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October 30, 2002

The Daily Prospectus

Where Have You Gone, Enn Raudsepp?

by Jonah Keri

When I was little, I thought sportswriters had the coolest job in the world. I couldn't wait to grow up to become a baseball beat writer, or the next great writer for Sports Illustrated, or an author who could talk about cool stuff like the 1927 Yankees. I wanted to be them.

I hate myself now for thinking that way. Mainstream sports journalism has become a wasteland for self-serving, pompous backbiters, eager to make their bones at others' expense.

That's not even the worst part. If a writer wants to get famous by ripping the sports star du jour rather than offering insightful commentary, so be it. Different people have different visions of entertainment. I loathe the Jim Romes of the world, whether in print or other media. Others can't get enough of 'em. Different strokes, that's fine.

No, what set me off today was a blatant breach of journalistic ethics. This particular offense has oozed to multiple publications. I want to throw my computer out the window just typing this.

After Game 7 of the World Series ended Sunday night, plenty of reporters collected a long chain of euphoric Anaheim Angels quotes. And why not? The Angels had played spectacularly throughout the post-season, and deserved all the adulation they now had streaming down on them.

Meanwhile, hordes of other scribes rushed to the losing Giants' clubhouse, specifically to Barry Bonds' locker. Again, why not? Millions of fans would surely want to know what the game's best player had to say after Bonds failed to win the ring he's wanted so badly and for so long.

We'll let Bob Klapisch, veteran baseball writer for The Record of Bergen, N.J. and ESPN.com, take it from here:

He was dressed and ready for the door within 30 minutes, and obviously resented the thick crowd that had gathered at his locker, delaying his exit.

"Back off. You're stepping on my son," Bonds said to reporters. "Back off or I'll snap."

Was Bonds justified in snapping at reporters the way he did? Maybe, maybe not. Some would argue putting his young son in jeopardy was reason enough to chastise the approaching throng. Others might say Bonds had every right to be surly, if for no other reason than his team lost. Still others might say Bonds is a jerk, always has been, always will be, and this is just Exhibit 5,836. Made for some lively debate.

The passage above appeared in Klapisch's post-Game 7 column for ESPN.com. The next day, with some time to reflect, Klapisch decided to grind his ax and chop Big Man Bonds into itty-bitty pieces. Here's what he wrote for northjersey.com:

And then there was Barry Bonds, who cemented his credentials as the game's greatest player, perhaps ever, but was as cold and surly as ever in defeat.

"Back off. Back off or I'll snap," Bonds told reporters who pressed close to his locker.

Quotes get clipped all the time in the newspaper business. Writers cut for length, for clarity, to clear out the "ums," "uhs" and "y'knows."

That's not what Klapisch did here. He purposely distorted the truth to advance an agenda. Maybe he'd planned a hatchet job on Bonds all along. Maybe his editor assigned him to do one. Whatever the case, he crossed the line. It's not like Klapisch didn't get the full quote, like he missed part of it. He had it, he chopped it to pieces, and he skewered Bonds with it.

It didn't end with Klapisch. Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly chimed in today with his thoughts on Bonds. Keep in mind, this is three days after Backoffgate first broke. He's had plenty of time to sift through the reams of wire reports on Bonds' post-game comments to get them right, even if he watched the World Series at home. So what does Reilly deliver?

The next night, Game 7, left Bonds's dream dead at the Ed, and a few hundred reporters had no choice but to go to his locker to ask him about it. He greeted them with, "Back off or I'll snap."

Why did Reilly do this? Because he'd decided, either by himself or via an editor, to run with a similar bit of Bonds-bashing in his column. Why let the truth get in the way of more eyeballs? You can bet Reilly and Klapisch reeled in more readers by ripping Bonds a new one, rather than reporting Bonds' concern for his son, or even his justified disappointment in losing the biggest game of his life. Love Bonds or hate him, this kind of writing generates strong interest.

Scads of other writers have similarly mangled Bonds' statements during these last three days too. So why pick on Klapisch and Reilly? Because they're who I wanted to be growing up. A big-city columnist, getting paid to travel the country, follow a sport, interview superstars and offer an opinion. Or a back-page magazine writer, capturing millions of eyeballs every week with his take on the world of sports. Hell, my dad used to buy me subscriptions to SI every year for my birthday. I didn't want to be like Rick Reilly. I wanted to be Rick Reilly.

I'm grown up now, a journalism school graduate writing for a daily newspaper. I try my best to adhere to the code of ethics I was taught in school and on the job. I'm far from perfect--writing is fraught with gray areas--but I try. If any of you ever catch me stomping on the truth the way legions of writers have done with Bonds, I hope you call me on it. By that point, I don't know how I'd manage to look myself in the mirror.

Jonah Keri is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jonah's other articles. You can contact Jonah by clicking here

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