The question of, “How much money is one player worth?” came up once again when free agent Bryce Harper signed a contract Thursday the for the largest total salary in baseball history. His 13-year, $330 million deal eclipsed fellow free agent Manny Machado’s deal for 10 years and $300 million just a week prior.
It’s hard to value players in terms of dollars, but the Washington Post apparently decided that a mega-contract deserved a mega-lead:
Outfielder Bryce Harper agreed to a record-setting, 13-year $330-million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, completing a protracted, four-month journey through free agency and officially ending his seven-year tenure with the Washington Nationals, the franchise that drafted and developed him, brought him to the majors as a teenager in 2012 and watched him blossom into one of the game’s biggest superstars.
As stat geeks were breaking down the various ways in which Harper’s performance and added wins would benefit or kill the Philadelphia franchise, those of us in journalism were doing some number-crunching of our own on this monstrosity. It contains the following:
- 62 words
- 3 conjunctions
- 9 prepositions
- 5 numbers (six, if you count teenager)
- 5 hyphens
If you consider that leads are supposed to be 25-35 words, these numbers are even more ridiculous. (Maybe each of the two authors on this byline thought they each got to contribute 25-35 words to the lead…)
This thing could be good if it stopped at any of the following points:
The 28-word edition: (26 if you trim “protracted” and “Outfielder”)
Outfielder Bryce Harper agreed to a record-setting, 13-year $330-million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, completing a protracted, four-month journey through free agency.
The 34-word edition, if you want to weave in the local angle: (29 if you trim “Outfielder,” “protracted journey through,” and “officially”)
Outfielder Bryce Harper agreed to a record-setting, 13-year $330-million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, completing a protracted, four-month journey through free agency and officially ending his seven-year tenure with the Washington Nationals.
This could also easily be rewritten in a half dozen other ways to get the point across that this guy who played for your team is now playing elsewhere for a lot of money. (I would have loved the headline “13 years a Phillie” if I could have gotten away with it… Just a thought.) So consider the following things you can take away from this:
- Pick a main point and make it: What, exactly, did this lead want to tell me? The answer is “Pretty much everything all at once.” How is the best way to make this point? The authors’ answer was apparently, “Like a meth-addled toddler, hopped up on sugar telling me about his entire month-long trip to Disney world in six seconds.” Instead of doing this, you need to find a main point and focus on it. If you think your audience needs to know about the mega-dollar deal, focus there. If it’s that you lost your hometown star, focus there. The idea is that when you make everything the main point, you lack a main point.
- Write, then edit: There’s nothing wrong with WRITING a lead like this to get all the ideas you have out of your head. (You wouldn’t believe how insanely long some of the sentences I write can become during the first draft of some of the textbooks.) However, you need to go back and EDIT after you do this so that you can get a handle on what needs to be there and what is just taking up space. The goal is to have a well-crafted lead that tells people the things the need to know most, first. Some of this gets done in the writing, while a lot of it gets done in the editing.
- It could always be worse: Here is the NY Times opening sentence:
PHOENIX — Maybe the faucets were just a little rusty.