Geoff Baker, The Media, and Judging Motives
This post is probably overdue. In retrospect, I should have written this a while ago.
A little less than two years ago, we held a USSM/LL Q&A with Bill Bavasi down at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma before one of the Rainiers games. Bill was remarkably good to us, as always, spending a good chunk of time answering questions honestly, giving a section of the fanbase most critical of his performance a look into the front office that was essentially unheard of five years ago. At the same time that Bavasi was talking to us, John McGrath was down on the field waiting to interview Rick Ankiel for a story for the Tacoma News Tribune. Ankiel never showed.
After the game, a friend noticed the juxtaposition of the two events as a highlight of how much journalism was changing. The GM of the major league franchise spent an hour being remarkably candid with a bunch of fans, while a well-respected member of the media was getting stood up by a flame-out former prospect. It’s hard to come up with a better example of how the internet changed the game, and how print journalism wasn’t going back to how it used to be.
The Seattle P-I will probably be gone in a couple of weeks. Art Thiel, one of the preeminent voices in the history of the Seattle sports scene, will have lost his place to scribe.
This isn’t something to be celebrated. That isn’t good news. For whatever reason, real or imagined, there’s been this perception of a struggle for power between upstart blogs and the established media. In many ways, it’s probably fair to say that the rise of sites like this one have contributed to the failing of the business model for newspapers. While I think change is inevitable, that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. The P-I going away is a loss for us all.
Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this in the first place. In the comments section of the last “holy crap Griffey make up your mind already” thread, there was a surge of comments based around the problems some of you have with Geoff Baker. It wasn’t just frustration with the Griffey thing, either – a lot of you are obviously upset with the way Baker is handling his role as the Times’ primary beat writer. The accusations were flying fast and furious, and unfortunately, our comments section (which is probably at its all time low in terms of quality) became a breeding ground for anti-Baker sentiment.
That stops now.
Obviously, we’ve had our disagreements with Geoff since he got here. Whether it’s been the value of Adam Jones, the relative importance of tensions in the clubhouse, the necessity of veteran relief pitching, or a couple hundred other philosophical disagreements we’ve had with him, we’ve often come down on different sides of the opinion fence about which way the organization should go in terms of making decisions. And those differences have fed the perception of a USSM vs Baker Blog war that just doesn’t exist at the author level, and shouldn’t exist at the commenter level.
In reality, Geoff Baker is doing fantastic work for the Times. He’s fighting for his profession, and for his part, he’s winning. He’s turned a position that wasn’t much more than organizational mouthpiece into a constant stream of information and quality work. He’s changed the way that the blogosphere and the local media interact, given tens of thousands of readers unprecedented access into the thoughts of people in the organization, and improved the quality of coverage around the team dramatically. He’s made the Seattle Times baseball section relevant in a way it never was before, and that is why the Times hired him.
When it comes to a lot of issues about how baseball teams should make decisions, he and I will have different viewpoints. That doesn’t change that I have a tremendous amount of respect for the amount of work he puts in, or that there’s value in both of our viewpoints being put out there. USSM is a better blog because of Geoff Baker’s work as a beat writer, and I think he’s a better beat writer because of USSM. We’re complements to each other, not substitutes for one another.
We cannot fill the role of a beat writer. We don’t want to, nor are we trying to. It is in all of our best interests that the Times not only survives, but flourishes. Through their better coverage, everyone wins.
Whatever issues you have with how Geoff is doing his job, USSM will not be the host for you to air those to the world. I don’t share your judgments about his character, his motives, or the quality of his writing. I agree that he looks a bit like an Osmond, but that’s the extent to which criticisms of Baker himself will be allowed. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to expose the flaws in his logic if he proposes trading Gregory Halman for Eric Gagne this summer or that we’re going to give the clubhouse issues the same amount of credence he does, but we’re putting an end to your ability to be openly hostile in our comments section.
I hate the judging of other peoples motivations, and the assumptions about their character that go along with those judgments. Just as we reject the “Ichiro is selfish because he doesn’t dive” rhetoric, I also reject the “Baker is intentionally creating stories in order to further his agenda” stuff. You cannot judge the motives of another person, whether it’s a player, a beat writer, or me. Stop trying.
I like Geoff. I think he does a great job. If you don’t, take it up with him on your own time. We won’t let you turn this into a USSM vs Baker war anymore. Seriously. Consider it part of the commenting guidelines – straying from this will result in a quick exit.