Does the Cheerleading Ever Stop? Major League Baseball and Sports Journalism

Article excerpt

Some commentators argue that sports journalists cater to Major League Baseball (MLB) officials; others contend that, although sports reporting at one time included such compliance, times have changed. This article suggests both sides offer too simplistic an explanation for how sports journalists cover the baseball beat. A comparative analysis of newspaper coverage of Major League Baseball labor situations in 1890 and 1975-- 1976 demonstrates that regardless of the time period some sportswriters supported MLB owner points while others more closely scrutinized management missives.

As he wrote about the Philadelphia Athletics' defeat of the New York Giants in game six of the 1911 World Series, New York Press sportswriter Fred Lieb glanced over at one of his colleagues in the press box. Lieb noticed, "tears rolled down Sid's [Mercer of the New York Globe] cheeks as he dictated the details of [the Giants'] bitter defeat."1

For some, this episode illustrates the nature of baseball reporting; that is, sports journalists are boosters and cheerleaders for the Major League Baseball (MLB) teams they cover and for the entire baseball industry. One early twentieth-century sportswriter noted, "The majority of reporters with teams were bitterly partisan, as much so as were the ballplayers. The reporters were regarded by the players as part of the team and were expected to uphold the team in arguments and in its battles with opposing clubs. The majority did."2

Some commentators argue that sports journalists still respond to MLB in the same acquiescent manner; others contend that, although sports reporting at one time included such compliance, times have changed. This article suggests both sides offer too simplistic an explanation for how sports journalists cover their beats. A comparative analysis of newspaper coverage of Major League Baseball labor situations in 1890 and 1975-1976 demonstrates that regardless of the time period some sportswriters supported management messages while others more closely scrutinized owner missives.

Literature Review

Newspaper coverage of Major League Baseball's labor problems merits scholarly scrutiny for several reasons. Academic researchers tend to ignore sports news, even though the sports section accounts for more than 20 percent of editorial content in metropolitan daily newspapers-- more than any other category of news. This section of the newspaper also represents a significant business investment for publishers. As one commentator noted, "Sports in the United States has become a $50 to $60 billion-a-year business-one of the nation's largest-which U.S. newspapers spent about $500 million to cover in 1988."3

Despite such readership and financial commitment, many commentators still view sports journalism as less serious than public affairs, perhaps because publishers have traditionally held the sports section to lower standards than other sections of the newspaper. One editor called sportswriters "hero worshippers" who would "sit in the press box and actually cheer when the team they were covering scored."4 Another writer noted that sportswriting was so "partial and so predictable that, on many occasions, it resembles more the work of a master of ceremonies than that of a journalist."5

Some observers even suggest that sportswriters should fill the role of cheerleader. One maintained that sportswriters should be held to different, more lenient, standards than reporters on other beats because the local media "use sport for boosting community pride to allow themselves more leeway in their coverage of other facets of community life. The lack of a critical stance in the area of sports is part of what the media give up to their community to gain authority to challenge governmental leaders and other community institutions."6 One writer argued that sportswriters should be "story tellers. They should tell truthful yams."7 Another suggested that the sportswriter should "exalt sports to the point where those contests are indoctrinated into the public mind as virtual religious rituals. …