Thursday, January 21, 2010

Murray Chass Makes Me Angry

I thought my anger about sports journalism was abating. Till I read this: a self-righteous bullshit article from a guy who wants to knock others down. You can see a picture of the man on the right, looking grim and rough and ready to tussle with some stat geeks. Well, shit, Murray Chass, it's on.

A Never-Ending Debate

There is nothing in sports that creates the controversy and the debate provoked by voting for the Hall of Fame.


There is nothing in a sub-standard article that can create controversy and debate like a hyperbolic, universal opening statement.


More than a week after the results of the latest voting were announced, I was still getting e-mail about the results. Everyone is an expert, fans and bloggers alike.


No, this is not true. People who are knowledgeable, thoughtful, and often even logical fans are experts. The thing is - you can't tell if someone is a baseball expert just by their job, or even by their photographic pose up against a baseball fence.


They all know better than the people who actually vote in the election, and they eagerly tell us so.

Murray Chass has made this statement sarcastically. I re-submit this statement, un-sarcastically.

A reader of this site told me in an e-mail that my ballot, which I disclosed before the results were announced, “contains votes for players I do not believe deserve to be in the Hall of Fame and you failed to vote for players who clearly deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.”

Not surprising, since Murray did indeed vote for Jack Morris. Good work, reader who e-mails.

“Clearly deserve” in whose judgment? His, of course. Does that make him right and me wrong? Of course not. Am I right? Yes. Why? Because my opinion counts and his doesn’t. My ballot was one of the 539 counted in the election. He did not have a vote. Therefore, his opinion is worthless as far as the election is concerned.

This made me so angry. Even reading this for a third time, I am still angry. Hey Murray, just because you graduated from Pitt in 1960 and started working the trade for all these years still doesn't mean you can think. It just means you've been reporting for work.

Also, your opinion is worthless. I am angry.

I am still angry about this paragraph.

That’s the real problem self-proclaimed experts have. They want to be the ones voting, but they don’t have that privilege. It’s their own fault. They chose the wrong profession. Accountants, lawyers, doctors, teachers and salesmen don’t get to vote for the Hall of Fame. Baseball writers do.

Except that the constraints for entry into the "baseball writers' profession" is pretty fucking low. You pretty much need a BA in English, which is a lot easier to get than a JD or an MD. Even HatGuy got one. Mine wasn't very hard to get at all. The point of this is, Murray, is that just because you're a baseball writer doesn't make you any fucking smarter than someone who decided not to become a baseball writer because they'd rather do something else with their days. I bet Larry B or Chris W could've become pretty good sportswriters. I could've become a sportswriter.

I am still angry.

When I started out in life, I wanted to be a baseball writer, not so that I could vote for the Hall of Fame. I didn’t know anything about voting then, but it is something that came with the territory.

And now it's a territory that you want to clutch to your exclusive little chest, even holding it away from people like me, who started out in life loving baseball but not wanting to write about it all day.

Actually, I don’t believe baseball writers should be voting for the Hall of Fame, though I don’t know of a more qualified group, which is why the Hall maintains its association with the Baseball Writers Association.

How do you think one should gain election, Murray Chass?

Side question: could we have the players of the just-passed era vote? I guess that means we'd have to give Lenny Dykstra and Rob Dibble a vote, though. Maybe we could have the players of the just-passed-era who aren't loudmouthed idiots vote.

Nearly 20 years ago I introduced a motion at a Baseball Writers Association meeting that the organization should withdraw from voting. This was at the time Pete Rose became eligible for the writers’ ballot, and to make sure we didn’t elect him, the Hall’s board of directors changed the rules, deciding that anyone who was permanently ineligible from baseball was not eligible for the Hall of Fame. That meant Joe Jackson and Pete Rose.

It's not that bizarre of a conclusion to draw. The voters had already de facto been enforcing it by never voting for Jackson, even though he seems pretty close to HOF standards for a short career.

I was not going to vote for Rose, but I objected to the board’s action. If Hall officials couldn’t trust the writers to do the right thing, I felt, we should end our association with the Hall and its election. If they manipulated the ballot in that instance, they could do it whenever they felt like it.

Two people voted for Jay Bell. You barely remembered to send your ballot in. The writers moped around for fourteen years and then collectively pity-voted Jim Rice in. Nobody should trust the writers to do the right thing until they clean house a little.

After listening to the discussion among the writers at the meeting, I sensed that the motion had a chance to pass. Dave Nightingale, a writer from Chicago, sensed the same thing, though unlike me, not happily. He quickly introduced a motion to table the vote, made some good arguments in support and saved the day for the BBWAA-Hall of Fame connection.

Sounds like a nice little meeting. I wonder how many jokes got made every day about good ol' Dave Nightingale's pretty awesome last name.

The vote was tabled until a vote of all of the members could be conducted by mail. With that development, I knew my motion had no chance. It lost easily.

So you tried to sneak through a motion in a sparsely-attended meeting, when you knew you didn't represent the opinions of the whole organization, Murray?

Sounds pretty shady.

Lisa Olson feels the same way I did then. A former sports writer with the New York Daily News, Lisa attracted unwanted post-election attention when an item on deadspin.com about the Hall of Fame voting said she always submits a blank ballot, has every year she has voted.

Don't want attention? Don't work in the media.

A blank ballot counts. It means the voter doesn’t think anyone should be elected that year, and it is counted in the tally. Depending on the number of blank ballots that are returned, they can affect the outcome of the election. The 75 percent threshold candidates need for election is affected by the total number of votes.

I grasp this. Even though I haven't worked in the industry for forty years, I grasp this.

For example, this year there were 5 blank ballots among the 539 total ballots. Seventy-five percent of 539 requires 405 votes for election. Seventy-five percent of 534 requires 401. Without the blank ballots, Bert Blyleven would have missed election by one vote, not five.

Thanks for the unnecessary math, Murray. But I thought you were against extra math in baseball?

But back to Lisa Olson. The report of her annual blank ballot made me curious enough to ask her why she does that. She doesn’t, she replied.

Lisa, who writes for fanhouse.com, explained that she doesn’t return any kind of ballot, blank or otherwise.

Well, Jay Mariotti writes for fanhouse.com, which doesn't necessarily mean that Lisa Olson is a terrible person... but it's still a bad association to have your name under his on your website. It's bad enough that my name comes up in the same space as Jarrett's, but that's just the way things work here.

“I don’t participate,” she wrote in an e-mail, “because I believe journalists shouldn’t be voting on people they cover. As someone else noted, it’s akin to having journalists who cover the pentagon vote on who should receive the purple star. Who knows, maybe some day my mind-set will change, but that is how I feel now. I’ve no problem with journos who do participate; we all follow our own conscience. And not participating is much different than sending in a blank ballot. My decision to not participate has zero impact on the outcome.”

That seems vaguely sensible. Also the abbreviation "journos" is weird. 'Journos' sounds too close to 'winos'.

Gee, what a shock. A blog got it wrong. Barry Petchesky, who wrote the item, was good enough to explain his mistake in an e-mail.

Lots of blogs get it wrong. Lots of writers get it wrong. Everyone gets things wrong.

“On Lisa’s site, FanHouse,” he wrote, “they published the ballots of each of their voting members, with a note saying that Lisa ‘abstained from taking part in the voting process as she has in every election since she became eligible.’”

Petchesky said he attempted to ask Olson about her ballot via e-mail but heard nothing before he posted his item.

“A few hours later,” he wrote, “I got an email from FanHouse editor Andrew Johnson pointing out that Lisa’s abstention didn’t count as a ‘no vote’ against any players. I then updated the post to reflect this. Six or so hours later I received an email from Lisa explaining her reasoning for abstaining from the vote, and I updated my post again, publishing her note. I sent her an email apologizing for the confusion.”

Seems rational. People do make mistakes, including baseball writers. If they didn't, we wouldn't have used the label "WRONG" ninety-two times on this blog. And that's not even including most of my posts, which don't include the label "WRONG" even though they certainly merit the use of the label "WRONG".

But as usually happens with these things, Petchesky’s correction never caught up to his mistake, and Olson was branded as a blank-ballot voter. Worse, instead of eliminating the original erroneous report altogether, the blog left it on the site in with the updated information following.

It's not like newspapers go out and grab all the copies of their newspapers when they want to redact their mistakes. They publish a little "mistakes" section in some obscure portion, and then move on. People would also be suspicious if the blog erased all evidence of their mistake.

I suppose that’s like having a report that a crazy man killed 27 people on a college campus, then finding out no such thing happened but leaving the report on the blog with a correction appended saying “never mind.”

Which is pretty much what newspapers do.

That’s just one difference between a blog and a newspaper article. A newspaper would have deleted all mention of Olson and her ballot once the correct story was learned.

How? By storming into the houses of the thousands of subscribers who already had copies of their newspapers, upsetting their breakfasts, scaring their children and stealing their printed print news source back so as to eliminate their mistake?

If you look at NYTimes.com - the same organization for which employed Murray Chass as a writer - the "Corrections" link is tiny, gray, and pretty far from the top... even though a there's quite a few of them.

Blogs have had a field day with the Hall of Fame voting, and their focus seems to have been on criticizing voters.

Rightfully so. This blog has been more right than a lot of fucking baseball writers in the past, including you, Murray Chass. Last week, the right rankings went:

  1. Larry B
  2. Murray Chass

In one of the severest posts, on baseballanalysts.com, Patrick Sullivan, a name unknown to me, ridiculed Dan Shaughnessy, a highly respected columnist for the Boston Globe, for writing that … well, just about anything. I don’t know that Shaughnessy wrote a sentence that Sullivan didn’t ridicule.

Good work, Sullivan. And I don't really care if you're a 'highly respected columnist for the Boston Globe', if you say something stupid, you deserve the ridicule.

One of the statements he faulted Shaughnessy for was his belief that Jack Morris was better than Curt Schilling. Preposterous, Sullivan suggested. True, I say in agreement with Shaughnessy. But then I would probably take Shaughnessy’s view over Sullivan’s on any subject. Shaughnessy has a track record; Sullivan doesn’t, as far as I know.

Note the absence of statistics - or even anecdotal evidence - to support the viewpoint. It seems that if Dan Shauhnessy wanted to claim that shit tasted great, Murray Chass would be the first one to shove his head in the horse's ass.

LOGIC AND TRUTH EXIST.

I have had a similar debate with a reader over Morris and Bert Blyleven. Like Sullivan in his case for Schilling, the reader used statistics to argue his case for Blyleven.

How silly. What else should the reader use to argue his case for Blyleven? A game he once saw back in 1974? An ice-cream cone? Some ice cubes, a nine iron, a buffalo, preferably stuffed for safety's sake?

Most of the Hall arguments today seem to be statistics-centered. I get the idea that the stats zealots would draw up charts based on their new-fangled numbers and decide on the basis of the numbers who should be in the Hall of Fame. No thinking necessary.

Actually, that involves a lot of thinking. Evaluating performance - especially for a player I could never see personally, like Bert Blyleven - is tricky. But this is the first time I've ever seen a writer allege that baseball statisticians are not thinking.

I'm not even a stat zealot. I like playing and watching the game. I just also like thinking. And thinking includes figuring out ways to evaluate baseball games and players that I did not watch in person.

Blyleven’s statistics have endeared him to the stats zealots. One of their big numbers is his strikeouts. He had a lot of them, 3,701. Tommy John, who otherwise had similar career statistics to Blyleven’s, struck out 2,245.

So they do have similar career statistics...

I think strikeouts get far too much attention and emphasis. Strikeouts are sexy.

They're also very effective at keeping runs from scoring. A lot fewer runners get on base on an error after a strikeout than after a batted ball. A strikeout pretty much never moves a runner over. A strikeout is simply more effective than a batted ball at preventing runs from scoring... which is the whole goal of pitching.

Thinking: it's good for you.

John, however, was a sinkerball pitcher and got more outs on batted balls and fared just as well as Blyleven.

Maybe because he might have played on better teams with better defense? I don't know what the aggregate W/L of all their teams was, but John's teams went to the playoffs five times and Blyleven's only went three.

John had a career 288-231 record with a 3.34 earned run average. Blyleven’s record was 287-250 and his e.r.a. 3.31. John retired 57 percent of the batters he faced, Blyleven, with all his strikeouts, 59 percent. Yet in the eyes of the stats zealots, the voters were justified for not electing John but not for rejecting Blyleven.

Well, the strikeouts do suggest that John's defense had to get 1,300 more guys out than Blyleven's defense... but if you ask me, both of those guys can stay the hell out of my Hall of Fame.

The arguments will go on incessantly, and the conclusions will be I’m right, you’re wrong. Or is it you’re right, I’m wrong?

But apparently only you count, since you have your own blog and your own picture and your own ego and your own vote and your own Hall of Fame.

I am still angry.

16 comments:

Martin said...

Murray needs to go correct his own article, which is full of two large factual errors. If Bert and Tommy got out 59 and 57 % of the batters they faced, they were freaking terrible, because this means they had an OB% of .410 and .430 which sure as hell isn't true. For a guy bitching about blog mistakes, this fucktard needs to do a better job.

Elliot said...

Chass should just keep reminding people that sabremetrics are THE DEVIL.

Tonus said...

Let's see- blogger makes an error, and within "a few hours" has posted a correction that runs in the original blog post. New York Times makes an error, and within 24-48 hours a correction appears in a small box tucked into a corner of a page in a different edition of the paper.

Or, if it's the online edition of the Times, it just gets changed, as if the error never happened.

Clearly, bloggers are sneaky filthy little non-journos.

PS- Someone clue Murray in to the fact that agreeing with Shaughnessy is not a good thing. Patrick Sullivan may be unknown to the self-important Murray Chass, but he was spot on when he ripped the CHB.

Angelo said...

"Am I right? Yes. Why? Because my opinion counts and his doesn't."

See: imperialism, dictatorship, slavery

Thanks Murray!

Pete said...

@ Martin -

Good call. Blyleven's career OBP against is .301, and John's is .315. So they got 70% and 71.5% of the batters they faced out. Still similar, but Chass is an idiot.

Blyleven has a stronger resume than John based on ERA+ and most relevant peripherals, like WHIP, K/9, and K/BB. To me, Blyleven is clearly deserving and John is borderline.

Adam said...

Murray Chass is totally crazy. He is basically saying "Even though I regonize I don't deserve my Hall of Fame vote and there are people who are more qualified; I'm going to say that I know more about baseball than you and you're opinion doesn't matter just because I can."

On a side note, Murray Chass looks more badass than I ever expected. He kind of looks like an ex-sailor or Ernest Hemmingway adventurer type. I sort of expected a feeble and very Jewish looking man with glasses and looking like he was ready to complain about everything he possibly can.

Chris W said...

@Angelo: And: The Jersey Shore!

Alexxx said...

Smart guy. All this time I thought contextualizing statistics constituted thinking. I'm glad people like this guy exist to educate me!

Seems like there are low barriers to entry when it comes to getting a vote.

"Am I right? Yes. Why? Because my opinion counts and his doesn't."

Wait a sec. Isn't this plagiarized straight from Stalin's bio - pp. 136-139, chapter titled 'I am a paranoid douche trying to make up for being born in Georgia instead of Russia proper?'

dan-bob said...

@Martin & Pete

Damn, I didn't even notice that. You're exactly right.



I am STILL mad about this article. I'm just mad. Mad.

Martin said...

Dear God, Murray responded to my email. He told me that it didn't matter how the batter reached base, he used the percentage of batters who they retired.

Apparently in Murray's world, if I ground a ball to short, who flips to 2nd, and forces out a runner, the pitcher didn't actually retire ME. If I beat the throw to first, if there was one, I'm a baserunner, or...um something. The guy who was forced out at 2nd? He wasn't a batter, soooooo...everybody hop off the logic train...he isn't counted as being a batter retired either. We now have an out, but in the Murray world, no batter was retired.

He didn't explain it in such detailed and painful fashion, he merely said that on base % only counts for a part of the batters who reached base. So yes, I guess there might actually be a few fielders choices where nobody was out, and errors by fielders that wouldn't be on base %, but would count against the pitcher not retiring the hitter. How these things which the pitcher has no control over are counted against them is beyond me. Also, I sure as hell doubt that esoteric means of getting on base ( inc Catchers Intf.) account for the 11% discrepency in these two pitchers. That would be at least two guys a game, and I know that didn't happen.

KentAllard said...

Wow, guys like Chass are part of the reason I stopped following baseball, and I don't know who that Patrick Sullivan is, but if he ridicules Dan Shaughnessy, he's aces to me.

NFL Shop said...

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dan-bob said...

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Xavier said...

Strikeouts are good, but groundballs are also good; while they more often go for hits than fly balls, the slugging percentage is much lower and they virtually never go for home runs (the exception is an especially fast and gritty runner like David Eckstein. David Eckstein once homered on a routine ground out to second. He didn't get any runs for it, but he did run home very hard, so that's something I guess).


Anyway, that's why a pitcher like Joel Piniero or Brandon Webb or whatever can be extremely effective. The most consistently effective pitchers either: Limit walks, limit home runs, or strike a lot of people out (or all of them).

Jack M said...

dan-bob,

I think NFL Shop was on point when he told everyone to calm down.

Alex said...

I especially liked his call to "just be happy."

He's so right.