Jul 19, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; American League pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) of the Los Angeles Angels looks on after batting practice before the 2022 All Star game at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The most anticipated free agency of the MLB offseason has come and gone with the Dodgers—owners of the league’s deepest pockets—signing reigning American League MVP Shohei Ohtani to a record $700-million contract. It’s the largest sum paid to an athlete in the history of North American sports, a landmark deal with the potential to reshape baseball’s existing power structure for years to come.

The days and hours leading up to Ohtani’s ultimate decision were hectic, to say the least, a period of uncertainty marred by misinformation, conflicting reports, and an overall disregard for journalism. Buster Olney and Ken Rosenthal were the first to step in it, using their platforms to scold Ohtani for not making a decision fast enough, depriving the media of precious content during a relatively forgettable Winter Meetings in Nashville (the only transaction of note was the Yankees’ blockbuster trade for Padres on-base machine Juan Soto).

“None of this is necessary,” wrote Olney, lamenting Ohtani’s desire for privacy amid the most important decision of his professional life, keeping his distance from the swarm of media jackals hounding him for even the smallest breadcrumb of information. “Ohtani’s reflex always has seemed to be to bear as little media and fan responsibility as possible.”

“These Winter Meetings aren’t fun,” opined Rosenthal, blaming Ohtani for holding up the market, creating a logjam trapping countless teams and players in free-agent purgatory. “At their best, the meetings are a combination of a spending orgy and swap meet. The 2023 ‘Shohei Delay’ edition, on the other hand, is a colossal bore, a detriment to a sport that should be generating worldwide attention with the shock-and-awe signing of the game’s biggest star.”

Ohtani’s stonewalling tactics (he wouldn’t even reveal the name of his dog, who made an adorable cameo when the All-Star slugger was presented his MVP award last month) no doubt frustrated beat reporters writing on deadline, but it was still jarring to see such pointed criticism from respected voices like Olney and Rosenthal, lashing out at the game’s biggest star for not providing enough content. The whiny, condescending tone of Olney and Rosenthal’s columns reeked of entitlement, framing themselves as victims while vilifying Ohtani for protecting his own interests. That’s neither an accurate portrayal nor the sentiment you’d expect from seasoned journalists who should know better, unfairly pressuring Ohtani into a decision he and his representation clearly weren’t ready to make.

While Olney and Rosenthal were sharpening their knives, Fox insider Jon Morosi was lacing up his racing flats, trying to be the first to report Ohtani’s next team. Unfortunately, in his haste, Morosi committed one of journalism’s cardinal sins, prioritizing speed over accuracy. Bad intel cost Morosi what could have been a career-defining story, giving false hope to Blue Jays fans everywhere by following a promising lead that proved to be a dead end. To his credit, Morosi owned up to his mistake by issuing a public apology, which is more accountability than Jon Heyman showed at last year’s Winter Meetings, barely acknowledging his embarrassing “Arson Judge” gaffe that went viral.

No one in this industry bats 1,000, but the blunders are piling up with insiders routinely jumping the gun, taking unnecessary risks in an effort to “win” each individual transaction. It goes without saying that social media has changed the way we consume information, rewarding those in the know, not necessarily for conveying the most accurate or well-sourced reporting, but for getting the scoop first.

While a sense of urgency is important, speed should never come at the expense of nuanced journalism, with too many reporters rushing to be first on the scene. What we’re witnessing is a corrosion of basic journalistic principles, with speed-obsessed reporters letting their competitive juices run amok, treating the information biz as a blood sport pitting rival news-gatherers against each other in a steel-cage death match. Whether it’s hubris, carelessness or a misplaced obligation to the insatiable Twitter masses who want their news fast and piping hot, journalism isn’t any better for it, reducing the hot stove to a game of telephone, the kind of flimsy, lunch-table gossip that goes in one ear and out the other.

As media evolves in the digital age, becoming ever more brazen in its thirst for clicks, it’s only natural that old norms be replaced by new ones. The only god ESPN and other giants of the industry pray to is content, and if that means gambling away your journalistic credibility on a wild hunch backed up by questionable sources, then blow on those dice and give it a good roll, baby.

I’m exaggerating, of course, but there is an argument to be made that insiders shouldn’t be beholden to the same journalistic standards as other reporters. For instance, Adam Schefter, considered by many to be the most influential reporter in sports, has frequently found himself in hot water, using the regrettable phrase “Mr. Editor” in a clumsy email exchange with Bruce Allen while mischaracterizing domestic violence allegations made against then-Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Both were serious breaches of journalism ethics (never mind that he once sat on a story for months, waiting until the eve of the NFL Draft to report Aaron Rodgers wanted out of Green Bay), though, remarkably none of it stuck to him.

Our attention spans have never been shorter, pinballing from screen to screen, rarely taking inventory of who was right or wrong. Regardless of whether it was good journalism, the Ohtani sweepstakes was an aggregator’s dream, a content fountain milked for every last dollar. If Twitter engagement and advertising revenue are the only metrics that matter anymore, there’s not much incentive to wait for confirmation when the alternative is losing readership to clickbait blogs that play fast and loose with the word “journalism,” taking a sensationalist approach with provocative headlines pushing whatever agenda draws the most eyes. It’s a sordid state of affairs unless you see sports as little more than a grand spectacle, a reliable traffic driver meant to be consumed as entertainment, thus relieving news-breakers of any journalistic responsibility.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that binary with most fans able to distinguish between well-sourced reporting and empty-calories tabloid fare. Conflicts of interest are a dime a dozen in sports media, with each landmine more treacherous than the next. With individual reporters and the outlets they represent increasingly compromised by the suffocating grip of big business, it’s hard to know who and what to trust, leaving us all to wander aimlessly in a desert of misinformation. That’s not to say the Heymans and Schefters of the world are intentionally leading us astray, though accuracy certainly isn’t the commodity it once was, with honest, agenda-less reporting free of any narrative or ulterior motive seemingly in short supply.

It’s easy to imagine a post-journalism landscape because, in many respects, that doomsday scenario has already arrived on our doorstep, like a crisp Amazon package waiting to be opened. That may seem paranoid and an overreaction to an unusually sloppy week on the journalism front, but if the Ohtani fiasco has taught us anything, it’s that chaos sells. So why not embrace the anarchy, letting journalism devolve into a three-ring circus of wild speculation and half-baked conspiracy theories?

Call it the Marvelization of sports. It might not be good, but it’s loud and exciting, and maybe, after years of dutifully eating their vegetables, that’s all fans want, preferring the invented drama of free agency to the paint-drying monotony of an ordinary MLB offseason.

[ESPN, The Athletic]

About Jesse Pantuosco

Jesse Pantuosco joined Awful Announcing as a contributing writer in May 2023. He’s also written for Audacy and NBC Sports. A graduate of Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a master’s degree in creative writing from Fairfield University, Pantuosco has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and never misses a Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots game.