Matthew Cerrone, MetsBlog.com:
The fist pump that is viewed as cocky and disrespectful when a team is losing is typically seen as confident and enthusiastic when the team is winning… just ask the 1986 Mets, who are treated like heroes despite one ring and a reputation for on- and off-field fighting, sex, drugs, showboating, arrests and curtain calls.
How do you think today’s beat writers, radio hosts and columnists would treat that team’s behavior today, at 15-23 and 6 games out of first place in mid May? It would be hilariously awful. It would be like raw meat in a lion’s den.
In 1986, it was a different media environment with totally different goals, which is probably why that team was allowed to be admired. Today, we’re all media. Fans talk sports 24-7 online, on air and around the water cooler. Demand for more and more content is strong, the rules are few and traffic and activity is all that matters.
So now, when a confident and cocky young player, like Jordany Valdespin, is perceived by even a few people as being controversial (regardless of whether what he did was right, wrong or a problem), local media and fans are going to perpetuate the controversy, because it’s a demand-driven business where controversial topics get clicks and make for compelling radio.
“The whole incident is stupid. It’s gotten way too much attention,” David Wright told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “This thing should have been over, and now it’s turned into a life of its own. To read these reports how we don’t have his back and how we don’t care about him is absolutely ridiculous. It couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s ridiculous.”
It’s the nature of the beast, though, which is why I blame Mets management (and not necessarily fans and reporters) for the situation involving Valdespin (who is being framed as cocky, immature and selfish) and Terry Collins (who is being framed as disrespectful to his team’s fans). I don’t know Valdespin and Collins personally, so I’m not going to call out their character based on leading questions and anonymous sources. This whole story could be true. It could be way off base. In either case, it doesn’t change the fact the Mets (and Yankees, Knicks, etc.) need to better consider the media’s motives when building a team of young men.
It stinks that it has to be this way, because I’m ordinarily a fan of the emotional, enthusiastic player. However, the media here doesn’t necessarily care if you’re good or bad anymore, they only really care if you’re controversial and can help create a story. The Jets and Giants are the most perfect example, actually. The Giants are a successful organization, but I rarely hear much about them. The majority of local football coverage is on the Jets, who are almost always a constant circus.
The Royals don’t have to think this way. The Padres can basically do whatever they want. The Indians don’t have to deal with this level of coverage. These teams combined don’t have as many reporters following them as are standing in Sandy Alderson’s or Brian Cashman’s clubhouse every day.
I have the privilege of having clubhouse access to Citi Field. I rarely go in. However, when I do, there are always more reporters and media in the room than players, because New York is home to two major, all-sports radio stations, several newspapers and dot coms, and four local and multiple regional sports television networks, not to mention hundreds of fan blogs and the occasional national outlet asking to enter the room.
“We’re not playing good and there’s nothing else to write about,” Collins said this week on WFAN, when asked about Valdespin. “I’m aware of that and that’s what happens here. … The only way to move on is to start winning.”
This is true: if the Mets (or Yankees) win 100 games, these sort of stories will mostly be ignored. However, no team can guarantee success, regardless of who they sign, trade for or develop. They can only guarantee that New York’s media will continue to push on a story until it bleeds, because they know it will sell and people will read and listen… which is exactly what we’ve seen this week with this Valdespin and Collins story.