Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Verducci visits PSU, discusses MLB, current challenges in sports journalism

Tom Verducci fell in love with newspapers while delivering them as a kid. Flipping through the pages, he always stopped at the sports section because he wanted to read about his other love: baseball. Eager to see how someone wrote about games he had watched the previous night, Verducci felt the post-game analysis added another layer of information to the game.

Now Verducci is the person adding extra layers of information to the game of baseball.

While visiting Penn State and the Curley Center, Verducci spoke last night about his experiences as a baseball writer and some of the controversial issues he has covered in his nearly three decades as a sports journalist. The Penn State graduate (1982) has emerged as one of the most respected writers in the profession in part because of work related to hard-hitting issues such as steroid use in Major League Baseball.

As a Hall of Fame voter, Verducci was asked about his take on allowing players who have used steroids into Cooperstown. To illustrate the divide between Hall voters, he asked for a show of hands from audience members who would vote for a great player that used steroids. The impromptu survey revealed a 50-50 split, similar to the split he sees among Hall voters—and much less than the necessary 75% approval to get elected to the Hall.

Verducci discussed the notion that a rule change regarding the majority vote would need to occur to change the current voting situation. Evaluating how people approach the issue, he spoke of reporters that believe a player makes a choice to use steroids and then must live with that legacy. The feeling is that players are doing things they know are wrong—and can’t even talk about—and are changing the way baseball is played. However, Verducci also maintained that his vote is an “endorsement of [a] whole career” and not just the “clean and dirty parts.”

The Cooperstown theme continued through a discussion about Pete Rose. Although Verducci maintains that Rose deserves lifetime banishment from the game and should never again be allowed to put on a uniform, he believes his accomplishments as a player stand alone. Verducci suggested that if eligibility rules changed he would not vote for Rose as a manager—the time period in which he allegedly gambled on the game—but would be in favor of voting for him as a player.

Moving to the issue of technologically-based time constraints felt by sports journalists, Verducci touched on the implications of the situation regarding Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Culter and the injury he suffered during the NFC Championship game. Verducci discussed the “character assassination” and how fans and current and former players jumped on social networking sites to question the extent of Cutler’s injury. He believes this is showing a shift in journalism in which people are setting the agenda regarding important issues. Instead of broadcasters and writers setting the news, these journalists and coaches are now responding to real-time fan reaction.

Verducci also pointed out that in such fast-paced settings he believes it’s more important to be right than to be first. He emphasized that Cutler was prevented by doctors from returning to the game, something no one would have known at the time of the injury. As such, even though speed has forced writers to make quick decisions, he still follows advice received from a former professor: When in doubt, leave it out.

The importance of accuracy was not the only advice offered to students. Verducci also discussed the need to outwork others and the need to strike a balance between personal and professional relationships with athletes. He also talked about the importance of finding good stories and being willing to put in the time and effort to get those pieces.

In all, Verducci provided intriguing commentary about ongoing issues in baseball and sports journalism. By expanding on topics such as steroid use and the changing pace of journalism, he shed valuable insight for the next generation of writers hoping to add extra layers of information to the sports journalism community.

- Melanie Formentin

1 comment:

Brian Clapp said...

Great comments from Verducci - I've always found him to be incredibly insightful while maintaining his status as a top notch journalist. In todays media by the minute, it seems Verducci has stayed out of the hype and stayed in his well developed stories.

Advice to live by for all journalists: when in doubt, leave it out.

Good stuff.