On Howard Eskin, Other Media

You have no doubt heard about the Howard Eskin tiff with Roy Halladay by now. The Burger King lookalike criticized the 2010 National League Cy Young award winner’s availability to the media. Patrick Berkery has the details for PhillyBurbs.com:

In the two-and-a-half-minute rant, Eskin condescendingly reminds us that if not for members of the media like himself, fans would have no idea what the players are thinking. He claims that Major League Baseball forced Halladay to speak to the media two days after tossing his NLDS no-hitter against the Reds, failing to mention that Halladay spoke at length to the media immediately after the game.

Eskin says Halladay hasn’t spoken to the media at all since the season ended, giving fans no indication how he feels about pitching in the same rotation with Cliff Lee.

Just about everyone with a Phillies blog has ripped Eskin to shreds already, so I will not beat that dead horse. However, I think this fiasco is yet another example of the growing decay of media in general, sports being one microcosm of the larger picture. Most attempts at editorializing are poorly-disguised attempts to create controversy where none exists. And in the dead of winter when baseball is still weeks away and TV and radio stations are grasping at straws for every extra viewer and listener (and writers struggle to find article fodder), rabble-rousing is the oft-selected route.

As many have pointed out, Eskin isn’t a legitimate voice in the Phillies community the way Mike Missanelli is — especially not in the way that Eskin is with the Eagles. And given Eskin’s history of pot-stirring, it becomes quite easy to deduce his intentions.

To my knowledge, Halladay hasn’t addressed the Eskin issue at all, exactly what you would expect from the stately right-hander. All too often, though, athletes are baited by the media in an attempt to get some free publicity. Then, when athletes don’t make themselves available to the media, the shock jocks and pot-stirrers play the role of the victim and cry foul.

There is no clearer example of this than Barry Bonds. Bonds marched to the beat of his own drum; an aloof fellow, for sure. Bonds didn’t always make himself available for interviews and didn’t provide many exciting sound bites. By not making the writers’ jobs easy, they painted a negative picture of him — sometimes intentionally, but oftentimes subconsciously. And when it came to “innocent before proven guilty” regarding the BALCO scandal, they were all too willing to condemn Bonds before any official verdict was levied.

Even in end-of-season awards and Hall of Fame voting, some writers have used a player’s media availability as one criterion that can be used for and against the player in question.

Now that traditional media is evaporating and blogs (and Tweeters) have popped up like flowers in spring, members of the mainstream media are trying even harder to earn precious viewers, listeners, and click-throughs. Eskin is but one of a vast group of professionals resorting to amateur tactics to maintain relevancy in a very crowded marketplace.

What Eskin did was unprofessional in every way, shape, and form. But we rewarded his behavior by talking about it, by browsing NBC10′s website for the sound bite, and by tuning into 610 WIP during the aftermath. How we punish such unprofessional behavior in the future is by ignoring it. Sometimes you need to actively confront a troll, but Eskin’s reputation as a troll precedes him and he should be shunned into obscurity.

Eskin says, in a pretentious fashion, that the media is the middleman between the fans and the athletes. And he’s right. Fans will be more willing to consume the product (Phillies baseball) if they feel a connection to the players, and that is accomplished primarily (overwhelmingly so, in fact) through the media.

But just as the fans and athletes need each other, the media needs both those fans and the athletes. Let’s say Todd Zolecki has a bad encounter with Shane Victorino and blasts him for it in his next article. (Todd wouldn’t, because he’s one of the best writers around, but humor the hypothetical.) Victorino will be much less willing to take time out of his schedule to talk to Todd, much less provide any juicy factoids that would make for good article fodder. Subsequently, Todd’s articles become boring and repetitive (especially in comparison to his peers, who are getting more unique information), and he loses readers. When Todd loses enough readers, he loses his job. Or, more realistically, Todd will resort to Eskin-like tactics to maintain relevancy and draw in readers before losing his job.

There is no reason why a member of the mainstream media — or a blogger, for that matter — should be bashing players for any reason whatsoever unless there is a 100 percent factual, provable (and relevant) foundation lying underneath.

The funny thing is, Eskin could have handled the Halladay issue privately and without conflict. Eskin thinks Halladay hasn’t been making himself available enough to the media? Send him an e-mail or a text message, or call him on the phone. Say to Halladay, “It’s not a huge deal, but I think you ought to do a couple interviews before you show up in Clearwater. Fans want to know what you think about the Cliff Lee signing, among other things.”

. . .

As the Eskin issue illustrates, January has been very boring in Phillies-land. If there’s anything you’d like to see covered on this blog before spring training starts, feel free to post suggestions in the comments. I’ve already taken suggestions on Twitter and have a couple of ideas permeating, but nothing that I think would turn into good blog fodder yet.

Otherwise, feel free to use this thread to talk about anything Phillies-related, even outside of Eskin/Halladay.