Detroit starting pitcher Max Scherzer is the subject of this week’s Sports Illustrated cover story. The cover’s headline is “Mad Max’s $144 Million Bet,” and it asks whether Scherzer “Made a Dumb Wager on His Future.” Scherzer, who wanted all contract discussions to end by the time the season started regardless of whether he reached a new agreement with the Tigers, was not happy with the way SI framed the story about him, telling the Free Press he was “frustrated that they chose to put the contract stuff on the cover.” The reigning Cy Young Award winner elaborated:
When they approached us, [Tigers media relations] and I, we specifically asked not to make the story around the contract. … They assured us it wasn’t going to be like that. They chose a different route, and we felt like we were lied to and misled.
I didn’t want it to be about that. I’m a baseball player. I want to talk baseball. It’s frustrating when you get lied to about that.
The magazine responded that they knew Scherzer did not want to discuss his contract situation “in detail,” but stated that they did not make any promises about how they might present that subject in the context of the article.
The article itself (I’ll post a link once it’s available online) really does not spend much time on the contract issue at all. It’s mentioned roughly twice in the feature but never substantively analyzed. On the whole, the article actually is a nice profile of Max at an important stage of his career. It spends far more time discussing his analytical development at Missouri– the importance of the pitch following a 1-1 count, for example– and his development of a curveball with Detroit pitching coach Jeff Jones than it does his employment status and prospects.
The sensationalism of the cover’s “$144 Million Bet” language, described as a “dramatic $144 million offer” on the article’s introductory page, has the look of an editor’s efforts to boost general interest in the piece and the magazine as a whole. That introductory page asks, “What does [Scherzer] know that we don’t?” If that really was the question author Albert Chen was seeking to answer when he interviewed Max and wrote this article, he surely would have spent more time discussing broader matters of age, endurance, and pitcher decline than he did.
Those topics are there, of course, and so is the contract. It would be irresponsible not to include all of that in a Scherzer profile published this week. But Chen’s article doesn’t deliver on the sensational promises of his editor’s cover, and readers should be glad it doesn’t. They’ll learn a lot more about Scherzer in Chen’s article and have a more enjoyable time doing so than they would from a poorly sourced pot-stirring piece more suitable for ESPN First Take.
Scherzer isn’t the first Detroit Tiger to be featured in a national sports magazine this year. Back in March, ESPN the Magazine wrote about new second baseman Ian Kinsler, and they both elicited and widely advertised some purportedly sensational quotations from Kinsler about his former team, the Texas Rangers. In that article, Kinsler has unkind words for the Rangers’ President of Baseball Operations, Jon Daniels (“a sleazeball”) and the team (“I hope they go 0-162”). Before the article was available in print (the Magazine leaked it online), Kinsler took issue with the contextual presentation of his comments, saying he meant them as a joke: “I’m not happy about it. I think the story was written for drama.”
I’ve asked before whether ESPN hates Detroit, and while a revision to that theme is in the works, we may need to ask whether Sports Illustrated holds similar sentiments. The Scherzer cover would not be the first data point on that plot.
In the meantime, Tigers players and fans will continue to adjust to the vacuous realities that abide a growing presence in the national spotlight. Here’s hoping the team’s play matches its profile.
Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff – 4/28
Amidst the glut of Pete Rose journalism, a new, false dichotomy
On the integration of the pulp paper and textile industries: Sports Illustrated as a case study
Monday Morning PR Quarterback
Searching for Sports Illustrated