Tuesday, September 25, 2007

LA Times Maintains Rift Story, Doubling Beat Writer Coverage

The Dodgers' internal clubhouse dissension is such a big story, according to the LA Times, that it requires TWO beat writers to pick up all the threads of this story. Don't Kevin Baxter and Dylan Hernandez have something better about which to write? Like, for example, an analysis of the impact of Colletti's moves and non-moves this year? The Dodgers' post-All Star Break fall from grace? Grady Little's inability to right the freefall? Why Roberto Hernandez' roster spot can only be explained by a backroom deal between Frank McCourt and the AARP (which I suppose in turn explains those ubiquitous hair-restoration advertisements seen in Dodger Stadium this year)?

But wait, this may be too harsh. Let's analyze today's article and try and figure out what key nuggets of information the LA Times has uncovered today.

Exhibit 1: A quote from waiver-wire pickup David Wells, 44:

"Some of the guys that you see around that are young are a little cocky," said pitcher David Wells, at 44 the oldest Dodger, yet one of the few who has moved comfortably between both sides in a split clubhouse. "But you know what? They're going to get humbled. And when they do, they'll switch their attitude. It's not my place and time to tell people how to act. But I pay attention.

"And if I feel the need maybe I'll say, 'Hey, maybe you want to try this approach.' Because I was told that."

First of all, using David Wells as the article's first quote describing the Dodgers reeks of journalistic desperation. Wells, who joined the Dodgers late in the season and first pitched for the team August 26, is perhaps less-suited to speak on any clubhouse dynamic than any other Dodger short of Chin-Lung Hu (for whom English is a second language). [And believe me, this is one of the few times Wells is "less-suited" on anything, if you know what I mean.] What's more, the quote that is picked up by BaxtHerNandez might be read as inflammatory, I suppose--but is more likely to be read as a congenial, unprovocative observation, which could be applied to the Dodgers' youngsters just as easily as it could to any team's youth. No inciting of violence from Wells.

So the LA Times' reporters look elsewhere. Witness Exhibit 2--The Trash Can Incident:

Before a game on the last homestand, an attendant placed a trash can too close to [Matt] Kemp's locker in the Dodgers' crowded clubhouse. But when the outfielder got up to move it, one veteran complained aloud -- but not to Kemp -- about how rookies today are different from those of the past.

Heavens to Murgatroid, Kemp moved a trash can away from his locker? Surely that reflects rampant insolence on the behalf of youth! Note that Kemp didn't kick the can away in disgust, or ask a veteran (or even a clubhouse attendant) to move the can. He just moved it himself. Furthermore, from the poor juxtaposition of the second sentence, it's not even clear if the veteran is even addressing Kemp's actions in the first place with his separate comment. What the hell is this incident supposed to represent, guys? Sounds pretty innocuous to me, and probably to the veteran who didn't even notice it in the first place (by the way it's poorly described, at least).

Let's take Exhibit 3--Dissecting the players' actions under a microscope:

Some players have also wondered why Kemp continues to commit the same baserunning gaffes while other veterans have noted -- off the record -- that few young players hang around the clubhouse before or after games to talk baseball. That's a practice that hasn't limited itself to young players, though, since veterans such as Shea Hillenbrand and Brad Penny are typically the first to leave the clubhouse on the road. And, home and away, Kent is habitually the last to arrive, walking silently through the clubhouse to his corner locker without speaking to anyone.

On the issue of baserunning gaffes, anyone who has watched the Dodgers late in this season knows that the errors fall on both "sides" of the debate; Kemp has been caught multiple times, but so have Kent and Garciaparra and Gonzalez. Frankly, I don't think this necessarily reflects on either rookies or veterans--I have contended all along that it reflects upon third base coach Rich Donnelly, who either has incredibly bad judgment in his baserunning calls, or is thoroughly ignored by the players in the first place, or (c) all of the above.

And on the issue of leaving early, the article goes out of its way to point out Kent's stoic nature, when a day prior it went out of its way to point out Kemp's lack of investment in camaraderie. Are both "at fault"? Probably. Kent doesn't have a history of being Mr. Clubhouse, and Kemp doesn't appear willing to take that role either--and that's okay, frankly; it hasn't stopped Kent from amassing a pretty good base of Hall of Fame credentials, and it wouldn't impede Kemp if he follows a similar trajectory. So what's the issue here?

If Baxter and Hernandez want to waste time lamenting that fact that there is no clubhouse chemistry, simplifying the issue into old vs. new, then the least they could do is provide evidence of behavioral contrasts or inflammatory quotes. Instead, they combine their grasping of straws to waste our time and a crapload of column inches (which, based on the shrinking size of the LA Times these days, is a valuable resource).

Maybe the Times reporters should spend their time focusing on a post-mortem that is based less in recapping frustrated feelings and more in analyzing substantive issues?

After all, there are two of you.