Sunday, March 18, 2012

Five Statements

            The best way to illustrate the lack of objectivity in Old School Baseball is to play my new favorite game: Guess Who Said It!  

            The rules are simple, I will present a quote pulled from the greatest site on the web: It will be filled with irritating bias and clichés. And you will pretend to guess which of the legion of virtually identical commentators said it. The purpose of this exercise, as you might imagine, is not to win the grand prize (a lifetime supply of dirt stained David Eckstein jerseys) but to realize how astoundingly repetitive and pointless these clichés are.

1)    Sometimes home runs are rally killers, because they clear the bases.”

2) “...the scrappy Theriot would just as soon tells those statistics to shut up. Theriot doesn't hate baseball, but the stats-oriented crew probably can't find much love for him. Theriot is one of those throwback players who'd rather get his uniform dirty than impress the pencil pushers at Baseball Prospectus.”

3) "Those intangibles ARE important. To hear people downplay them, means to me that they don't understand them. The computer age that we are in does not look for intangibles or reward them or recognize them."

4) "(Jeter) has intangible qualities that can't be measured with statistics."

5) "I believe that there is too great a reliance on statistical forecasts; too little on judgment. We all know the old one about lies, damned lies and statistics, and I do not wish to condemn statistics out of hand. Those who prepare them are well aware of their limitations. Those who use them are not so scrupulous. The truth is that statistical results do not displace the need for judgment, they increase it. The figures can be no better than the assumptions on which they are based and these could vary greatly. In addition, the unknown factor which, by its very nature is incapable of evaluation, may well be the determining one."

Now guess.

While you could, of course, have simply googled these phrases on and discovered who wrote them, I choose to believe that we do not live in a world in which people would cheat simply, it would seem, for the pure joy of cheating. Instead I believe in a world in which people cheat to teach other people lessons, so long as I am the one doing the cheating. For even if you had combed through searching for these five statements, you would not be able to discover who said statement #5.

            But before we get to my BIG LIE (and it is a big one), let’s take these one at a time. #1 was Orel Hershiser, a superb pitcher but not quite so good an analyst. You would receive half credit for Dusty Baker.

            #2 was written by Bruce Miles, an obscure columnist who managed to combine in a few short sentences all of the clichés that make me despise sportswriters.

            #3 is Joe Morgan, and by this I do not mean that it IS the writing of the great second baseman, I mean that that phrase, Morgan’s fealty to intangibles and his blind dismissal of statistics has assumed Joe Morgan’s identity. To an entire generation of baseball fans, Joe Morgan is not a hall of fame second baseman, he IS intangibles, fear of computers and vicious ignorance.

            #4 is there to keep you honest, it was a quote in a fantastically awful New York Post article that was written in response to their apparent discovery that the Sabermetrics community hates Derek Jeter’s defense. The remarkable thing about this quote is that it was uttered by “East Village bar owner Kevin Hooshangi, 28.” Now Mr. Hooshangi, is no doubt a brilliant bar owner and small business owner, one of the very pillars upon which our economy is built, but he is not, nor does he pretend to be, a paid baseball expert. And that is what I find truly incredible, that the baseball insiders, who maintain their positions solely because of their constant protestations that their first hand knowledge makes them uniquely capable of understanding and explaining the game of baseball has rendered them no more insightful than the literal man on the street. If there truly is a parity of understanding between random people and Old School Baseball analysts (and there is- I just proved it), then there is truly no reason for them to do anything other than trot out interesting though doubtless apocryphal stories about how George Brett applied pine tar.

            Here comes the lie, I discovered #5, not on as I claimed, but while I was researching sources for a Modern European History paper. Quote #5 was spoken by Margaret Thatcher during a speech entitled “What’s Wrong with Politics” on October 11, 1968. It really is quite incredible how consistent the language of conservative reactionaries can be. The statistical forecasts that Thatcher railed against were economic prediction models, though the argument would fit just as well if WAR, FIP or ZIPS were the targets. The “need for judgment” that Thatcher advocates has become cliché within the world of Old School Baseball, just as it was to become when unemployment shot through the roof during the years of Thatcher’s rule. Thatcher’s “unknown factor,” presumably referring to the possibility of unforeseen changes in the economic climate could easily be replaced with “intangibles” and Joe Morgan would nod along happily.

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