Two weeks ago, Mike Flanagan was found dead on his property, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. When the reports first surfaced, though, all we knew was that a body had been discovered. So we held off, because we didn't want to jump into the fray without knowing anything more. But an hour or two later, I tweeted this (with a link to this story):
Report: Ex-O's Pitcher Mike Flanagan Found Dead Near Baltimore
This would have been early in the Orioles' game that night, perhaps the second or third inning. My next tweet:
I'm watching the Orioles-Twins broadcast, and it's odd that no one has mentioned Flanagan yet. Has nobody told these guys?
People were telling me, via Twitter, that maybe Jim Palmer and Jim Hunter didn't know anything yet.
I understand it's tough in the middle of the game. But broadcasters check e-mail and text messages during games. They must know.
I was perhaps seeming more certain than I should have been (though, as it turned out, I was right).
Let me repeat: Every broadcaster I have known -- the play-by-play guys, anyway -- are checking e-mail/Twitter/MLB.com/etc. throughout game.
I'm not an expert in news ethics. I don't know what they know, or what they should say. This just seems terribly odd. Just ... nothing.
I couldn't understand how the broadcasters could simply carry on as if nothing had happened. They must have been hurting. And a careful observer might have noticed a somber tone, as they called the game. But I was waiting for some word, however brief, about their departed colleague.
Orioles heading into the bottom of the ninth in Minneapolis. Will Jim Palmer say anything tonight during the broadcast?
No, he wouldn't. I asked the question because Palmer and Flanagan had been teammates, friends, and co-workers for so many years.
Unfuckingbelievable. Jim Hunter and Jim Palmer went through the entire broadcast and didn't mention Mike Flanagan's name. I mean, wow.
That's the one tweet -- and oh, what a terrible word, tweet -- that I regret. I regretted it almost immediately, but felt it would have been dishonest to delete it. However sincere my frustration and bewilderment, it was inappropriate to inject that level of profanity into a discussion of such a sensitive subject. Well, this sensitive subject, anyway.
I suspect that my next tweet was a subconscious acknowledgment that I'd gone too far with the previous tweet.
I'm not saying Hunter and Palmer are bad guys. I'm saying some people made a really, really bad decision to utterly ignore the news.
The MASN broadcast team simply abdicated their responsibility to REPORT THE NEWS. I know it's tough, but that's their job.
Looks like MASN didn't want to put Palmer and Hunter into a terribly awkward and emotional position. Assuming Palmer, anyway, didn't know.
I will point out that Orioles' radio team was talking about Flanagan in middle innings. As were newspapers, TV news, etc.
Afterward, we learned that 1) Palmer and Hunter did know about Flanagan during the game, and 2) MASN released a statement: "We apologize for the delay in this news, but we had to make sure it was official before posting."
Well, that's either a post facto justification, or just really poor decision-making. Was it coincidental that while every other news outlet was reporting Flanagan's death, MASN held off until exactly after the last out in the game? Immediately after the commercial break, MASN broadcast reports, interviews, testimonials, etc. It's simply not credible to suggest that anything changed, journalistically, between the last out of the game and going back on the air after the commercials.
I wish I could see the O's postgame show, which I'm told is quite moving.
I saw it later, on MASN's website. It was moving.
Why was I obsessing over O's broadcast? Because that's what I do. I obsess over something, for a while. Then, something else. Always have.
If I wasn't capable of obsessing about most things baseball -- and forming strong opinions, however half-baked -- I wouldn't be here. Usually it's a good thing; sometimes maybe it's not so good. But that's not for me to figure.
A lot of people are pissed off about my tweets earlier this evening. I'm going to think about this before responding. Still welcome input.
I didn't count, but I would guess that roughly half the input I received was positive, and half accused me of strangling kittens and stealing milk money from kindergartners. Which I thought somewhat unfair, since it's been years since ... Well, never mind that.
I've often thought that someone who does what I do for a living is failing unless he occasionally makes a certain percentage of his readers angry. I've never been able to bring myself to make people angry, just for the sake of making people angry. That would be disingenuous; also, I've got a deep-seated and occasionally debilitating impulse to make people like me.
I have to fight that impulse. If I submit, I won't be doing my job how I think it's supposed to be done.
When I began writing about baseball, I wrote from the perspective of a fan. I suppose I've moved away from that perspective somewhat over the years, but that impulse is still there.
So I imagined, as a Royals fan, that an important figure in the franchise's history was found dead, during a Royals game that I was watching. I wondered what I would the announcers to say.
Actually, this could have happened. Paul Splittorff died in May. The Royals played a game in Baltimore that night. Like Flanagan, Splittorff had recently worked in the television booth. Like Flanagan, one of Splittorff's TV colleagues had also been a teammate for many years; in his case, Frank White.
This story would be a lot better if I'd actually watched the Royals game that evening. I don't think I did, though. What I can say with confidence, though, is this: If I were still the Royals fan I once was, I would want Frank White and Ryan Lefebvre to discuss Splittorff's passing, and I would want to know how Frank White felt. If not them, then who?
My opinion is that a baseball broadcast is also a newscast. The men in the booth are obligated to report what's happening on the field. They are obligated to report a trade that's going to affect the club's fortunes. They report news from around the league. This news, though, by far the biggest news in baseball that evening -- let alone in Baltimore -- they chose to ignore on the air until after the game ended.
My assumption is that Jim Palmer and Jim Hunter worried that they wouldn't be able to stay composed, if they started talking about Flanagan. I can sympathize with them.
Would it have been so terrible if Palmer and Hunter had lost their composure, though? Nobody would have held it against them. Perhaps they thought a loss of composure during the actual game would have seemed unprofessional.
In retrospect, what seems unprofessional -- to me, anyway -- is ignoring the night's biggest story for three solid hours. They didn't do their job how I think it's supposed to be done.