You want to know what I hate about the "national" media's coverage of Major League Baseball in one tidy article? This article by John Heyman about unresolved spring training position battles is the Platonic ideal of obsession with the teams in the Northeast. Ostensibly, the article is supposed to be about the "more interesting debates" going on as we come closer to the point at which teams will break camp. To Heyman (whose name makes me chuckle every time I say it because it's phonetically the same as the villain in the Book of Esther), "interesting" seems to cling tightly to I-95. Here are the stories on which he spends almost two thousand words in a major sports publication:
Second base for the Mets
Second base for the Phillies
Catcher for the Red Sox
Fourth and fifth starters for the Yankees
Back-up catcher for the Yankees
Fourth and fifth starters for the Rangers
First base for the Giants
There are two aspects that I love about these selections. First, the idea that Heyman would spend time discussing the back-up catcher spot for the Yankees when there are so many teams deciding actual starters is hilarious. This is one step removed from a detailed analysis of what color ink Joe Girardi uses to fill in his lineup card. Second, Heyman throws in the defending league champions at the end as an afterthought, after he has spent 1,387 words dissecting issues of great importance to people on the Acela this morning. "Oh by the way, just to prove that I'm not really Michael Kay in disguise, here are two key positions battles for the two teams that actually played in the World Series in 2010." ESPN has to get Heyman on The Sports Reporters as soon as possible. I'd bet that he would see eye to eye with Lupica and Ryan.
Am I crazy in saying that this sort of obsession with teams from one region is unqiue to baseball (or at least it is especially pronounced in baseball)? If you assume for the sake of argument that people in the Northeast have a special love for their baseball teams in the same way that people in the Deep South have a special love for our college football teams, then I suppose you can make the argument that SI is simply serving the taste of the market. That said, I seriously doubt that we are going to see major publications run articles about position battles in spring practice that are 70% SEC. And that's true even though the SEC has achieved what people like Heyman only dream about for Northeastern baseball franchises: five championships in a row. There is something of a rational basis to slather the SEC with the sort of attention that the national media obsessively bestows on the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies,* and Mets. In short, I don't think that this is simply a function of the media giving attention to the most popular or relevant teams. Rather, it's at least in part an artifact of where major publications are based and the writers and editors of those publications being affected by where they work.
* - I can live with a lot of attention being given to the Phillies because the pitching staff they have assembled is a genuinely interesting story. That rotation is playing for history, so I don't begrudge them some affection. The Mets, on the other hand, would only be interesting if they were being covered by Michael Lewis wearing his financial writer hat.