Buyout Journalism Gets a Booooooo (or was that Ra-uuuuul?)

Here’s a brief item about the Dodgers from Wednesday’s LA Times. It’s by Bill Shaikin:

Former Dodgers outfielder Raul Mondesi attended Tuesday’s game. He was shown on the video board and roundly booed.

And here’s today’s follow-up, by Ben Bolch:

Raul Mondesi blistered Dodgers management in 1999, his last year with the team, and so boos would not have been unexpected when he appeared on the Dodger Stadium video board Tuesday.

But, after reading here Wednesday that Mondesi was “roundly booed,” several fans e-mailed to say they heard far more chants of “Ra-uuul!” than they did boos.

Reader Josh Abelson, seated near Mondesi at the game, said the former outfielder signed autographs for fans and posed for pictures. The “Ra-uuul!” chants traditionally greeted Mondesi during his career in L.A.

Any Dodger fan, or anyone knowledgable about the team ,would know Mondesi was not being booed.  The “Ra-uuuul” greeting developed because, for a few years, Mondesi was a thrilling player, an exciting combination of power, speed and — especially — aggressive defense.  The right fielder from the Dominican Republican dove and slid to get to balls, then leapt to his feet to fire dead-accurate throws to catch a runner.  He was rookie of the year in 1994, an All-Star in 1995, and hit over 30 home runs in each of his last three years with the team.

It’s true, in his final year with the club, he got into arguments with management and, as Vin Scully might say, “wore out his welcome.”  The fans surely noticed.  But who was Mondesi arguing with?  Who was this management he was “blistering?” The most despised ownership in the franchise’s LA history, Fox, that’s who.  Just a year earlier, Fox executives had traded away the game’s best catcher and the Dodgers’ most popular player, Mike Piazza.  Also in the management: A burned-out, sullen, past-his-prime manager, Davey Johnson.  A general manager, Kevin Malone, given to bizarre, empty boasts like “there’s a new sheriff in town.” 

It wasn’t as if Mondesi was getting in arguments with Sandy Koufax.  Dodger fans hated this management regime.

The 1999 season was especially infuriating–an expensive roster with a lot of imported stars that collectively stunk.  It seemed like the classy, smart Dodgers of memory had been taken over by alien replicants with horrible attitudes.  In a season so depressing, the fact that one of the players was throwing tantrums hardly stood out. But despite his unhappiness, Raul Mondesi didn’t quit.  He played 159 games, hit 33 home runs and 99 RBIs.  His strikeouts were up and his batting average was down, but he was still an above-average player.

There is no way the fans were booing Mondesi.  Just like they aren’t booing Bruce Springsteen when they yell “Brruuuuuuuuce.”   Any good player whose name rhymes with “oo” gets that cheer.  Lou Piniella.  Lou Brock. Vida Blue.  This is what all baseball fans do-oooooo. 

So, how could a Dodger beat writer have gotten it so wrong? 

I’m going to blame it on the buyouts at the LA Times.  The Times’ doesn’t post resumes for its staff writers (and why not? Most bloggers have an “about me” page, why should journalists be anonymous?), so I don’t know how old Shaikin is, or how long he’s been with the paper.  I also don’t know who edited the blurb, and how long they’ve been around.  So without help I can’t prove my assertion. 

But I think this is a small example of how the LA Times’ response to its circulation decline is making a bad situation worse.  Yes, veteran reporters can become arrogant, lazy, and out of touch, especially at the LA Times, which still retains a bit of the “velvet coffin” culture.  But at least they retain institutional memories.  There is more political insight in ex-Times reporter Bill Boyarsky’s occasional blog than in all the City Hall reporting of the past five years at the Times.

I’m not saying this to diss younger reporters.  I started out as a young reporter.  I showed up at a newspaper in New Jersey and, in my first week, was required to explain a decades-long sewer controversy that all my readers had been following since I was in intermediate school.   Smaller papers live on churning low-salaried eager young reporters who must constantly be reeducated.  But the LA Times isn’t supposed to be one of those papers.  The LA Times is supposed to know more than its readers about the major institutions in town, like the government, the biggest businesses, and the major league baseball team.

4 thoughts on “Buyout Journalism Gets a Booooooo (or was that Ra-uuuuul?)

  1. My problem with this is that the reporters who reported this didn’t see fit to explain the booing. If people had been booing, wouldn’t it have been worth passing along why, before questions arose over whether there was booing or not? It’s like the t.v. reporter who, covering a teacher walkout, made no mention of the teachers’ carrying hulahoops.

    Where do they find people with so little curiosity about the things they’re supposed to be explaining? Or is it just beaten out of them in training?

  2. I don’t buy the attempt to rehabilitate Mondesi. A self-possessed and sullen loser, he was part of the problem not part of the cure. Maybe the reporter sat near me.

  3. Strike4,

    You mean as opposed to the overpraised, overpaid and complacent Eric Karros, or the self-centered, crabby Gary Sheffield, or the human black hole that was Kevin Brown, or the whiny, frail Ismael Valdez? And that was just from the 1999 team.
    Mondesi’s later career definitely had its share of bizarre moments. But Dodger fans have less to complain about than fans of his subsequent teams — Toronto, the Yankees, D-Backs and especially the Pirates — who had to deal with his increasingly odd personality but didn’t get the kind of performance LA got.

    Look, I wasn’t trying to “rehabilitate” Mondesi anyway. I was defending the Dodger fans who rarely boo any returning ex-Dodgers, especially not one who gave them so many thrills. And I was pointing out the ignorance of the Times’ writer who had no recollection of how the fans greeted Mondesi.

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