Saturday, October 7, 2017

Is There An Anti-Astros Bias in The Media? I Asked The Media

Jon Heyman pisses me off. If he's not whining about the Astros restructuring their front office, he's mad that Tony DeFrancesco wants to see what other opportunities are available to him. Or he's mad that the Astros have a philosophy to which they stick. Also, please don't forget that Heyman said the Astros overpaid Josh Reddick by "$20 million or so" but stuck it to Correa. And Heyman voted for Ivan Rodriguez for the Hall of Fame, but not Jeff Bagwell because of PEDs.

And it's not just Jon Heyman! Buster Olney went after the Astros back in 2013 when the Astros were trying to maximize their fairly-distant future, while the Cubs did it at the same time but were the Cubs and it was cool. Olney went so far as to link the rebuilding Astros in the same sentence as Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, such was the destruction of The Fabric of Baseball. The New York Times got in on it. So did the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who spend a lot of time pretending they don't care about Jeff Luhnow. Let's not forget Peter Gammons accused the Astros of ruining the Integrity of the Game.

So I asked some people if there's an anti-Astros bias in the national media. I asked national writers, Houston-based writers, basically anyone I deemed important enough (but also friendly enough) that I could ask to weigh in on whether the Astros' recent past clouds the judgment of the not-so-distant future. Here are their thoughts, via DM or email:

Tyler Kepner, New York Times:

I wouldn't say the media hates the Astros. From a media standpoint, their players, GM and manager are accessible and accommodating. Personally, they are one of my favorite teams to deal with, and I love the ballpark....I made it a priority to check in with the Astros every year, even when they were really struggling, so I could get a sense of their strategy and progress. I appreciated their openness about everything. Also, writers love great stories, and the Astros winning a World Series would be a great story, because Texas is such a rich baseball state and no Texas team has ever done it.

A writer who requested anonymity:

I don't think Gammons and Heyman have it in for the Astros as much as their old school guys who hate to see good scouts get fired at the expense of likely 20-somethings with a computer.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jose de Jesus Ortiz:

Haha. The media does not hate the Astros. I've learned that most fan bases think the media hates their teams. I promise you the media doesn't hate the Astros.

Another writer who requested anonymity:

Guys like Heyman and Gammons have a special thing out for the Astros. They're old. Their contacts are old. Those contacts feel threatened or worse: they develop hard feelings, and they communicate that out to Heyman and Gammons.

Houston Chronicle's Greg Rajan:

I don't think the media hate the Astros. The thing is, a lot of the time, performance drives perception. There wasn't a whole lot of positive stuff to chronicle with the Astros from 2011-14 when they went scorched earth to rebuild. Another thing you should consider is some longtime baseball writers are traditionalists and not as analytics-friendly like the Astros' regime. So they're going to look at the Astros differently than a traditional operation.

Locally, I think the team is treated fairly. It's just that the Texans drive the coverage much of the year. (The Texans') best years came when the Astros were in rebuilding mode and in most markets with NFL and MLB teams, the NFL gets the lion's share of attention. It may not be fair, but that's how it is. Now if the Astros win the World Series or make a deep playoff run, that may change.

The 2012-2014 tanking/rebuild and subsequent national perception stories about the Astros likely went a long way toward this disdain among some fans for national media. I don't remember too many complaints about guys like Jon Heyman around ten years ago. And you can't discount the social media impact. There are more opinions out there than ever before. Before, people wrote letters to the editor or even emails. Now, they can express their feelings in 140 characters.

NBC Sports Boston's Evan Drellich:

The Astros billed themselves as agents of change and have acted as such. Moments of change naturally produce more questions than times where the status quo is maintained. That's probably not ideal, but it's the reason I suspect some following the Astros may feel there's "bias" - changes bring more inquiries, and the Astros have trumpeted change. I'd suggest the Astros are not exactly under the most intense microscope, however. Houston's a one-newspaper town. The number of local media asking questions on a daily basis - substantive questions related to baseball operations, the people responsible for the entertainment product you pay for - is limited. There has been a common thread I've noticed through the years with the Astros, a question of how well they handle people (and how much the answer to that question matters).

Exploring a question isn't tantamount to condemnation. If scouts, employees, who helped contribute to a long-term rebuild project are told they're no longer valued right as success arrives, that creates a bad look. People will inherently be angry. That look shouldn't be ignored by a reporter. It should be noted and explored. If the Astros are re-envisioning how scouting is to be done, that's significant. If they're not, that may tell you something, too. What are the Astros gaining with these moves, if anything, and at what expense? Only one way to find out.


Nick Holloway said...

I don’t think there’s a widespread anti-Astros bias. I do agree with anonymous writer 2, though. I don’t think Heyman has any contacts at all inside the Astros’ organization. Just read his weekly “Inside Baseball AL Notes”. There’s usually only 2 or 3 common knowledge notes about the team. Other teams can have as many as 10. I’m not jealous of the coverage. I just don’t think he has anyone on the inside. I think it’s reasonable to assume he’s bitter about it. But, for every Heyman and Gammons throwing shade, there’s a Brian Kenny and Robert Flores that has our back.

Jayne Hansen said...

FWIW (which may not be much), I was once having a casual conversation with a well-known and well-respected media person in Houston and something that Peter Gammons had written came up. This normally calm individual surprised me with the vehement disdain for Gammons, calling him an overrated hack or the like. I think there probably is some merit to old-school types like Gammons not liking the whippersnappers like Luhnow.

On the other hand, I have also talked to numerous people in the industry over the years, many who feel that the Astros front office shows very little loyalty to scouts, coaches and the like. Some of that criticism feels justified and some of it feels a little like sour grapes. A lot of that is in the perception and some may perceive that to be the case. But in all things, there are always two sides to these stories.

My final thought is that the Astros have had a tendency to be very close-mouthed in the past on a variety of subjects. I think there are some national writers/pundits who got used to just having everything handed to them or leaked to them and they might not appreciate that they are having to work a little bit harder to get the info they need. Again, just my observations for what that's worth.

Thanks for putting this together, James. I found it really interesting!

Scott Whitt said...

Ken Rosenthal was in the mob carrying a torch. The same stuff he whined about the Astros didn't matter with the Cubs. Keeping Springer, Correa down to lengthy arbitration was heresy by Luhnow. But Cubs doing it with Bryant was "gaming the system". Also, the national people just pay attention to Yanks, Sox, Cubs, Dodgers. I do think there is a generation gap with some reporters.