Updated August 5, 2015
Joel Sherman of the New York Post is among the most respected of baseball writers, one of the most accurate and one of the most aggressive. I once saw him in a fistfight with another reporter in the Yankees’ dugout.
No one pushes harder to break a story, and he breaks more than his share. But like many reporters these days, he damages his credibility by sending out presumptive tweets that turn out false.
One he posted last week brought tears to 23-year-old Wilmer Flores, shortstop for the New York Mets.
While the Mets were at Citi Field playing the San Diego Padres, Sherman tweeted that they had traded Flores to Milwaukee, with center fielder Carlos Gomez going to New York.
By the sixth inning just about everybody in the stadium was aware of the deal. Everybody except Mets manager Terry Collins, who couldn’t understand why Flores got a standing ovation when he came to bat in the seventh inning.
Collins, 66, is not active in social media and resents its overreach: “I don’t know why they come to the games anymore. They ought to just sit home, watch games on TV and on their cell phones.”
Flores became very upset when fans near his dugout shouted to him that he’d been traded. He had signed with the Mets as a 16-year-old in Venezuela and had never worked for another organization. The last thing he wanted was to be traded.
And the last place he wanted to be traded to was the last-place Milwaukee Brewers. Surely you can understand his sadness.
Fans were wondering why Flores stayed in the game when everybody but Collins knew he was a goner. Baseball protocol is that once a player is traded, he does not play another minute for the team that traded him. What if Flores got injured?
Collins, who does not have the closest of relationships with his general manager, Sandy Alderson, did not even know Flores was being discussed in a possible trade.
But there was a holdup.
After tweeting “Mets have gotten Carlos Gomez . . . it is a done deal,” Sherman followed with this a minute later: “Deal with Brewers is done pending physicals.”
Usually, the physicals are taken for granted when they occur during the season. Gomez has been playing almost every day. Sherman asked his agent, Scott Boras, if there was any physical issue with his client, and was told there was none, although the player said in mid-June he was slowed by a sore hip.
The trade was supposed to be Flores and pitcher Zack Wheeler for Gomez. But the Mets were, according to some reports, hesitating after reviewing medical reports on Gomez, while the Brewers fretted over Wheeler recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The standing O for Flores was a surprisingly heartfelt farewell, considering many of these fans had been booing him in recent weeks for not being the shortstop they deserved.
When he took his position in the field, tears were rolling down his cheeks.
By the time Flores returned to the dugout for the bottom of the eighth inning, Collins had heard about the tweeted trade. He told Flores he was removing him from the game, even though he had no confirmation of a deal. He did not want to keep playing somebody in such emotional distress.
When the game was over, Alderson informed the press corps that “there was no trade. Social media got ahead of the facts.”
A helpful tweet came from Tom Haudricourt, who for decades has covered the Brewers for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “This Gomez trade was in place. The medicals on Wheeler nixed it.”
As for Gomez, the Houston Astros were not too worried about his health, as they traded for him as soon as the Mets’ deal went off the table. He showed no signs of injury as he hit .348, slugged .565 and even stole three bases in his first five games with Houston.
Sherman may have been correct in thinking the Mets were not blocking the trade, but it looks like he did not check out the Milwaukee side before rushing out his series of tweets. He got caught in a trap that ensnares many journalists in this social media era.
He was sending out half-assed tweets, one after another, just to be out in front on the news. You can be sure that what he writes for the Post is much more thought out than what he posts or tweets.
As I’ve said before, when reporters don’t know, they tweet.
Before Twitter, journalists tried to keep anyone from knowing about a story they were pursuing until they felt sure it was accurate and complete. But in the world of social media, they are not held very accountable for inaccuracies. Being right is not as important as being fast.
This is an unfortunate trend. Sportswriters who have an excellent national reputation, such as Joel Sherman, have a special responsibility to be responsible. Their words, whether written, spoken or tweeted, are taken more seriously – and spread much more quickly — than bloggers no one has heard of.
No matter what sort of media you’re involved in, it’s irresponsible to disseminate news information before you’ve checked the facts. People’s lives are affected.
Here we see the damage such hasty sloppiness can cause.
Collins had some sharp words to reporters gathering in his office after the game: “You think these guys are stone cold robots. They’re not. They’re human beings who have emotions.”
Indeed. Sometimes there is crying in baseball.
But there is also redemption.
Three days later Flores hit a walk-off 12th-inning home run to beat the Washington Nationals in a battle for the lead in the National League East. With Flores earning ovations for his glove-work as well as his bat and with new acquisition Yoenis Cespedes providing a desperately needed offensive boost, the Mets won five games in a row and took first place in the division.
Collins was feeling better about the media, social and otherwise, as he met with reporters after Flores’ timeliest of homers. “I’m sitting here looking at some guys who are outstanding writers,” he said. “You guys couldn’t write that. You couldn’t come up with that.”
No, but they might have tweeted it.