Do athletes read the media’s articles? For the longest time, the answer was no, even if I barely believed it. These days, it’s more common for an athlete to scour the internet for commentary on their play.
I’m not talking about hateful articles; just pure analytical investigations. Like a cop would say when looking up your background, “it’s nothing personal.”
Today was a good test of the idea of writers and media blurring the lines.
J.P. Hill, a new writer over at the quality SB Nation website, Viva El Birdos, wrote a introspective and impartial look at the descent of Harrison Bader’s hitting this past season. It was fair, researched well, and put together tightly into a piece that reinforced what the eye test had shown many fans. It pointed out the deep struggles Bader had with breaking pitches in 2019, noting how a decent changeup or slider would fool him right out of his cleats. That last part was me, but you get the idea. The defense with Bader is fantastic, but the hitting took a nose dive after a promising 2018 season.
Bader didn’t care for it. He quote-tweeted VEB’s post on Twitter (meaning, instead of merely retweeting it, he did so and added words of his own to it the aforementioned tweet), putting out the following: “It’s articles like this that continue to fuel the fire .. There is nothing ‘broken’ about my game only work to be done .. More importantly NOTHING can break my work ethic .. 2020 baby!! *throws article in virtual trashcan*”
Once again, Hill didn’t take any unwarranted shots. He didn’t complain about how Bader’s baseball hat never seems to fit his head. He didn’t write about his unyielding hair styles. Hill didn’t go in depth about Bader’s acting in that fast food commercial released a couple months ago. It was a fair and balanced take on his problematic hitting, and wondering if he could make adjustments.
It’s a big deal. Bader, whether the team says publicly or not, will be in line for quite a few starts in 2020. He’s under team control, provides a stellar defense that complements Mike Shildt’s style of baseball, and creates chaos on the basepaths. The problem is Bader had a problem getting on base in 2019, so how good is he if he can’t make contact or reach base? Hence the reactions.
Personally, I don’t mind the fire from Bader. The fact that he not only found and saw the article, but gave it some thought to put together a tweet tells me he cares about what people are saying and what is in store for 2020. He wants to get better, so a few virtual trash can dumps may be in order. He probably wouldn’t like my piece in September about the Cardinals handing him so much playing time. Sorry, not sorry, Mr. Bader.
This is where it’s vital for a writer not directly associated with the team on an everyday basis, like Hill and myself, to put aside personal feelings with players and just write what we see. If not, what good are we? We may as well pick up buckets of water and carry them for oppressed rich athletes.
Was Bader in the wrong? Yes and no. He may have been a little off in how he worded the tweet response, but there was nothing malicious from the player in his output. He’s tired of the noise, wants to shut it down, so he knows what has to be done. All this will do is bring more attention to Hill and VEB, as well as make Bader take a look at some analytics behind his struggles.
Remember, when asked about it towards the end of the season, he doesn’t like to use analytics in helping his swing. Maybe he’s one of the players disregarding Jeff Albert’s methods. Maybe not.
In the end, a little impartial criticism can go a long way. Bader mentioning an article means players are listening, whether they admit it or not.
This is good for all parties. Now let’s just hope it results in improved hitting for Bader in 2020. If not, his bat won’t be the only thing that’s broken … all hope will be as well.