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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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November 4, 2008 1:57 PM

Meetings meaningless? Just a rumor

Posted by Geoff Baker

How do rumors get started?
They're started by the jealous people and
they get mad about somthin' they had
and sombody else is holdin'

-- Lyrics from Timex Social Club's pop hit Rumors (1986)

Read an interesting blog post from Dave Cameron on USS Mariner this morning that talked about how rumors can crop up and turn the GM meetings (and winter meetings) into something tedious. For the record, I agree with Cameron that too many wild and crazy rumors get passed along at these things without any sort of scrutiny. In fact, I've told folks for years that the baseball winter meetings -- which I'll be covering in Las Vegas next month -- are the worst possible assignment on this job. They were bad enough before internet coverage became so heavy. Now, they are absolutely unbearable. Too much time is spent chasing down exactly the types of non-sensical rumors that are described in Cameron's post. But that's not your problem. It's mine. My job is still to make the meetings the most pleasant and enjoyable experience you can have.

So, what's the alternative? Ignore every rumor as if it doesn't exist? Would make my job a heckuva lot easier. But as I just said, the most important thing in this equation is to give fans and readers what they want. Not to make my life as simple as possible. So, no. Rumors are not necessarily a bad thing.

It all comes down to what you're willing to do with them. And which newspapers you're willing to look to for your information. In the end, the papers that will ultimately give you the most bang for your buck (or at least, your free internet browsing time) are the ones where staffers actually put in the legwork to try to differentiate the invalid rumors from the legitimate ones.

We all remember how many weeks it took for the initial Erik Bedard trade rumors to come to fruition a year ago. Would readers have been better served if they did not know anything at all until the day the deal went through? Anyone who followed the saga closely knew the Bedard rumors originated back at the winter meetings in Nashville, where the groundwork for the deal was laid. It would have been easy to sit at my chair and scoff at all the rumors back then. Would have made for some nice, early meals and bedtimes. But who would have been laughing two months later, when the trade actually went down? If I want readers to be checking my blog in Las Vegas next month, would it have been the best strategy to dismiss rumors a year ago in Nashville, or scoff at the process.

Hey folks. The process is what you make of it.

Do rumors have their place in hot stove league action? Of course they do. How else would we have been able to judge the performances of Lee Pelekoudas as interim GM, or Chuck Armstrong as his over-the-shoulder shot-caller, back in late-July and early-August, if not for the rumor mill? All of those Jarrod Washburn-to-New York rumors? They didn't fall out of a tree. They were real conversations being had between real people in the Big Apple and Seattle. The Mariners ultimately confirmed that those conversations took place. So, are fans really best served by not hearing about them?

Some fans may have thought the Mariners stood pat and had a rather boring July 31 trade deadline once Arthur Rhodes was shipped off. But in fact, for anyone willing to make a few calls to find stuff out, there was all kinds of action taking place right up to the deadline. The Blue Jays thought they had a deal for Raul Ibanez ready to go. What a shock that might have been to those claiming all along that there was nothing but crazy "rumors" happening. Readers relying on that might have been in for a huge surprise when they opened their papers the next morning had the Mariners pushed through with a trade. So, while some would rather ignore every rumor and wait for the official team-sponsored release, we told you what was going on with the Mariners behind the scenes. That way, when it came time to judging the performance of key Mariners figures, you had something to go on.

Same for the month of August, when the Mariners considered shipping Washburn to the Minnesota Twins. Sure, all we had to go off was rumors. But you make the calls, print what you know, and take it from there. So, we told you that the Twins had indeed put in a claim on Washburn. We told you that another pitcher was offered back to the Mariners. Not Boof Bonser, as some had erroneously reported. But another pitcher. We still don't know who and we're not going to guess. But we took that information and later asked Armstrong about it. And Armstrong was honest about the fact that he quashed the Washburn deal with the Twins, and the Ibanez deal to Toronto before it.

Lots of chatter throughout the blogosphere on that story. Was it important to fans? Of course it was. And it came about because of some legwork done off of rumors.

My colleague, Larry Stone, was all over the GM candidates story last month. Sure, he'd heard the rumors. But then he did the legwork, chased down the real news, used some logic, and came up with his list of the first five candidates to be interviewed from outside the organization.

By the following week, we learned who from that group had made the cut. Later, we heard rumors of a sixth candidate. We held off including that in our story from that night. But rather than shrug the rumors off as meaningless, we both did some legwork and by the next morning told you who the mystery outside candidate was.

It was a good thing we wrote about Jack Zduriencik. After all, he got the job. How embarrassing might it have been for us, as a local press corps, if we'd missed naming the candidate who wound up being the one chosen? That's why I don't think it's a good idea to treat rumors as nonsense. As tedious as it may be for us as reporters, we do owe it to readers to take rumors seriously and try to distinguish fact from fantasy. I think it's a better strategy than simply hanging around on the company dime and avoiding any real work.

That's how they do things in the best markets. Sure, we've all heard some whoppers out of New York that never came to fruition. But I've heard plenty of good information come out of New York as well. Some of the best, hardest working people in this industry work in New York and have to compete daily for solid information. You can't make a reputation as a rumor-mongerer. People figure you out real fast. But separating the real, from the unreal is not an exact science. We've all made mistakes. When you're trying to get things for people in a hurry, it's not always going to work out. But as readers, what I think you should care about most, is that the people bringing you information are at least trying. Yeah, you're not always going to get stuff that pans out 100 percent of the time. Not in a few hours. Give us weeks, and yes, we'll nail it all down for you. I saw rumors posted on various online blogs all summer long about how Chris Larson was poised to take over the Mariners and that Armstrong and Howard Lincoln were set to bail. I avoided addressing those rumors as long as I could until getting you the complete story.

But let's be real. Some rumors won't allow you weeks to line up all the facts. When it's two hours to go before trade deadline, you're up against the clock. You get what you can and make the call on whether to go with it. If you're wrong too many times, you obviously lose the trust of readers. If you're right most of the time, you do your readers a huge service. Which would you prefer in an imperfect world? Someone who sits around mocking every rumor? Or someone who will actually do the work and try to figure those rumors out?

The "rumor" that the only way to make sense of the rumor mill is to ignore it completely is ridiculous. It's the kind of stuff spouted by...why, spouted by "the jealous people" who "get mad about somethin' they had and somebody else is holdin'..."

What's that they're holdin'? The interest of readers.

I've been fortunate, during the course of my career, to work at papers where sitting around and mocking rumors is not an option. Where the people working alongside me want to get at the truth. And to do that, you have to push things and run the risk of being wrong once in a while. This isn't the 1950s anymore. We're in a modern age where the luxury of time won't always be there, but where the demands of readers for news has become insatiable.

We try to satisfy everyone. I think we get what people want most of the time. If anyone's got a better idea, I'm all for it. But what would we do every off season if the rumor mill didn't exist? What would blogs use for content to fill up space with if not for the information and conversation-starters that newspapers provide? So, I'm all for Cameron wanting to rid the world of lazy newspapering. But not at the expense of no newspapering at all. You all have a choice of which paper to read. it's sort of like voting in an election. Make an informed choice and you'll have less to complain about later.

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