Friday, August 12, 2011

Groupthink en masse - when the media's performance is worse than Dave Kingman's

I've lived in Los Angeles for over a quarter century, but I wasn't around in the 1970s for one of the most colorful incidents in Los Angeles sports history. Here's how the Associated Press related the story back on June 3, 2006:

Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of Lasorda’s most famous — or infamous — postgame tirade as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Since it's the AP, we'll stop right there. I quoted this particular story from NBC, but obviously a lot of people ran the AP story. And a lot of other people celebrated that 30th anniversary, including WFMU.

However, back in 2006, some people refused to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Lasorda's comments on Dave Kingman's performance. One such person was Tom Hoffarth:

Pete Weber, the former L.A. Kings colorman ('78-81) and now with the Nashville Predators, was the first to smell something wrong when he read a column on about "This Date In Baseball." He emailed us first:

"Dave Kingman DID hit three homers in a game at Chavez Ravine on June 4, 1976 as the Mets beat the Dodgers 11-0, but there is no available recording of what then-Dodgers' manager Walter Alston had to say," Weber correctly pointed out.

FOR THE RECORD: The Olden game, as we'll call it, came after Kingman his the third of his three homers in the 15th inning of a 10-8 Cubs' win at Dodger Stadium. On May 14, 1978 -- two years later. On Mother's Day....

The Diamond Fan wrote about the confusion in 2009, roughly a year after the TRUE 30th anniversary.

How did this error happen? Sloppy research. At some point someone had a copy of the tape and wanted to associate a date with it. They did some kind of perfunctory research and found the June 4, 1976 game and, without looking further or deeper into the matter, assumed that this was the date for the famous interview. Once that date got associated with the recording, everyone else (including a lot of people who should have known better) just accepted it without question and without looking into it on their own, even though it would have been very easy to find the discrepancies with a little bit of research. Both Lasorda and the reporter (Paul Olden) were interviewed in the media coverage of the anniversary and neither of them questioned the date either.

Actually, according to Hoffarth, Olden was one of those who pointed out the incorrect date.

But Lasorda WAS interviewed in the AP article. How could he have gotten it wrong? It's quite possible that Lasorda didn't know that the article was talking about the 30th anniversary of the event. And even if Lasorda did know the purpose of the article, memories sometimes slip - Lasorda was in his late seventies in 2006.

All of this goes to show that even when you try to appeal to the original sources for information, you may STILL get the wrong information.
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