Tribune’s Fred Mitchell vs. His Editor: Cubs’ Harden Deal Is Like/Not-Like Brock for Broglio

Posted in Baseball, Sports Journalism at 1:30 pm by

Yeah, I’m on Ben Schwartz’s beat. But sometimes someone else has to write about the Cubs; I assure you that it won’t be in mailbag format, unless I get really creative at the end. In return, I’ve traded Ben the right to do a 1500-word post about how sports is totally different now than it was when we were younger and sometimes he just gets so sad, or something. It’s not a bad deal for him, unless he’s afraid of all the typing.

Right, though: while researching some basketball cards I had to write yesterday, I — thanks to my sterling work ethic and professional discipline — found myself reading a brief piece about baseball so exceptionally puzzling that I thought it warranted mention here. So, in tribute to the Entire Internet’s Dedication to Cruelty, I give you the Chicago Tribune’s Fred Mitchell (above), who is here to compare the Cubs’ recent deal for Rich Harden to…the trade of Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio. Because this guy is also speedy, just like Lou Brock. Same/same, seen? Actually, it’s not even clear if Mitchell is doing that: the headline — “Harden Trade Recalls Brock, Broglio Fiasco” — certainly does make the comparison. But by the third paragraph, Mitchell is disavowing that. Kind of. Because honestly there’s no way that it recalls that trade, unless you’re on deadline and want to get out of the office or whatever. Fred? Fred’s Editor? What the fuck, guys?

To this day, that trade is viewed as the worst in the 132-year history of the Cubs. It is the trade by which all other major Cubs transactions are measured. Tuesday’s six-player swap with Oakland doesn’t figure to render such historic ramifications. (Ed — Headline!) But there are no guarantees when young players are sent packing. The Cubs acquired talented but oft-injured right-hander Rich Harden and reliever Chad Gaudin in exchange for speedy infielder-outfielder Eric Patterson, promising young pitcher Sean Gallagher, serviceable outfielder Matt Murton and catching prospect Josh Donaldson.

Patterson has given no indication he might become another Brock. But Brock, then 25, was hitting only .251 with two homers in 52 games in 1964 when the Cubs dealt him. Patterson, also 25, hit .239 with one homer in 20 games with the Cubs.

And then the Brock trade is recapped at great length, and then it’s pretty much over. It’s not a big deal — the piece is short, and ends with a bunch of Larry King style “item!” deals about Kosuke Fukudome hanging out at Harry Caray’s restaurant and Otis Wilson signing autographs at a mall and suchlike. Mitchell, of whom this is the first I’ve ever heard, is hardly as egregious a creature of controversy creation as your Mariotti’s or whatever. But at the risk of doing more soothsaying than is necessary on a Saturday afternoon — this sort of thing just isn’t going to help a newspaper in any way, shape or form. I don’t want to put too much on a tossed-off column, but this is print writing that is actually worse and less-informative than a middling blog post.

Not only does it invent a facile, tissue-thin controversy — in the headline, but not in the text — but it doesn’t really have a perspective, and doesn’t really evince any literary or journalistic work beyond a spin through Baseball Reference. It’s not offensive, except in its glibness, but it’s sure not useful, either. A lot of blogs are, obviously, like that — the idea that they might facile and glib by design gets a good, if anguished, expression here — but at least there’s some sense of perspective, or wit, or something, in your better blogs. I’m aware that it’s not exactly a literary coup for me, your newly minted journalism critic, to end with back-to-back rhetorical sentences, but: why would anyone read this column? Why would you write it?

5 responses to “Tribune’s Fred Mitchell vs. His Editor: Cubs’ Harden Deal Is Like/Not-Like Brock for Broglio”

  1. hot shit college student says:

    This is a good example of why reading the paper on the internet sucks. The Trib and Sun-Times both have brutal sports sections that I loathe defending, but Fred Mitchell’s column is just a quick ‘lighter side’ blurb fest (without anyone crackin’ wise) usually found on the inside of the inside of the the sports section’s first page. Not too prominent, but not hidden.

    It’s actually a positive, breezy change of pace from the rest of the writers, and it’s easily skimmed over. Ernie Banks and Tyrus Thomas appearing at a charity event isn’t the most exciting topic, but I’m glad someone is printing it.

  2. David Roth says:

    That’s not hard for me to imagine, honestly. The whole thing does have a kind of old-guy-positivity about it — which I honestly have no problem with. I mean, it’s lazily written and barely an article, but I’d take that over Bill Plaschke — who does the same thing, but with malice aforethought — or whoever anyday.

    The problematic part, I think, is that headline. If you’ve already got a bunch of other guys on the baiting-and-bashing beat, why the fuck do you need to turn this guy’s “seen and heard” puff-fest into something edgy? Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the use of the word “recall” — I mean, obviously the trade did lead Mitchell to recall that other deal. But it seems like that — that and the word “fiasco” — is an obvious attempt to make the column something it isn’t.

    Also, where or when did it become the rule that people wanted to read negative coverage of their home teams? Who the hell reads the sports section to get angry? Why? Why do I keep writing in rhetorical questions?

  3. ben schwartz says:

    Dave: The difference between now and then is that the 1964 Cubs finished 76-86, 8th in the NL. I’d say the Cubs are playing for higher stakes today. Brock also came back to haunt Wrigley with the Cards for years, so the story never went away. Whereas, the four ex-Cubbies now in Oakland will probably be the Angels problem more than ours. Fred Mitchell is a traumatized Cub fan, of whom the idea of playing to win everything is a new one. Btw, Rich Harden threw 6 (?) shut-out innings before Cotts/Marmol provided the Giants with 7 runs to tie the game! I may revise that Mailbag headline to “How Serious Are the Cubs About Second Place?”

    As for poaching on Cub updates Dave … I guess I just have to accept the foregone conclusion of Our Year that the Cubs will sweep the World Series in four shut-out games, and that they’re bigger than just a Chicago team. Now, if you were to do a White Sox story, Rob W would rightfully be pissed.

  4. warmowski says:

    Untrue. I’m just pissed that I narrowly missed the chance to run the headline “Marmol Aids Orange: Giants Toast Cubs, Beat Spread”

  5. KD says:

    One of the odd things about Mitchell is that he was seemingly the first newspaper scribe I can remember that offered up his email address in print as a tagger at the end of every column, way back in 1996 or so.

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