I mentioned in a chat that I wasn’t doing rumors this year. Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of emails asking why I would kill a popular feature and the thing I do in the baseball off-season. Why would I be going to Vegas for the Winter Meetings if I wasn’t hitting up rumor action?
There’s a number of reasons. First, the market is saturated. At the top, there’s Ken Rosenthal, the ESPN crew, and our own John Perrotto. While it feels good to “beat them” every one out of a hundred times, it’s not worth the beating that I get when I’m “wrong.” Even better, the guys at the top of the game are good guys and I never minded losing to them.
But wins and losses aren’t exactly what people think. The scoops that get things exactly right come seconds before the announcement, not days. Sometimes you get something — Manny Ramirez to the Marlins? — that you just don’t think could be possible, even when told it by a very credible source and backed up with a secondary. Sometimes you get something — “all but done” between Red Sox and Twins — and things go sideways. Both are right, both are wrong, but neither is fact.
Paul DePodesta wrote that 25% of rumors have any basis in fact. I spoke with Andrew Friedman earlier this year and he gave a slightly higher number. I’d say that the number is higher still, probably about 50%. There’s some nugget of truth, some overheard conversation or leak, some good source talking out of school in — just a guess — half. About 25% is chatter - secondary things that aren’t quite right, people talking about things that never quite get to the real talking stage. I can remember a team saying they liked a guy and then a couple weeks later, that guy was in a trade rumor involving the team. It didn’t happen, but someone filled in the gap with something plausible. Not right, but not entirely wrong.
About 10% beyond that is trial balloons. They aren’t facts, but agents and teams like to get stuff out there and it’s useful to some extent, assuming you can pick apart the layers of anonymity. I’d argue there’s real value here in that it helps create action. In Moneyball, Peter Gammons was shown to be a go-between, an information clearinghouse for what teams were trying to do and there’s unquestionably a value there.
It’s the other 15% that’s worrisome. It’s the whole cloth, puff of smoke lies that throw everything off and give the whole process a bad name. I’ll split that into half “good” and half “evil” — the good smoke is just talking points, people throwing ideas on the wall and covering them in a thin candy shell of credibility. The evil smoke is designed to do something, to create action or in most cases, just attention. These seldom hold up very long, but they’re out there and worse, there’s some big name people that do this far too often, likely under pressure of deadline or an editor telling them to produce something.
I’ve often said that someone could have a hit on their hands if they figured out how to “keep score” on rumors and the mongers who sell them. I’m sure that I’ll hear rumors at the Winter Meetings and be asked to discuss them on my radio hits, but after my years in this game, I’ve learned a new trick: shutting my mouth.