Thorne-Gate

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Big noise, little bang. Orioles 1st year broadcaster Gary Thorne made what he now calls a mistake on Wednesday night’s telecast of the Red Sox and O’s game.

To sum up, Thorne said that Curt Schilling’s famous bloody sock from the 2004 ALCS was a fake. That it was painted. And that Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli was the one that told him.

Thorne took time to answer questions about his statements from the night before, and about his conversation on Thursday with Mirabelli. He and Mirabelli agreed that Thorne misinterpreted or misheard Mirabelli’s comments and that Thorne was sorry for all the hullabaloo caused. End of story. Bomb diffused and onward we go.

The thing is, if MASN had its way, the story would have continued with questions unanswered and doubts lingering.

Backtrack to Wednesday night. The Red Sox were livid with Thorne over his comments and by Thursday morning the national media were killing the broadcaster. After the game, Mirabelli called the story “a *&&% lie!” I asked him Thursday if Thorne had thrown him under the bus and he said “you can’t help but believe that”.

So everyone wants to talk to Thorne about his comments that came out of the blue and had Red Sox Nation, up in arms. The first thought was to check with the Orioles P.R. and see if Thorne would be made available. They quickly and correctly (and with some measure of relief) pointed out that Thorne is a MASN employee. Jay Moskowitz with the Orioles was ready for the inquiries, equipped with the name and number we needed. That belonged to Todd Webster, head of MASN P.R.

I made the call at 3:00 PM, but could not get through to Mr. Webster. I left a message stating that I was at Camden Yards and sought an interview with Thorne before the game. I wouldn’t hear from MASN again for several hours.

It wasn’t just me. I talked with several other reporters and we were all left hanging in the wind. We talked with Mirabelli, Boston skipper Terry Francona, former Sox Kevin Millar, and even O’s manager Sam Perlozzo about what Thorne said, but the person from whom everyone wanted to hear was not available.

(Side note here; the most interesting part of the day was during out wait for Mirabelli in the Red Sox clubhouse. Wily Mo Pena was studying video of Daniel Cabrera striking him out from the night before. Curt Schilling, who wouldn’t talk the media about Thorne’s comments on Thursday ((he doesn’t really like us and uses his own blog instead. Schill’s self importance and victimization aside, it’s a good read.)) sat down next to Pena for a video session of his own. Quickly he turned his attention to Pena’s flailing at the Cabrera breaking ball. Schilling pointed out that Cabrera was tipping his pitches. A slight wiggle of the glove right before the pitch had Schilling jumping out of his seat saying

“You’ve got to see that and know it’s a breaking ball!”

Pena had the look of a scolded school child, but a defiant one. He argued a bit but Schilling would have none of it.

“And you have to know it a breaking ball starts in the middle of the plate, it’s un-hittable. Un-hittable!”

It imagine it would be like watching Robert De Niro drill Luke Wilson on a specific blocking technique. But I digress)

At 5:06 PM a MASN spokesperson called me back to say that the company would issue a statement from Thorne. I asked again about interviewing him before the game and again was given no answer. Here is the text of the statement:

Statement by MASN Announcer Gary Thorne on his Conversation with Doug Mirabelli

During last night’s game broadcast I made reference to a years-old conversation with Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli. In the aftermath of Doug’s post-game comments, I felt it was important to talk to him directly and called him this afternoon.

Doug and I discussed the fact that we had spoken some time after the 2004 World Series while I was covering a game in Boston. We recalled at the end of that conversation, I asked Doug a question about media speculation regarding the appearance of the sock. Doug’s response – about the significant publicity the matter had generated – led me to believe he was saying it had been painted for public relations purposes.

After speaking with Doug this afternoon, it is apparent that what he intended to say to me and what I inferred from that conversation were honestly different. He said, in the jocular and often sarcastic atmosphere of a clubhouse, where players needle one another routinely, this may be understandable.

In deference to Doug, I certainly accept his position. Doug and I have clarified our misunderstanding, and we feel that there is nothing more to add to this matter.

Other Oriole broadcasters Jim Palmer and Buck Martinez made their way to the field around 5:15 as they normally do to watch batting practice and chat. Still no sign of Thorne and we suspected he would remain hidden.

To his credit, around 5:40 Thorne arrived on the field but went straight to the batting cage, begging off any interviews. The cameras, video and still, followed his every move.

Thorne then sought out Terry Francona and they shared a brief moment. As Thorne then went back to the cage, Dan Connolly of the Sun went where reporters are not supposed to go, off the rubber tarmac and onto the grass. With recorder thrust forward he started asking questions. Thorne paused to contemplate answering, and I jumped in too. Within seconds Thorne was surrounded by microphones and questions (it is quite a study in pack mentality).

He answered them all and the story ended right there. Was that so hard?? I suspect that Thorne would have rather met with the media in a structured format to answer the questions and avoid the appearance that he was ducking reporters. But MASN’s handling of this situation left little doubt that all they wanted was to pretend that Thorne never said anything about the bloody sock.

The network even deleted the bottom of the 5th inning from the re-broadcast of the game Thursday morning. I was told from Orioles P.R. Director Bill Stetka that MASN said it was done simply for time restraints, and it was a coincidence that Thorne’s story about Schilling and Mirabelli was left out. Okay, glad to hear the home of the O’s believes we’re all some of the dumbest humans in history. Nice to get off to a good start in the neighborhood.

It’s just so hard to believe that recognizing the best way to deal with a problem is through confronting the issue quickly and thoroughly. But after nine years of losing at Camden Yards, we should be ready to believe anything.

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