Yeah, I’m on Ben Schwartz’s beat. But sometimes someone else has to write about the Cubs; I assure you that it won’t be in mailbag format, unless I get really creative at the end. In return, I’ve traded Ben the right to do a 1500-word post about how sports is totally different now than it was when we were younger and sometimes he just gets so sad, or something. It’s not a bad deal for him, unless he’s afraid of all the typing.
Right, though: while researching some basketball cards I had to write yesterday, I — thanks to my sterling work ethic and professional discipline — found myself reading a brief piece about baseball so exceptionally puzzling that I thought it warranted mention here. So, in tribute to the Entire Internet’s Dedication to Cruelty, I give you the Chicago Tribune’s Fred Mitchell (above), who is here to compare the Cubs’ recent deal for Rich Harden to…the trade of Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio. Because this guy is also speedy, just like Lou Brock. Same/same, seen? Actually, it’s not even clear if Mitchell is doing that: the headline — “Harden Trade Recalls Brock, Broglio Fiasco” — certainly does make the comparison. But by the third paragraph, Mitchell is disavowing that. Kind of. Because honestly there’s no way that it recalls that trade, unless you’re on deadline and want to get out of the office or whatever. Fred? Fred’s Editor? What the fuck, guys?
To this day, that trade is viewed as the worst in the 132-year history of the Cubs. It is the trade by which all other major Cubs transactions are measured. Tuesday’s six-player swap with Oakland doesn’t figure to render such historic ramifications. (Ed — Headline!) But there are no guarantees when young players are sent packing. The Cubs acquired talented but oft-injured right-hander Rich Harden and reliever Chad Gaudin in exchange for speedy infielder-outfielder Eric Patterson, promising young pitcher Sean Gallagher, serviceable outfielder Matt Murton and catching prospect Josh Donaldson.
Patterson has given no indication he might become another Brock. But Brock, then 25, was hitting only .251 with two homers in 52 games in 1964 when the Cubs dealt him. Patterson, also 25, hit .239 with one homer in 20 games with the Cubs.
And then the Brock trade is recapped at great length, and then it’s pretty much over. It’s not a big deal — the piece is short, and ends with a bunch of Larry King style “item!” deals about Kosuke Fukudome hanging out at Harry Caray’s restaurant and Otis Wilson signing autographs at a mall and suchlike. Mitchell, of whom this is the first I’ve ever heard, is hardly as egregious a creature of controversy creation as your Mariotti’s or whatever. But at the risk of doing more soothsaying than is necessary on a Saturday afternoon — this sort of thing just isn’t going to help a newspaper in any way, shape or form. I don’t want to put too much on a tossed-off column, but this is print writing that is actually worse and less-informative than a middling blog post.
Not only does it invent a facile, tissue-thin controversy — in the headline, but not in the text — but it doesn’t really have a perspective, and doesn’t really evince any literary or journalistic work beyond a spin through Baseball Reference. It’s not offensive, except in its glibness, but it’s sure not useful, either. A lot of blogs are, obviously, like that — the idea that they might facile and glib by design gets a good, if anguished, expression here — but at least there’s some sense of perspective, or wit, or something, in your better blogs. I’m aware that it’s not exactly a literary coup for me, your newly minted journalism critic, to end with back-to-back rhetorical sentences, but: why would anyone read this column? Why would you write it?