MESA, Ariz. — How often has fiction trumped fact in spring training? Are the primary narratives and platitudes we hear the real deals or cruise-control talking points likely to leave the believer feeling like a rube or feeling the burn of misdirection once words turn to action?
Not to worry. The Sun-Times is tirelessly fact-checking the characters and candidates at spring training in and around Mesa as the Cactus League heats up ahead of the Cubs’ bid for, eventually, a win in November:
Joe Maddon on Feb. 24 responded to a question about a non-roster invited player’s chance to make the opening roster with: ‘‘Everybody’s got a shot.”
Truth-meter reading: Pants on fire.
Maddon might have been referring to the 1992 bus accident involving his old Angels, with manager Buck Rodgers suffering a broken elbow, knee and rib. If, say, 14 — or maybe 23 — specific Cubs broke ribs this spring, then, yes, that could theoretically put ‘‘everybody’’ in play for the roster. But history does not support this statement.
Casey Close, Dexter Fowler’s agent, on Feb. 25 issued a statement in response to reports of a three-year agreement between Fowler and the Orioles before Fowler shocked many in Cubs camp by returning on a one-year deal. Wrote Close: ‘‘Both the Orioles’ front office and members of the media were so busy recklessly spreading rumors that they forgot or simply chose not to concern themselves with the truth.’’
Truth-meter reading: Mostly false and completely bogus.
The Orioles clearly leaked the information that was reported. But Close, who goes out of his way to assure writers have less contact with him than a salad, could’ve stopped the spread of rumors with one well-placed phone call at any time during the two days reports circulated.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts on Feb. 25 responded to the ‘‘sustainability’’ of team-payroll trends with the claim: “Payroll more so than any other time in history doesn’t determine how many wins you’re going to have. Fact is, it’s really not about how much you spend.”
Truth-meter reading: Half-true and mostly misdirection.
Smaller-revenue teams such as the Royals and Pirates, for example, have had much more success the last three years than the highest-spending Dodgers and Yankees. And growing industry consensus on the rising values of younger (cheaper) players is a significant part of a general shift in that direction. But 24 teams employ 47 players on nine-figure contracts — including four signed by Ricketts’ top baseball executive, Theo Epstein. The Cubs, in fact, would almost certainly not have made the playoffs last year without the $261 million in contract commitments undertaken the previous offseason — including a $155 million pitcher. And media reports suggest much of their World Series expectations this year are based on a $276 million winter that includes a $184 million player. Also: The statement is not relevant to the question.
Joe Maddon on Feb. 26 made this claim about Jake Arrieta’s first spring session throwing to hitters in live batting practice: “It was live.”
Truth-meter reading: True.
Based on Periscope transmissions from the event and news reports, Arrieta was, in fact, not dead.
Shane Victorino, the Cubs’ backup outfield candidate, on Feb. 28 made this claim when talking of his decision to return to switch-hitting after a back injury prevented that much of the last three seasons: ‘‘If you’re a switch hitter, I don’t care if you hit a buck-50 on one side and you hit .400 on the other, do not give it up because today’s game is about matchups; it’s about numbers.’’
Truth-meter reading: True.
This statement is supported by an examination of public records that reveals Emilio Bonifacio has received more than $11 million in his lifetime to play baseball and, in fact, Nick Swisher received $56 million in commitments over a four-year period from a certified American League baseball team.
Jon Lester on March 2 spoke of Jake Arrieta’s Opening Day assignment by making this claim: “It’s one of those days that kind of sucks. I think it’s one of the hardest days to pitch. [There are] a lot of distractions.”
Truth-meter reading: Half-false, half-true.
Media interviews and eyewitness accounts as far back as the 1870s consistently reveal that Opening Day does not suck anywhere in the United States, with the rare exceptions of such non-baseball locales as Nome, Alaska, and Belt, Montana. But Lester’s own history in five openers supports a general truthiness to the statement. He’s 1-4 with a 4.15 ERA in those games and 126-75 with a 3.54 ERA in his others.
Joe Maddon on Feb. 27 in response to a question from a San Diego TV outlet said: “We all love San Diego. ‘Anchorman’ really taught us a lot about San Diego.”
Truth-meter reading: True.
Sun-Times fact-checkers can find no media reports or credible studies to dispute this claim.
Joe Maddon has based the entire 2016 campaign on an “Embrace the Target” platform, proclaiming the wisdom of “running toward the fire, not away from it.”
Truth-meter reading: Mostly unsupported.
Baseball records on this subject are not complete. But other historical records on the general concept have been found that include Davy Crockett embracing the Alamo in 1836 (“You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas”), George Custer embracing the target of the Sioux Nation in 1876 (“The greater the odds, the greater the glory”) and the naval architect of the RMS Titanic embracing icebergs in 1912 (“Unsinkable”).
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