Discover more from Jeff Pearlman's Journalism Yang Yang
The Yang Slinger: Vol. LXVII
Last week, Fox Sports' Jake Mintz was ripped apart for reporting something he heard in the Atlanta Braves' clubhouse. He deserves the apology he ultimately received.
On the afternoon of June 25, 2008, I was situated inside the home clubhouse of the Houston Astros.
At the time their stadium was called Enron Field, and I happened to be in town (and at the scheduled game against the Texas Rangers) to do some reporting for my upcoming (cough, shitty) book, “The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality.”1 As was often the case when I roamed a Major League clubhouse, I was likely chewing on a pen, gripping a notepad, staring at the floor, debating whether to approach Brad Ausmus or Hunter Pence or Chad Paronto. I hated everything about the clubhouse. The standing. The looming. The whispers.
Jeff Pearlman's Journalism Yang Yang is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
“FUCK YOU, MOTHERFUCKER!”
The screaming came from mere inches away. I turned, and before my eyes was a sight I had never before witnessed, and have never witnessed since: A ballplayer and a team executive were punching one another.
The ballplayer was Astros pitcher Shawn Chacon, best known for once having eaten his Rottweiler while listening to the Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’ hit single, "Up Where We Belong."2
The executive was Ed Wade, Astros general manager and a man who bore a striking resemblance to Kermit the Frog.
This wasn’t an arm wrestle. No, it was a full-on, I-wanna-beat-the-living-fuck-out-of-you brouhaha. Best I remember, the two men had one another in a sorta WWE-esque grasp, where the Hulkster (Chacon) is about to body slam Bob Backlund (Wade) into a table. There was screaming and cursing and bellowing and requisite “Break ‘em up!” cries.
Thanks to the magic of 2008 technology, my Olympus digital voice recorder captured most of the exchange. It went thusly:
Chacon: “Fuck you."
Wade: “Fuck you."
Chacon: "No, fuck you, motherfucker."
Wade: "You know what, you're suspended."
Chacon: "I don't give a fuck. Suspend me, motherfucker."
Wade: "You're suspended motherfucker."
Chacon: "I better not see you again Ed, you punk-ass bitch."
Wade: "Yeah, OK."
Chacon: "Fuck you."
Wade: "You're just as stupid as you can get."
With that, the Astros’ PR staff announced the clubhouse was closed and ushered us all out.
There were probably, oh, 10 reporters in the room, and in the immediate aftermath we congregated, then agreed that because it took place in the sacred sanctuary of the Major League clubhouse, the Chacon-Wade fight was off-limits, and no one should write about it.
If you believe me, you—like Shawn Chacon—are just as stupid as you can get.
Absolutely everyone wrote about Chacon v. Wade. The Houston Chronicle was on it. The Associated Press was all over it. The Dallas Morning News made sure to get it in print. By the next morning, news of the brawl was absolutely, positively, 100-percent everywhere …
And within two days, Chacon was released by the Astros. He never again tossed a baseball in a Major League game. Which is probably fair. Baseball rules are fairly lenient, but beating up your team’s general manager isn’t a recipe for longevity.
I bring this up because, 15 years after Chacon-Wade I: Throwin’ Bombs in Enron, we have new clubhouse excitement to discuss. Ten days ago, after Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series between the Phillies and Braves, a Fox Sports MLB analyst named Jake Mintz—reporting from Atlanta’s clubhouse—included this little nugget in his piece about the game …
In the follow-up clash, Bryce Harper homered, and as he rounded the bases the slugger made certain to glare menacingly toward Arcia. It was a clear message from the Phillies’ superstar (How dare you talk shit about me?), and afterward many inside the Atlanta clubhouse were incensed.
Not at Harper.
Not at Arcia.
Not at Emmanuel Lewis, Keffe D, Ross Baumgarten or former New York Jets punter Chuck Ramsey
No. They were pissed … at Mintz.
“The clubhouse is a sanctuary, and I think when things like that get out it doesn’t make people wanna talk to the media at all,” Atlanta catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. “It affects the people who have been great to us all year, and it is what it is.”
The worst reaction wasn’t actually from a player, but someone named Alanna Rizzo, who went on an inexplicably cruel, profane, look-at-me-earning-your-thumbs-up-emojis rant on the MLB Network …
I’ve now listened to Rizzo’s (initial) take four or five times—and it’s infuriating. First, because Rizzo has never actually worked as a legitimate journalist. But second, because … what the flying fuckity fuck is she talking about? Unless the definition of sacred place has changed, how is a Major League post-game clubhouse a sacred place? It’s crawling with naked and half-naked men in soiled glorified pajamas and jockstraps. It smells of asshole and body odor. There’s burping, farting, a catered meal and more burping and farting. The credentialed media is allowed in—armed with recorders, cameras, notepads, pens—to chronicle everything that’s transpiring. Literally, we are there to watch, listen and report.
So if Orlando Arcia is naive/dumb/careless/indifferent enough to crack a (fairly harmless) joke about Bryce Harper in front of (ahem) dozens upon dozens of reporters, on what planet is that on … the reporter?
More important, what sort of MLB Network brainwashing has Rizzo undergone to think she needs to not nearly stand up to a reporter (on behalf of wealthy ballplayers, no less), but refer to him as an underserving jackoff?
Yes, she ultimately apologized. But not before 95 percent of sports media members went to bat for Mintz.
“Of course it was fine,” says C. Trent Rosecrans, the Athletic’s Reds beat scribe, told me. “It was what Jake saw and heard. That’s the most basic type of reporting, right? Observing? And, well, to be honest, I’ve heard audio from that night. I even told Jake I thought he underplayed it. And, well, the fact nobody but Jake and Chelsea mentioned it at all was surprising to me, because it was really obvious. The clubhouse is our workplace, too. I’ve spent more time in the Great American Ball Park clubhouse than most of the players. It’s a spot I know and a spot where I work. There are a ton of places players can go if they don’t want to be around the media—the dining room, lounges, weight room, cold tub, shower, whatever. According to MLB’s CBA, I have every right to be there at designated times. What I see and hear is fair game, and I honestly believe all the players know that, as well.”
Added Pete Sampson, the Atheltic’s Notre Dame beat dude: “For the sake of being a contrarian, I'm trying to see the Braves' side of things on this. And I just can't get there. Maybe I'd give some leeway to the player . if this wasn't professional sports, but it's the frickin' Major League Baseball playoffs and it's an open clubhouse. I'm all for a healthy dialogue between players and media where not everything has to be on the record at all times for the sake of candor and actually understanding a story. But this is not that.”
In particular, I was dazzled by the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes, who fired off this beaut of a Xitter string …
Taking a step back (or forward), the incident does lead to an interesting question: Are there things we shouldn’t report from a clubhouse? Are there lines that cannot be crossed? Are there moments when—even if something isn’t stated as off the record—it’s off the record?
Answer: I sorta kinda think so. But I’m not certain on the whens and wheres.
I mean, if you overhear an athlete discussing, say, his wife’s miscarriage, or a pending divorce, or a cancer diagnosis—there are obvious no-nos that rely on journalists being human and compassionate and empathetic. Our jobs are not to make one’s personal misery public for the sake of making personal misery public.
I also don’t believe in eavesdropping on private chats between athletes. I actually remember, years ago, standing inside the visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field when the Yankees came to Chicago to play the Cubs. I was, oh, five feet from reliever Graeme Lloyd, and I heard him utter to a teammate (about me), “Don’t say too much—the walls have ears.”
And I wanted to say, “Hey, you don’t have to worry.” But, well, he was sorta right. I was listening in. And it wasn’t cool. It was amateurish and unprofessional. “I err on the side of caution when reporting about what I see or hear in the clubhouse,” said Kevin Acee, San Diego Union-Tribune Padres beat writer. “I am fairly religious about that as a tenet of my beat reporting. There are countless things I see and hear every season that I don’t report. Most, I don’t think are ‘newsworthy. Others, I don’t think I can properly contextualize. Some of the things I pass on would certainly prompt a bunch of clicks (just because the most random things get clicks), but I don’t need to make them public and violate what I consider to be a sacred trust.”
Back when he was covering the Lakers for the Los Angeles Times in the early 2000s, Tim Brown witnessed guard J.R. Rider screaming at Mitch Kupchak, the general manager. This was in the bowels of the arena, in a room with a wide-open door.
Brown wrote about it—and Rider sorta kinda threatened to kill him.3
“I think a reporter has to have a feel for what’s personal and what’s, let’s say, community property,” Brown told me. “And, then, why are you using that conversation in your reporting? Is it to make someone look bad? Is it to educate the fans? Can you walk into that clubhouse tomorrow and defend your decision?”
Much like reporters informing the public of the ugly details concerning Chacon and Wade, Brown had to (as a journalist, as a reporter) write about a high-priced free agent acquisition browbeating the general manager. He had to. A. Because it’s news; B. Because if Brown doesn’t someone else will. And (for good and for bad) the job of a journalist is to break stories. Period.
And the truth is, while soft-skinned babies like Rizzo and d'Arnaud and Gausman whined about Mintz, the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of athletes I’ve covered fully understand that an open locker room is fair game.
“There’s no harm there,” said former Packers linebacker Na'il Diggs. “Arcia knows that media is in the locker room. If his ego can't stand to hold his water until they leave then this happens. It’s the player’s fault 100 percent. The locker room is sacred, but how sacred can it be with all the media in there? There's a time for that. Everyone knows that you cannot do and say certain things when media is present. Everyone knows that. The coach or manager says it everyday after games and practice.”
“If a dude is afraid to joke around about another dude, he’s a punk,” added Brian Johnson, the former Major League catcher. “Regardless of where it was or who was talking or listening. Talk your shit and stand by it. If you can’t stand by your mouth, don’t talk shit. If he shoves it back in your face and uses it against you, that’s your fault—not his, not the reporter’s.”
Last point. I spoke with a couple of sports media relations folks about this whole thing, and the reaction was (predictably) mixed. Marty Appel, the former Yankees PR guru, called Arcia-Mintz a “nothingburger—the clubhouse isn’t a sanctuary once the media enters. You can only control so much. Bad judgment by Arcia, overreaction by many.” But Bob Rose, former San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s media director, had a slightly different perspective.
Back some 30 years ago, when Rose was with the Giants, Sports Illustrated sent Richard Hoffer, a senior writer, to the Bay to profile Barry Bonds. The resulting piece, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING BARRY BONDS: THE BEST PLAYER IN BASEBALL? BARRY BONDS (JUST ASK HIM), was a justified takedown of Bonds—a man who remains the textbook definition of narcissistic dickhole. But deep within the piece, Hoffer wrote this …
Rose had no problem with Hoffer’s destruction of Bonds. It was warranted. Deserved, even. But Thompson, Rose said, was a wonderful man and fairly ego-less member of the team. That singular line still irks him. “Hoffman, for some reason, ran a quote of the one-sided phone conversation, making Robby sound really arrogant (which he wasn't),” Rose told me. “What puzzled me is the quote Richard ran had nothing to do with Bonds or the story.”
And maybe, just maybe, Bob Rose has a point. Maybe taking a sliver from a one-sided clubhouse phone conversation goes too far.
Maybe it’s off limits.
Or maybe, in the land of the clubhouse-embedded sports journalist, it’s all fair game.
The Quaz Five with … David Dorsey
David Dorsey is a Florida-based writer and the author of “Dunks, Threes and Palm Trees: How the City of Palms Classic became high school basketball's best tournament.” He also rocks a sweet goatee.
1. Ok, David—before we get to the complicated stuff, you told me you've been locked out of your Twitter account. How did that happen? And what's the impact on your sanity?: Living in Robert E. Lee County, sometimes the Confederate nutjobs get to me. I wrote a snarky response to one of those guys. My response mentioned the fact that Robert E. Lee died stripped of his citizenship. I think he somehow flagged the Tweet, and Twitter, long before Elon Musk showed up, flagged my account. By then, I had left my job for the current one, and my email linked to Twitter no longer worked. I decided to just leave Twitter behind me forever. It has been an incredible boost to my sanity. However, I'm wondering how launching a book without Twitter will work and how many sales it could cost me. But whatever. No regrets.
2. You're the author of a new book, "Dunks, Threes and Palm Trees: How the City of Palms Classic became high school basketball's best tournament." Ok, so I'm fascinated. This isn't, like, a book about Dr. J or Magic or the 1980s Hoyas. It's the saga of a (somewhat obscure) hoops tournament. What's the motivation to write it?: As a Kansas Jayhawk nutcase moving to football hotbed Fort Myers (Deion's hometown) in 1994, I found it challenging to satisfy my basketball cravings. Ever since I saw Chauncey Billups and Teddy Dupay that first year, the tournament always resonated with me. I'm not sure exactly when I decided to do a book. Probably eight or so years ago with year 50 in mind. But I knew if I didn't write it, nobody else would. And I knew if I did write it, the NYC publishing houses and agent(s) you have the luxury of having wouldn't care about it. These were mere speed-bumps though. The tournament has been good not just to me, but for the community at large. But I wrote this with a national audience in mind as well. As Thomas Edison said in 1914, "There is only one Fort Myers in the United States, and there are 90 million people who are going to find out about it." I'm just trying to prove Mr. Lightbulb right.
3. What are the complications of writing about a tournament? Like, I've written about leagues, teams, players. Never "an event.": Books about events are indeed rare. But Ian Guerin wrote one about The Beach Ball Classic, another high-caliber high school tournament. While I didn't use that as a template, I did use it for inspiration. The challenge was capturing characters who are well-known locally but "no-names from nowhere," to borrow an also obscure Kevin Mackey phrase, nationally. Most basketball fans who wager $19.90 on Dunks, Threes and Palm Trees will find these characters eccentric. Especially in the Wilkiemania chapter. Also, I cover all the major trends of the past five decades specific to high school basketball. So it's a bit more than just a book about an event.
4. So you spent a long time writing for the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press, and now write for Gulfshore Business. Have you lost hope for newspapers as an industry? Is there any way to save us?: Newspaper Armageddon has been tough to witness. Yes, I have lost hope for newspapers as an industry. Local news lives on and in different ways. As I'm sure you noticed, the Indy Star editor recently abandoned ship for a non-profit startup. In cities like Fort Myers, we need more investigative journalism. We need more competition. Until somebody figures out how to monetize it, local governments can get away with various schemes. The News-Press is ignoring a lot of big stories and rehashing the Taylor Swift concert from 16 years ago in Lehigh Acres instead to get page views. While I have given up hope in newspapers, I have to maintain faith that local news will continue, because we're doing that at Gulfshore Business. I think the next evolution could be the non-profit model (if actual Armageddon doesn't occur first).
5. What's your approach to book writing? Do you do an outline? Just dive in? Write as you go?: During the early months of the pandemic, I wrote a so far unpublished action/thriller novel (think Jack Reacher) called "Crushing Day." I borrowed the title from a Joe Satriani song. I tried the Lee Child approach with that one. No plan. No outline. Not even an end result in mind. And I had a lot of fun and even had a handful of agents request to read it but to no avail. As for Dunks, Threes and Palm Trees, I identified the themes and the trends I wanted to cover. The three-point shot. Dunking. California teams. Different future NBA players and other teams that stood out. I built each chapter around them. This book was more of an outline situation and then filling in the gaps. There was definitely some planning rather than freestyling. I had a ton of fun writing it, and I hope you have a ton of fun reading it or at least the page I marked about Jason Segel being an awesome slam dunker.
Bonus (rank in order favorite to least): Kevin McCarthy, the North Carolina Outer Banks, Buck Williams, Foo Fighters, Colgate toothpaste, "The Golden Bachelor," Marvis Frazier, Trevor Siemian, bathtub farts: 1. Foo Fighters. My wife and I saw them in July in Montreal in a tiny hockey gym that seats fewer than 3,800 fans. Incredible. 2. North Carolina Outer Banks. Had an amazing family reunion there in the mid-90s. 3. Marvis Frazier. Had to Google him, but he reminded me of Chip Johnson, an old Fort Myers barber, since deceased, who once floored Muhammad Ali in a sparring session at the Fifth Street Gym in Miami. 4. Trevor Siemian. Prototype journeyman who, like my late grandfather, went to Northwestern. 5. Colgate toothpaste. Because I witnessed Colgate’s Kenny Gamble play a great game at Princeton. 6. Buck Williams. Always underrated. I should have ranked him higher. 7. Bathtub farts, because who doesn’t want to be two again sometimes? 8. Tough call here at the end. Kevin McCarthy. 9. “The Golden Bachelor.”
Ask Jeff Pearlman a fucking question(s)
Here’s a wacky idea—ask me any journalism question you like, and I’ll try and answer honestly and with the heart-of-a-champion power one can expect from a mediocre substack.
Hit me up in my Twitter DMs, or via e-mail at email@example.com or just use the comments section here …
From Kasey: Which of your books do you feel did not succeed as much as it should have?: Man, that’s an easy one. My second book, “Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero” was my life’s work. I put everything I had into it, and really thought it would soar up the New York Times’ best-seller’s list. And then (glub), "Game of Shadows" by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams4 hit shelves—three or four weeks before mind did.
And I was dead on arrival.
From Darron: Saw you on Eisen, saw the tie your grandmother made out of curtains.
I went to podiatry school in Iowa and one of my instructors was Dr. Pearlman,
who wore ties made from curtains. I could not believe you told the story and had the
name Pearlman! Any relation?: Though my mom is perhaps the greatest Pearlman to ever create a tie from curtains, she is a lone wolf. Aka: No relation. Sadly.
A side point: The tie is ridiculous. Tilted to one side, the worst pattern ever. But I love it, because it’s my mom. And she’s awesome.
A random old article worth revisiting …
On June 15, 1996, M. Scot Skinner of the Arizona Daily Star joined scores of other movie reviewers in completely misunderstanding the pure genius that was, “The Cable Guy”—my all-time favorite film …
This week’s college writer you should follow on Instagram …
Ziv Carmi, graduate student at Gettysburg College
Ziv has friends and family members living in Israel. He feels this shit in very real ways. He wrote …
One can follow Ziv on Instagram here.
Journalism musings for the week …
Musing 1: What a fantastic piece of writing from Michael Ottone, aspiring speechwriter, on the power of public oratory. Writes Ottone in THE IMPORTANCE OF VERSATILE LEADERSHIP COMMUNICATION: “The power of leadership communication transcends brands. Political groups, social movements, even religious groups, all must have leaders that can communicate and make arguments effectively in an increasingly packed marketplace of ideas, and those skilled with language have the power to elevate a leader from just another voice to the voice.”
Musing 2: Lord, make sure you’re ready and sitting down before you read WALKING BRITTANY HOME: HOW MY WIFE’S CANCER CHANGED MY UNDERSTANDING OF DEATH in the Washington Post. Simply a beautiful, haunting essay from Devin Faraci, the longtime film critic. One of the best things I’ve read this year.
Musing 3: So a few days ago I received a lovely email from a man who Googled the name of his late uncle, Gerald Quinn, and found a blog post I penned in 2018. He wrote this …
And this sorta stuff just warms my heart and reminds me why I love this job. We’re not saving lives. But we’re evoking emotions.
Musing 4: I thought Joe Biden came off really well in last Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview. And I am, truly, starting to wonder whether the whole he’s-in-major-decline thing is a merging of good ol’ ageism and a GOP smear campaign (because they’re running an unhinged nutjob). Biden seems awfully sharp to me.
Musing 5: So, I watch “Love is Blind”? And enjoy it. And think Milton Johnson, the super-tall 24-year-old, is now one of the greatest characters in reality television history. His little monologue at the reunion was just … it.
Musing 6: I’m not sure there’s a basketball player on the planet I find less interesting than the Lakers’ Austin Reaves. And that’s no insult to the kid—he can play. But … meh. That said, The Ringer’s Mirin Fader wrote a helluva piece, headlined, THE SUMMER OF AUSTIN REAVES.
Musing 7: Watched with glee as Katie Nolan, sports media personality, tore it up on Celebrity Jeopardy last week. And also said—with glee—to my wife, “This (Jeopardy, Katie, etc) is the closest I’ll ever be to being considered a celebrity!”
Musing 8: My heart is aflutter over this lovely New York Times pieces via Maureen O’Connor—BARNES & NOBLE SETS ITSELF FREE. And I have to say, back when B&N and Borders were beating up on independent book sellers, I didn’t picture a world where I’d be actively rooting for the store. But … go Barnes & Noble!
Musing 9: The Economist isn’t exactly a place that throws love at Joe Biden, but in JOE BIDEN HAS SHOWN A STEADY HAND IN THE GAZA CRISIS—well, it’s legit praise. Reads the article: “Joe Biden has a temper. He vents it sometimes on aides when he is unhappy with their work, and occasionally even on voters who have the nerve to criticise him. But when it comes to building relationships to achieve his goals over the long term, whether with a wayward legislator or an oppositional foreign leader, Mr Biden has long demonstrated unusual patience and forbearance.”
Musing 10: Even though my children outgrew my Halloween antics long ago, it remains my favorite holiday of the year. So this little jam gave me the warm fuzzies.
Musing 11: This week’s Two Writers Slinging Yang stars Russ Bengtson, bearded wonder and author of, “A History of Basketball in Fifteen Sneakers.”
Quote of the week …
A steal at $3.74.
Admittedly, this is a lie. As far as I know, Shawn Chacon never consumed a pet. He did, however, go 1-9 for the 2004 Colorado Rockies.
Really, he threatened to kill him. Tim is still alive, so all’s good.
It’s a terrific book that deserved everything it earned.