Monday, May 24, 2010

The case against Mark Kiszla

Much like Major League players, baseball fans often enjoy a day off every now and then. With baseball's grueling schedule that sees a team get three days off per month, it is nice to take a breather.

Off days are not spent wondering how the Rockies offense is going to step it up, or if Ubaldo Jimenez can continue his dominance, or how a the team can turn the corner and play like the contenders that are talented enough to be. They are days to enjoy the warming weather and for take care of the things that get neglected when three hours of each day are dedicated to watching a game.

So it was perfect timing for the Denver Post's Mark Kiszla to step in and get everyone's attention. On Monday morning, his most recent article hit the newsstands.

Kiszla is well known for his controversial writing style. There isn't a sports star in Denver that hasn't been on the receiving end of a vindictive article that was penned by Kiszla.

One of Kiszla's most famous incidents happened in 1998 when Mark McGwire was on his way to shattering Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs in a season. In August of that year a member of the media brought out the fact that McGwire was using a substance called Andro, short for Androstenedione, a type of natural steroid. At the time, the substance was legal both in the United States and in Major League Baseball's lax drug policy.

A week after the McGwire story broke, Kiszla found himself in hot water. He took the liberty of digging through then-Rockies slugger Dante Bichette's locker, finding a bottle of Andro. He was caught, causing a huge stir in the baseball community. Kiszla had his media credentials revoked, and was reportedly roughed up when he was caught rummaging where he did not belong.

That is the type of reporter Kiszla is. Instead of being ethical and reporting the truth, he goes to great lengths to create a story.

If Bichette was doing something that was illegal or even controversial, there are ways to bring that out. Rummaging through someone's locker is the equivalent of a police officer breaking into a house to gather evidence without a hint of a warrant.

In Kiszla's most recent article he hits on one of his favorite targets, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.

The first quarter of the season has not been entirely friendly to Helton. That is a well known fact. In 39 games the first baseman is hitting .269 with a .393 on base percentage and just a .343 slugging percentage. All of those numbers are well below Helton's career numbers.

Kiszla, citing Jason Giambi's 415-foot home run on Sunday, declares that Jim Tracy and the Rockies need to sit Helton on the bench in favor of Giambi.

The article shows one of two things. Either Kiszla knows nothing about baseball, or he knows that the majority of the people who read his articles are Broncos fans first, Avalanche fans second, Nuggets fans third and Rockies fans when those sports are not in season.

My theory is that it is a mixture of the two. The average fan, the guy who catches a few innings of every fifth Rockies game while flipping back-and-forth between whatever is on ESPN and the Rockies game, will find him or herself completely agreeing with Kiszla. His arguments make perfect sense to that fan. After all, the last time that fan paid attention to the Rockies on a consistent basis was during the Blake Street Bomber days, when Bichette, Walker, Castilla, Burks and others were lacing the ball out of the park and winning games with football scores. That was right when Helton broke into the league. The clean-shaven kid from Tennessee joined right in, knocking the ball out of the park and racking in RBI's.

However, when those teams faded away and the Rockies new plan was enacted, the team lost the average fan. They also lost Mark Kiszla.

Ever since those days, Kiszla has been railing on ownership for not going after fill-in-the-blank big name prospect. He had zero patience for the farm system to develop while the Major League team floundered. When Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Jeff Francis, Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes, Ubaldo Jimenez and so many more Rockies players were developing their talent in the minor leagues, Kiszla was pushing for the Rockies to abandon their plan and trade away "prospects" for a one-year rental player in hopes of winning now.

This theory resonated with the average fan. The average fan does not want to sit around and watch their team lose 92 games three years in a row. They want to win now. They do not care how much talent the guys on the farm might possess, they see highlights of players on Sports Center and they feel like the Rockies should not hesitate to trade three or four of those prospects for one year of "Player X."

So now, after the Rockies have regained attention, reaching the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, the average fan is interested again. Only now, the slick-faced Helton has a grizzly beard and is in his late 30's. The average fan remembers Helton as a kid who had the potential to hit 50 home runs every year. When he isn't that same player, the average fan doesn't understand what happened.

Kiszla, instead of educating the average fan about who the new generation of Colorado Rockies are, preys on the ignorance of the average fan. He tells them that all of their thoughts about the aging Helton are correct, that he isn't the player that he once was and that he should retire.

The only problem is, because Helton is still a huge contributor and leader on the Rockies, Kiszla's words don't ring true to those who follow the team. Kiszla's article is so miss-timed it is almost comical. The article was written the day after a seven game road trip in which the only Rockies players who hit the ball well were Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton himself. In fact, Helton's numbers were reminiscent of the Helton of old. In the seven game road trip that saw the Rockies score more than four runs only once, Helton had hits in five games, multiple hits in four. He recorded a home run and three doubles.

Still, Kiszla points to one Jason Giambi home run as the reason Helton should sit.

The fact is, using Giambi's Sunday performance alone does a huge disservice to Helton and the Rockies. Kiszla is quick to forget that failures of the older Giambi so far in 2010. Brought on to give Helton more time to rest, Giambi went into Sunday's game with a piddly .205 batting average in 52 at bats. He had recorded just one multi hit game before Sunday's showing.

Anyone who has been paying attention to the Rockies on a regular basis knows that Giambi has struggled at the plate. Anyone who has been paying attention also knows that when Giambi has taken a mit with him to play first base, it has been more for show than anything. His defense has never been good. In fact, his defense has been so bad that it could be argued that he himself has already cost the Rockies three games due to poor defense at first base.

To the average fan, however, who was only paying attention when Giambi, a guy who they had heard great things about in New York, was delivering clutch hit after clutch hit for the Rockies down the stretch in '09, right when they started paying attention. So when Kiszla says that Giambi should be starting, the average fan does not realize what a ridiculous statement that is based on this year's stats.

The fact is, Kiszla wins. His job is to sell newspapers. When people get angry and upset about what he writes, it is a win for the Denver Post because they sell more newspapers. However, it is disappointing when someone lacks the talent to be a decent sports writer, so they have to create controversy just to prove their worth.

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  1. Great article David. I don't read Kiszla or anybody at the Post because their articles are usually devoid of any substance - substance I crave and get on blogs like yours. There is another theory for writers like this. He is a "shock jockey" type writer who enjoys writing controversial articles just to get read. For some reason that type of journalism sells amongst people who would rather see a little muck than have the facts (at least it works in politics, so why not sports). Like you said, the true fans know better.

  2. Mike,
    Thanks for the comment. You hit the nail on the head with "shock jockey." That is exactly what Kiszla is. Say whatever it takes to create a buzz, whether you believe it or not, whether it is true or not, or whether it is ethical or not. Frankly, it is ridiculous.

    However, I will say that I am a huge Troy Renck fan. I admire his style and worth ethic a ton. I love his analogies.

    Thanks for the comment, and thanks for reading!

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  4. Todd Helton brought me back to baseball. After the last strike I swore I would never watch baseball again. Then came Todd Helton. I have gone from being a listener to the radio to by the time 2006 rolled around I was watching every game the Rockies telecasted. No one who even watches an occassional game will see that the defense play when Todd is on the field is is so much crisper and professional. You know if there is a chance for a double play your odds are good that ut won't be Todd letting the team down. He's 38 and not on steroids he is allowed not to hit homeruns every time he's at the plate. He over a .320 lifetime batting average. Kizla needs to stay away from the Rockies and cover soccer which no one pays attention to.

  5. Dorothy,
    That is a great point. The sad thing is, I think that most sports fans in Denver missed out on the best days of Todd Helton's fine career because the Rockies were not very good. However, Helton brought a lot of fans back to the game. He plays the game the right way, he is hard-nosed and is never an easy out. If he played anywhere other than Coors Field people would be talking about him as being one of the best to play the game. Its too bad for Helton that on the back end of his career is when fans are starting to come back to the Rockies. They will never be able to fully appreciate who Todd Helton is and what he has done for this franchise.
    Without Helton there is no World Series in 2007 and there are no playoffs in 2009.

    Thanks for the comment!