Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thoughts on Adam Rubin and the Mets

Yesterday when the news broke that the New York Mets had fired vice president for player development Tony Bernazard over angry outbursts directed at everyone from players and minor leaguers to scouts, I was riveted by what came out of the press conference to announce it.
Mets general manager Omar Minaya specifically called out the team's beat writer for the New York Daily News, Adam Rubin, saying that Rubin purposely tried to get Bernazard fired because Rubin wanted a player personnel job within the Mets organization.
That's a humiliating situation for a reporter to be in. I know, I've been there.
During the 2003-04 NHL season when Atlanta Thrashers right wing Dany Heatley was rehabbing from injuries suffered in a car crash that led to the death of teammate Dan Snyder, everything Heatley did was huge news.
It was about as difficult a situation as a rookie beat writer can walk into, with the accident happening just a few weeks into my tenure. For a while, the team won and that masked most of the tensions that those around the team would have felt from having to deal with the enormity of Heatley's situation (the emotional loss from the death of a popular teammate, Heatley's legal jeopardy, the on-ice loss of star, etc.).
But then the team began to lose and the perception of petty slights on both sides of the ledger -- the team's and the media's (mostly mine, as I was the only reporter with the team on a daily basis) -- grew into a general sense of animosity.
It all broke down one day in acrimony over a story that I wrote about Heatley's first full practice with the team since his accident. Thrashers coach Bob Hartley referred to a "mistake by our beat writer," in front of a large (for the Thrashers but surely nothing compared to what was there for the Mets yesterday) media assemblage.
I could feel my face turn red. There is nothing worse for a reporter than becoming the story, as opposed to reporting on it. Journal-Constitution columnist Mark Bradley was forced to slap Hartley down, much as the Daily News' Filip Bondy had to do today in defense of Rubin. It ruined my relationship with the team for the final three months of the season, something that was not repaired until the NHL lockout ended more than a year later. (The great irony is that I rebuilt my relationship with Hartley and we remain on good terms.)
Although my situation was not quite as severe, I could feel Rubin's pain when he had to give an impromptu press conference and said, "I don't know how I'm going to cover this team anymore."
The answers to that question seemed to arrive in the aftermath from Daily News editor-in-chief Martin Dunn who said that the paper will stand behind Rubin "1,000 percent."
Rubin also shot back with this first-person account today to defend his record. And Minaya was forced hours later to offer what could be mistaken for an apology, along with the team's reclusive chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon.
In the end, Rubin appears to be not only vindicated but now to have the national spotlight on him for having broken the stories that got Bernazard fired.
Some media ethicists may fault Rubin for the crime of asking for career advice from Mets officials. In the New York Times, columnist George Vecsey writes that Rubin may have engaged in a "slight conflict of interest" -- which I agree with to a degree because you do have to be so careful of how your conversations with the people whom you cover might be interpreted -- but in the end Vecsey opines that Rubin was mostly "naive to trust the wrong people."
I also agree with Bondy's assertion that "Beat reporters spend a lot of time talking about stuff with baseball guys during the eight months a year they cover the sport. There is considerable chatting, in both directions."
It's a long season and there's a lot of small talk but in whatever you say you can always provide ammunition to your critics. It seems that is mostly what Rubin is guilty of.
The great irony is that in trying to expand his career's horizons through those conversations that Minaya distorted, Rubin may have done just that. He is now sure to receive recognition for his work and attention from potential employers after this ham-handed flap by the Mets.

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