Shohei Ohtani free agency hysteria brought out the worst in MLB media. We can do better.

Shohei Ohtani, baseball’s most glorious talent, one that we may never see again, has managed to bring out the absolute worst in us.

We baseball writers have disgraced ourselves, becoming an embarrassment to the journalism community.

In our breathless quest to be first on where Ohtani would sign his free agent contract, it was comical that Ohtani broke his own news Saturday on his Instagram account.

"BREAKING NEWS: Ohtani signs 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers; baseball writers still following private plane" would have made a good headline.

We have made fools of ourselves plenty of times before in the history of baseball media, anywhere from criticizing the integration of the sport, to calling Ohtani a fraud in his first spring training, but we have taken this to new heights.

Look no further than the Friday news cycle.

It was reported early Friday morning that Ohtani’s decision was imminent.

Well, that was news to Ohtani and his agency, who had a private appointment later in the day, and knew there would be no announcement.

It’s then reported that there’s a private plane, a Bombardier Global 5000, that leaves John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:10 in the morning and arrives at 3:54 p.m. at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Ohtani was still sleeping at his home in Newport Beach when the flight took off, but that didn’t stop furious reporting, with TV and radio reporters tracking the flight in real time. There were nearly 3,500 people monitoring the plane on FlightRadar24, which was the most watched flight in the world.

Shohei Ohtani's $700 million deal is the biggest in American sports history.
Shohei Ohtani's $700 million deal is the biggest in American sports history.

Early in the afternoon, a Los Angeles writer reports that Ohtani has chosen to play for the Toronto Blue Jays, and it would be officially announced Friday evening.

The report is immediately shot down as being inaccurate but, hey, what about that flight?

A national reporter goes on the air, which is also splashed on TV, saying that Ohtani is definitely on a flight to Toronto.

A photographer from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is hurriedly dispatched to the tarmac, ready to shoot historic pictures of Ohtani’s steps off the plane, which would have been a giant leap for all of Canadian baseball-kind.

Only to watch Canadian entrepreneur Robert Herjavec, a Shark Tank judge, stepping off the plane.

Ohtani never left his house in Southern California.

The night ended and no decision was made.

The only thing that happened during the day was us embarrassing ourselves and infuriating baseball fans even further.

What in the world are we doing?

Here are Ohtani and his agent, Nez Balelo, operating in total radio silence, but we were so pompous and arrogant that we actually criticized the way they were handling their free-agent negotiations.

We would rather have them leaking the teams involved in the bidding, reporting who’s in, who’s out, and wildly throwing out numbers to see if we can have teams bidding against themselves.

The way Ohtani conducted his free agency should be praised, not criticized.

My God, it was so refreshing not having Ohtani and Balelo leak a single thing, and actually announce their own signing, complete with the contract figures.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves into believing we are a conduit to fans in the offseason, delivering information on their favorite teams and favorite players.

We are being used and don’t mind, even embracing it.

You know how many of these stories are leaked by agents? Try 95%. Maybe higher.

Teams can not divulge their free agent signings until the player passes his physical, so they keep their mouths shut. It doesn’t stop the agents from gladly revealing where his player is going to one reporter, offering the terms of the contract to another reporter, and giving opt-outs and incentives to the next.

If the team leaks it, they could be on the hook if the player flunks the physical. Why do you think MLB scolded Mets owner Steve Cohen last year when he publicly revealed that they signed Carlos Correa, before he didn’t pass his physical? The San Francisco Giants had the same medical issue with Correa, couldn’t say a word, and were lambasted for backing out.

You would think the Correa saga would discourage leaks, but they are more prevalent than ever before in this game.

You ever wonder why you’ll frequently see someone report that a player has been traded to a team without knowing what players are coming back in return? It’s nothing more than the agent telling the reporter that his client was traded, having no idea, of course, what other players were involved in the trade.

We can accurately predict which reporters will be breaking which free agent signings the rest of the winter, judging by a reporter’s relationship with an agent or a reporter who’s represented by the same agency.

“It’s unbelievable as to how certain members of the media promote clients of certain agencies," one veteran agent said, “and more shameful is the fact there is little to no media accountability. No wonder why we have so many clubs and industry personnel being misled."

Oh, you’re telling us there are 10 teams involved in the free agent bidding for your client? Sure, we’ll tweet it. It’s now down to two teams, but the offers keep getting bigger? Sure, we’ll go with it.

And once that contract is complete, and you were among the first to report it, you better believe we’ll hype your deal and tell everyone it was a stroke of genius, helping indirectly to recruit other clients.

We have agents who flat-out lie to us, but teams are prohibited from calling them out because of language in the collective bargaining agreement.

I could report right now that the Kansas City Royals are the mystery team in the Ohtani sweepstakes, and have told Ohtani they will out-bid everyone for his services.

And the Royals legally cannot publicly dispute it, according to the collective bargaining agreement. You’re permitted to say you’re interested in a free agent, but you can’t say you don’t want the player, and don’t even come close to offering your opinion on what a free agent may be worth on the open market.

Sorry, those are the rules, and if someone lies to us, we fall for it.

Look, false reports happen. They’ll always happen in this age of social media with the burning desire to be first. You hear something, quickly judge the accuracy for yourself, and put it out there in a haste.

I’ve been there, done that.

Nope, Trevor Bauer did not sign with the New York Mets. Just like Aaron Judge didn’t go to the Giants. Max Scherzer and Trea Turner weren’t traded to the San Diego Padres. And the Yankees never flipped Alex Verdugo to the San Diego Padres after acquiring from the Boston Red Sox.

This past week at the winter meetings, I tweeted that Chicago Cubs slugger Christopher Morel’s name surfaced in trade talks with the Tampa Bay Rays for pitcher Tyler Glasnow. Well, they’re engaged in trade talks and while the Rays may want Morel, I had received incorrect information and his name was never mentioned.

Jed Hoyer, Cubs president of baseball operations, who was on his way to address reporters in their media scrum, stopped me, and told me that I was wrong: Morel was not involved in the talks. They won't trade a prized commodity for a one-year rental in Glasnow.

The conversation lasted eight, maybe nine seconds.

Next thing you know, a Chicago reporter breathlessly goes on his radio station and says that Hoyer and I got into a heated argument over the Cubs’ interest in Ohtani. The reckless report pops up on a Chicago website, and it goes viral.

Never did Ohtani’s name come up. Never did Hoyer raise his voice.

Never did this reporter ask Hoyer or myself what happened.

Instead, hundreds of baseball executives, officials, agents and players came asking what happened, with our brief conversation getting exaggerated to the point that it was said we nearly came to blows. This of course set off vitriol across the internet.

We can’t even accurately report on ourselves now, let alone real baseball news.

It’s time we take a deep breath, and check ourselves before we further wreck ourselves.

We’ve caused enough damage, provoked heartache and have been irresponsible with fans’ emotions.

It’s a time to slow our roll – myself included – before we lose all of our credibility.

If we learned anything in this Ohtani hysteria, we should remind ourselves of the values and ethics of journalism that we learned when we broke into this business, and become more cautious, careful and accurate when delivering news.

It’s time to restore our values.

Let’s make sure our embarrassing Black Friday never happens again.

Around the basepaths

– Prized free agent pitcher Yoshinobu Yamomoto is finding himself in a dream situation having the New York Yankees, Mets and Dodgers all clamoring for his services.

Mets owner Steve Cohen and president David Stearns flew to Japan to meet with Yamomoto last week and the Yankees are scheduled to meet with him Monday.

The price-tag for Yamomoto, including posting fees, is now likely to reach $300 million, one high-ranking MLB official said.

– No team, publicly or privately, said they were engaged in trade talks with the Mets for All-Star first baseman Pete Alonso during the winter meetings, but several GMs believe the Mets will listen to offers.

If the Mets were fully intent in keeping Alonso, they have a funny way of showing it.

They have not had any talks of a long-term contract extension.

Alonso, who’s represented by Scot Boras, is a free agent after the 2024 season.

– Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf created a stir, and plenty of wild rumors, when he had dinner with the Nashville mayor Freddie O’Connell.

But no, the White Sox are not moving to Nashville.

Yes, Nashville remains a contender for expansion franchise with an ownership group led by Dave Stewart, who is a friend of Reinsdorf’s.

– The Milwaukee Brewers are now expected to retain Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes instead of trading him, still wanting to compete for the NL Central title.

– Scott Boras, who brought up the idea of a contract extension for Bryce Harper after Manny Machado turned his opt-out into an 11-year, $350 million extension this spring, should get his wish once they can figure out a fair price for paying him after his contract expires after the 2031 season when he’s 39 years old.

“He feels that he’s been there five years, he’s showed them who he is and why he is a franchise player,” Boras said. “I think he’s changed in the player community how players view Philadelphia. Consequently, he came and said, ‘This is something I want off my mind. I want to know this is done because I know that I want to play well beyond the contract that I have.’”

Harper’s contract pays him an average of $25.38 million, which ranks just 24th in baseball.

“Bryce has certainly expressed to them that he wants to end his career in Philadelphia,” Boras said.

– The Arizona Diamondbacks are hopeful of signing free-agent DH J.D. Martinez now that the Dodgers no longer need him, with Justin Turner also in play.

– Clint Hurdle was all set to join Angels manager Ron Washington’s staff as bench coach, but Hurdle could never bridge the financial gap. There would have been at least 15 bench coaches earning more money if he had accepted the job, despite 17 years of managerial experience.

– Chicago Cubs manager Craig Counsell’s record-setting, five-year, $40 million contract, may last only one year.

Several teams have already expressed strong interest in Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who’s a free agent after the season.

– Yankees GM Brian Cashman shrugged at the notion that Juan Soto could be only a one-year, $33 million rental, saying, the “future is always now.’’

“Just another manifestation of the Steinbrenner legacy,” Cashman said. “I think George Steinbrenner always felt that the best players in the world should play here for the New York Yankees.’’

– Now that Shohei Ohtani got $700 million, any guesses what Scott Boras will be asking for when Juan Soto hits the market?

– Kudos to veteran Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, who stockpiled enough pitching talent to acquire Soto and outfielder Alex Verdugo from Boston. Why, if you include the Rule 5 Draft, the Yankees relinquished 10 pitchers.

– How slow were the winter meetings?

Several veteran executives said it was the least amount of action, or even trade talk, they had ever witnessed in their tenures.

One executive said his team met with only one team the entire time to discuss a trade.

“Never seen anything like it," one official said.

– The Twins continue to receive inquiries in Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, who are on the trade block.

– The Texas Rangers, who could lose their local TV rights deal, would love to have starter Jordan Montgomery back, but the price tag may be too high for their liking.

– Funniest moment of the winter meetings: Jim Leyland, after meeting with the media on Monday after the Hall of Fame announcement, asked an official if he could step away in a private room for a quick smoke.

“Jim, you’re a Hall of Famer," the official said, “you can smoke wherever you want in this place.’’

– Agent Scott Boras, when asked if the Baltimore Orioles have reached out to discuss contract extensions for Gunnar Henderson and Jackson Holliday: “Only once or twice a day.’’

– The Baltimore Orioles have never signed a free agent to a contract longer than one year since Mike Elias became a free agent.

If they want to put a stranglehold on the AL East, they need to start.

– While everyone is talking about the home-run numbers left-handed slugger Juan Soto will have at Yankee Stadium with their short right-field porch, after hitting 35 last season in San Diego, it’s worth noting that he’s not a pull hitter.

He hit 196 balls into the air last season, according to Statcast, and just 49 balls (25%) were hit to right field. He hit 86 balls (44%) to center field and 61 balls (31%) to left field.

So, unless he changes his hitting approach, he suddenly isn’t going to start hitting homers like Aaron Judge.

– The Dodgers spent one night during the winter meetings at the 100-acre ranch of country music star Brad Paisley.

– Fabulous move by the Hall of Fame will honor Black baseball history with an East-West Classic in Cooperstown during Memorial Day weekend: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game. Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Ozzie Smith will be the managers.

The Negro Leagues’ East-West All-Star Game debuted at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1933 and was played annually through 1962.

“The East-West All-Star Game was he annual showcase for the Negro Leagues, and we are privileged to be able to honor the legacy of those stars,” former Cy Young winner CC Sabathia said. “As players, we are indebted to the pioneers who came before us, and recognizing the All-Stars of the Negro Leagues pays tribute not only to their playing ability but also to their courage and devotion to the game.”

Sabathia, who’s eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2025, says he also can’t wait for the San Francisco Giants-St. Louis Cardinals’ game in June at historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala.

“Hopefully there’s a kid out there that is watching the game and sees the players like, ‘Hey, I want to be like that,’” Sabathia said. “That was me with Dave Stewart. I got a chance to see Dave Stewart when I was 9 years old. He walked into my Boys & Girls Club and changed my life.

“So just being able to be visible in these communities, especially in Birmingham, it’s super important for us to be able to tell those stories and be visible in that community.”

– You know times have changed when the Orioles didn’t take a player in the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in 18 years.

That’s what happens when you win 101 games and have no room to protect a minor-leaguer on the major-league roster all season.

– Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has an opt-out in his contract after this season, but the Yankees can eliminate that by tacking on a $36 million salary in 2029, bringing his total to $360 million over 10 years.

“We would anticipate that those things are going to happen,” said Scott Boras, Cole’s agent.

– Stephen Vogt on being hired as the Cleveland Guardians’ new manager after his playing career ended only a year ago: “The best way I would describe it is I got thrown into the deep end of the pool with my hands tied behind my back. I’m kicking ... and I’ve got one arm out so I’m able to get to the surface now.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Shohei Ohtani free agency hysteria should be reckoning for MLB media