Social media has dramatically changed the modern sports landscape. Nothing illustrates that notion more than Ian Stewart’s recent suspension – a result of a rant unleashed by the third baseman who has been playing with the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate in Iowa after participating in extended Spring Training.
To say that Stewart is frustrated is a joke of an understatement. He first arrived in Chicago as part of a four-player trade in December 2011 at a time both he and the organization expected him to become the team’s third baseman for the foreseeable future. But things simply have not panned out.
Stewart played in just 55 games for the Cubs in his first season with the club, before his season was shortened when he was forced to undergo left wrist surgery on July 10.
When the offseason rolled around, Stewart decided to stick with Chicago, signing a one-year deal worth around $2 million despite having other offers on the table.
He landed in Des Moines after extended Spring Training on what was supposed to be a 20-day rehab assignment to allow him to finish off his recovery from a quadricep strain and get back to the big leagues. However, after batting just 0.91 (4-for-44) during that rehab stint, the Cubs decided to option Stewart to Iowa at its conclusion, a move that apparently came as a surprise to Stewart.
All of that pent-up frustration bubbled over Monday night, when the 28 year old took to Twitter.
In response to a fan’s question if there was any word on when he would be heading back to Chicago, Stewart responded: “Probably never.”
Another fan suggested Stewart should quit, to which the third baseman replied: “Why should I quit? I’m making 2 mill in AAA like u would give that up by quitting.”
Someone posited that if Luis Valbuena got hurt, Stewart would be called up. Stewart disagreed. “I honestly believe if Valbuena were to get hurt cubs wouldn’t cal [sic] me back up just MHO.”
He clarified further: “I said that because the cubs are done with me … there [sic] going to let me rott [sic] in AAA all season and then non tender me after.”
The tweet that really seemed to upset the Cubs organization was the one that referenced big league manager Dale Sveum. “I think dale doesn’t like me and he’s running the show.”
Chicago has suspended Stewart without pay as a result of his tweet tirade. The length of his suspension has yet to be determined; that decision should be announced at some point today, as the organization claimed to still be jumping through some legal hoops on the matter of discipline. Apparently, Stewart’s contract contains a loyalty clause that requires him to conform to a certain standard of personal conduct, under which the team is claiming authority to punish him for his tweets.
Stewart of course has since apologized, admitting he let his frustrations get the better of him.
The incident sheds further light on the issue of social media in sports. Forums like Twitter give their users a full-time figurative stage, microphone and audience. On the one hand, it allows fans unprecedented access to athletes and information. On the other hand, it allows for players to comment and respond directly without the filter of their agents, PR representatives or organizations. The 140-character restriction specific to Twitter means that comments are not fully flushed out and are made without the benefit of context.
The balance is a difficult one to strike, and Twitter-based controversies seem to be cropping up more and more often as time goes by. Several athletes have had to quit Twitter due to an inability to properly management, and some collegiate sports programs ban their players from Twitter due to its inherent risks.
But when used properly, Twitter is a powerful marketing tool and can provide fans with an amazing interactive experience with players that cannot be duplicated.
Of course, airing out dirty laundry and railing against your organization and manager is certainly not what I would consider a proper use. However, I think the Cubs understand that in Stewart’s case, his comments were more out of frustration than anything. I don’t expect more than a one-week suspension to be handed down.
Stewart, a former first-round selection by Colorado in 2007, isn’t exactly setting the world on fire in Triple-A, anyway. In 39 games, he’s batting just .164, but he does have four home runs, six doubles and 19 RBIs.