POST CARDS FROM THE 2011 WINTER MEETINGS #2

For me personally, the Winter Meetings are as much about seeing old friends as anything else.  It may sound cliché, but there truly is a “baseball family.”  While the Meetings are conducted, I’m also attending the Public Relations Meetings, which span three days.  These are my people!  While we work for competing teams, we are part of a fraternity.  As a group, we share the same challenges and goals.  Everything that affects the image of our franchise, we take personally.   And if we don’t, then we’re in the wrong business. 

We discussed many issues that impact our universe.  Dan Halem from MLB’s Labor Relations Department spoke to us about the new basic agreement.  Kevin Sullivan, the ex-White House communications chief, addressed the group about social media, building a message and how players can avoid embarrassing pratfalls in the media.  Joe Torre, now executive VP of Baseball Operations for the League, and his aide Peter Woodfork provided an update on umpires, and how meticulous their office is in quality control, how high umpires consistently score under any matrix used, and also emphasized that the Men in Blue are human beings, just like the rest of us.

Yet perhaps the most interesting – and yes, even heart-warming – exchange came from national baseball journalists Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman, who joined the PR directors to discuss how they view this phenomenon called Twitter.  First, what they said that was interesting.  Rosenthal, the former Baltimore Sun reporter who now stars on multiple FOX Sports platforms, opened the session by expressing some regrets about the rapid evolution that has seen Twitter totally reshape the media business and how consumers’ habits have changed.  “It’s where we break news now,” said a reluctant Rosenthal, shrugging his shoulders.  “It has its good and bad points.”  While recognizing the immediacy provided by Twitter, Rosenthal also said he agonizes over the fact that the two-source rule that used to be the industry standard in deciding to run a story has pretty much been tossed asunder.  One source and it’s tweeted in a New York second.  And that goes for the veteran scribes, who know that, in their industry, if you “lose” in the tweet posting game – even by one or two minutes – you finish behind the competition.  Rosenthal said there are many more mistakes made, himself included, in what he described as “a lessening of standards” in the media business.  Heyman, who just left Sports Ilustrated to take a position with CBSSportsline.com, echoed Ken’s feelings.  He welcomed the vehicle that Twitter provides for breaking stories.  “It used to be where we would file a story at 8 p.m. and then pray no other writer broke it before we did.  Now, we can control that by immediately tweeting it the moment we’ve got the story.”  

As for the heart-warming part, I think what I enjoyed most about their presentation was this:  While both Rosenthal and Heyman are fierce competitors, along with the likes of Buster Olney, Jayson Stark and Jerry Crasnick, you could see they were friendly rivals who clearly respected – maybe even empathized with – each other.  In a way, they, too, are part of the baseball family.  They have been covering countless Winter Meetings, World Series and ordinary every day games. Through the years, they have built close relationships with hundreds of journalists, GMs, PR types, agents and, of course, players and managers.  Yes, they call them “sources,” but in a way, they also consider them friends.  That is not a conflict of interest, merely a statement about the human condition.  And I, for one, am glad we can enjoy the company of people, no matter which side of the fence they work from, or whether they’re a team rival. 

Next up, I’ll give you an update from the GM suite.  Billy Beane spoke to our beat writers recently, but to be truthful, there wasn’t much to report.   He said he remains open-minded about possible trades, and has communicated or met with more than half the teams in MLB.  However, he also cautioned the writers, stressing that being open-minded does not necessarily mean we’re “shopping” any players.

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