Investigative sports reporting done right and not at all.
The 2011 Redsox sported a $162MM payroll and a 90-72 record. They held a nine game lead over the Rays for the wildcard on September 3. Then they went 7-20 in September missing the playoffs, one of the worst collapses in baseball history. Their manager was fired.
Since this occurred in Boston and since Bob Hohler holds a role as investigative reporter for the Boston Globe, we have a pretty good idea.
“… Terry Francona lost his ability to prevent some of the lax behavior that characterized the collapse. Team sources said Francona, who has acknowledged losing influence with some former team leaders, appeared distracted during the season by issues related to his troubled marriage and to his health.”
“Drinking beer in the Sox clubhouse is permissible. So is ordering take-out chicken and biscuits. Playing video games on one of the clubhouse’s flat-screen televisions is OK, too. But for the Sox pitching trio to do all three during games, rather than show solidarity with their teammates in the dugout, violated an unwritten rule that players support each other, especially in times of crisis.
I could keep excerpting but Hohler’s story covers:
- Francona personal problems (divorce, pain-killer use)*;
- Starting pitchers hanging out in clubhouse instead of dugout during games;
- Players carping about having to play a double-header (due to Hurricane Irene);
- Lack of conditioning;
- Personal record pursuits;
- Public sniping between teammates;
- Complaints about late ‘getaway’ games.
It’s a comprehensive and well-written and interesting documentation of the ugly side of the professional athletics. Exhibit A for: ‘The Entitled Ballplayer.’
In an era where all games are on TV and all games’ statistics are online and pool reports provide the same set of bland post-game interviews for everyone… the Hohler article is a shining example that sports reporting can still be relevant.
Compare the above to another interesting time and place: the 2009 Browns.
Let’s see how another sports market reported on a uniquely peculiar story.
The 2009 Browns are under new management with Eric Mangini as head coach and George Kokinis as GM. The BQ/DA tandem at QB managed to crack 200 passing yards once in eight games leading to a 1-7 record at the bye week. The last two games before the bye were 3-31 and 6-30 losses to Packers and Bears. For these two games passing yardage was under 90 yards.
The talent brought in by Kokinis/Mangini included free-agent signings Robert Royal (30 years old), Floyd Womack (31), John St. Clair (32), David Bowens (35), Eric Barton (32). The Sanchez trade netted Abe Elam (28), Kenyon Coleman (30) plus a backup QB and four draft picks (Alex Mack and David Veikune plus the move-back trades which brought Coye Francies and James Davis).
In short, the 2009 Browns were both horrible and old. In addition to the six 30 or older players acquired, the team had starters Jamal Lewis (30), Shaun Rogers (30), Robaire Smith (32). Steve Heiden (33), Hank Fraley (32), Mike Furrey (32), Hank Poteat (32) also saw starting roles throughout the season.
That’s fourteen starters over 30 on a 1-7, 8 points per game team.
How did such a bizarrely horrible roster get assembled?
We don’t know. But we do know that on the Monday night after the Bears game, GM Kokinis ‘was literally shown the door.‘
What the hell? What happened?
“Why the relationship between Mangini and Kokinis exploded is still somewhat of a mystery. There are two sides to what happened and both parties are bound by a confidentiality agreement contained in Kokinis’ financial settlement.”
We have a report of head-butting over personnel from a national source here.
“… we’re told that Kokinis and Mangini repeatedly butted heads, and that their friendship quickly disintegrated due to their inability to reach an agreement on multiple personnel decisions.”
Deeply flawed working relationship says (national source) SI here.
“… Kokinis quickly found himself caught in an inner-organizational power struggle with Mangini that he was both ill-equipped to fight in terms of having established allies in the building, and temperamentally disinclined to wage… [and] felt marginalized within the Browns front office, lacked .. personnel decision-making authority .., and was ultimately scape-goated by Mangini when the repeated failures by the Browns (1-7) this season intensified the heat on the new coach.”
Err. This plow won’t scour.
WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED?
Was there no pivotal incident? On what players did they disagree? Were there raised voices in a conference room? After Kokinis was overruled (or, ‘lost the power-struggle’ if you prefer the Kokinis-side leaks), did he continue to participate and fulfill his role or was there a petulant change in attitude and demeanor? Sullen web-surfing in his cube eight hours a day? What were the grounds of Lerner’s dismissal ‘for cause’ claim? Did anything come of the examination of Kokinis’ phone records and the ‘trade secrets’ gambit? What’s Dawn Aponte got to do with this? Mike Kennan?
And mainly: Is there no sportswriter in Cleveland willing to write this epic story?
Our friends at Frowns offer a report of trolling Cleveland sports media types who apparently know something but prefer to deny their listeners the story (link):
“… Rizzo and Goldhammer once again trolled their listeners by reminding them that they know what really happened to cause former Browns GM George Kokinis’s sudden and mysterious mid-season departure from the Browns in 2009, but they’re still not telling.”
Frowns comes as close as anyone to sharing an unreported element of the story:
“Immediately upon Kokinis’s termination .. off-the-record reports started coming out of Berea that Kokinis had a substance abuse problem, …”
Let’s explore this.
Reporters covering the Browns are aware of ‘substance abuse’ rumors surrounding Kokinis. If true, it’s certainly a notable datapoint. It’s relevant in piecing together how an elderly 1-7 pro-football team was assembled. Was Kokinis passed out in a strip-club parking lot when the Bears called with a Jay Cutler for Kenyon Coleman deal? It starts to fill in the blanks concerning the ‘for cause’ dismissal.
But what is the substance being abused? Is there a clear link between it and declining performance? Were other, personal, factors in play to precipitate the abuse? Was there a history? Warning flags in Baltimore? What would make a rising NFL personnel executive suddenly go off the rails in Cleveland?
And finally, if true, its non-reporting raises another question: why should a GM be offered discretion and deferential treatment on a substance abuse matter when athletes are generally not?
The sportswriters’ access maintenance conundrum.
This post was born out of a convo over on Reboot. (And which is now the subject of a broader ‘In defense of MKC post.’) Max brought up the lack of meaningful reporting out of Berea:
I want to know why it seems nothing ever gets reported about the “behind the scenes” stuff at 76 Lou Groza Drive, yet after the parties in question skip town, bushes are beaten around, and everyone acts like everyone knows what happened when it is never really properly addressed. The two most recent examples I can think of involve Gorge Kokinis and Mike Holmgren. Was Holmgren really only working 10-2? Why was this not a big deal as it was happening? Are there men with rifles on towers keeping the media at a safe distance? Seems to me, if you are the reporter assigned to cover the Browns, this would be a story worth exposing…unless you are ignoring certain things to maintain access…in which case, are you even a reporter at all?
‘Maintaining access’ is indeed the excuse offered for incomplete reporting of ‘dysfunctional Berea’ in general and of this awkward, albeit important, episode specifically. But it’s an excuse I reject.
Again, looking at Boston:
- Dan Shaughnessy nicknamed the Celtics’ owner Thanksdad Gaston. He still works for the Globe. Still has ‘access.’
- Kevin Paul Dupont was brutal on the Bruins’ owner Jeremy Jacobs for decades… still covers the Bruins with access.
- Michael Felger cares not for clubhouse access because he [rightly] thinks it impairs critical reporting. He’s the number one Boston media today and by a wide margin.
Furthermore: let’s challenge the value of ‘access.’ What ‘product’ improvements are being delivered for our reporters having access? I can watch every game on TV. I can review the game tapes. I can get press conference transcripts online. The worthless post-game interviews are done by pool reporters and common to all. I get breaking news from national sources via twitter.
What I get as a consumer from the beat reporters’ ‘access’ is less news, less analysis. I get a propaganda arm. That’s not working for me.
Just a final note. Frankly, I haven’t been that interested in this story in itself; I’m more interested in how it has not been fully reported. But if I should stumble upon a resource willing to share anything on this subject and find anything relevant, I’ll report it. Not in a gossipy-page-hit way. But because this has been hanging out there too long and needs to be wrapped up.
Friend of the site Tom Moore dealt with this subject in an excellent post last year. Stop telling us what happened and start telling us why it happened.
Don Rogers, #20 in The Cleveland Fan’s series, Top Cleveland Sports Figures By the Numbers. They’ve done a nice job with the series. It reminds me of a Sunday Globe feature or SI in its prime. Another proof point that sportswriting can still be good and interesting and relevant even in the internet era.
* The Redsox black-ops disparagement of Francona is a primary reason why Francona sits in Goodyear, Arizona today.