Just imagine the famously pugilistic Billy Martin managing today with all the scrutiny and rapid fire information that winds up on the internet seconds after it happened. Also imagine what the reaction would be if a reporter made public a snarky comment that in years past would have been saved for a whisper to a colleague or for a laugh over beers in the hotel bar long after the game stories had been filed and where there was a reasonable level of plausible deniability to assert, “I didn’t say that,” before Martin was able to throw a punch. Martin probably would’ve thrown the punch anyway, but that’s beside the point.
If Martin were a manager today, he wouldn’t last long. With all the attention to his off-field activities, press conferences, questions asked regarding his strategies and criticisms around the world, people in suits telling him how to do his job, pitch counts, rules, regulations and everything else that’s a job hazard nowadays, he’d get fired quickly.
There are few characters like Martin left and if they are, they’re not managing. But the dynamic of baseball people getting angry enough to want to fight a reporter nearly came to pass last week when Giants’ scout and former player Pat Burrell tried to fight CBS reporter Jon Heyman in a bar. According to the linked story, Kevin Millar broke it up and the general consensus was that Heyman was lucky that the 6’4”, 235 pound Burrell didn’t get to him. I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case. Just because Heyman has a tendency to block people who say “boo” to him on Twitter and takes the tone of a nebbish doesn’t mean he’s an easy mark. It would’ve been far worse for Burrell had he gone after Heyman and gotten beaten up than if he’d satisfied whatever was eating at him to get angry enough to start something in the first place.
Would Martin have taken a poke at the late reporter Henry Hecht? The two despised each other to a remarkable degree. The diminutive Hecht presumably had no chance against Martin, but the revenge would’ve been the fallout and Martin’s inevitable firing.
In this era, we’re going to see more of these confrontations between a reporter and a baseball person. It’s not because of what was tweeted, but specifically because it was on social media and crossed the line from reporter or even columnist to a wise guy making a comment from the safety of his computer or phone that he would never say directly because it was: A) unprofessional; and B) dangerous because he’d get hit.
Heyman almost got hit.
Outlets like Twitter tend to be stream of consciousness and immediate, but when tweeting something that could be deemed offensive—funny or not—perhaps the circuit breaker of, “Would I say this if I might run into this person?” would be wisely adhered to, especially when there’s a genuine possibility that you will.