Journalists need occasional grading

By Jeff Linville -

We journalists have long memories when it comes to people who get on our bad side.

But, some of us are very glad that the public doesn’t have that same recall when it comes to our own statements. Maybe the people should — it might make reporters hesitate before saying or writing something far-fetched.

A politician might blast a bill up for consideration, saying all manner of bad things will happen if it gets passed. A year or maybe five years later, a journalist will bring up that bill and point out just how wrong the senator was.

Sometimes we need some similar grading for reporters to keep them humble.

Sure, I’ve looked into my crystal ball and made a few good predictions. I told anyone who would listen that RT Mike Remmers would single-handedly cost the Carolina Panthers the Super Bowl.

And a few years ago, I said that what the Panthers’ offense really needed was a dynamic tight end like Chicago’s Greg Olsen. The Panthers grabbed Olsen, and he’s now an annual all-star performer. You’re welcomed.

However, if someone were to look back at my past columns, there might be one where I praised the Charlotte Hornets for getting P.J. Hairston for small forward. My bad.

While researching for another column idea, I recalled a column written eight years ago for ESPN by Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy.

The lifelong Red Sox fan was lamenting the end of the career of David Ortiz with a lengthy story on how he was too old and washed up. As any baseball fan, or H&R Block commercial watcher, can attest, Ortiz only retired just last year (Big Papi made fun of his retirement in an ad where he asks his tax advisor about his new career teaching tennis lessons).

In June 2009, Simmons wrote, “The guy couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield. His bat was so slow he had to cheat on fastballs; even then, he couldn’t catch up. One swing a night made him look like the drunkest batter in a beer league softball game. Look, I’ve seen slumps. This was different. This was the collapse of a career.”

Simmons said he was bracing for breaking news that Ortiz was linked to a steroid or HGH scandal, and that maybe Ortiz was playing badly because he went clean.

Then he suggested that Ortiz was much older than his stated age in the media.

“Watching Papi flounder now, I’d believe he’s really 36 or 37 (not 33) before I’d believe PEDs are responsible.”

In the next paragraph, “That’s what happens to beefy sluggers on their way out: Their knees go, they stiffen up, bat speed slows, and, in the blink of an eye, they’re done.”

Ortiz truly was having a horrible start to the season in 2009. At the time of the column (June 2), Papi’s batting average was a dismal .185, the lowest of the season and the lowest of his entire career for June.

However, the day that article appeared on ESPN, Ortiz went out that evening and got a single. The next day he hit a two-run double. It was as if Ortiz was trying to will himself back to power.

Ortiz had a rough July and August, but after a day off to rest on Sept. 7, he finished the season with a flourish. Over the last 66 at-bats of the month, he batted better than .300 and had six home runs, 17 RBIs and 13 walks (because pitchers were starting to pitch around him again).

Ortiz would go on to play seven more seasons, hitting at least .270 and averaging 32 homers a year (even though he missed 72 games one year).

If Ortiz had listened to Bill Simmons and retired after the 2009 season, the slugger would have finished with only 317 homers instead of 541. Five of his 10 All-Star Game appearances came after the bad season.

He would have finished with 700 fewer RBIs, with 1,068 instead of a remarkable 1,768 — good for 22nd on the all-time list. That’s just ahead of Reggie Jackson and Frank Thomas and just behind Frank Robinson and his former teammate Manny Ramirez.

Without those seven years, Ortiz probably doesn’t have a strong enough resume to make the Hall of Fame. With the seven years, he’s a first-ballot sure thing.

He’s 25th all-time in slugging percentage, 17th in homers. And if you remove the guys with PED scandals attached to their names, then he’s 11th.

Three times he led the league in intentional walks and two other seasons he led the league in total walks, despite Ramirez batting behind him many of those years. His walks and hits are one of the reasons that Ramirez had the chance to drive in so many runs.

Simmons wrote in 2009, “The best way I can describe Fenway during any Papi at-bat is this: It’s filled with 35,000 parents of the same worst kid in Little League who dread every pitch thrown in the kid’s direction. There is constant fear and sadness and helplessness. Nobody knows what to do.”

Instead, Ortiz left baseball in 2016 with a remarkable year for any batter, much less a 40-year-old. He batted .315 with 38 homers, 127 RBIs and an on-base-plus-slugging of more than 1.000 for only the fifth time in his career.

And he was applauded at visiting ballparks across the country.

Sometimes reporters make mistakes. Bill Simmons’ errant column is one of the most off-target.

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

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