Note: I stand by the premise of the post, but I’ve chosen a poor example to illustrate it.
When baseball players talk, journalists listen. This is especially true when a ballplayer accuses another of an impropriety. Unfortunately, because of baseball’s walled-garden nature, most of those anecdotes reach the public anonymously. It’s the only condition under which journalists can print the accusations. Ballplayers simply do not want their names attached to criticism of fellow players, especially teammates.
Mark Feinsand relates an example involving ESPN broadcaster Rick Sutcliffe:
Sutcliffe said on the air that A-Rod had been feeding Teixeira verbal signs from the on-deck circle, giving his teammate a heads-up on the catcher’s location before the pitch was delivered.
While Feinsand didn’t reveal how Sutcliffe became privy to this controversy, it really comes down to one of two ways. He either made the observation himself, or he heard it from a player. Since he’s a broadcaster for a national network and hasn’t covered more than a handful of Yanks games this year, the former is unlikely. It’s fairly safe to say — though I’ll avoid making the concrete connection — that he got the information from a player.
Which player? We’ll never know. It’s the same as the pitch-tipping accusation in Selena Roberts’s book. An anonymous player made an accusation, and the journalist ran with it. This, I think, is a mistake. Journalists shouldn’t feed the public accusations from anonymous sources.
A glance through the comments section of RAB reveals the problems with anonymity. When people don’t attach their own names, and thereby their own reputations, to a comment, they’ll say things they would never, ever say if their integrity was on the line. But, because in many instances there is no way to connect the commenter and his real-life personage, the commenter is free to say whatever he or she likes, without any repercussions.
This can be applied to baseball players. Since their names will never be attached to the comment, they can say what they like. They could have a personal vendetta against the player and say something in a moment of frustration. They might relay a suspicion, grounded in nothing but a single observation. It could be any number of things, but since the player doesn’t have his name attached to the comment, it won’t harm his reputation. He’s free to say whatever he wants, really.
Please be clear: this is not to say that A-Rod didn’t tip pitches, nor is it to say that A-Rod doesn’t give Teixeira a verbal sign from the on-deck circle. The point is that if players are going to levy these accusations, they should either attach their name, and thereby reputation, to the comment, or not say it at all. How can the public determine the validity of the accusation if we don’t even know the source?
Anonymous sources are important for journalists. Through anonymous sources journalists can find out information that they otherwise would not have. However, there’s a point of abuse. If a player isn’t willing to attach his reputation to a comment, why should a journalist deign it worthy to print? The short answer, in my opinion, is that he or she shouldn’t. Leave the grenade-lobbing gossip in the clubhouse. If a player feels strongly enough about the accusation — both its accuracy and its gravity — he will put his name on the accusation. Otherwise, it should be left in the clubhouse, like just about everything else in baseball.