February 23, 2004

Joe Mays + Tommy John = Out for Season

This new thing I've stumbled across isn't quite at the same level of infuriating me as all the people writing about how Billy Beane wrote Moneyball, but as a Twins fan and someone who writes about baseball every day, it still bugs me.

Twins pitcher Joe Mays struggled through the first-half of the 2003 season, eventually losing his job in the starting rotation to Johan Santana.

In late August, Mays complained of some soreness in his elbow and revealed that he had been pitching through discomfort for much of the year. He then experienced the kiss of death for a pitcher when he was "examined by Dr. James Andrews."

When you see those five words in print, there is usually a follow-up article a few days later that describes an injury, a surgery and a rehabilitation timetable. Sure enough, that's what happened to Mays.

Dr. Andrews found a "partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament" in Mays' elbow and Mays underwent "Tommy John surgery" on it a few days later. The recovery time for Tommy John surgery varies and has become shorter recently, but it is still usually around a year, and sometimes longer. So Mays, who had the surgery in mid-September, was essentially out for all of 2004.

Fast forward to now, about six months later. Mays is rehabbing, pitchers and catchers are reporting, and baseball is right around the corner. Suddenly, Joe Mays has made a miraculous recovery. Or so you'd think.

From The Sporting News' Minnesota Twins "spring training preview" that appeared in the February 16th edition of the magazine:

...with LHP Johan Santana and RHPs Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse and Joe Mays back, the rotation will be solid if not quite as formidable.


Full seasons from Santana and Mays and big contributions from the newcomers will be imperative if the team hopes to to repeat as a division winner in 2004.


Rotation: Brad Radke, RH; Johan Santana, LH; Kyle Lohse, RH; Joe Mays, RH; Adam Johnson, RH.

In what was a fairly short piece, Joe Mays was mentioned as a prominent member of Minnesota's 2004 starting rotation three times. He was said to be "back," a full season from him was said to be "imperative" to the team's success, and he was listed as one of five members of the starting rotation.

The Sporting News and FOXSports.com have recently started to work together, so that same Twins spring training preview also appeared on FOXSports.com, which is where I first saw it.

After what must have been a deluge of emails from Twins fans, FOXSports.com deleted much of the incorrect information from the online version of the article. Amazingly, despite obviously trying to get rid of the stuff about Mays, whomever did the deleting still left in the line, "Full seasons from Santana and Mays and big contributions from the newcomers will be imperative if the team hopes to to repeat as a division winner in 2004."

As of me writing this, that line about Mays' 2004 contributions still remains in the online article.

The Sporting News, which doesn't have the luxury of being able to quickly delete inaccurate content, ran the following in their February 23rd issue:

Upon further review ... Twins pitcher Joe Mays is expected to miss the 2004 season because of an elbow injury. The information was incorrect in the February 16 issue.

But okay, you might saying "What's the big deal? So The Sporting News didn't realize Joe Mays was injured. Who cares?"

Here's the punch-line to all of this...

The guy who wrote that Minnesota Twins spring training preview for The Sporting News and FOXSports.com is Mark Sheldon. In addition to his work for The Sporting News, Sheldon is also the Minnesota Twins beat writer for MLB.com. He is the guy who covers the Twins all year and he is the guy who writes articles about them for MLB.com on a daily basis.

In fact, Sheldon wrote about Joe Mays' elbow injury and Joe Mays' Tommy John surgery.

In an MLB.com article from September 9, 2003, Mark Sheldon begins:

Twins right-hander Joe Mays will have Tommy John surgery performed on his pitching elbow, causing him to miss the entire 2004 season.

The article also includes information about the surgery, discussion of Mays' struggles before the surgery, and quotes about the injury from Twins GM Terry Ryan and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

A few days later, Sheldon gives an update on Mays:

The Twins said the right-hander's surgery, performed Thursday by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., was successful. Mays had ligament replacement surgery in his elbow and is expected to miss the entire 2004 season.

Then a month later, after the regular season was over, Sheldon wrote the "Twins season in review" article for MLB.com, which included the following:

There's always next year -- or, likely, 2005:

After elbow problems marred his 2002 season, right-hander Joe Mays hoped this would be the year he could return to his 17-win form of 2001. He struggled, though, hammered by opposing hitters and eventually evicted from the rotation twice.

After an 8-8 record and 6.30 ERA for the season, the really bad news came in September, when he opted for Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn ligament. Mays will be out 12-to-18 months and likely won't be back on a mound for Minnesota until 2005.

I think you get the point.

How does someone being paid to cover the Twins for media outlets as large as MLB.com, The Sporting News and FOXSports.com write stories about Joe Mays being out for 2004 in September, recap that story in October, and then write a Twins preview in February in which Joe Mays is a big part of the 2004 Twins?

To be honest, I don't remember ever reading something written by Mark Sheldon in the past. I mean, I'm sure I have read his work a few times, but I don't frequent MLB.com or FOXSports.com, so I probably just don't remember the name.

For all I know, he could be the greatest beat writer in the world, and maybe this was just one instance where he messed up. I doubt it, but I guess it's possible. For now though, my first and only real experience with his work leaves me somewhere between very confused and incredibly bothered.

With more and more websites and magazines popping up these days, the key is finding information from sources you trust and respect. My question then is why in the world would anyone ever pay attention to a "spring training preview" or a "season in review" or anything of that sort from this writer?

What kind of quality can you expect the Twins information you get from a source like that to be in the future? And really, why would you take anything he has to say as a "Twins reporter" from now on seriously?

Sheldon's work in this instance is sloppy, inaccurate and disappointing, but even more than that, it is confusing. I just don't see how something like this can happen. How do you cover a team on a daily basis, write stories specifically about Joe Mays missing the entire 2004 season, and then forget everything six months later and write as if he is some big key for the Twins in 2004? It's damn near unbelievable.

I read the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on a regular basis and they have two Twins writers - Lavelle E. Neal and Jim Souhan. Perhaps I am spoiled reading them (I happen to think they are both quite good) or maybe I'm giving them too much credit, but I can't even imagine a scenario in which either of them would write something as blatantly inaccurate and obviously sloppy as Sheldon's information on Mays.

Information is only as good as its source. What good is an opinion from someone you don't trust? Why read a story from someone you don't feel is knowledgeable?

If you can't rely upon accurate information about the Minnesota Twins from someone paid to cover them on a daily basis for three large media outlets, I think there is something seriously wrong with that person and those outlets.

You'll never meet anyone more obsessed with Twins information than I am, but suffice it to say I won't be going to MLB.com or The Sporting News to quench my thirst for Twins news anytime soon.

Note: Yes, I am aware that Peter Gammons made a similar comment about Mays being in the 2004 rotation in one of his columns from over the weekend. I actually had something about Gammons in this entry originally, but I decided to cut it (can you imagine me actually deleting words?).

Anyway, there are several big differences between what Gammons did and what Sheldon did. First of all, Gammons covers all 30 teams, not just the Twins. Second, Gammons did not write multiple stories about Mays' injury and Mays' surgery. Third, HE IS PETER GAMMONS!

Note #2: According to a reader who exchanged emails with Mark Sheldon, Sheldon says he was on vacation and that a substitute writer wrote the incorrect Twins spring training preview discussed above. The mistake then was the substitute's and not his, and also The Sporting News' and FOXSports.com's, for a) printing the incorrect material and b) putting the wrong byline on the column.

You can, of course, come to your own conclusions...

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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