Murray Chass covered baseball for the New York Times for almost 40 years, and now his work can be found at MurrayChass.com. Chass answered questions for MLB Trade Rumors over email recently.
MLB Trade Rumors: You could be called a trailblazer with MurrayChass.com, as it’s the first time I recall a veteran baseball journalist going independent while continuing to make calls, report, and do newspaper-style stories. It seems that Tracy Ringolsby and others are following suit…is this the beginning of a trend?
Murray Chass: I think it’s premature to talk about a trend because we don’t know how many newspaper people might follow, but given the state of the newspaper industry and the rapid rate at which jobs and entire papers are disappearing or threatening to disappear, I can see the practice developing.
MLBTR: Why did you create MurrayChass.com? Given that there is no revenue source, is it the sheer enjoyment of writing? What is it like to be free of editors?
Chass: You are right about there being no revenue source, although that might be a reason not too many people would follow. In my case, I decided to take the attractive buyout the Times offered because I figured it might not be offered again. I also didn’t like the direction in which the sports editor was going. But I wasn’t prepared to quit writing. I enjoyed writing baseball columns my last four plus years at the Times and I wasn’t ready to stop. Rather than try to hook on with an existing Web site, I decided to start my own site so I could write the kind of columns I wanted to write. Most of the columns on existing sites are geared to where this player or that is going, and that’s not what I wanted to do.
As for editors, I don’t miss them. They can serve a purpose, saving a writer from mistakes, for example. But I see enough mistakes in the Times, which is heavily edited, so editors aren’t the answer.
MLBTR: Has it affected your access, not being affiliated with the New York Times anymore?
Chass: Not at all. The people who know me still take and return my calls, and others who don’t know me but are aware of my name and reputation do the same. The only thing I have changed is if I call someone I have never talked to I identify myself as Murray Chass from murraychass.com and formerly of the Times. I don’t presume that everybody knows my name.
MLBTR: You’ve said you hate blogs. Is it just certain ones, or do you hate the entire medium? Do you think that, like Buzz Bissinger discovered, there may be a few out there you would enjoy reading?
Chass: I laugh at the whole blog thing now. I think I objected to blogs initially because my newspaper colleagues and I had worked for many, many years learning and polishing our craft, and suddenly anyone who wanted could write a blog on the Internet with no experience, no credibility and no accountability. I have made mistakes occasionally in my Web site columns — fortunately very few — and I correct them. I don’t know that bloggers acknowledge and correct their mistakes.
I don’t read blogs as a steady diet because I don’t have time. I spend too much time as it is working on my columns, talking to people and keeping up with baseball news and developments. Instead of reading blogs, I’d rather spend my time going to concerts and Broadway shows and doing other things to live a varied life.
MLBTR: Regarding sabermetrics and the advanced stats used these days…do you believe it’s possible to fully embrace these stats without discounting the human side of the game? Can a person have full appreciation for both?
Chass: I think the whole statistical analysis thing is generational. Older guys like me have little use for the new-fangled stuff. I’m certainly not the only one. Younger writers go more for the stats stuff. I think baseball people — general managers, for example — have to use all means of evaluation available for their own protection. I would hope that even Billy Beane occasionally listens to his scouts. One of the things I didn’t like about "Moneyball" was the way Michael Lewis put down Oakland scouts. I have great respect for scouts. The good ones are pretty darn amazing.
Perhaps my biggest problem with the stats generation is they ignore the fact that human beings play the game. I think stats have a place, and I use them to bolster a story when called for, but they are not everything and the newer ones have little benefit to most readers.
MLBTR: Some writers rejected the new advanced stats of recent years. Were you met with similar resistance when you introduced more detailed coverage of free agent contracts and labor negotiations?
Chass: That’s a very good and interesting question. Contract coverage for sure. People, including some writers, made fun of my use of dollar signs so often, but today you can’t read a story about free agents as well as non-free agents without seeing what the guy signed for or the amount of the guy’s new contract. I, on the other hand, am less interested in contracts, though I use the information when it is relevant (like statistics).
In labor coverage, baseball writers definitely tried to avoid covering negotiations. They were interested only in the games on the field. In the 1981 strike, the New York Daily News had three baseball writers, but none of them wanted any part of the strike coverage so the News used its newsside labor writer. He didn’t know anyone in baseball, and the owners’ chief negotiator quickly saw him as someone he could feed stuff to and get his spin in the paper. The strike was about half over when the reporter discovered he was being used.
During the 1994 strike the two sides didn’t negotiate for months once the strike began and the NBA was negotiating a new labor deal so the Times had me cover those negotiations. I quickly learned that the NBA writers wanted to cover those talks even less than baseball writers wanted to cover baseball talks. I loved covering labor because it was like being a real reporter, and I loved being a reporter.