Jones pitches into scribes and comes off worst


George Kimball/America At Large: Both Todd Jones's baseball and journalistic careers would appear to be imperilled this morning, and though I may be at least partially responsible for the impending demise of the latter, I'm probably going to get blamed for the former as well.

Jones is a 35-year-old relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox who moonlights as a columnist for the Sporting News. The St Louis-based publication was once regarded (and still advertises itself) as "the Bible of Baseball" - though in the age of 24-hour sports television its relevance has diminished considerably, which is probably why it has resorted to gimmickry on the order of, well, assigning Todd Jones to pen a weekly column.

Just three seasons ago, when he pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Jones was widely regarded as the top closer in the American League, but in the same mysterious manner as a golfer's driver (or his putter) can suddenly go sour, a pitcher can lose his magic overnight.

Jones had been given his outright release by the Colorado Rockies earlier this season, but he was rescued from the scrapheap by the Red Sox, who were willing to take a chance on his weary arm in an effort to bolster their bullpen for the second half of a season in which they remain in contention.

Unlike most prominent athletes-turned-scribes, Jones does not use a ghost-writer. He writes his column on his laptop and forwards it to St Louis, where it is vetted by Dan McNeil, the paper's managing editor, who must bear some of the blame for the flap ensuing over the current edition.

It should probably be pointed out here that Jones hasn't had a good week on the field, either. Last Thursday, in Texas, he entered an extra-inning game in the 11th inning, and promptly loaded the bases, which in turn allowed Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez to end the game with one swing of the bat, a grand-slam home run. Two nights later, in Baltimore, Jones gave up two hits and a run in another loss, and on Tuesday night back, in Boston, he gave up two more runs while lasting just two-thirds of an inning.

Had he anticipated just how badly he would pitch, it's a safe bet that Jones might have chosen another week to declare war on the Boston media.

Jones wouldn't have been the first baseball player to resent the high-pressure coverage the Red Sox receive in Boston, and given his forum in the Sporting News he had every right to express his opinion. It was within his bounds to characterise Boston's baseball scribes as "negative spin doctors" who are "brutal," but when he attempted to reinforce his position by putting words into other people's mouths, he crossed an ethical line.

"They make big deals out of nothing," wrote Jones in this week's column. "One reporter goes in for an interview, and the next thing you know there are 35 around your locker asking the dumbest questions, such as 'Did you mean to give up that homer?' or 'After this loss, is your team finished?' "

Now, if somebody had actually asked Jones either of those questions his ridicule would not be misplaced, but the fact of the matter is, nobody did.

Beat writers who have covered the Red Sox every day since Jones' July 2nd acquisition unanimously concurred that neither question was ever asked. (Not even television reporters ask questions this stupid.) Which is not to say that nobody in this business asks preposterous questions. I was there in Super Bowl week many years ago when one of my colleagues asked the Washington Redskins' Doug Williams "How long have you been a black quarterback?", and a few years before that a deadline-addled sportswriter approached Oakland's Jim Plunkett, notebook in hand, to demand "Let me see if I've got this straight, Jim. Was it blind mother, deaf father, or was it the other way around?" The point being, Jones could probably have come up with a couple of examples that would have been nearly as damning as the quotes he made up, but instead he concocted bogus questions and then held them up for laughs.

In the same column Jones had lectured his reportorial brethren on the subject of post-game protocol: "Get the quotes, don't take them out of context, get your story, and get out of the clubhouse." Since Jones claimed in his column "the media here in Boston is vicious," you truly have to wonder why he went out of his way to provoke his target at this fragile juncture of his baseball career.

As I pointed out in the Boston Herald a couple of days ago, had a baseball writer fabricated ridiculous statements and attributed them to Jones just to make him look silly, he'd be answering not only to the Red Sox but to his bosses at the newspaper, but the Sporting News initially seemed reluctant to call him to task.

McNeil conceded he didn't believe for a minute that the quotes were genuine.

When it was put to McNeill that the average Sporting News reader was likely to assume the questions were actually asked by some dim-witted Boston scribe, he admitted "I can't disagree with that. He shouldn't have done it." It probably isn't a coincidence that sometime between the conversation with Dan McNeil and the appearance of my column on the subject, the Sporting News removed Jones's column from its website. But the Red Sox haven't taken his uniform away - yet.