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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