Monday, August 13, 2007

Biting the Hand That Feeds Us

Espn's Jeff Pearlman mentioned our humble "blog" in an article today on ESPN's Page 2, assuredly increasing our readership from zero to a number substantially more existent than zero.

That doesn't mean, though, that he has immunity. This very article, an apology to Joe Torre for doubting him this year, suffers from the very flaw that got him into trouble in the first place. In this article, Pearlman references a FireJayM. article Larry B (anonymously, at the time, though no longer) wrote in which Larry takes Pearlman to task for, among other things, overstating the importance of the manager and relying too heavily on a small sample size. In case you're interested here's Larry's article.

At any rate, Pearlman's article (written in true Page 2 fashion, rife with offhand casualty and autobiographical factoids (none of which I'll bother poking fun at)--

Let's begin with a tangential issue:

Too often we in the media are allowed to skate through life without suffering real consequences and/or admitting the errors of our ways. We label someone a bust based on a poor initial impression, and 14 years later Howard Johnson retires with 228 home runs and two All-Star Game appearances.

Is HoJo really the best example here? Really? I mean, he was a badass in RBI Baseball and everything--and yeah the restaurant named after him has some delicious cuisine--and yeah, he's played in New York, which fulfills ESPN's requisite NY/BOS obsession--but what about a more prominent (and...recent?) standout. What about...say...Drew Brees...comes to mind, just off the top of my head.

Admittedly this is just a potshot at Pearlman and has little to do with the main problem I have with this column, but....Howard Fucking Johnson?

Anyway, back to the issue--which is Pearlman's mea culpa re: http:/

At the time, I honestly believed what I was preaching. As a former baseball writer at Sports Illustrated, I'd closely monitored the Yankees through the years, from their startling rise in 1996 to the dramatic letdown in Arizona six seasons ago to the more recent crushers at the hands of lesser franchises like Anaheim, Florida and Detroit. I'd seen Torre at his best, allowing self-motivated veterans like Chili Davis and Tim Raines be themselves, and I'd seen Torre at (what I perceived to be) his worst earlier this season, sitting listlessly on the bench as losses mounted with staggering regularity.

SIC typos aside, let's address this issue. It's something Larry touched on in his article, but is worth revisiting--

What is the relative value of the manager? It's a question that's hotly contested among sports fans and one that merits such discussion. The fact is, as Yogi Berra said about managers, "You can't make up no trick plays."

As a White Sox fan, however, I have seen the perils of bad management (Ozzie 2006-2007) due to poor personnel manage (ha) ment...I have also seen that same manager have success (Ozzie 2004-2005) by making less poor substitution and lineup decisions.

This, however, isn't what Pearlman's talking about when he criticizes Torre--he's talking about "that spark"...the "confidence" a manager instills in his team. I put those words in quotes because they're utterly intangible (though not necessarily unreal). A manager like Torre, placid and collected, will do wonders for certain players' mental stability--an important thing to consider in a season. A manager like Torre, placid and collected, may also be detrimental to other players, who'd rather have a manager like Bobby Valentine or Ozzie Guillen--someone to light a fire under their ass.

The problem with this assessment of managers is that it's impossible to quantify, as even the players themselves might not be sure what kind of manager they'd rather have, and even if they did, probably wouldn't want to bite their manager in the ass by saying "I'd rather have a calmer manager" or vice versa.

I'm not necessarily sure where I stand on the issue of "intangible" qualities of a manager. But that doesn't matter--the point is Pearlman certainly does--he thinks they're a huge issue. Therefore, that's the standard by which he must apply all judgments of managers (well, at least in order to be logically sound)--

1. Does the manager make good game time decisions?
2. Does the manager inspire his team to play well?

Here's the problem then: Pearlman goes on to apologize to Torre thusly:

Thing is, I failed to afford Torre the one thing he deserved: the benefit of the doubt. When you win and win and win, one poor start does not a nightmare make. From Vince Lombardi to Tom Landry to Davey Johnson to Phil Jackson, our sports are filled with excellent coaches who triumphed despite arduous rough patches. It's happened before. It'll happen again. It's happening now.

There's no doubt the Yankees are playing well now. Most people would point to their improved pitching. Others would point out the fact that due to their runs scored/runs against, their lack of success was mostly due to bad luck rather than bad baseball and that their record would return to expected soon enough (which it has).

What isn't viable is the idea that this is Torre's doing. The problem with that is it forces you to ignore the first half of this season--the Yankees haven't been playing well in 2007 any longer than they were playing lousy. If you're going to buy into the sample size of this second half enough to say that Torre's turned it around, you can't discount the fact that the Yankees were horrible under him the first half.

And here's the thing--he plays it off as a slump. Ok...except for the problem is what a "slump" would indicate in a manager. That is, this is not a matter of not "executing" like pitchers or hitters in a slump have problems with. A slump in "leadership" (since Pearlman would never say Torre was making bad gametime decisions) is indicative in a fundamental problem with Torre's leadership. It indicates that for a significant percentage of the season, Torre was unable to get his kids to play for him at an adequate level, which indicates a problem in "chemistry" and "leadership" in the old master. Which means he IS starting to lose it.

Which means, that if you buy into Pearlman's line of logic re: managing, you can't erase that first half. Unless, you know, you buy into the REAL problem with the Yankees in the first half, something Pearlman fails to acknowledge:

The real problem had nothing to do with Torre at all..and this resurgence has very little to do with Torre either (beyond the fact that he didn't panic and do something drastic while they were losing )--it had to do with the personnel and bad luck.


Anonymous said...

Where are the typos in the second paragraph?

Chris W said...

typO i guess.

Anonymous said...

I'll blame my tenuous grasp on functional literacy, but I still don't see it...

Anonymous said...

Bravo bravo. Great post. You hit it the nail right on the head.

Jeff said...

I don't think Phil Jackson is a good example there either. He's yet to really succeed as a pro coach after an "arduous rough patch." He's in his first rough patch, really, so we'll see where it goes. Unless you want to say that Phil bailed Chicago out of the '94-95 non-championship winning stretch in '95-'96, but that's just crazy-talk. Jordan did that.

Chris W said...

I'd seen Torre at his best, allowing self-motivated veterans like Chili Davis and Tim Raines be themselves,

there's the typo for the record

Anonymous said...

Yup, functional illiteracy on my part.

eriz said...

no no no jeff, you've got it all wrong. the reason the bulls won was NOT because of Jordan. It was Phil Jackson's winning attitude, perseverence, go get em by the throat coaching style that did it.

Let's not forget his ability to bring out the intangibles needed for championship caliber play.

Anonymous said...

Er, Drew Brees, what are you high? The guy has one good season and you're saying that he is THE example of players turning it around?

Chris W said...

last I checked, Brees had a very good season with San Diego two years ago before having a great season with the Saints last year


I don't even like Drew Brees, I'm just saying.

Chris W said...

and hell...before that, looking at the #' 2004 he had an even better season


Anonymous said...

I think the point of mentioning Howard Johnson was that Pearlman had called Hojo a bust. So while there might be better examples present in the sports world Hojo was particular to Pearlman.

Anonymous said...

Espn's Jeff Pearlman is just like everyone else in the US of A media complex: Noise, noise, noise without thought--its all just entertainment for the numb or addle minded.

The cause of airplane accidents or mine disasters are only important for the first 72 hours not months later when there is evidence and analysis.

This said from a NJ boy in England. It is better here with the government channel (BBC.) What does that say about freedom, the market and democracy?

ciao 'round from about Manchester

Jeff Pearlman said...


Just do I get this straight: Your site had six viewers over the past month. I give you killer publicity, cite you in my column, now you're rich and famous—and you still slash me?

I LOVE it! Seriously. You have integrity, mixed with a wee bit of evil.

I'll keep reading, and you keep letting me have it—punk.


Chris W said...


Jeff Pearlman said...

oops—another friggin' typo on my part. Supposed to say, 'Just so ...' Oy.

Anonymous said...

That said there are some thoughtful writers. Three of my favorites are ESPN'S Rob Neyer, and the NY Sun's Tim Marchman and Steven Goldman. Note of warning: Do not read the Sun for news or politics.

I do not read Mr. Neyer anymore (only thing worth having from ESPN so I don't subscribe.) But it is refreshing to read a properly thoughtful and humble piece as the following (excerpt from "Yankees Should Fear A Posada Departure" by Steven Goldman August 9, 2007:

"Roughly two years ago at this time, most observers were speculating about how the Yankees were going to get out of Jorge Posada's contract. Posada had had a poor year by his standards, batting .251 AVG/.339 OBA/.411 SLG through the end of August. If he caught just a minimal number of games in 2006, his 2007 contract would automatically vest. This was regarded as a potential disaster. Most catchers burn out early due to the stresses of their position, and it seemed certain that if the Yankees didn't find a way to wriggle out of the commitment, they were going to be stuck with their own version of Johnny Bench circa 1982.

"It's fascinating how baseball can give one all the information one needs to come to a conclusion like that -- supply you with the evidence in Benches, Yogis, and Piazzas -- and yet the answer still comes out wrong. Posada was excellent in 2006, and through Tuesday night, he was batting .340/.423/.546, the best offensive numbers of his career. One of the most urgent tasks for the Yankees this off-season will be re-signing him."

So it just goes to illustrate and recommend humility. For example, read these thoughtful articles by Tim Marchman. One is current one is from a month ago:

Yankees Face the Toughest Battle for Playoff Spot (August 13, 2007
Don't Bet Farm on a Yanks Fire Sale Baseball (July 9, 2007

So be humble,

NJ boy in Manchester UK.

Chris said...

hey pearlman:


you can't even get a comment right ;-)


dan-bob said...

pearlman and larry are sitting in a tree

Anonymous said...

You have to give Perlman credit for his change of opinion- columnists have to take a stand and sometimes they take one that's wrong. Rarely do they say so rather than pursuing their vendetta for the remainder of their careers to save face.

And while I agree that a baseball manager may less obvious input than a football coach who calls plays, to underestimate the leadership of Torre or any maneger is just ridiculous. Ask the players under a good manager. Ask the ones under a bad one.

I have worked under managers and as a manager, as a soldier and as a civilian, my whole life. The boss rarely does the heavy lifting but everything that gets done is either because of him or in spite of him; nothing is unaffected by him.

Chris W said...

it's funny--

i was going to use the military analogy, but didn't end up doing it.

i agree--i played a lot of baseball, and a coach is a big part.

and props to pearl and any columnist who admits to being wrong.

my issue was just that torre is a solid manager--one of the better in baseball--and the mea culpa in this article didn't address the main problem: the basis under which he questioned torre was flawed, not his actual questioning of torre

Jeff Pearlman said...

Is there no pleasing this blog?

larry b said...

it's funny- i remember the day i went into blogger and changed the setting for fjm to allow anonymous comments. i thought, "ha! when will that ever be an issue?" i hope i was asking myself that rhetorically, because here we are, 2 months-ish later, and i'm pretty sure that was a bad idea. if people are going to say stupid stuff they should at least have to register for a username before doing so.

but thanks for expressing your opinions everyone!

Franklin said...

"I'd seen Torre at his best, allowing self-motivated veterans like Chili Davis and Tim Raines be themselves...."

This is not actually a typo. It is transcendentally poor grammar and sentence construction. Not only is there a grammatical error by omitting the infinitive "to" in front of the "be," but the sentence, as constructed, is ambiguous. Read strictly, the writer is correctly read as saying:

I had seen Torre at his best, thereby allowing self-motivated veterans like Chili Davis and Tim Raines to be themselves.

...which is nonsense.

According to both the NYT and Chicago Manuals of Style, the writer should have used an "em dash." To wit:

I'd seen Torre at his best -- allowing self-motivated veterans like Chili Davis and Tim Raines be themselves...."

Let's not restrict our criticism to the writer. The editor (if there actually is one) is due for some bean-balling as well. It's pretty-well understood that blog entries are probably unedited. It's also pretty-well understood that the "World-wide Leader" is an edited site. Hmmm.

Chris W said...

i didn't really criticize the typo--just mentioned it off-hand in a snarky way.

Franklin said...

I'm just happy you mentioned it.

Anonymous said...

re larry b's "i remember the day i went into blogger and changed the setting for fjm to allow anonymous comments...if people are going to say stupid stuff they should at least have to register for a username before doing so."

Sheesh. So change it back. I do not need your pity or the kidness of strangers. Its just I have more important things to do than to fit into your little schemes.


Chris W said...


Anonymous said...

or sue me.


larry b said...

i don't have any schemes.

Chris W said...

unlike steve spurrier who has many offensive schemes

Anonymous said...

Schemes schmemes.

How sesible was that retaliation now?

J Karstens (L, 0-3) 3.0 5 5 5 4 1 1 74-43 11.19
J Brower 2.0 5 6 4 1 0 0 51-26 13.50


So is this Joe Torre good or bad or was it only Roger Clem? Macho macho men.

Old school baseball heroic to most but it never meant sh*t to me,


Chris W said...

i'm sick and tired of chuck d being mean to elvis

elvis loved his mama

Frank said...

Call me crazy, anonymous, but it seems like it was probably Karstens' poor pitching. Or the O's good hitting. Those two always seem to go together.

Actually it was probably Orioles supermanager Dave Trembley.

Anonymous said...

Frank said..."Call me crazy, anonymous, but it seems like it was probably Karstens' poor pitching."

I think I have to agree with Messers Torre and Clemens here, this is a good time to get Mr. Karstens some major league experience. I think this trios have agreed to skip Roge the next time around too--he's got to watch his son. I guess like Mr. Rove family first.

And yes for the Yanks, Roger Clemens has the lowest ERA as a starter.

I am warming up my knuckle curve in case Joe is looking to have Karstens go after Tejada.