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Mariotti Finally Gets His BAT

In 2001 cold, insolent fate robbed Jay Mariotti of the highest honor to which a Chicago sportswriter can aspire. By right, by reason, by every standard of justice precious to American civilization, Mariotti should have been that year’s winner of the Golden BAT award. The coveted BAT–for Baseball Aptitude Test–honors supreme achievement in the forecasting of baseball pennant races, as children learn about the same time they’re learning that in our democracy the president is the candidate who gets the most votes. But you’ll recall that in 2000 this principle turned out to be not necessarily true.

To drive home the point, Hot Type awarded the next BAT–renamed the Dimpled Chad BAT for the occasion–to the Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein.

Greenstein had finished a close second to Mariotti. He made a worthy illegitimate champion.

Now it’s 2004, a year when justice deferred becomes justice delivered. BATless no more, the new BAT champion is Mariotti.

What a race it was. Greenstein was right there again. So were the Sun-Times’s Chris De Luca and the always competitive Toni Ginnetti.

Actually, the latest BAT race confirms the thinking of Hot Type predecessor Neil Tesser. The predictions of the scribes at the close of spring training are as eternal a ritual as spring training itself, and Tesser launched the BAT in 1981 to test his theory that these crack prognosticators are no better at seeing into the future than the average jamoke in the bleachers. When choices are obvious, sportswriters will make them; when they aren’t, time has shown they rarely do. Over the years the BAT award has honored the scribe most adept at picking the National League and American League teams that reached the playoffs the year before, but last year I bent the rules. I decided to give the BAT to anybody who’d picked the Anaheim Angels to win the 2002 World Series. Or even to make the playoffs. But no one had.

This year I was prepared to extend the BAT to any scribe who’d made the call on the 2003 world-champion Florida Marlins. Needless to say, that sort of vision turned out to be nonexistent.

Here’s how the BAT race broke down. All ten writers in the competition correctly picked the Yankees and A’s to triumph in the AL East and West. Four of the ten also nailed the Twins in the Central (the others succumbed to the wishful thinking of our average jamoke and took the White Sox), and three voted for the Twins to reach the playoffs as the wild-card team. The AL was a piece of cake. The NL ground them up and spit them out. Only two writers picked so much as a single division race, Greenstein calling the Braves in the East and the Tribune’s Paul Sullivan the Giants in the West.

Another six writers had the Braves or Giants reaching the playoffs as the wild card. Nobody predicted more than one of the four NL playoff teams.

Mariotti hit the bull’s-eye with all three AL division races (the White Sox were his wild-card team; the actual wild card, Boston, didn’t get a single playoff vote), and he had the Giants as his NL wild card. That’s three and a half points, as I keep score, and he broke the tie with Ginnetti and De Luca by picking the Yankees to win the AL pennant.

How did he break the tie with Greenstein? The permanent possessor of the immediately retired Dimpled Chad BAT nailed the Yankees, A’s, and Braves as division champs, picked the Twins as a wild card, and also predicted the Yankees’ pennant. So Mariotti didn’t break the tie. I did. Right is right.

(The Whiffle BAT, for the least distinguished performance, is on its virtual way to the Tribune’s Rick Morrissey, who joined the thundering herd favoring the Yanks and A’s but got nothing else right.)

I reached Mariotti last weekend in San Antonio, and he was as ecstatic as I’ve ever heard him. (Normally when we talk he’s threatening to sue me.) “I am on a roll!” he said. “Three weeks ago I picked all four Final Four winners.”

How to account for it?

“I started a radio show. I’m doing more homework,” he said. “Actually, with college basketball it’s easier than ever now. It’s kind of a top-heavy event. It’s pretty easy to pick your teams.

“In baseball you have the haves and the have-nots.” Anaheim and Florida were have-nots, but “those are aberrations. The big money more often than not will win. Florida was a great story, but I think it’s fluky. The Yankee pitching staff broke down.”

Mariotti said the National League will be “very weak this year.” Even so, the Cubs are merely his wild-card pick. “Too many people are picking the Cubs to win it all,” he explained. “[ESPN’s] Peter Gammons, the New York Post–of all papers–Sports Illustrated. To me, if everybody’s picking the Cubs to win everything, karmatically there is no chance for the Cubs to win. It would have to be unexpected for it to happen.”

That’s exactly the kind of second-level insight the BAT Award was created to mourn the dearth of.

Who do you like in the semis? I asked.

Oklahoma State and Duke, he said.

Defender’s at It Again

Public editor Don Wycliff recently asked Tribune readers: “Do you want us to explain how our errors were made, or do you just want the correct information?” Short and sweet had been the paper’s corrections policy, but as Wycliff wrote in an April 1 column, responding readers overwhelmingly favored the correct information garnished with a little inside baseball.

Even when a mistake is pedestrian, the facts behind it might not be. But some mistakes are astonishing, and readers are cheated if they’re not told how they happened. The Tribune rarely makes such a mistake, but the Defender just published an excellent example.

On March 31 the Defender carried an editorial commenting on trouble at Phillips Academy High School in Bronzeville. “The Lakefront Outlook has reported on the spiraling violence at Phillips for the past month. [Principal Bertha] Buchanan has consistently refused to return phone calls or speak with our reporters on the topic. And last week, she removed the education reporter from the school before a Local School Council meeting devoted to the ongoing violence was held.”

The editorial went on to lecture Buchanan on her public duties. It concluded, “The problems at Phillips are not about Buchanan’s image or career advancement. This is not about an Outlook reporter nosing around looking to get a principal into trouble….It is about who controls our schools.”

At first glance this appeared to be a Defender editorial admirably magnanimous about giving a competing newspaper credit for its aggressive reporting while the Defender’s reporters were hamstrung by a hostile principal.

In fact the Defender was reprinting word for word, right down to the headline, an editorial that had run in the Lakefront Outlook a week earlier.

On April 1 the Defender carried a correction. The editorial “was mistakenly used in place of our regular editorial,” it said. “The article actually appeared in another newspaper. We regret the error and apologize for any confusion that resulted from the oversight.”

Oversight? The Outlook–a free weekly launched in 1999 by the owners of the Hyde Park Herald to cover Bronzeville–doesn’t even have its own Web site. For this oversight to have occurred, someone had to retype the editorial. An unusual sin of omission.

Was it the same sort of oversight that in recent years allowed a sister paper, the Tri-State Defender in Memphis, to run a dozen or more stories by a mysterious “Larry Reeves” that had been lifted virtually word for word from alternative papers in other cities?

I reached Defender editor-publisher David Milliner on vacation, and he called his paper to try to find out how it happened to print an Outlook editorial. The best he could come up with was that this “unfortunate occurrence” appeared to have been an “honest error.” He said he couldn’t pin down the specifics.

News Bite

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Tribune April 5: “[Richard] Clarke’s clever pseudo-apology–we failed, meaning, they failed–played perfectly to the families in the gallery, who applauded and warmly embraced the very man who for 12 years was the U.S. government official most responsible for preventing a Sept. 11. A neat trick.”

In other words, Richard Clarke is a mendacious schemer whose shameless apology pulled the wool over the eyes of the grateful families, who couldn’t see that they were cheering the guy who owed them an apology. As op-ed logic goes, another neat trick.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Brian Gubicza.