Ruminations on Rumors (w/ Bonus Vazquez Rumor)

Scanning Google Reader -- Suck it, Bloglines! -- over the past 24 hours, I came across a couple of related entries from two completely different type of sites. I thought about posting them separately as FanShots, but I thought they combined to frame a more robust discussion about the baseball rumor landscape.

In the first, Will Carrol, of Pete Rose reinstated and Washington Grays fame, as well as Baseball Prospectus' Under The Knife, recently announced that he would not be participating in the rumor mongering during the upcoming winter meetings (Dec. 8-11th). Not that I really care; as he says, the market is saturated with plenty of hard-working journos (both Carrol and Aaron Gleeman cite Ken Rosenthal in particular). No, I'm linking to his resignation from the rumor game because of the numbers he cites about the rumors themselves.

Paul DePodesta wrote that 25% of rumors have any basis in fact. I spoke with Andrew Friedman earlier this year and he gave a slightly higher number. I’d say that the number is higher still, probably about 50%. There’s some nugget of truth, some overheard conversation or leak, some good source talking out of school in — just a guess — half. About 25% is chatter - secondary things that aren’t quite right, people talking about things that never quite get to the real talking stage. I can remember a team saying they liked a guy and then a couple weeks later, that guy was in a trade rumor involving the team. It didn’t happen, but someone filled in the gap with something plausible. Not right, but not entirely wrong.

About 10% beyond that is trial balloons. They aren’t facts, but agents and teams like to get stuff out there and it’s useful to some extent, assuming you can pick apart the layers of anonymity. I’d argue there’s real value here in that it helps create action. In Moneyball, Peter Gammons was shown to be a go-between, an information clearinghouse for what teams were trying to do and there’s unquestionably a value there.

It’s the other 15% that’s worrisome. It’s the whole cloth, puff of smoke lies that throw everything off and give the whole process a bad name. I’ll split that into half "good" and half "evil" — the good smoke is just talking points, people throwing ideas on the wall and covering them in a thin candy shell of credibility. The evil smoke is designed to do something, to create action or in most cases, just attention. These seldom hold up very long, but they’re out there and worse, there’s some big name people that do this far too often, likely under pressure of deadline or an editor telling them to produce something.

The second comes from Gawker, the New York and media centric mega-blog, which uses the recent news that David Gregory will (read: may) take over at Meet The Press as a backdrop for a discussion on rumors and journalism on the internet.

In classic journalism, rumors had to be double-sourced before, say, a newspaper would run with them. So you get a tip, then you have to find some other person who would know to agree with it. That person should not be the original tipster. Pretty simple.

But everything is new and different now! Online "news" outlets are not all as professional as we are around here. Rumors pop up everywhere online, all the time. But here's the key difference between now and the old days: if a rumor is reported online, people tend to treat it as a rumor until it's reported somewhere else. Then, two places have it up separately, and ta-da! It's the internet version of double-sourcing. It doesn't necessarily require any enterprise on the part of lazier blogs—just wait until two places report it, and it's gold! No actual sources necessary!

How do the two relate? Well, without truly knowing the ins-and-outs--I'm just a blogger, remember--I'd argue that there is no Two-Scource-Rule for a baseball rumor. If it's whispered and can pass the smell test, it'll probably be written about, or at least re-whispered on the radio. But I'd also argue that we, as semi-functional basement-dwellers, have formed something of our own Two-Source-Rule. Take the Jermaine Dye Rumors, for instance.

Dye has been mentioned in regards to numerous teams, but the rumor that seems to have taken hold involves the Reds. Why? Because it's been written about by different outlets--Some Cinci radio station (not WKRP), The Enquirer, ChiSox.com, and the Trib--though all seem to be using a similar source, pointing back at the first source and adding Jockety's non-denial. So now it's a super-duper, 4-star, rhodium-plated rumor, because it has multiple sources....

And, I'll end that discussion there--even though I had more to say--because the Best-In-The-Business has a Hot-Off-The-Stove rumor for us.

The Braves, moving to address their starting pitching needs, are in serious discussions with the White Sox about a trade for right-hander Javier Vazquez, according to major-league sources.

The White Sox would receive as many three players in return. Left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes and infielder Brent Lillibridge are among the names under discussion, sources said.

[Update by The Cheat, 12/02/08 5:04 PM CST]: The opening line of Rosenthal's article now reads "The Braves, moving to address their starting pitching needs, are on the verge of acquiring right-hander Javier Vazquez from the White Sox, according to major-league sources." (emphasis added is mine)

[Update by The Cheat, 12/02/08 6:05 PM CST]: Rosenthal now says it's done pending physicals. Announcement Wednesday or Thursday. Players departing: Vazquez and Boone Logan. Players arriving: Brent Lillibridge (short, fast, scrappy, middle infielder with a hole in his swing), a young starter thought to be Charlie Morton (mediocre, uninspiring back-of-the-rotation candidate) and possibly Tyler Flowers (Power and plate discipline catcher, who just destroyed the AFL, but needs work behind the plate).

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