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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

MacPhail & The Big Lie!
by Hal Vickery

More news involving the media this week….

Last Sunday I was in my car when I turned on the radio to WSCR’s “Hit and Run” show. Hosts George Ofman and Jesse Rogers were interviewing Cubs president Andy MacPhail. At the end of the interview MacPhail was asked to comment on some of the negativity that has started to come out regarding the Cubs.

In the midst of a lengthy answer, MacPhail dropped a bomb. I can only approximate his exact wording since I was in my car, but this is pretty close to what he said:

““Last year three pieces of concrete fell from Wrigley Field, and it became a big story. What people don’t know is that eighteen pieces of concrete fell at U.S. Cellular Field. It was reported, but nobody ever followed up on it, and it just disappeared. That’s the thing about working at Wrigley Field. Everything that happens here gets blown up.”

My first thought was, “Oh, really? Exactly when did this happen? That must have been some cover-up!”

I was hoping that perhaps either Ofman or Rogers would question MacPhail about his accusation, but then I checked the radio clock. It was already past time for an update.

When asked about the lack of a follow-up question regarding this, Ofman said, “The interview was already running long, so I felt obligated to ask one final question concerning the recent spate of negativity surrounding the Cubs off the field. There was simply no time for a followup, particularly with Greg Walker scheduled next."

So just when any Sox fans listening to this were hoping that MacPhail would get raked over the coals for a gross misstatement of facts, Rogers and Ofman were forced to close the interview. Unfortunately, due to the exigencies of time, a blatant misstatement by the President of the Cubs about their competitors' ballpark had to go unchallenged.

So what are the facts in this supposed scandal involving The Cell?

I’ve been told that a television reporter saw some missing sections of concrete at The Cell last off-season and reported, without confirmation that they had fallen. Unfortunately I didn’t see that report, so the best I can do is follow the paper trail.

When you do you end up at the Daily Southtown for March 19, 2005. Following the scare headline, “IS THE CELL CRUMBLING? Report: Several chunks of concrete recently have fallen from stadium; inspection last year said no repairs needed.”

A photograph shows a piece of concrete from the façade of the ballpark lying on the sidewalk while a second, smaller photo part of the building’s façade. The caption accompanying the photos states, “A small piece of U.S. Cellular Field’s façade lies on the sidewalk along 35th Street on Friday. Engineers pried off the chunk from the wall pictured below because the concrete was loose [emphasis mine].”

The article itself, by Jonathan Lipman is far less sensationalistic. Despite a lead that states, “Concrete is crumbling at U.S. Cellular Field,” the article ends up just describing the kind of preventive maintenance that is done concrete structures to prevent concrete from falling.

In fact, Pete Scales, a spokesman for the Chicago Buildings Department is quoted as saying, “[T]here’s no real dangerous or hazardous conditions here. It’s really a matter of covering up any exposed rebar. It has to be covered up before it rusts or corrodes.”

Dan Polvere, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority’s facilities director hit the nail on the head when he said, “I think everyone’s just reacting to the Cubs thing.”

A week later, a letter appeared in the Southtown from John Duntemann, a senior analyst for the company that performed the inspection. He wrote the following:

“At the request of ISFA, on Saturday WJE reinspected sections of the park that were identified in your cover story. Based on our observations, we concluded that these conditions do not pose a hazard. Since our first engagement in 1993, we have found ISFA to be very proactive regarding the maintenance and general upkeep of the park. Therefore, we have no doubt that ISFA will continue to perform the maintenance and repairs necessary to ensure that the Park is safe for all to enjoy.”

Perri L. Irmer, the CEO of the ISFA also wrote the Southtown, stating, “Concrete is not falling at U.S. Cellular Field. To imply otherwise is irresponsible and a disservice to the people who visit the ballpark.”

He later continued, “We are pleased that the Department of Buildings responded quickly to the Southtown's inaccurate claims and re-confirmed that there are no structural failures, dangers or hazards at U.S. Cellular Field.”

This flurry of contradictions to the scare stories prompted an editorial retraction from the Southtown in the form of an editor’s note in response to Imer’s letter: A headline on Saturday's story incorrectly stated chunks of concrete have ‘fallen’ from the stadium. As the story correctly reported, crumbling pieces of pre-set concrete have been pried away by engineers working for the Sports Facilities Authority.”

Apparently the Southtown took Lipman off the story, though, because the follow-up story resulting from these letters was written by Courtney Grove. It basically states the facts cited in the letters to the editor.

How, then, did Andy MacPhail come up with his eighteen pieces of concrete that supposedly fell? That’s more than double the number of pieces reported in the original story? And are we really supposed to believe that MacPhail was unaware of retractions that were made over five months ago concerning the misleading headlines?

I guess it’s possible that MacPhail really thought The Cell was crumbling and that the local media had covered it up. He has a lot of experience in seeing cover-ups by local media.

Witness the treatment of Sammy Sosa by the local media before the Cubs decided he was expendable. Where were the questions about his sudden increase in body size and the disappearance of his neck?

Witness the cover story in the Tribune’s metro section after a shooting death just outside the Shrine, a story truncated even further in suburban editions to fit a photograph of giant snails.

Oh, wait! Those were cover-ups regarding the Cubs!

If MacPhail was aware of the retractions concerning stories of falling concrete at The Cell, why would he bring it up when talking about negativity towards the Cubs in a year in which they failed to meet the expectations of both the media and their fans?

Sox fans know the answer. We’re quite used to it, in fact. When things go wrong for the Cubs, the first instinct of the people in the media empire that owns them is to find some way to turn it against the White Sox. We’ll be looking at some of this shortly.

It’s a rationalization. What MacPhail said last Sunday can be boiled down to this. He was really saying, “We’re not really that bad. Just look how bad the White Sox are!”

It has become the standard response of the bosses at the Tribune Co. It’s just more of the same.

-------------------------

We can see even more of this in the rag that is owned by the same corporation. The Tribune’s sports editors would love Sox fans to believe that they are giving fair coverage to the Sox as they fight their way to the post-season.

However, a perusal of headlines and stories in the sports section still shows not just pro-Cubs, but anti-Sox bias. Each story about Sox success seems to be accompanied by a veiled prediction of the doom that is to follow. The latest such case is a story by David Haugh on Thursday that sported the headline, “A DREAM DERAILED” This is followed by, “The last team the Sox need to think about is the 1964 Phillies.

The story starts with the recollections of that club’s catcher, Gus Triandos, who concludes by asking, “Why does everyone have to keep bringing that up?"

Well, in this case, Sox fans know why, but in case they don’t, Haugh spells it out for them. He writes, “Because the Phillies went to bed Sept. 1, 1964, with a 7½-game lead over the fourth-place St. Louis Cardinals, who eventually won the National League pennant and the World Series after Philadelphia endured a 10-game losing streak later in the month.

“In a sports city as skittish as Chicago, such history might make fans wonder nervously if it somehow could repeat itself on the South Side.”

Nothing more need be said. The article comes from the newspaper arm of the corporation that owns the Chicago Cubs. It ties in very nicely with MacPhail’s tale of the falling concrete. The Tribune Co.’s reaction to the failure of one of their entities is to find whatever fault is possible with the competition.

Adolescent boys have used this strategy from time immemorial. When you pass gas, you blame the guy next to you.

One last item of note about this article. Exactly two weeks ago, the Sox were in a seven-game skid, and the media experts were predicting a collapse. The Sun­-Times predictable were comparing the losing streak to the collapse of the ’69 version of the team now owned by their direct competition. (Do we see a pattern here?)

In light of that, I wrote the following:

"Unfortunately for the “experts” the Sox showed that they weren’t about to choke. So now the 'writers' will have to find a more appropriate choke job the next time the Sox lose more than one game in a row. Some posting on the WSI boards think they have found the answer with the 1964 Phillies. Let’s see how long it takes for that choke job to come up in the local media."

Answer: Exactly 12 days, and it came from the Tribune.

--------------------------------------------

The Sox announced Friday that John Rooney would not be returning as their radio play-by-play announcer. Rooney joined the Sox in 1988 as their television play-by-play man, replacing Don Drysdale. A year later he moved to the radio booth.

Earlier this year the team of Rooney and Ed Farmer was named by USA Today as the top radio team in the American League.

Early media speculation (and we all know how much credence to give that!) is that Farmer will move up to play-by-play. The color role would then be taken over by Bill Melton.

A better move, but one that might be difficult to accomplish because of contractual obligations, would be to hire Dave Wills, now the radio voice of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. However, Wills’s contract status would seem to preclude that possibility.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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