Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The Laziness of Conventional Wisdom

Maybe I'm the wrong one to throw around the word "lazy" too easily. I'd be rather stupid if I didn't give props to the hard work and sacrifice that lies behind the scenes of being a sportswriter on a beat, and I've never been one to keep nose-to-grindstone in a workaholic fashion.

Nevertheless, I can't help but observe (and this is not directly related to the previous posts dealing with Dick Griffin, though it certainly has application to his work more often than not) how easy it is for those whose paycheck is derived from their ability to observe, and comment upon, the realities of a major league sport. Whether it be broadcasters, commentators, or beat writers, far too often the conventional wisdom is assumed in an "everyone knows" fashion despite being largely or even totally unsupportable. Naturally, this is a self re-enforcing cycle since casual fans consider themselves informed when they can cite the conventional wisdom back and forth to each other over a beer and assume themselves knowledgeable.

The great entertainment value of the blogosphere, to me, is the degree to which intelligent people challenge, albeit with wit, sarcasm and derision, the truisms which make up the "conventional wisdom."
Still, doesn't keep me from being pissed off when I see a professional phone in a piece of work which contributes nothing but to recycle another one of those falsehoods for the naive to lap up and take as gospel ("since it was written by a professional, it MUST be right, right?"). Take, for instance, this take on the arrival of Scott Rolen which appeared in today's Star. I hesitate to rip on it's author directly, but I shiver to think at all the uninformed know-it-alls who will show up on message boards and call in shows and local pubs who will assume, and loudly proclaim, that Rolen is a ticking time bomb who is sure to explode at any moment and wreck the upcoming season.

Bullshit. Any professional journalist who's trying to write a quality piece (as opposed to just knocking out 500 words to beat a deadline) might have taken the time to reflect upon the full story behind those two incidents in Rolen's long career. He might have noted that Bowa was a notorious hot-head who couldn't get along with anyone and lost his job in no small measure because of his lack of self control. Such a writer might have noted LaRussa's notorious bent for being a prima donna who has people-skill issues of his own. Does this mean Rolen is a prince-among-men who shares no fault in the incidents? Of course not. but it does provide a balanced view of the situation which would leave the reader with a clearer view of the Jay's new player.
Such a writer might even have gone so far as to note that Rolen is widely praised among his peers as a dedicated, passionate, selfless, driven ballplayer who is a leader on and off the field and who not only often receives the praise "he does all the little things right" but furthermore, considers that the best praise he could get. To my knowledge, there is not ONE quote floating around the net from another baseball player that speaks negatively of Scott Rolen.

That, it seems to me, might be an important thing to say in an article which uses such confrontational metaphors to discuss the potential for Rolen's relationship with John Gibbons. Furthermore, a good article would not leave you thinking Gibbons was the only one to blame for the blowups with Hillenbrand and Lilly.

Is it too much to ask that a professional journalist consider these things if an unpaid blogger can easily see them?

I hope that, whatever else you may find on this blog, one thing you will never find is a failure to challenge the flaws in the "conventional wisdom."


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