On Dec. 26, 1919, famous baseball slugger George Herman “Babe” Ruth was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees.
Few people outside the Red Sox and Yankee organizations knew about the trade. Fans didn’t hear about the move until the Yankees announced it Jan. 5, 1920.
Did you catch that?
Nearly two weeks passed from the day the trade was finalized until the news appeared in reputable media outlets such as the Boston Globe.
News of losing the prized slugger was met with dismay by some Red Sox fans, and ambivalence by others. The fact is, even if Red Sox fans wanted to complain about the loss, or Yankees fans wanted to gloat about their gain, there were very view venues in which to do so.
The only way Red Sox fans could protest the trade was by refusing to buy game tickets, and refusing to publicly support their beloved team.
Fast-forward almost a century later and the Ruth deal would have certainly made headlines days before the trade. There would have been leaks, speculation, critics and commentators offering opinions and rumors.
In 2015, social media fans and followers would have spread news of the trade. Considering what we know of the “Bambino’s” colorful past, he would have been a social media favorite.
Of course, wild speculation about trades and other news in sports, whether amateur or professional, can quickly turn from rumors to facts in the eyes of the social media community.
Case in point: the New York Mets’ Wilmer Flores trade.
Joel Sherman, baseball columnist for the New York Post, tweeted “Deal with #Brewers is done pending physicals. Gomez to #Mets.”
This was quickly followed by a tweet from Andy Martino, sports writer for the New York Daily News, which read “Sources: Gomez for Flores and Wheeler.”
This news activated the social media sports community and a firestorm erupted. At some point during the game, Flores became emotional after hearing news of his trade to the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s not unusual for players to be traded midgame, especially near the trading deadline. But Flores remained in the game, and many commentators and fans questioned why he was still playing if he had been traded.
Flores was never traded. Sure, a trade was discussed, and apparently a person with knowledge of the trade shared the tip with Sherman, Martino or someone else in the media. But when reputable journalists such as Sherman and Martino report these trades as fact, fans and followers also will treat the information as fact and share it with the world.
In 2015, news of the Ruth trade wouldn’t have lasted two seconds, let alone two weeks before going viral on social media. While it’s not the first time and certainly not the last that social media will get it wrong, the Flores story is a cautionary tale.
Whether it’s in print, on TV or radio, or on social media, the burden is always on the journalist to get the story right rather than reporting it first.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.