Sockgate

I confess I am intrigued by sockgate. On it’s own, it’s a non-story. I find it implausible that Schilling would deliberatly put paint on his sock, as if the drama of his pitching at all in Game Six in 2004 couldn’t stand on its own. Of course, we live in a media culture that has been thoroughly pro-wrestlingified: from introductory graphics, to constant background music, to staged attitude, it seems as though media organizations simply do not trust that the story itself is ever enough to hold the audience’s attention: that everything, no matter how inherently dramatic or compelling, must be produced, stage-managed. As in all else, so too in sports coverage hyped and over-dramatization are the rule, not the exception. It’s in that environment that one could actually entertain the possibility that Schilling’s dramatic Game six performance against the Yankees in 2004 would need a little extra juice, a little kick.

So, that’s one part of the story that I find worthy of chewing on. The other part of the story that is noteworthy is Schilling’s own role in fanning its flames. Lots of celebs, including pro athletes, have their own blogs. But, for someone interested in sports media, what’s distinctive about Schilling’s blog is that it is framed, in part, as an explicit antidote to the failings of sports media. In his criticism of Shaughnessy for his various misrepresentations, and Murray Chass, for being out-of-date in his understanding of baseball statistics, Schilling’s blog has sent the message that he’s writing, in part, because the sports media has failed to do its job.

And, as I’ll discuss in a moment, that failure is the clear target of Schilling’s long and angry post today, though the immediate target is just one sports media person, Baltimore Orioles’ play-by-play man, Gary Thorne. Thorne, of course, set off this tempest in a teapot on Wednesday, when he said that Bosox back-up catcher Doug Mirabelli had told him that Schilling painted the famous bloody sock. Thorne has now very publicly apologized, saying that he misunderstood what was just a joking comment by Mirabelli.

This should have been the end of the story, especially since almost no one took Thorne’s comments seriously. But, Schilling himself seems determined to keep it going. As reported by ESPN.com, Schilling, in effect, rejected Thorne’s recantation:

“So Gary Thorne says that Doug told him the blood was fake. Which even when he’s called out he can’t admit he lied,” Schilling wrote on his blog. “Doug never told Gary Thorne anything. Gary Thorne overheard something and then misreported what he overheard. Not only did he misreport it, he misinterpreted what he misreported.”

Accusing someone of lying, as opposed to mishearing something, is a pretty serious charge and it makes one wonder: why is Schilling so bent out of shape about something that seems so transparently dumb and that almost everyone agrees is dumb including now the guy who originally said the dumb thing in the first place?

It would appear that Schilling may, in fact, be taking out his frustration on the media for its conduct in general, and not this case in particular. From Schilling’s blog post today:

“If you havent figured it out by now, working in the media is a pretty nice gig. Barring outright plagiarism or committing a crime, you dont have to be accountable if you dont want to. You can say what you want when you want and you dont really have to answer to anyone. You can always tell the bigger culprits by the fact you never see their faces in the clubhouse. Most of them are afraid to show themselves to the subjects they rail on everyday.”

Schilling’s characterization isn’t true of all media, of course. But, among the people he calls out at the start of his entry, including CHB (Shaughnessy), Jay Mariotti and Woody Paige, it’s hard to disagree. And, as I have said countless times, the problem of lack of media accountability, whether in sports or politics is endemic. Celebrity pundits, whether in sports or politics have, as a group, become lazy, convinced that their only responsibility is to spout pseudo-provocative comments. Research, fact-checking, serious analysis – these things are lost on the Chris Matthews and Around the Horn participants of the world.

One of the writers Schilling calls out is Jon Heyman, a longtime baseball writer for Newsday who now works for SI. Heyman is, in fact, a good baseball writer and a knowledgeable guy. But, he backed Thorne’s version of events yesterday on Jim Rome’s TV show yesterday and, back on Rome’s show today Heyman defended himself, even after Thorne’s own recantation. Heyman said the story was still fishy and called Schilling a “very good liar” for having told Congress in 2005 that, in effect, he knew nothing about baseball’s steroids problem and didn’t think it was significant (Schilling called Canseco a liar for his own characterizations of baseball’s steroids problem and Canseco, of course, has had much of what he’s written vindicated).

And, in the only interesting part of an exchange between Heyman and football analyst Petros Papadakis on today’s Rome show, Papadakis said, in defending Heyman:

“I think what Heyman’s message was – look, I think it’s obvious now that it was blood, Thorne’s backpedaling now. But, John’s message is that this is a man who’s capable of doing something like this. And, I stand with Heyman man, I love it.”

To say that, even if there’s not a shred of evidence that Schilling put paint on his sock, it’s OK to accuse him of that because he’s “capable” of it is, of course, outrageous. But, it’s less out of left field than it might appear given the media environment in which we’re operating. I don’t personally think Schilling is more capable of such a stunt than anybody else. But, as much as we seem to wish we did, we don’t really know who our celebrities are. One of the things that concerns me about the way discussion of character figures so prominently in sports is that it’s based on such naive and superficial understandings of what character is. None of us really knows Curt Schilling, any more than we know any other public figure. We may know certain things about them, and some do a better job of portraying themselves as down-to-earth and, therefore, knowable, than others. But, we don’t know really know who these guys are.

What we do know is that sports is spectacle and, though baseball is not pro wrestling, we can’t know exactly where the spectacle ends and the reality begins. Schilling talks at length on his blog today about what a religious experience Game Six was for him, and I have no reason to doubt him about that. But, he conflates his performance with character when he writes:

“The other great part of this is knowing that anyone that wrote anything about a ‘conspiracy’ or a ‘plot’ is someone that is so far removed from understanding how physically and mentally challenging it is to play this game at this level you can almost laugh off their stupidity…

And, I have to ask: what does the mental and physical challenge of playing on a major league level have to do with honesty and integrity? How does Curt Schilling’s greatness as a pitcher tell us anything about his moral character? In the ideology of contemporary sports coverage, a lot, clearly. But, I don’t see it. Neither Curt Schilling’s religiosity nor his ability to pitch at a high level proves that he’s incapable of dishonesty, anymore than being curt (no pun intended) with the media, or sometimes failing in the clutch, makes someone a bad person.

Schilling is, in some ways, a very media savvy guy. As such, he ought to know that all he’s accomplished is to give legs to a story that ought not to have any(Maybe he does know). He’s entitled to be annoyed that someone would accuse him of such theatrics. But, he also has to know that we live in a spectacle filled media environment that makes separating reality from fabrication more and more challenging. Furthermore, his conviction that he’s simply morally superior because he’s a great athlete is just misplaced.

And, finally, it’s true that having his own blog succeeds in giving him unmediated access to fans. I am an enthusiastic proponent of the way in which political blogs have broken the media monopoly on agenda-setting in this country, and gratified to see lazy sports journalists get held to account by the internet in a way that was not happening previously. But, Schilling surely must realize that having his own blog doesn’t mean he gets to control when the conversation ends. It just means he has more of a say in how he participates in that conversation. And, his greatness as a pitcher doesn’t automatically make him a great guy. Schilling’s bewilderment that one doesn’t automatically prove the other may ultimately explain why Schilling’s gotten so riled up about this.


10 Responses to “Sockgate”

  1. Interesting and provacative post. I particularly liked this:

    To say that, even if there’s not a shred of evidence that Schilling put paint on his sock, it’s OK to accuse him of that because he’s “capable” of it is, of course, outrageous. But, it’s less out of left field than it might appear given the media environment in which we’re operating.

    This pretty much explains my outrage at the media today. While it is without question that Schilling’s marrying the concepts of integrity and performing athletics at the highest level is a wrong-headed, I can’t understand why you don’t get why he is seemingly so angry at the turn of events. One pf the defining monents of his life has been publically called into question by a hack who didn’t bother to check his story, nor to consider the potential damage to Schilling’s reputation. To say thet he deserves any outrage short of a murderous one would be, IMO, an understatement.

  2. As always, very well written J.

    The media needs to get over its collective sense of entitlement. I applaud the many athletes that have created their own blogs. It’s clean (so they say of course) information.

    Question for all. What would be the perception of sports if ESPN was TSF?

  3. What’s as bad as their collective sense of entitlement is their pure meanness of spirit, willingness to pile on from their bully pulpits and lack of fairness or objectivity.

    Here’s my take, trash in, trash out. Back in the day, there were so many fewer media outlets and there had been a tradition, accepted by all but the most rougish, that media were there to report, not make the news. Now everybody and his mother wants to be on Sports center, make a damn fool of himself like that idiot Stu Scott with his ridiculous -booyah- and “other side of the pillow nonsense,” and be in with the boys. The powers that be have set up these kids to think that THAT is sports journalism.

    Of course that’s not all. To say that there isn’t a certain amount of hatred and insecurity for the black athlete by the mostly white, mostly failed athletes who comprise the news media would be an understatement IMO. Anyone think it’s a coincidence that athletes like Kobe and Barry are disliked while buffoons like Shaq and Sammy Sosa are beloved? I certainly don’t. America has been led by a racist media to believe, without much nudging needed to be sure, that it’s athletes, particularly the black ones should be little more than manchildren, devoid of nuance, subtlety, intelligence and most of all, any hint of arrogance.

    And please don’t give me all that “America hates it’s athletes because they make so much more money than the average American” crap. America doesn’t hate it’s actors, rock stars, doctors, lawyers, corporate CEO’s or professional sports owners. So WHY DO THEY SEEMINGLY HATE IT’S ATHLETES? Because ESPN tells them to. Pure and simple.

    As to your question, I think it’s a trick question. TSF exists BECAUSE OF ESPN my man. They are the evil that defines your good, at least that’s how it reads in my household dig?

  4. Just tryin’ to pry the innovative mind KD. You never got back to me about Chuck’s interview.

    What’s good?

  5. Interesting analysis, jweiler. When I read the first part of your piece, I thought of Joe Horn and the cell phone. Not sure why. Anyway, I think you’re spot on when you say Schilling’s overreaction is probably due in large part to his contempt for certain media people in general. I’ve always respected Schilling for the way he appreciates the game of baseball. And I’ve always wondered how someone so aware could be such a clueless, GWB-loving loser…

    KD, the media hates Bonds because Bonds hates the media. Nothing more, nothing less. They scrutinize Bonds more than others (other players in general, and other players connected to steroids in particular) because he’s going to break Aaron’s record. Nothing more, nothing less.

    The media piles on anyone who says mean things to them — or worse — anyone who doesn’t talk to them at all. As a lifelong baseball fan, I first realized this in the 1980s, with players such as Eddie Murray and George Hendrick. The sports media trashed these guys regularly, all for the crime of choosing not to talk to reporters. And, in those pre-Internet days, it was natural for the average fan to assume that these were bad people, because you only got this narrow perspective. In Murray’s case, it was only when Cal Ripken started talking about what a profound influence Murray had been on his career that they were forced to change the narrative. That, at least, opened my eyes to how the media operates.

    Media people for the most part are all about attaching themselves to power/celebrity and saying they were there to watch famous people and chronicle important events. It’s true in general and it certainly applies to many in the sports media. At their core, these are self-entitled, thin-skinned people who disdain anyone or anything — that includes their own readers as well as athletes who deny them access — that makes their largely cushy jobs in any way difficult.

    Certainly, there’s a significant racial component to fan reaction to black athletes like Bonds and Kobe Bryant. But I don’t think that’s the case with the media. And I also know that, as a white guy, it’s easy for me to reach this conclusion, but I believe it. The media don’t care what color you are — just if you make their little lives easier. They’re insulated and narcisstic, not racist…

  6. TheLastPoet Says:

    Mike T,

    Your question above deserved more attention from us regulars, but you just don’t stoke the fire like that rabblerouser D-Wil! LOL

    If ESPN was TSF? what would be the perception of sports? Shid, what would be the perception of culture, society, life?

    “it’ll be paradise life relaxin’
    black latino and anglo-saxon
    armani exchange deranged/cash lost tribe
    of shabaaz
    free at last/brand new whips to crash
    then we laugh in the illapath
    the villa houses for the crew how we do…

    “…political prisoner set free no work release
    purple m3’s and jet skiis
    feel the wind breeze in the west indies
    elect Coretta Scott King mayor of cities
    and reverse fiends to willies
    it sounds foul
    but every girl I meet will go downtown
    I’ll open every cell in Attica
    Send them to Africa”

    Cue the chorus yall

    (imagine that)

  7. Nassir Jones….what a Last Poet.

    The soldier Sinceres of the game have become early Belly Tommys huh?

    TSF will be ’89 Tribe futuristic to flip the game ’65 political journalistic.

  8. TheLastPoet Says:

    Yessir.

    But you TSF cats actually prove Nas wrong, i.e., hip hop aint dead. It’s true spirit lives in each of you…

    I feel the need to go on and reprint the chorus for all yall listeners who don’t know Nas:

    “if [TSF] ruled the world
    (imagine that)
    i’d free all my sons
    (i luv em luv em babay)
    black diamonds and pearls
    (could it be/if you could be mine we both shine)
    if i ruled the world
    (still livin for today/in these last days and times)”

    No really, hear those words, hear what’s being spoken behind the words, then fuck ESPN. That’s the real (ideal) world, that’s TSF, to me. At least, that’s what I think yall could do.

  9. Sockgate. Or, since Schilling is a republican, maybe we should call this scandal: “In inconvenient sock.”

    This whole fiasco has me wondering one thing: why does MLB allow its players to talk to the media at all? Yes, newspaper coverage broadens the fan base, but MLB could do all media stuff in-house and sell the content. They could control the message. Yes, it would be inauthentic and uninteresting, but even with a drop in MLB news consumers there would be an increase in profit.

    I think Schilling shows that players don’t need the media to get their story out (especially since a lot probably don’t trust the media anyway). If Schilling can get his story to fans directly, what is the point of the major media outlets anyway?

    Everything else in life is about “controlling the message,” why haven’t professional sports taken their cue from professional politics?

    ken

  10. woops.

    “_An_ inconvenient sock.”

    What’s the secret of comedy…… timing!

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