BAT to BAT
Every journalist who despairs of a life of passive witness is heartened by the Heisenberg principle. The premise that we inevitably affect what we observe is the license we need to make a few waves deliberately. Only the rare reporter has no desire to impinge; many more swagger through corridors of power fancying themselves Vlad the Impinger.
Hot Type does not swagger, but neither does it stand idly by as injustice is committed. We are pleased to announce that due to our intervention the hallowed Cupronickle BAT, most pristine of athletic honors, will not go this year to an undeserving second-rater.
The BAT--for Baseball Acumen Test--is awarded each April to the sports scribe who the previous spring displayed the least amount of folly in picking that year's pennant races. The now coveted BAT was introduced 13 years ago by Hot Type predecessor Neil Tesser, whose motives were frankly unpleasant. Tesser suspected the city's highly paid veteran sports observers of no more perspicacity than drunks on bar stools (all redundancy aside), and set out to prove it
The years have not tarnished Tesser's hypothesis. But the BAT's surly origins are long forgotten, and today it stands as simply the highest accolade many a sportswriter can hope to achieve. The Cupronickel BAT--as Tesser's original Golden BAT was renamed two years ago in deference to the era of homelessness, joblessness, and shrinking standards of health, education, and morality from which baseball distracts us--is an unalloyed alloyed honor.
Last April we announced that history had been made. The Sun-Times's Toni Ginnetti became the first woman ever to receive the BAT--and not by proving herself the best of a pathetic lot, which is the usual case, but by truly excelling. Ginnetti picked three of the four 1992 division champions. "If the ethos of the BAT permitted serious research," we wrote a year ago, "we're sure this research would find her performance unprecedented."
Scandalously, the Sun-Times sports desk denied Ginnetti the opportunity to repeat. When the boys in the press box published their picks for '93, Ginnetti was left out. (Draw your own conclusions, Thelma and Louise.) For an equal slap in the face of an incumbent you'd have to go back to the day the sovereigns of the sweet science stripped Ali of the title. But we stepped in, inviting Ginnetti to defend her crown in Hot Type. Ten minutes later she called us back with her picks--Atlanta, Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Toronto.
And for the second year in a row, it's turned out, Ginnetti and only Ginnetti picked three of the four division winners.
She nearly had all four, but after being burned by the Pale Hose in '92 she cautiously marked them third for '93. "I couldn't go with the hometown team," she tells us ruefully. "I knew the White Sox were a good team, but in their division--I was way off in their division." (Her choice was Minnesota.)
Our Heisenbergian meddling saw justice done, and we intend to meddle again. You won't find Ginnetti's picks in last Sunday's special baseball section of the Sun-Times (for no better reason than that she's been covering basketball), but here they are in Hot Type:
Atlanta, Houston, and Los Angeles in the National League East, Central, and West; San Francisco the wild card (wild card), and Houston the pennant winner.
Baltimore, the White Sox, and Seattle in the American League East, Central, and West; Cleveland the wild card, and the Sox copping the pennant and the series.
Now we turn to the less hallowed Whiffle BAT, symbol of ignominy. Competition here is always keen, and the tumble from top to bottom can be tragically sudden. The '92 BAT laureate, Alan Solomon of the Tribune, skidded to next to last in '93. This year, we're sorry to say, he didn't call a single race.
A Play That Will Live in Infamy
There are limits to what Werner Karl Heisenberg lets reporters get away with. Nudging history as it's happening is one thing, but once it's done you're not supposed to change it.
As usual, our case in point is Bill Buckner. This is the third time we've written about Buckner, and the reason is that no one ever gets his story right. Because that story is a whole lot better when his muff in the 1986 World Series is inflated into one of the century's cataclysmic errors. That's how it's remembered, truth be damned.
In our lap is the April issue of Highlights for Children, the monthly forum of Goofus and Gallant and the Timbertoes. The issue is open to "Nobody's Perfect: Famous flubs in baseball history." The message of this piece is as subtle as a Louisville Slugger: "Making a mistake wasn't the end of the world for these guys. After their colossal bloopers, they didn't give up or go live in a cave somewhere. They found a way to get on with their life."
Highlights says this about the '86 Series: "The Boston Red Sox hadn't won the World Series in sixty-eight long years. Now they were one strike away from winning it against the New York Mets. The Mets' Mookie Wilson dribbled a grounder down the first-base line, and Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner let it bounce through his legs into right field. The Mets won the game and went on to win the World Series the next day."
The Mets, as we've written before and no doubt will write again, had tied the score before Wilson hit his grounder. The Sox were one strike away from nothing. It was painful enough to see sportswriters concoct this myth; now it's being taught to a new generation of kids.
The Tribune announced a raft of beat changes last week, and they amount to more than a rearrangement of the deck chairs. Maury Possley, the deputy metro editor in charge of city coverage, had already told the newsroom he wanted more and better writing about Chicago, and some of the new assignments suggest it could be coming.
Reporters Steve Johnson and Ellen Warren, to quote the bulletin board, "will take on a special assignment to find and write off-the-beaten-track stories about the city. The objective is to develop stories from the neighborhoods and elsewhere outside the institutions of the city in a way that illuminates the condition of life in Chicago." Similarly, Bonita Brodt is now a "general assignment writer" for something called the "Sunday/projects group."
They're all talented writers, though we wish Johnson hadn't once described the vandalism that followed a Bulls championship as "uninvited shopping" and Warren hadn't just come back to Chicago after some 15 years in Washington. What's important is that Possley has put them out there to be emulated.
He told us, "With a de-emphasis on things like fires and crime and, to some extent, breaking features, general assignment has become something people consider not very glamorous. Bonita, Ellen, and Steve are considered good writers, creative thinkers, and hard workers who'll get some freedom to do exactly what you'd think a good general-assignment reporter would do--go out and find me good news, write it well, and we'll put it in the newspaper. I want all the people who do general assignment to start to think like that."
Put it in the paper, but where? we asked Possley. Page one? He hopes, but acknowledged, "People further up on the chain are going to make those decisions."
Old habits are hard to break. Last week the Tribune and Sun-Times covered in their respective ways the outbreak of gang warfare at the Robert Taylor Homes. Tuesday the Sun-Times splashes the story on page one: "New Gang War Erupts." The Tribune counters on page seven of the Chicagoland section. It covers the hearing at which the CHA asked for the authority to conduct unannounced sweeps and reports the gunfire secondhand: "CHA officials painted a picture in graphic detail of a harrowing weekend of violence . . ."
Wednesday the Sun-Times spreads "Living With Violence: Caught in the Crossfire" all over page one and adds two pages of sidebars inside. The Tribune moves its coverage, "Gang war paralyzes South Side," to the front of Chicagoland.
Thursday the story's on the Sun-Times's front page for the third day running. The Tribune finally counters on page one with "Caught in Violence and Poverty: City kids at risk." But this isn't exactly about the Robert Taylor Homes. It's about violence against children as distilled by one of the Tribune's favorite devices, the study.
The Tribune reports that the study by Voices for Illinois Children turned up "grim findings." There are charts and graphs to tell us what they were.
The ongoing Taylor Homes drama stays in Chicagoland.
Grit may be in for a brighter future at the Tribune, but the warm spot in the paper's heart is still for the master's thesis.
A Writer and a Gentleman
Some writers you ice-skate over. M.W. Newman is one you bounce along like a buggy on a country trail. "A wasting disease of closed factories gnaws at a working-stiff city straining to transit to a new life and some workable dreams," he wrote in Chicago magazine nine years ago. It's a typical stretch of Newman. His cobbled sentences jostle.
Next Wednesday the Community Media Workshop is holding its annual benefit at Andy's and honoring for their coverage of the city's neighborhoods Newman and a couple of relative striplings, writer David Moberg and the news director of WBEZ, Cheryl Corley. Newman is now a special writer at the Sun-Times, which means he gets his say on any urban matter that concerns him. We think of him as the quintessential orphan of the old Daily News, someone who knows and loves the city, applies to its troubles not merely values but a system of values, and broods. "We grew up as the prairie Hong Kong, and we relish the hustler image," he once wrote. He thought it was about time Chicago outgrew it.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.