Urban: Reminding fans to appreciate the game

As a full-time employee of MLB.com, my primary marching orders are very simple: “Celebrate the game.”

To some, this mandate — particularly to the many jaded and cynical members of the print media — fuels the perception that MLB.com, which oversees and staffs the Web sites for all 30 big-league teams, is nothing more than a house organ that shies away from anything that might be construed as negative or controversial.

While somewhat understandable, that perception is misguided and myopic. When a player runs afoul of the law or a new steroid story breaks or a team simply stinks, MLB.com doesn’t try to sweep it under the rug or put a rainbows-and-cotton-candy spin on it, as some hacks suggest. We report it like every other media outlet.

We might not editorialize on it with the same vigor you see elsewhere, but we don’t dress the pig up with a bonnet and earrings, either.

There was a time when the sports pages of a newspaper were considered the “good news” section. Elsewhere, you’d read of violence and crime and corruption, but in the sports section, you’d read of triumph, character, perseverance and pride.

Unfortunately, those days are gone. You read of violence and crime and corruption in the sports pages all the time now, and that’s flat sad.

I was reminded of this Wednesday when watching an HBO production called “When It Was a Game.” It features a collection of 8- and 16-millimeter home movies taken by big-league players and fans from 1925-61, and the soundtrack is a compilation of interviews with players, authors, actors and poets, all reminiscing on an era of the game that oozed purity.

What really grabbed me about it was a segment in which the players’ relationship with the media back in the old days was explained, and it made me wish I were born 50 years earlier.

Back then, reporters and players were essentially on the same team. If you covered the Brookyln Dodgers, they were “your guys,” and you were one of theirs. They were friends. And as such, they took care of each other.

If Mickey Mantle, for instance, came in after a rough night on the town and battled a hangover all day, you didn’t read about it in the next day’s paper. In return, Mickey would give the writers whatever time and information they needed, which in turn brought the fans closer to The Mick than they’d ever get today.

But that was before media became a 24/7 enterprise, before one of the goals of the media was to expose the flaws of our sporting heroes and before money created a chasm that brought with it hostility, jealousy and contempt.

Can you imagine what would happen if Jason Giambi showed up at Yankee Stadium with a ripping and obvious hangover for a day game after a night game? Yikes. And that’s why fans of Giambi don’t know a damn thing about the man that isn’t negative or in the box scores.

My point? Celebrating the game is becoming a lost art. Thankfully, MLB.com provides one of the last canvases.

Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com. He also hosts the weekend edition of “Sportsphone 680” on KNBR (680 AM).


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