This is Punch Imlach. He was the most controversial and dividing figure in the modern history of the game. A few months after winning the 1967 Stanley Cup, Leafs forward Frank Mahovlich spent time in a hospital after suffering a breakdown brought on by the constant badgering of Imlach.
He held two-a-day practices based on Toronto’s rush hour so players didn’t have time to zip home between the on-ice sessions. The 1960s Leafs basically worked 9-5 just like everyone else, even on off days.
Punch Imlach, by any stretch, was the bad guy.
The Oilers-Dave Berry situation should have been handled better by the organization, but I don’t believe they are the “bad guy” on a Punch Imlach level (as described above). Their “crime” is in not recognizing how this would play on the internet and in the mainstream media.
Blogging is a new beast, just like 8-Tracks and porn on the internet (does National Geographic even exist anymore?) were at one time new and interesting products. The bloggers feel a freedom to “say it like it is” that mainstream media cannot due to their ongoing need to have an open relationship with the organization and its players.
It’s a Catch-22 for the writers and broadcasters, because with truth comes credibility. In the recent past the only “reporter” I can recall who built a reputation of honesty with fans while still broadcasting games and continuing a relationship with the team was Ray Ferraro. Bob Stauffer’s transition from the Team 1260 to CHED’s game broadcasts will be a fascinating case study in this area.
It’s a Catch-22 for the Oilers too. For an organization that clearly prefers to bolt all the furniture to the floor lest it move an inch, the internet is a challenge of epic proportions. Dave Berry used profanity in his blog, something an internet reader would accept if not expect in the normal course of reading on the Al Gore. The Oilers, on the other hand, have a reputation to protect and the logo and its players are “off limits” in their house. I think normal, reasonable people understand that and the issue most of us have with Mr. Berry’s situation is the way it was handled as opposed to the reasons behind it.
There’s also a bias that exists between mainstream media and bloggers. It makes itself known in subtle, almost hilarious fashion. Consider this piece from David Staples (who has frankly written the pivotal items in this story) article the other day:
- “Zack Stortini is just a disgusting hockey player,” Berry wrote.
- Such commentary wouldn’t sit well with the players, Hebert says. “I’d like Zack to see that (comment). I’d like him (Berry) to go talk to Zack after. There might not be much talking!” Hebert says and laughs.
- The regular reporters who cover the team all the time know they must face the players and coaches that they write about. “Media don’t fear for their lives when they come in here but they know they have to be fair,” Hebert says.
Let’s take these items one at a time. I’ve seen Stortini interviewed and know a little about his background (follow prospects pretty closely) and happen to know he is no dummy. We can reasonably assume that Stortini is familiar with terms like “embellishment” and “hyperbole.” We don’t have the context of the item Berry wrote so have to leave it at that, while still noting that when you take things out of context it enables you to frame issues in the most negative fashion. This is something bloggers are often called out for, so we should point it out when members of the mainstream media do it.
The comment from Hebert is typical of media types everywhere who apparently believe bloggers are made up of losers sitting in the basement, in front of their computer screens with a bag of Cheesies, blue lights to set the mood, a 2L of “Diet” Coke and a stack of Swank magazines in the corner. Probably in need of a shave and haven’t seen natural light since Saturday.
Underestimating your opponent is never wise. Mainstream media people (and PR folks) need to understand most bloggers use the forum as a collective think tank to move the conversation forward in all kinds of areas. Just as Bill James exposed the importance of platooning, the importance of k/w ratio in projecting success for pitchers, the importance of age in projecting a career from rookie status forward, so too are bloggers sussing out information and applying it to hockey. Tyler Dellow has successfully convinced me that save percentage (relative to league) is the absolute in regard to goaltenders, Vic Ferrari of IOF has taught me all kinds of interesting things, most recently the value of players who take faceoffs in their own end and the massive drag it has on their overall statistics. You’re not going to get that kind of information elsewhere, folks.
I think we can conclude a few things from this episode:
- the rules of engagement need to be more clearly defined.
- the mainstream media remains threatened by blogs.
- when blogs begin to make money (at a certain point) there are going to be issues of copyright, intellectual property, and bad feelings.
- bloggers are universally not well thought of in the sports and information societies.
- being underestimated in infancy is just about the best possible scenario for bloggers as a group.