Fact-Checking Gordon Wittenmyer's Narrative

Fact-Checking Gordon Wittenmyer's Narrative

When election season is upon us, my favorite thing to do after a big debate is to get on the internet and go to a “fact check” website. When other friends and colleagues are arguing about what Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, or Jon Stewart said about Obama (or whoever), I can point to actual facts that I learned from a non-partisan website providing nothing but the claim he made and the actual fact.

But most of the time, people just give you a funny look when you aren't using sensationalized “news” reports to further your argument. Why don't those news channels or personalities offer these facts in the first place, rather than provide misleading rhetoric that should be viewed only as infotainment?

What draws people in to watch your channel, listen to your radio show, or click on your website is creating a narrative that will draw both sides: those that fanatically agree and want more information for their argument, and those that so angrily disagree that they can't stop themselves from looking. Rush Limbaugh has made millions from doing this.

Another well-known pundit that has made his way with this tactic is Chicago Sun-Times beat reporter Gordon Wittenmyer. Probably not a week goes by that I don't see a combination of comments on Twitter regarding the latest shredding of the Ricketts family or Cubs front office, written by Wittenmyer. Most of the comments are a collective eye-roll and giggle: “Oh, that Gordo has done it again.”

It's within these columns where facts are often tossed out the window and sensational claims are made to further a point. Many anonymous sources are cited, but little research is provided. So, just for fun, I've picked my 5 favorite claims from Gordon Wittenmyer to “fact check” for your reading amusement:

Claim: “(Mark) Cuban said in an interview last summer that he was cut out of the Cubs’ process, despite a $1.3 billion bid that was more than 50 percent higher than the Rickettses’ winning bid.” -June 15th, 2014

Fact: The sale price of the Chicago Cubs to the Ricketts family was $845 million. Their bid would be 50% of $1.26 billion, which is less obviously less than $1.3 billion. While this claim is factually correct, it is based on a statement that could simply be Cuban blustering.

Claim: “This is the first time in the history of 30 years of free agency, 30-plus years, where a major-market team has intentionally gone into seasons rebuilding with youth and on the cheap.” -April 4th, 2013

Fact*: The Cubs' team payroll was slightly more than $106 million in 2013, at the time Wittenmyer wrote this. The New York Mets, another big market team, had a payroll slightly more than $94 million in 2012 and slightly more than $93 million in 2013. If he considers the Cubs' youth-filled rebuilding project to be “on the cheap,” then the Mets certainly were rebuilding with youth and “on the cheap” before the Cubs. Incidentally, the Mets' 2014 payroll is just under $85 million and the Cubs' is just over $92 million.

The big and mighty Los Angeles Dodgers, with a massive TV deal that has allowed their payroll to jump to $229 million in 2014, averaged just $103 million for team payroll from 2004-2012. During that span, they spent under $100 million on the payroll three times, and under $85 million once. His claim that this is the “first time” a big market team has rebuilt with youth and on the cheap is false.

Claim: (regarding the rejected contract extension by Jeff Samardzija) “The Cubs, with the fifth-highest revenues in the game, can’t afford to keep their own best players.” -June 20th, 2014

Fact: The Cubs reportedly offered Samardzija 5 years, $85 million just the other day. The rumor was originally that Samardzija wants 6 years, $100 million, but now it's being said that he wants 6 years, $120 million. While you can make a case that he is or isn't worth that kind of money (I say that he isn't), the important thing here is the claim that the Cubs “can't afford to keep” him.

The Cubs offered that exact 6 year/$120 million contract to Masahiro Tanaka in the off-season, which was actually reported by Wittenmyer. When Tanaka signed with the Yankees, the Cubs used $6 million of that money to sign Jason Hammel. The rest of the money has been saved to use on future payroll, according to Gordon Wittenmyer.

So tell me again why can't they afford to give that money to Samardzija? Is Wittenmyer just relying on his reader to conveniently forget the facts? How about the fact that they have only $31 million committed in 2015 (probably closer to $55 million, when factoring arbitration raises)? This claim is clearly false. They absolutely can afford to sign Samardzija; they're just choosing not to overpay him.

Claim: (regarding dealing Samardzija) “And regardless of the players the Cubs get in return, it’s going to be hard for even the Ivy League front-office guys to rationalize letting this guy go.” -June 20th, 2014

Fact: For this claim all I have is this quote from Cubs Den, our fellow ChicagoNow blog, from none other than Gordon Wittenmyer:

“First of all, people have to get off the whole top-of-the-rotation or not top-of-the-rotation thing. How many bona fide aces are there in the game? 10? 15? If it’s 15, then on average only half the teams in baseball have one. If it’s 20, one-third of the teams in baseball don’t have one.

Samardzija has stuff on a good day that makes him as good and competitive as an elite pitcher, which would make him one of perhaps 60 guys in the game – maybe 100.

The rest of it’s all about how often he can bring it, for how long in a game, repeatedly. And that’s measured in the numbers at the end of the year.”

Gee, if there are 60-100 guys as good and competitive as Jeff Samardzija, it's hard to imagine it being THAT hard to replace him. Not to mention, the idea of paying him $20 million per season is ludicrous if, by Wittenmyer's math, there are 2-3 guys like Samardzija for every single Major League team. This claim is too subjective to actually prove wrong, but at the very least I provided a quote from Gordo in which he contradicts himself.

Claim: (regarding rumors that GM Jim Hendry was on the hot seat) “The Cubs certainly have a lot of problems, and Hendry has said he’s accountable as the GM. But he might also be their best answer for turning this mess around.” July 20th, 2011

Fact: I've got nothing for this one. Just thought it was funny.

If you're keeping score at home, that's two claims that are factually incorrect and easily researched, one that is contradictory with something he said just months prior, one that's correct but based on a statement by a known blow-hard, and one that is filled with hilarity and borderline destroys any credibility that he may have had.

In order to prevent the explosion of my word count, I left out the columns implying that Cubs fans are racists (the column no longer exists, but his blog post sums it up), his citing of Forbes for information on the Cubs revenue (which they estimate, and isn't based on the Cubs actual financials), and his repeated dumping on the Cubs when Forbes reported a 58% debt to value ratio (which Forbes dropped to 35% in March).

For many of you, this probably just provides a solid laugh regarding many things you already knew. But I hope I've reached at least a small portion of Fox News watchers, Limbaugh devotees, and people who claim that The Daily Show provides real political news. The more people that recognize that this is an entertainment industry, the less juice Gordon Wittenmyer will have.

*all payroll information researched from Baseball Prospectus


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  • great read...tks for the enlightenment.

  • This is wonderful

  • Nice post, Ryan. I especially liked your Samardzija calculations / Tanaka comparison, nice touch.

    Personally, I would've liked to see the context of these claims hyperlinked. I know you quoted them directly, but trying to give Gordo the benefit of the doubt makes me want to see the full article in which he wrote these things.

    Either way, still a good job. RT!

  • In reply to Justin Jabs:

    Aw, I wouldn't want to get him more clicks...

  • The Cuban one is wrong, but not for the reason you say.

    While the media was busy saying that Cuban wouldn't be accepted by the owners, Cuban said that the financials deteriorated as a result of the 2008 crash, and the team was not worth more than $500 million, so he was no longer bidding. If you accept that, the Ricketts Trust overpaid by $345 million.

    There is no way any rational purchaser would have offered $1.35 billion for the Cubs, given that Ricketts himself says he needs $500 million further investment, and to throw out all the media agreements.

    The rest, I guess, just prove that Wittenmyer is inconsistent. However, nobody has proven that Ricketts has the money to put a major league team on the field (one article cited elsewhere on Cubs Insider said not until 2019).

    BTW, this isn't baseball, but has anyone called out the infallible media pundit who said that Thibs was going to be traded to coach the Knicks?

  • In reply to jack:

    Also, to be fair. Wittenmyer didn't make the Cuban assertion--Jim Bunning did, in some sort of appeal to get the antitrust law changed (a href="http://www.suntimes.com/sports/28100274-419/cubs-sale-at-odds-with-mlb-antitrust-exemption-says-jim-bunning.html#.U6SG2023bcs">Sun-Times). So, your facts also have to be checked.

  • In reply to jack:

    The claim regarding Cuban is Wittenmyer's writing, not a quote from Bunning. So you are incorrect here.

  • In reply to Ryan Davis:

    Even if it is, it is not clear that Bunning didn't instigate it. Furthermore, it is supposedly quoting Cuban. If you had read the article, that part says "Cuban said in an interview last summer that he was cut out of the Cubs’ process, despite a $1.3 billion bid..." Note that Kap (my source) and Deadspin were also supposedly quoting Cuban that there was never a bid. Thus, you don't have a debate over fact, but a debate over hearsay (if the issue is the truth of the $1.35 billion bid). Furthermore, I said your math point was nitpicking, and you now admit that it is also incorrect.

    Glass houses....

  • In reply to jack:

    No quotes around his statement, means it's a statement he makes. Changed the factual error of my own. As always, thanks for reading and commenting though.

  • In reply to Ryan Davis:

    But as I pointed out, the only statement he made was "Cuban said that"--not a statement concerning a fact that such a bid was made and rejected.

    In fact, you haven't done any fact checking at all, since you don't claim any independent knowledge of any fact asserted.

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    On the possibility of buying the Chicago Cubs:

    Reddit: Hey Mark, how close did you come to buying the Cubs?

    Cuban: not close at all. When I couldnt get the owner of the Cubs to sit in a room with me that pretty much told me it wasnt going to happen. I never made a final formal bid

  • In reply to Pooch7171:

    I guess that sums up whether "Bunning says Cuban says" or even "Kap says Cuban says" means anything. In any event, it seems that in any event Cuban never made a bid.

    So, Ryan's nitpicking over someone's math really doesn't matter. The only thing that may matter is the double hearsay of "Wittenmyer reports that Bunning said that Cuban said."

  • In reply to jack:

    Again, re-read the GW column, Jack. The quoted claim is not a quote from Bunning. It's writing from Gordon Wittenmyer. And it's an example of how he distorts facts to further his narrative. Thanks for reading.

  • Tom , with all due respect you need a new calculator . I'm no fan of Gordon's , but his and cuban's math is correct . Your math is wrong . A 50 pct increase of 845 mil is 1.267 billion . The trip from 650 to 1.3 billion is 100 pct not 50 pct .

  • In reply to kernzee:

    The math was done in a cold medicine fueled haze. I reworded it, but the point is still the same. Thanks for reading!

  • In reply to kernzee:

    Thanks Kernzee. Ryan has addressed it.

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    I'll take the heat for any errors in math, as this passed through my hands prior to being published. While the math was in G-Dub's favor, it doesn't excuse the fact that he still used hearsay from a man well known for bombast as the basis of a claim meant to further his personal narrative.

    $1.3B is 50% greater than the winning bid, but if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his ass when he hopped.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    Well said. I think the point is still clear. Even if you only count it as me hitting on 80%, I'm still beating Gordo right?

  • In reply to Ryan Davis:

    No, except that you convinced yourself of it.

    Even if the math error is admitted or put on your editor, it negates whatever point you tried to make in point 1.

  • In reply to jack:

    All of the points are that he will use anything, whether factual or not, to push his narrative. Again, thanks for reading. Glad to have sparked the conversation.

  • In reply to Ryan Davis:

    Since you now say that your point isn't "fact checking" but that he will use anything to make a point, is there any columnist that doesn't?

    Do you believe the news stories with the headline "Report:...?" Do you believe the stories premised on "The lawyer said..." even if Sam Adam Jr. is quoted as saying "we'll prove that Blagojevich did nothing wrong?" In the baseball world, do you take Bruce Levine on face value about the rooftop owners "being able to get an injunction" and "will try to get this before a jury?" Notwithstanding that's legally inconsistent, and the arbitration clause of the contract has been published?

    This just proves that it is a simple, and essentially meaningless exercise to establish that 90% of the media is using whatever to press an agenda, whether factually based or not.

  • In reply to jack:

    If I wanted to just fact check someone to show they don't know what they're talking about, I would've used David Haugh. The point was that facts get distorted by many in the media (politics as an example) to further a narrative. Glad you enjoyed it!

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    In reply to jack:

    Can we please stop any pettiness here? I appreciate that we have this comment section as a relatively open forum, but when it devolves into little nitpicking stuff, it's really not fun for anyone. Pointing out errors or whatever is fine, but I don't care for any personal attacks or really anything that not at least moderately constructive.

    We try to be entertaining and irreverent, so I'm not necessarily trying to act like some sort of moral compass. But I'd prefer not to see the comments fill up with sniping and such. Thank you.

  • fb_avatar

    Good stuff, unfortunately Gordo isn't the only one to use this tactic. I've even called it out on occasion before (http://www.evenloserscanwin.com/2014/05/power-to-the-people-or-we-dont-need-this-crap/). The real takeaway is that the power is in the page click and we should all use that power responsibly...

  • fb_avatar

    When it gets down to it, all of us are looking for clicks. If not, there'd really be no reason for us to run this blog. Sure, it's a fun hobby to talk sports, but if I just wanted to hear myself talk or to debate with just my buddies, I wouldn't bother writing and publishing online.

    The difference comes in whether you actually believe what you're saying or whether you're simply saying it just to be contrarian or inflammatory. Headlines are meant to grab attention, and there's nothing wrong with that. But if you continue to pursue a narrative that is fueled by spite and that lacks the proper factual context, it seems very petty.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    Skip Bayliss got away with it for a long time. Other sports writers have to get radio gigs, or sponsored radio interviews on the pizza hot line, since the newspapers seem pretty dead.

    Your other implication is that you aren't Mike Ciric, who says he isn't getting paid by Chicago Now.

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    In reply to jack:

    Bayless is a blowhard who doesn't believe what he says, which is fine for him I suppose. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I behaved like that, but that's just me I guess.

    And I didn't imply anything; I was quite clear. Also, I'm not getting paid by ChicagoNow either, so I'm not really sure where you're going with that.

  • In reply to jack:

    I don't know who Mike Ciric is.

  • In reply to Ryan Davis:

    Put in a search in the "Meet our bloggers" page.

    Anyway, he isn't relevant (you seem to be diverted by irrelevancies); the point that he isn't being paid is.

    But since Evan says he isn't getting paid either, why does he care about the click count? I assume that click count is relevant only because Google Ads pays for that (which Mike also said). That's where I'm going.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to jack:

    While I may often drop in random pop culture references, I was far from esoteric in my earlier comment. The reason we do this is to share our thoughts and opinions with a wide audience, the size of which is judged by the number of viewers or clicks. Pretty much common sense there.

  • Well said, and thanks for clicking :)

  • I'm confused by what is being fact-checked in here. The first claim is factually correct, and the fourth and fifth are just opinions he's giving which are impossible to prove "factual" or "not factual." They're not claiming to be facts at all, or even built on facts. He isn't sensationalizing anything in those last two--he's just giving his (however strident) opinion. Realistically, 1, 2, and 3 are the only statements that can be proven either way, and 1 is actually correct, based upon the context in which it's written. If this is just saying "I disagree with Wittenmeyer," that's fair, but implying that he's actually lying in his writing is a bit harsh, no?

    Wittenmeyer is pretty much a putz--I wish there were someone more articulate and thoughtful to provide an opposing viewpoint. But a thoughtful and opposing viewpoint is definitely needed at this point, as the cacophony of fawning praise heaped on this organization from numerous media and blog outlets, when they've made their fair share of mistakes.

    There are reasonable questions that need to be raised about the financial status of this team, as well as the business ops' handling of their financial needs. While Wittenmeyer is pretty much raising the hackiest of points, he's not entirely out of line and hopefully can inspire some more thoughtful writers to challenge the "everything they do is part of a plan" narrative.

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    In reply to caryatid62:

    Now this is a thoughtful and constructive way to present a response or criticism. Thank you.

  • In reply to caryatid62:

    I appreciate your constructive criticism, and agree in part with a lot of it. The last one was just something I found in my research that I wanted to post. I didn't have a ton of space left in my word limit (that I impose on myself). I noted a few other things I could have touched on as well. Claim number 4 was an example where he willingly contradicts something he has said previously. I think a few of my points hint at the fact that he often contradicts himself.

    I think the overall point is the fact that lazy journalism exists, and I was calling him on his. If it wasn't clear enough that the "fact check" wasn't the most important part, that's on me. That was more of a fun way to convey my point, based on the analogy I used.

    I'm relatively new to this kind of writing and still am getting better. But the overall point was the lack of facts used in what is being represented as "journalism".

  • Not to mention the fact that he is a beat reporter and not an opinion columnist. I realize he does write what amount to "columns" a la the Ricks and what Mariotti used to spew, but Wittenmyer weaves his personal narrative about the Cubs into nearly everything he does. I don't see Mark Gonzalez getting up on any poorly-built soapboxes nearly this often.

    There's also the issue that people bring up about opposing viewpoints. There are plenty of other beat reporters in town who do not toe the company line, who offer up opposing viewpoints, who don't chew up and spit out what the front office tells them. Mooney, Jesse Rogers, Gonzalez; they have offered plenty of opposing view points to what the Cubs are doing but there is something about the way Gordo and the Sun-Times goes about it. It's the willful ignorance and constant contradiction that Ryan brings up in his post and subsequent answering of the nitpicker.

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    GW is on a leash carried but his owners, The Dicks. The Big Dick (Telander) and Little Dick (Morrisey). They all work for the rag called the SunTimes.

    So cal me old if you like but I grew up in a time when newspapers were responsible and reported news. Now, it is one big editorial with agendas that go oppisite to what the truth is just in order to sell a few newsapers.

    Good news is that Newspapers are a dying medium and these asses with pens will be out of work because they will never be trusted by the public again. Imagine that Telander used to be one of the good ones, now, just a sellout.

    Term of the day for SunTiimes writers...HACK!

  • In reply to Randy Michelson:

    I've definitely seen it alluded to from various Cubs bloggers that Gordo had a great relationship with Hendry, had all his sources and what not, and then he lost all that. I've also seen it alluded to that the Cubs have tried on several occasions to reach out to Gordo and give him those inside sources he craves and he doesn't really want them. It's all just speculation and hearsay, but we're talking about Gordon Wittenmyer here so I feel that's perfectly OK.

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