Friday, July 12, 2013

Washington Post Sports Watch: Trying to Take Tracee Hamilton's Column Seriously

I've always thought a good sports columnist should do one of two things in their columns. He or she should take a side on some particular pressing issue or debate in the sports world (anything from who should be the starting quarterback to whether colleges should pay their players), and make a good argument for his or her position.  If he or she is a really good columnist, he or she will utilize facts you haven't heard before or make you look at the issue in a new way. The other thing a good columnist can do is teach you something you didn't know--whether it's through an interview with a player or coach that gives you insight into a team or athlete, original reporting on a team, player or issue, or analyzing games or statistics to figure out, say, why a baseball team's offense may be struggling.

Perhaps the biggest fault of the Washington Post sports section is that while some of the section's columnists do those things quite well (even if they often may be too optimistic in their analysis) others, to put it simply, don't. An example of the latter is Tracee Hamilton's column entitled, "Bryce Harper Text Still Being Taken Seriously? ROFL" Not only does this column not teach me (or anyone) something they didn't know, but Hamilton constructs a strawman in order to write about an issue that doesn't even really exist.

First, Hamilton says that Bryce Harper "may end up in New York when his contract is up in 2015." That's just wrong. While Harper's contract is up in 2015, he's under the Nationals' control through the 2018 season, so Bryce Harper isn't going to any other team as a free agent for at least five years. (And considering a number of people made this same point in the comment section underneath the article on Thursday afternoon, when it was first posted, I'm kind of shocked that the error still remains on Friday and made it into Friday's print edition.) She also states that "Washington Nationals fans have been terrified they will lose Harper since the day he signed his five-year deal." Terrified? Really? Sure, there's many Nationals fans I've never talked to, but I haven't heard anyone worrying about this. Who are these people? Has she talked to actual fans who have expressed this sentiment in her chat? Do commenters on the Washington Post website, or fans who write blogs, worry about these things? If they do, could she at least cite something to back up that questionable statement?

All this is leading up to the main thrust of the column, which is that it's silly that "some people" are "taking seriously" the "play me or trade me" text message that Bryce Harper sent Davey Johnson last Friday night after Johnson told Harper he'd be getting the rest of the weekend off. It's true, there was a big kerfuffle about this over the weekend, but this column was written on Thursday, days after everyone had stopped talking about this and started worrying again, after a weekend respite, about how weak the Nationals offense is. Once again, who are these phantom "some people" that are taking this so "seriously"? Sure, when the story came out, some people, like I did, said, "Wow, I guess he really wants to play," and didn't really think Harper was asking for a trade. There might have been a few people on Twitter who were a little more alarmist and literal (because, hey, that's what Twitter is all about) and then the media explained it was all kind of a joke (even though Harper was serious about wanting to play on Saturday) and we all moved on. Except for Tracee Hamilton, I guess.

The oddest part of the column was this sentence: "Amazingly, Harper had to clarify his remarks twice, first to say he was serious about wanting to play, and then again to explain to the very slow that while he was serious about wanting to play, he was not serious about the “trade me” demand." Hamilton doesn't seem to realize that this isn't an indictment of the fans, who weren't in the locker room asking questions, but her fellow members of the media, who apparently were the ones who were so "slow" in recognizing it was a joke.

Anyway, Hamilton goes on in the column to make such non-illuminating points as "if Bryce Harper really wanted to be traded, he'd text Mike Rizzo" and "Davey Johnson is a really smart manager because halfway into the season, he moved Ian Desmond into the second sport in the batting order and he had a couple good games after that." The funny thing is that the whole Johnson-Harper text issue did actually raise some interesting points that would have been worth exploring--such as why Davey Johnson, widely seen as one of the better managers of the last 30 years, seems to making some odd and questionable decisions this year (from some of his lineup and bullpen moves, to announcing you're going to bench your best player for two games less than a week after he returned from a month off because of an injury.) Or one could wonder about the precedent set when a manager makes a decision to bench a player, and then changes his mind after a player complains--is every regular now going to do the same thing? Or how about remembering back less than two years ago, when then Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau didn't put Alex Ovechkin on the ice late in the game because he felt he wasn't playing well  -- and Ovechkin got mad and appeared to mutter some curse words about it on the bench. Ovechkin was roasted in the local media for that, and that incident was cited when Boudreau was fired a few weeks later, even though the reasons for BB's firing were much more complicated and long-running. It would have made for an interesting comparison. (For the record, I like my superstars to want to play, and get mad when their coach benches them--even if their coach has good reasons for it.)

But no, Hamilton just spent her column bemoaning that everyone was taking seriously a trade request that hardly anyone was taking seriously--which makes her column one that I'm pretty sure most readers didn't take seriously.


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11/15/14, 3:03 AM  

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