Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I haven't posted in six months but this infuriated me so much that I have to take time out of my day to excoriate it

Now that I am all grown up and no longer the fresh-faced wise-ass I was when I first posted on this blog back eight years ago, my bitterness has abated somewhat. Now I'm a family guy, two baby daughters, etc.  But every so often something comes along that is so infuriating that it has basically ruined my morning and forced me to spend the first half hour of my work day writing a post for the first time in six months.  I know only like six people read this blog but I am convinced that I must write this in order to expose the banality of evil that is Frank Deford, and that if even one of you goes home and thinks, "You know, Frank Deford sucks", then I will have made the world a better place and there will be some brighter future for humanity.

Here's the scene in the dan-bob family van this morning on the way to work. Mrs. dan-bob is in the backseat dealing with a screaming baby-bob.

NPR Host: Upcoming: a story about statistics and our national pasttime!

dan-bob: Awesome!  [turns up radio over screaming child, tells wife to calm that kid down already]

NPR Host: Here's our weekly commentary from Frank Deford

dan-bob: Oh no. 

Frank Deford: Whereas numbers have never been a significant adjunct to the other performing arts, they've been stitched into the very essence of sport. Not just the score, but how fast, how far, how good. And, of course, no sport is so identified with numbers as is our American baseball.

Here's  a little cheat sheet for any of you who want to know if your commentator is a self-righteous chump like Frank Deford: they use "sport" in the singular. [Note: you're exempt from this rule if you're British.].  Besides that, this is some awful diction: "adjunct"?  "stitched"?  "our American baseball"?  What the heck other kind of baseball is there?  I hate Frank Deford. Honestly I think I hate him more than I've hated anyone else on this website.  He's like HatGuy on steroids invating my morning commute and regularly wrecking my Wednesdays.

In fact, baseball statistics have been around almost as long as baseball. But stats — which is a fairly new shortcut word, about as old as the Mets and Astros are — have proliferated recently, not only in other sports, notably basketball, but to deeper and deeper levels of baseball enlightenment.

First, Frank, in the English language there is actually a word for "shortcut words".  We call them "abbreviations".  Second, is there any reason to note that the abbreviation is as old as the Mets and Astros?  Referencing baseball expansion in the early 1960s makes no sense to me, unless he's trying to argue that baseball expansion is bad or lazy or something.  But if there were any group of fans out there pining for pre-expansion sixteen-team all-white baseball, I'd expect Frank Deford to be their spiritual leader, chanting about the evils of modern baseball and demanding a return to the pure Church of Baseball.

Today, traditional statistics like batting or earned run averages — righteous measures that were accepted as the athletic equivalent of the Ten Commandments — are made to seem quaint and primitive. Baseball even has its own specific brand of analytics, which is known as sabermetrics.

Bible references!  Righteous measures! Anyone who would deny righteous measures like BA and ERA are inherently sinful to the essence of sport! These are the Ten Commandments of the Frank Deford Church of Old Timey Baseball!

Baseball statistics were further glorified by Michael Lewis in his book Moneyball and then on film by the heartthrob Brad Pitt. Imagine on-base percentage being a thing of heartthrob. Moneyball posited the fancy that revolutionary statistical magic had sprung forth from the brain of the Oakland General Manager Billy Beane, like Athena emerging full-blown from Zeus' head. In fact, other resourceful innovators had found original uses for stats all through diamond history.

Dear God: "posited the fancy"?  Someone shoot Frank Deford with a pellet gun.  And the reference to Athena: wait, what? I don't see any reason for the allusion other than trying to overdramatize a nonissue. I'm sure this is just the pure holy Frank Deford defending his Church of Old Timey Baseball against the pagan innovations of modern man.

Plus, at the end of this paragraph, you'd think that Frank is going to talk about the actual resourceful innovators, but no, this paragraph is just one of many examples of his disjointed rambling. This essay has no direction, no organizing principles.  It's just the rambling of a bitter old man.

But now there is an absolute sabermetric explosion. Every team has employed nerds, who are presumably tucked away in secret offices, with computers and green eyeshades, emerging only to hand over new numerical strategies. This has resulted not only in the outward and visible sign of infielders being shifted all around the diamond like linebackers in football, but even in covert skulduggery, industrial espionage and power politics.

Oh man.  This is the new Cheetos-and-Mountain-Dew-in-the-parents'-basement! It's the secret-offices-and-green-eyeshades insult!  Good lord, this man's insults are even more dated than his opinions. Someone please put this fossil of a sportswriter in a museum, but not like on display at the museum.  Just put him in one of those back storage sheds that never gets opened where he can mildew and canker all he wants without bothering people.

I also like how Frank blames the sabermetric explosion for defensive shifts, which any educated baseball fan knows date to the 1920s, covert skulduggery (which of course was never around before, thank god), industrial espionage (i.e. when you use someone else's password to log into a website), and power politics (good thing baseball was apolitical back in the old days!).

Last week the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim general manager up and quit in midseason — something that statistically just doesn't happen — because, it seems, his manager wouldn't apply enough of the new metrics that his computer minions were churning out.

That's hilarious! It "statistically just doesn't happen" because it is uncommon!  I get it!  It's a joke! Good thing we have statistics around to identify uncommon things! I wish someone would glue Frank Deford's mouth shut!  

But wait! Worse than this front-office insurrection, the federal government itself may well bring charges against one or more members of the St. Louis Cardinals staff, nabbed for hacking into the secret files of the Houston Astros. Hacking! Baseball! Like Russians and Chinese. Oh my.

Oh my god! Like this is somehow worse than all the other terrible things that have happened in baseball over the years! Some Cardinals folks used the old password of an Astros guy!  THE WORLD IS GOING TO THE DOGS AND THE PURITY OF THE FRANK DEFORD CHURCH OF OLD TIMEY BASEBALL IS FOREVER STAINED.  ALL THE RACISM AND STEROIDS AND LABOR DISPUTES AND THE JUICED BALL DIDN'T DO IT, BUT NOW THE CARDINALS ARE HACKERS, AND THAT'S THE LAST STRAW!

"Like the Russians".  It's like we're living in 1960 or something.  Frank Deford is still cheering for the Mazeroski home run and ignoring Mickey Mantle's alcoholism.

It makes deflating a few footballs look like child's play, and it makes baseball the darkest statistical art, even more the place for sexy metrics.

What? Ow. How is this even a concluding sentence?  How is this statistics a "dark art"?  What the hell are "sexy metrics"? THE CHURCH OF OLD TIMEY BASEBALL WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS. FRANK DEFORD WILL EXORCISE THE DEMONS!

This wasn't even an essay.  It was just rambling about nothing, with a heavy dose of moral grandstanding.  And yet NPR has him on every Wednesday morning, ostensibly to say something interesting about sports. I generally enjoy getting my news from NPR in the morning, but if they employ Frank Deford, it casts serious doubt on the quality of the rest of their reporting. Imagine if the equivalent of Frank Deford were informing a large number of Americans about something actually important.

Even Mrs. dan-bob, who only caught snatches of it in between infant screams, knew enough to remark. "Why did you listen to that?  Frank Deford sucks so much".  



"our American baseball" is the play that Stan Musial was watching when Scott Boras stabbed him to death with a steroids needle

Carl Trachte said...

I appreciated this. Thank you. Guy is a pain in the ass. I thought it was just me. Sanctimonious old . And, yes, I have the same reaction as you had no matter what he's talking about.

Anonymous said...

Good article, you should post more often. Unfortunately articles posted over the last few months have probably driven away whatever readership you may have had.

Alex said...

"Every team has employed nerds, who are presumably tucked away in secret offices, with computers and green eyeshades, emerging only to hand over new numerical strategies."

I adore this sentence. Costasesque in its gate-keeping smugness, Wilonnish in its disdain for new media and statistics. They're all in their basements in middle-earth in their pajamas!

Next up. Deford rails against Uber!

Alex said...

Wilbonnish. Sorry.