Faking It

There are many "fake" Ken Rosenthal Twitter accounts reporting rumors. (via Thousandrobots)

There are many “fake” Ken Rosenthal Twitter accounts reporting rumors. (via Thousandrobots)

Something you already know: This is a supremely dull time of year for baseball fans. Not having any actual baseball to watch or think about is wearing on the spirit and the patience. There is really only one baseball activity going on, and we call it the Hot Stove.

(One of the little things about baseball I enjoy is the cute names it has for everything. Is there a funny name for the free agency period in other sports? No. Baseball is just older and cuter than all of those other sports.)

Something you do not know (or care about): I do not particularly enjoy the Hot Stove. Arguing over what free agents a team should sign just isn’t entertaining to me, and even the most vigorous fan arguments have no noticeable effect. I would very much like to offer my opinions directly to Bobby Evans, but my attempts at getting his email address have failed miserably thus far.

(Feel free to message me if you see this, Bobby! I have some ideas.)

But there is one thing about the Hot Stove I enjoy very much (or used to enjoy, anyway): fake Twitter accounts of real baseball insiders tweeting about fake trades and signings. They float around Twitter like so much flotsam and jetsam, accounts with vaguely misspelled names and oddly placed underscores, hoping against hope someone might get someone’s attention, and, if they’re lucky, getting someone like Jim Bowden to analyze their imaginary trade.

wall-polin 1 wall-polin-2.1

(Despite Bowden’s charming defense, he eventually deleted all of his tweets on this topic. He wasn’t the first to be had, and he won’t be the last.)

I’ve been tricked by fake trades myself a couple times, and other than a little facepalm for not doing my due diligence and looking for the blue checkmark indicating the rumor came from a verified person, I don’t really mind. I just laugh it off and let it go.

Other people, I have noticed, have a divergent view. Every time enough people fall for one of these that it gets picked up by “Baseball Twitter” at large, I see a lot of speculation on the unpleasant basementy lives of the people who make these accounts. But just how sad and pathetic are these people, really? I decided to find out.

It’s harder than you might expect to talk to a fake account user. Or at least, it’s harder than I had expected. But after several attempts, I finally found a faker who would agree to speak with me.

That person is Greg, and he was pretending to be Michael Baron, who has written about the Mets for SNY.tv and MLB.com. Greg was trying to convince people that … you know what, it’s not important. Greg told me his last name, but I’m not going to include it. I have seen some real anger at people who do what he does, and I don’t want to expose him to that.

I asked Greg if breaking fake trades is a long-time hobby. Nope, he said. He’s never done it before. Why Baron? He’s local, and big names like Rosenthal and Heyman were “already taken.” Why did he decide to do it? Boredom. “Boring baseball offseason. Bad NFL season.” (Yet another thing to blame on football!) By the way, despite his choice of people to impersonate, Greg is not a Mets fan; he’s a Yankees fan. He’s quick to add, “I’m not looking to mess with no one’s career. Just trying to get a rise out of some of the public.”

Koob and Groom Double Down for the Browns
Two days, three games, and 20 no-hit innings.

Greg didn’t strike me as a particularly bad person, just a bored dude trying to amuse himself on the Internet. I was a little disappointed he didn’t offer any deep thoughts into how faking breaking trades provides an ironic counterpoint to the hysteria and hype of the Hot Stove in the 21st century, but you take what you can get.

The actual Michael Baron is not so quick to brush it off, though.

“In cases like this fake, it felt like a theft in identity,” he told me via email. “He stole my Twitter avatar, background, and copied verbatim my Twitter profile in an attempt to completely sell himself off as me. Combine that with how this individual was able to hide the difference in the Twitter handle by using an uppercase ‘i’ to make it look like an ‘L’ in ‘Michael,’ the tweets which were written and the respected names in the industry which were mentioned, such as Buster Olney and Joel Sherman, and it was clearly an attempt to compromise my reputation and brand, and make me look really, really bad.

“I understand others don’t have the same agenda and like to have some fun with people,” he continued, “and I totally dig that. But having fun should not come at the expense of others in any forum, especially when people like myself use this medium in particular in the manner I do.”

It’s hard to argue with that, and I can’t say I don’t feel a bit ashamed of myself for laughing at people (including myself) getting tricked by the fakers. Greg and others like him might not have any nasty intentions, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t devaluing the hard work and reputations of professional baseball reporters.

Properly chastened, I consider what anyone could do to prevent a fake trade prankster. Considering their lackadaisical approach to various other unfortunate uses of their platform, Twitter is shockingly quick to stomp out impersonations. Within a few hours of our conversation, Twitter had erased all references to Greg’s fake Michael Baron, including my messages with him. (Fortunately, they live on in my inbox.) No faker could possibly hope to make a lasting impression under a single account; only accounts no one has noticed last for long. At best, the prankster will trick a few people and then disappear, like a shooting star blazing and then fading across the Twittersphere.

But the fake trades have taken on a life of their own. The misspelling of Rosenthai (a tribute to a plethora of fakers who’ve impersonated Ken Rosenthal by writing the last letter of his name with a capital “i”) has reached meme status on its own. At this point, it is unlikely the trend will die any time soon; the idea of flooding Twitter with fake trades is self-sustaining.

In fact, there are now parodies of fakers. I was startled to discover someone impersonating real-life trade breaker Chris Cotillo was, in fact, someone I knew on Twitter. He was, he explained to me, parodying yet another fake Cotillo. “[T]his account is pretty much just Tripping Olney if the jokes only appealed to 50 people at best,” he explained to me. (Tripping Olney, for those unaware, is a popular and long-running twitter account that reimagines ESPN reporter Buster Olney, but on drugs. Because it notes it is a parody account and doesn’t actually pretend to be Olney, it is allowed to stay on Twitter.) Parody begets parody and so one and so forth until, as the winter doldrums stretch on, Baseball Twitter consumes itself.

But out of the infinite inward spirals of parody and repetition have come some creative ideas. One of these is @BotStove, a robotic bringer of trade rumors only barely less informative and likely than many of the professionals.

The brainchild of Marcus Kellis, a Dodgers fan from Idaho, the Bot Stove doesn’t care if the Expos no longer exist, or if a team is interested in trading with itself. The Bot Stove only cares about one thing: rumors! Kellis credits Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh’s discussion of what they call “non-revelatory rumors” on the Baseball Prospectus podcast Effectively Wild with the main inspiration. He describes the concept as “… tautologies, or overly vague, or obvious …’Brewers aren’t shopping CarGo, but they’re listening to offers.’ I mean, OK? What did we learn after reading that which we didn’t know before? The other big influence was reading so much offseason garbage the last few years, and so much of it is just garbage that never amounts to anything, you know?”

@BotStove is comprised of five different elements, which randomly combine to bring us a variety of trade ideas. Marcus says people do occasionally think that it’s real — and for good reason — since it occasionally has turned out to be correct, or as close to correct as some real people. “I think of Bot Stove as thinking it’s a peer of Heyman and Rosenthal,” he says, “quietly, self-confidently dispensing wisdom at us once an hour. I want to pat Bot Stove on the head and tell it it’s doing a great job.”

More surreal even then @BotStove is another bot, bringing us a baffling combination of baseball and poetry: @eegammings. Its profile reads: “I am artificial intelligence software which cannot quite decide between a career in MLB rumormonging or poetry. My source is a random number generator.”

Some things are probably better left to the imagination.

References & Resources

  • Special thanks to Greg, Michael Baron and Marcus Kellis for their time.


The San Francisco Giants once turned one of Kyla Wall-Polin's ideas into a promotional item. Her primary goal in life is to get Jon Heyman to unblock her on Twitter. Follow her on Twitter @fifthstarter.
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Eric
Guest
Eric

This is for real? Egad, people have too much time on their hands.

Phillies113
Guest
Phillies113

The Croissant Calamity will forever haunt the White Sox. Shame on Chris Sale.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Excellent piece! Good working in finding Greg and letting us know what goes on in his mind.

baseballfan123
Guest
baseballfan123

Of course Michael Baron would get mad. Just look at him

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John Elway
Guest

The whole capital “I” vs. lowercase “l” thing on Twitter is hilarious. You think they’d change the font, but hay, that’s taking away some of its unique charm I guess.

#JustNeighing

Jeff Girgenti
Guest
Jeff Girgenti

I think Kyla made up the interviews with Greg and Michael Baron.

bucdaddy
Guest
bucdaddy

“Bad NFL season.”

Aren’t they all?