimed at beefing up the “content” side of gambling websites.

That company mentioned above — Data Skrive — just got millions in funding and works with the Associated Press, ESPN, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and other companies. The story tries to paint this as something that isn’t costing anyone their jobs — it’s “not just save money, but to broaden their coverage base, optimize their content and ultimately drive new revenues” they say — but that doesn’t pass the smell test. From the story:

“For the AP, automation was never about a reduction in workforce (in fact, the company added employees to support its efforts). ‘For us, [automation] has been a sweetener,’ Bedlan said. ‘We have contracts and licensing agreements that are contingent upon having a level of content that we did not have prior to implementing the technology. So, if we had not leveraged automation, we either would be spending a lot more, or we would risk losing revenue.’”

The phrase “we either would be spending a lot more, or . . .” is doing a lot of work there. It’s an admission that this is work people could do but they don’t want to pay people to do it, with the headcount added no doubt coming in the form of way lower-paid support staff. And, of course, those “contracts and licensing agreements” are tied up with that in-story gambling crap the AP took a lot of flak for last spring.

There are people out there who will argue that automation is inevitable and since it’s inevitable there’s no sense in complaining about it. I hope those people enjoy sports “news” that is nothing but betting-related data being spit out at the top of a story in order to increase the clickthrough rate to media company’s casino partners.

Solar NIMBYism

County officials in Delaware County, Ohio — the county just north of Columbus, the county line for which is like two miles from me — moved yesterday to block solar farm development plans.

It’s worth noting that Delaware County is the fastest-growing county in the state and has become a large bedroom community for Columbus, which means that people there are driving more than anyone else in these parts, all while building housing that is the opposite of dense. As such, they’re not only preventing the solutions to over-reliance on fossil fuels, but they are huge contributors to the problem.

When you ask officials such as those in Delaware County why they do this they don’t cite their anti-clean energy beliefs as the reason. Rather, they make up problems about noise and disruption and about how solar panels are unsightly. This is bogus, of course, as after construction of solar farms is complete, there is essentially no sound to them. They also have a profile of like 10-12 feet max, which means that the properties on which they sit are almost invisible to passersby with even the most modest of tree lines planted.

Lost in all of this, of course, is how these people tend to take the strongest possible “people can do what they want with their land” stance when it comes to literally anything but clean energy. Indeed, all of this was a pretty simple issue when it was cell phone towers, oil wells, factory farms, warehouses and all manner of other things being built. Funny that.

In the end, it’s like so much else in our society these days. Conservatives will oppose absolutely anything if that thing has, for whatever reason, become a point of cultural grievance among the base. Liberals will go into full-NIMBY mode no matter how beneficial a project is the moment anyone with wealth takes issue. There is basically no one in any position of power in most places who will advocate for progress.

Social Media: Same as it ever was

My genealogical dabbling of late led me to get a free trial of Newspapers.com. It’s a site I’ve used for writing research in the past, but I’ve never really just farted around with it. Which is probably for the best because if you put a newspaper from 1895, 1913, or 1940 in front of me I am gonna read every inch of it and share about 95% of it on Twitter with words to the effect of “can you believe this shit?!” The past is an amazing place to visit.

One of the specific things I was looking for were family obituaries or events that may have made the small town papers where some of my ancestors hailed from. I found some of that, but the thing I found which sucked almost my entire Tuesday away were the little bits of social news papers used to run.

Stuff like this, from Lebanon, Ohio where one branch of my family lived in the 19th century and, for a bit anyway, into the early 20th. “Helen Mull” was my great-grandmother. The same one who wrote that letter to the editor bashing Walt Disney that I shared the other day, by the way:

Here was her father, the widower Civil War veteran Henry, and her older sister Viola, attending a Christmas party:

The papers then were absolutely loaded with this stuff. People who were in town visiting. People who were out of town for a time, especially if they were visiting a big city. Parties. Luncheons. You name it. I don’t know any papers which still do this, but talking with people online yesterday, some remembered small town papers still doing it as late as the 1970s, complete with reference to the lemon squares or casseroles folks brought to events.

Not all of it is lemon squares, though. If you have an armchair detective’s mind like I do, you can read a hell of a lot between the lines of these social announcements. For example, I think I may have actually isolated the mid-1907 visit to Lebanon by my then out-of-town-residing great grandfather in which he, um, maybe knocked up old Helen here, causing their marriage about six months later, three months after which my great uncle was born:

His name was Woodford, not Weston, and it was “McIntyre” not “McIntire,” but the timing of this and the subsequent wedding — likely planned in the shadow of the shotgun of the Civil War veteran Henry Mull — is a little too perfect. President Roosevelt weeps for the loose morals of our nation’s young women.

I have been rather pessimistic about Big Tech of late, and I think social media has been a pretty destructive force in a number of specific ways. But as someone who uses and has benefitted from social media a great deal, seeing all of these old items puts my mind at east at least a little bit.

No, there weren’t Russian bots (Spanish bots?) distorting all of this turn-of-the-last-century news and, I don’t believe anyway, that the stuff listed in the social items here led to a resurgence in the belief of the miasma theory of disease and the eschewing of scurvy treatments on the theory that “it’s a personal choice” to suffer from malaise, petechiae, the loosening of teeth, and death. But the whole business of telling the world where you’re traveling, who you’re hanging out with, and even what you’re eating for lunch is an impulse that existed long before Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey came along. There’s something comforting in that.

Have a great day, everyone.