Social media brings accountability to players
In the old days -- let's narrow "old days" down to the second half of the last century -- life was poorer in salary but richer in excuses for professional athletes.
For instance, if you were a baseball player and you made critical comments about your manager, or your coaching staff or your organization, and these comments were duly reported in a newspaper story, you still had a couple of viable escape options.
You could always say this, for instance: "I was misquoted."
That was good. It pinned the blame on a reporter rather than a player, and the people who were being criticized could take their pick of where the blame should fall. They might naturally be inclined to see the problem as a troublesome newshound rather than a player/employee.
The other excuse you could summon up was, in a way, even better. You could say this: "I was quoted out of context."
That was a beauty. It was more nuanced than the alleged misquote, showing, as it did, a certain understanding of the process. Let's say that a player vented to a reporter for 20 minutes about what an unfair situation he faced with this manager or this ballclub. The reporter, confronted with serious spatial limitations in the pre-cyberspace era, could not use everything the player said in his story. Thus, in at least a technical sense, "I was quoted out of context" could be technically true, even if the reporter accurately portrayed the sense and direction of the player's comments.
These were the dodges, and they were in use throughout society, particularly during the time before every reporter came equipped with a tape recorder or a similar device. The tape recorder made the "I was misquoted" thing a tougher sell, although "I was quoted out of context" was still in play as a gambit.
Now we get to the present tense, when the player, if he so chooses, can cut out the middleman, or middlewoman or middleperson, by dealing directly with the general public.
The player can go on Twitter and say whatever he wants to the world at large, without reportorial interference or interruption. He may have to do this in segments if he feels he must go on at some length, but there won't be anybody in his way in this contemporary form of communication.
But, but, but. This is the problem with the anti-club, anti-organization, woe-is-me tweet. It is devilishly difficult to blame it on a reporter.
And so we come to the case of Ian Stewart, once a first-round Draft choice, later a promising third baseman with the Colorado Rockies, but most recently a member of the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa.
Stewart tweeted some of his frustrations with his professional situation, Cubs manager Dale Sveum and the Cubs' organization. These did not sit well with his employers. As a result, Stewart has been suspended without pay, for a period yet to be determined.
The traditional lines of defense would not work here. There was nobody else to blame, no accessories to the tweets. I suppose we could pause for a high-minded defense of free-speech rights under the First Amendment, those rights that embody the highest values of our American Republic.
But go ahead, rip the boss in public. That speech is not free. It is, in fact, expensive.
"I think dale doesn't like me and he's running the show," Stewart tweeted, referring to Sveum.
Stewart created the impression on Twitter that the Cubs weren't going to call him up no matter what happened. Now, that is no longer an impression. It is a fact.
Stewart subsequently apologized "to the entire Cubs organization for my comments on twitter. I let my frustrations get the best of me….."
In the simpler days of yore, Stewart could have said the same stuff, but he could have blamed it on a reporter and then dug in his heels on that position. Now, his position is both public and lonely.
Stewart is being paid $2 million this year. He is hitting .168 at Triple-A and complaining about his lot in life. Maybe we could just blame the whole thing on "social media."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.