The mainstream sports media is a far cry from what it should be, given the climate of freedom that journalism is granted in the United States, and the relatively lighthearted subject matter that it ensconces. The “blogosphere” and other independent news outlets are often just as bad. For the most part, stories rely on tired tropes and narratives, stripped down to the most common denominator for the average reader to understand without having to think much. For most people, that’s fine- sports are a diversion from more important things, a passion to share around the water cooler during a down moment, something to watch or listen to when nothing else is on, a fun thing to go to on the weekend with friends or family.
For other people (like me), the tired tropes and forced narratives are a source of endless frustration. For the past five years or so, Mets fans like myself have had to bear the brunt of endless tropes and forced narratives, where the truth is twisted, bent, and flipped around to produce a story that will sell the most papers, get the most page views, and have the most people flip to your channel. While many of the ‘misadventures’ of Mets players or staff are legitimate, just as many stories are forced and twisted to deliver a narrative that many like to call ‘LOLMets’. Over these last few years, these ‘LOLMets’ stories seem endless- the uproar about Tom Glavine not feeling devastated about his performance on the last game in 2007, the worst in his life (in his own words, he reserves ‘devastated’ for things more important in life than baseball games, like death); The uproar about Carlos Beltran and Luis Castillo not visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, despite the visit being a voluntary team trip (Beltran was in Puerto Rico, helping with the logistics of building a school that his charitable foundation was spearheading); the uproar that Citi Field, opened in 2009, had more Brooklyn Dodgers stuff than it did Mets (which it didn’t); the uproar that the Mets did not don the caps of New York emergency services groups during the game played on 9/11/11 (because, doing so would defy the explicit orders of Major League Baseball); the controversy that Jose Reyes successfully bunted for a hit and pulled himself out of the game afterwards to maintain his lead in the batting title in the last game of the 2011 season (despite this being done by a host of other players over the years, at various times); the controversy that Johan Santana really didn’t throw the first no-hitter in Mets history, because a ball hit by Carlos Beltran that nicked the foul line was actually fair (which it wasn’t, because the umpire ruled it foul, despite where it actually landed). I’m sure I could go on.
This past week was the Major League All-Star Game. David Wright, in the middle of a MVP-type season, participated in the game, but wasn’t voted in as a started. Pablo Sandoval, the third baseman of the San Francisco Giants had that honor. With voting ending that Tuesday, David Wright was ahead of his closest competitor- Sandoval- by some 460,000 votes on June 26th. When the votes were counted after the voting period ended two days later, Sandoval outpaced Wright by 1.6 million votes. How did this happen? How did, as Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson put it on Twitter, a city of 800,000 outvote a city of 8,000,000? Simply put? Foul play.
It is important to note that the MLB does not prohibit fans from voting multiple times. It is actually encouraged, with fans being allowed to vote up to 25 times for the players they think should participate in baseball’s Midsummer Classic- likely to be able to boast inflated ballot totals, suggesting more interest in the game, the process, or the sport than might actually exist in reality. This is where the rules end, though. A person simply needs to create another e-mail address to be able to vote an additional 25 times and bypass the limit of 25 votes per individual. While this is something that we can assume with regularity, it certainly is against the spirit of the rules, and the notion of ‘fairness’. And yet, on Tuesday June 26th, the Giants hosted a “Super Tuesday” party, where a party was thrown for select fans to vote for San Francisco Giants players to their hearts content. According to the Giants’ official website, the team invited 15 fans who won a contest that involved them tweeting about how much they had already been voting for Giants players. A conference room at AT&T Park, the home of the Giants, was set up as ‘Campaign Headquarters’, where the 15 fans were provided with refreshments and computers where “they used different e-mail addresses to vote as many times as they could for [Giants] players”. According to Bryan Srabian, the San Francisco Giants Director of Social Media, “We wanted to take the chance to not only reward them, but ask them to help us. We asked them to come in and spend the game voting. This is just all about our fans getting behind a special campaign like this. It’s exciting.”
How did the mainstream media and blogosphere react? Here are a few samples of newspaper headlines and online article titles (click at your own risk; I don’t recommend giving these stories page views):
- Mets Fans Mets Fans Failed David Wright in All-Star Game Voting: Fan’s Take
- David Wright Not Starting In All-Star Game, Mets Fans To Blame?
- Mets vs. Dodgers, Game 80: Mets vs. Dodgers, Game 80: David Wright not a starter and Met fans have no one to blame but themselves
- Pablo Sandoval Over David Wright In All-Star Game? It’s All Your Fault, New York
- Sideline Talk: Mets Fans Dropped Ball On David Wright
No every source has similar articles. Ernie Palladino from CBS New York rightly called for the vote to be taken away from fans, because of the questionable choices and blatant ballot stuffing (while not against the rules, certainly against the spirit of the rules, and the spirit of good sportsmanship). Reports like his are buried in the deluge of blame-the-Mets stories that echo the same elements that blame-the-victim stories contain, when about victims of crime. This is what I don’t understand. Wright being outvoted by Sandoval supporters, I can understand. The general reaction of the media, I don’t.
Remember, this is the media we are talking about, the sensationalistic, make-a-story-when-one-doesn’t-actually-exist, say whatever you have to say to sell the story media. If ever there was a time to write sensationalistic articles or ranting TV segments, this is the time. It seems almost tailor made: After tallying around 3.7 million votes in the weeks leading up to the voting deadline, a player garners around two million votes- almost double what he had already accrued- in the span of two days, a seeming statistical impossibility without blatant foul play, such as, say, automatic computer scripts being written to vote for Sandoval being involved- and, surprise, surprise, Silicon Valley is within the area that San Francisco Giants ‘territory’ encompasses! Despite being against the spirit of the rules and competition, the Giants organization itself not only encouraged fans to create fake e-mail addresses, but actually aided them in doing so during their “Super Tuesday” event.
It really boggles the mind. The media- the New York media!- might actually have made a difference if it ran with this kind of story. Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, might have had his hand forced if the media hammered him with it. By and large, people don’t like the way the All Star Game roster is selected, because of the post-season implications the game now has. A potential World Series bound team is going to gain or lose home field advantage based on what amounts to a popularity contest (every year, more deserving players statistically take backseat roles to more popular players). The hornet’s nest that is New York was poked when David Wright- by all accounts a model citizen, guy you want to grow up to be, guy you could take home to mom- lost out to Pablo Sandoval- currently being investigated for sexual assault, known to have work ethic issues- under questionable circumstances. But instead of pushing the issue and asking hard, but valid, questions about not just this event, but the selection process in general, the media by and large opted to go the most LOLMets worthy route. This isn’t so much sour grapes as it is a moment of ‘shake my head’ clarity.