Posted by: Dominic Umile | 02/06/2009

Shameless Media Bias: The Philadelphia Phillies

Parade Day Text

When the Philadelphia Phillies won the National League Championship just months ago, I stood in the center of my living room and wept. It felt like my birthday, Christmas, and the day I’d first tasted Snapple’s limited edition Apple Pie Cider Tea in the late 1990s. Then we won the Series, and I ran around hugging people and screaming like I’d just been set on fire. Not long after that, I posted this lengthy investigative report at Open Salon. It targets the mainstream media and their shamelessly overt bias against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Of Stolen Bases and Stolen Votes

This year’s post-election results indicate that one of the oldest, most admired baseball clubs in the United States garnered a pitiful 518 votes in the 2008 contest for the office of the President (see the fourth candidate from the bottom). The Philadelphia Phillies’ loss can be attributed to nothing less than a storm of deliberate media bias and ubiquitous pro-Tampa Bay Rays propaganda.

The Philadelphia Phillies were robbed on Election Day. Look no further than to the perpetually biased mainstream media outlets in this country for proof of another stolen election at the hands of the “trusted” reporters, analysts, and columnists of the Fourth Estate. Where else could potential national leadership have been delivered by not just one elected official (say, for example, libertarian candidate George Phillies), but by a team of them – a mini-army of capable athletes in marginally healthy physical condition? In the recent World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, the United States could have for once had a troop of reliable individuals at their beck and call, who’d restore order in Washington while offering candid directives to help repair our severely damaged global reputation. Instead, voters and Phillies enthusiasts alike have again been betrayed by a maverick media team of morally bankrupt shucksters who trade under the deceptive guise of “baseball analysts.” Predictably, the sham begins in the shadowy corridors of the New York Times building.

In mid-2007, the Philadelphia Phillies had lost their 10,000th game. Among the stable of sports writers undoubtedly eager to spin this into a story about how this team could “never be President” and that their “frequent mishaps are a great detriment to their electability,” the New York Times was at the forefront, anxious to deal propaganda at the cost of the Pennsylvania-based outfit. The Times’ sports section on June 12, 2007 was dominated by a story that actually included this sentence: “…no team has ever stunk so often as the Phillies, who, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, have lost more games than any professional franchise in any sport.” One shudders at the thought of the backlash, had a story like this been written about the New York Mets, particularly in the run-up to the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. The performances that the Mets delivered toward the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons were about as watchable as films starring Rob Schneider. With their home team down, the Times turned its cannons on the Phillies. Instead of fact-checking Bill Kristol’s columns, the Paper of Record joined the other major media outlets squabbling for the top spot in what’s become a nationwide smear campaign against an accomplished, evidently quite formidable candidate from the City of Brotherly Love.

The Smear Campaign: A Complacent Press Corps

“…No team in Philadelphia has come to represent heartbreak as thoroughly as the Phillies, who lost in the World Series in 1983 and have returned to the playoffs only once,” wrote Jeré Longman in the Times that June. In 2008, the underdog team that Longman called “truly bad” defeated sports analyst darlings the Tampa Bay Rays for the World Series title, only to be showered with damning and transparently bitter commentary from the Manhattan media elite. Playoff headlines ranged from the pessimistic “After Two Rough Starts, Moyer Hopes to Contribute” to the blatantly partisan “Phillies Have an Unlikely Mr. October” and “Game 1 Shows Decline in Viewers” during the Series. But it wasn’t only the New York Times writers that had been given the go-ahead to run amok and attack the Philadelphia Phillies. The opportunists at the Fox network had also been finessing their agenda’s talking points all along the campaign trail, and were ready to pounce.

In the run-up to the general election, as the Major League Baseball playoffs commenced this year, the universally despised sports commentator Joe Buck frequently exercised his authority over Phils-bashing on the Fox network. Clad in Easter-pastels and frilly, pinstriped ties, the Bill O’Reilly of Baseball used every chance to hype the sodden Milwaukee Brewers and persistently dub the Tampa Bay Rays a “young” or “fast” team as they made their way toward the Phils in the Series. “I would say Tampa Bay would [present] the most danger out there of anybody just because of their talent,” Buck told the Boston Globe in early October, carefully marching in lockstep with the Rays-loving media majority. When the residents of Tampa Bay had finally discovered there was a baseball team in their town, they began attending playoff games that pitted their club against the Boston Red Sox, and Joe Buck was on their side. Buck’s anti-Red Sox rhetoric would soon morph into an unforgiving rant against the Philadelphia Phillies. Indeed, in a matter of days, Buck busied himself with a new media narrative: to trash any hopes that Broad Street might have had for shortstop Jimmy Rollins in a Secretary of State role come January 2009.

A Sharp-Dressed Pundit Named Buck

In the World Series, Joe Buck again used every minute that wasn’t wasted with irrelevant non-issues from Tim McCarver to discuss the Tampa Bay Rays’ talent, their pitchers, and the players’ comparatively low average age. Buck probably called them handsome, too; I don’t remember. In any event, the onslaught of talk about the Rays’ young bullpen was nothing more than clumsily delivered attempts to tear down the ability of aged Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, who is the oldest player in baseball. Although this brand of swift boating couldn’t have been less subtle, Buck’s chiding backfired. The invectives could no longer be used to contribute to the growing “experience argument” against the Phillies – their 46-year old Moyer (who had by then a 16-7 pitching record for the year) would have to disagree. He battled a fierce stomach virus while pitching in game three, and even with loaded, rank undershorts, Moyer let up a measly three runs during his tenure. Besides, the team’s polished, consistent record of magnificent losses more-than speaks to the ball club’s tried-and-tested roster. The Phillies are veterans at making hasty, thoughtless decisions (see seasons 1981-2007), and with these credentials, they were an obvious SHOE-IN for the office of President of the United States.

In the first half of Game 5 of the World Series, the skies had opened up and a rainstorm of Old Testament proportions slammed into Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and the honorable executives at Fox agreed to let the game continue, in order to allow ample time for the Rays to at least tie the score before the event was to be suspended. When the Rays were at bat, in the thick of the storm, center fielder B.J. Upton singled and stole second base. Even more remarkable than Upton’s success at bat was that while it was happening, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, no doubt donning Tampa Bay Rays jerseys at this point, were busy explaining that inclement weather prevented the Rays from hitting and running. In fact, Buck spent most of the fifth inning prattling on about the Phillies’ ace pitcher Cole Hamels. Buck crafted a mythical “advantage” scenario around Hamels, suggesting that the baseballs were “dry,” and that the storm worked to Hamels’ benefit because he stood in one place while the torrential downpour rendered the field a soggy mess. These outrageously biased, asinine remarks were buried, presumably in the Bush-like selective document releases that so often mar the integrity of baseball. What should have been bigger news than any of the colorful gaffes that the Phillies’ second baseman Chase Utley had made on national television were suddenly of little interest to those who headed to the polls on November 5th.

Joe Buck has been dead wrong about almost everything he’s ever discussed on-air, but his most shameless display of partisanship and Tolkien-esque fantasy on behalf of the Tampa Bay Rays had gone unnoticed. He stayed on message and effectively snared the Undecided Voter, and vehicle-toppling Philadelphians would soon take to the streets in outrage. Barring an incompetent but folksy VP pick, Buck and his gotcha journalist contemporaries had pretty much sunken the Phillies’ shot at the White House.

For the first time since 1980, the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series in October of 2008, and they should have taken the U.S. Presidential Election. Thanks to Fox’s half-baked partisan hackery and help from the reliably biased henchmen at the New York Times’ sports page, the bloated agenda against the team seems to have locked them out of the White House, impeccable bullpen or not. But who would have ever imagined that this putrid-smelling, persistent negativity would snake its way into the pristine practice of American politics? Sure, a Christmas miracle couldn’t elevate the condition of sports analysis to the level of “intelligent” – that much is true. But we owe it to ourselves to do better. Measures should undoubtedly be taken to ensure that coach Charlie Manuel is kept out of diplomacy talks, and perhaps Chase Utley’s demonstrated mastery of the English language is better left outside of Washington. Nevertheless, cleaner, more articulate election coverage in 2012 is critical; the owners of illegally parked, upright cars all over Philadelphia are counting on it.

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