BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. There may have been a time when baseball writing was confined to, you know, baseball. But it's hard to write 162 stories a year about what happens between the chalk lines, and the business of being a beat reporter or columnist is the business of seeking drama, which is fine by everybody, so long as the drama is observed by the writer and not invented out of whole cloth. The fledgling spring training season has already created a furor over Yankees star Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez and his behavior as a teammate, opponent, and human being. According to New York Times baseball writer Murray Chass, his colleagues have some behavior to answer for, themselves. He joins us now from Tampa, Florida. Murray, welcome to OTM.
MURRAY CHASS: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me what happened this spring training with A-Rod.
MURRAY CHASS: Well, what had happened was very innocently, one of the Red Sox, Trot Nixon, had talked to a couple of reporters and said some things about A-Rod that were not complimentary. A-Rod had done an interview and said I'm working out when other players are still sleeping or taking their kids to school. And, I guess Nixon took exception to that and said, you know, yeah, he takes his kids to school, and then he works out, so what's the big deal? Well, reporters, mostly reporters from New York, proceeded to ask a succession of his teammates what they thought of Rodriguez and what he had said, and each day, for several days, a different player or two would respond, and the responses weren't so awful. Nobody was criticizing Rodriguez as being a terrible person, a bad human being, a terrible player, but anything that was being said became that day's story, and after several days of hearing this sort of thing, I just felt it was getting ridiculous.
BOB GARFIELD: But, as to your observation that this was one of the most disturbing things you've witnessed in 45 years, I have to tell you, I was a little stunned by that, because this whole business of kind of baiting athletes for quotes as they stand at their lockers - it seemed to me to be more or less standard operating procedure. How was this episode different from what we just see 26 weeks a year?
MURRAY CHASS: Because in one of those instances, Bronson Arroyo made some comments in, in response to the question, and one paper characterized him as criticizing Rodriguez, and one - another paper characterized him as defending Rodriguez, using the same quotes. [LAUGHTER] That's why it got to be absurd. Yes, reporters ask players questions, trying to elicit interesting answers, but this was the same question, day after day, player after player.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, are you getting the cold shoulder from your colleagues? "Oh, there's Murray Chass, holier-than-thou Murray Chass. He's never baited anyone for a quote."
MURRAY CHASS: One of the reporters I was writing about told me, and I don't know how serious he was, but he said he only wished I had identified him, because then his boss might have given him a raise.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That's funny, but kind of cynical. Is it a cynical enterprise that you're involved in?
MURRAY CHASS: Oh, sure. There's a lot of cynicism in sports, as there should be. New York has tabloid newspapers that compete vigorously with each other, and I think that the worst development in sports is talk radio, where fans call in and hosts make outrageous comments, and the tabloids have, I think, bought into that idea, that the more outrageous they can be, the more attention they will attract.
BOB GARFIELD: Let me put it to you this way - if a White House reporter got caught grossly twisting a quotation out of context, he'd be called in the carpet and, conceivably, could lose his job. It wouldn't do him any good. Is there a lower standard for baseball reporting than for journalism in general?
MURRAY CHASS: Unfortunately, there probably is. There should not be. People say well, that's baseball, and so it doesn't matter whether you get it right or wrong. I disagree. I think that a baseball reporter has to be every bit as accurate and honest as a White House reporter. By the way, I've seen White House reporters who had trouble when they had to cover something in baseball, so it's not like they're perfect.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Murray, thanks for joining us.
MURRAY CHASS: You're welcome, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Murray Chass is a baseball columnist for the New York Times. [MUSIC]