Who is Keyser Soze

We'd like to point out an interesting article by Alan Schwarz and Brad Lefton on Japanese phenom Junichi Tazawa, who is pegged as a potential impact hurler in the Bigs.  This article touches on an pertinent and important subject, that of the poaching (or refusal to poach) Japanese amateur pitchers.  Unfortunately, the article also trafficks in some blind speculation that we don't care for, and this concerns us.

In this article, the authors point out the "long-established practice for amateurs like [Tazawa] to be strictly off limits to major league clubs", and how there may be several clubs violating this unspoken rule.  They speak with some GMs who go on the record, and their stances vary.  Omar Minaya equivocates a bit, calling this a "sensitive area".  Brian Cashman, to his credit, asserts clearly and plainly that the Yankees are not violating and will not violate this unwritten rule, going as far as to call Tazawa "hands off".  The authors, however, aren't so discerning in their own assertions.  They state towards the end of the article that, and here are the words that to me are so bothersome, "it is believed that at least a half dozen teams will actively pursue him", and then go on to name three speculated teams out of the "half dozen".  They peg the Sox, the Mariners, and the Braves.  Notice they do not provide the remaining three of the supposed "half dozen".  They do not provide identification of those who supposedly believe these teams will pursue Tazawa.  They do not provide on-the-record or even anonymous testimony from front office employees of the teams they name that they may be pursuing or believe that unwritten rules aren't really rules.  Nor do they indicate that these teams had been approached yet refused comment to inquiries from the journalists.  In other words, "it is believed" is an unsourced claim.  Do the authors believe this?  Fellow GMs?  Who, exactly?  In the meantime, Schwarz and Lefton have now planted the idea in the minds of the readers that at least three organizations might knowingly violate unspoken rules of business ethics and etiquette without any sources noting this to be the case.  Though this "belief" of pursuit by these teams may eventually be proven true, that is besides the point.  Damage, however minimal it might be in the end (and it could be more substantial than that), has been done to certain front offices.  Those in the Japanese league, as per the title of the article, are "irked" by this meddling, and now Schwarz and Lefton have put names on the meddlers.

Schwarz and Lefton have framed this article as one about unwritten rules, etiquette, protocol.  They then go on to imply that there are teams that will violate this protocol and etiquette knowingly and for competitive advantage.  But the authors themselves have, to an extent, done the same thing.  They have presented a unique story of interest, made assertions without backup, and as such made their own news supposedly newsworthy, they have gained an advantage over other writers pursuing this story but have exempted themselves from a burden of proof. 

3 comments… add one

  • I’m not a fan of unwritten “gentleman’s agreements,” and I’m not sure how unethical it is to break them. If they are important enough to make sure no one breaks, they should be written down into law.
    Tazawa is a sought-afetr pitcher. The half-dozen tesms remark is one I’ve seen elsewhere, and the Red Sox, according to the reports I’ve read, are considered the favorites to land him. The fact is Tazawa asked the Japanese teams not to draft him, they didn’t, and he’s now an amateur free agent.
    It’s no surprise the Japanese-U.S. system is broken. Something should be put in place either protecting the integrity of NPB or opening up the amateur markets worldwide for any professional team in any country to recruit and potentially sign. But it’s a little late for that in Tazawa’s case. Just like the Matsuzaka case highlighted the flaws of the posting process, the Tazawa case is highlighting and reinforcing the flaws in the MLB-NPB amateur signing process.
    I think ultimately NPB is going to have to let Tazawa go and be happy with an actual written-down agreement from MLB that its teams will not pursue amateur free agents who essentially force their way out of Japan.

    Paul SF November 21, 2008, 9:47 am
  • Curious to know if you, as a journalist, have any of the misgivings I do about the way this is reported in the Times article, the vague charge that certain teams are the ones “breaking the unwritten rule”. Am I being too sensitive to a kind of colloquialism of reporting, Paul?

    SF November 21, 2008, 10:24 am
  • It bothers me insofar as the phrasing (and thus likely the reporting) is lazy. It’s an accurate statement. A quick Google search for [Junichi Tazawa interested teams] brought two links that contained news sources mentioning more than eight teams and credible news sources identifying seven.
    The reporters may have done this, but they don’t let on if they did. I would have said, “Published reports have identified at least seven teams with interest in Tazawa: Boston, Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle, Cleveland and Texas.” Based on the Google search, I’m not sure why they chose the language they did or the teams they chose to list. It took me three minutes to verify their facts and provide detail to show they actually were minimizing the amount of interest Tazawa has garnered.
    Likewise, the Braves’ GM has said PUBLICLY that he has already offered Tazawa a major-league contract, yet that’s not in the NYT story. I’m not sure if space constraints became an issue because that strikes me as extremely relevant and makes the “it is believed” phrasing inaccurate.

    Paul SF November 21, 2008, 10:51 am

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