Sunday, January 3, 2016

Murray Chass Is A Bitter Man

There are times when I read an article where I curse the fact that FireJoeMorgan.com is no longer maintained. As I read each word of the aforementioned article, all I think is "if only this article got the FJM treatment, it would be both hilarious and infuriating instead of only the latter." I'd like to believe I have half of the talent those guys do, though that almost certainly is an inflated sense of self.

As I perused "A Name of Shame and the Hall of Fame" this morning, that thought process returned. Damn, if only Ken Tremendous and company were around for this. For brevity, I've excluded some sections of the post that would be filler otherwise and indicated so with an ellipses.

Is anyone here familiar with the name Dan Szymborski? Does anybody know Dan Szymborski? Has anyone ever spoken to or communicated in any way with Dan Szymborski? Does anyone know why Dan Szymborski hates me?

I doubt he hates you. He probably just thinks you're a bitter old hack that is an example of how some baseball writers are desperately trying to drag down the level of intellect and open-mindedness in the field while attacking anything that challenges previously accepted thought as heresy. I mean, hate is a pretty strong word.

I never heard the name Dan Szymborski until very recently. I had no idea who Dan Szymborski was. In truth, I didn’t know if his name was Dan Szymborski or Dan Szymbobski. But my grandson enlightened me.

My grandson scans the Internet much more than I do. He knows a lot more than I do, especially about web sites and digital dandies. When I asked him if he knew who Dan Szymborski was, he filled me in. Dan Szymborski, he informed me, though he didn‘t use the term – I have made it up and applied it to Dan Szymborski – is a digital dandy.

So, Murray Chass, who began his blog "Murray Chass on Baseball" in 2008 doesn't use the internet all that frequently and doesn't know how to google or use Wikipedia. Starting to see what part of Chass's problem is.

Chass, by the way, doesn't call his blog "a blog." He hates blogs.

It's still a blog, though. So, by extension, he hates his own blog. We share that in common.

Dan Szymborski has written for ESPN.com, which used to have more class than to have Dan Szymborski write for its web site. 

Yeah, because ESPN was the center of class in sports when it hired Rush Limbaugh to give his opinion on football. Or when Gregg Easterbrook complained about Jewish executives not being considerate enough of the Holocaust in 2003.

Dan Szymborski, my grandson further told me, came up with some cockamamie (again, my word) mathematical formula – yeah, one of those – by which he concocts player performance projections.

For clarification, it's called ZiPS. And he doesn't "concoct" the projection. The system he created and helps refine projects performance.

I don’t know what his system is – believe me, I don’t want to know – but presumably it prompted him to write an article for ESPN.com that produced the headline “Mike Mussina one of the casualties of a broken HOF voting process.”

Doubtful considering ZiPS has never been used (and never should be used) to come to a decision on whether a player is worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame. But Chass, who has been "blogging" since 2008, doesn't know what the system is nor can he bother to perform a ten second search to figure out what it is. You know...before wildly speculating, most journalists who honed their craft with The New York Times such as Chass would like to know what the hell they are talking about. But by his own admission, Chass doesn't want to know.

...

I had not seen his comments about me because unlike Szymborski, I do not use Twitter. I leave tweeting to the twits. 

Ha...ha...ha...don't use an universally accepted means for promotion and engagement because only twits like the Pope use it.

But my grandson researched Szymborski’s comments and came up with these:
  • That he was *ever employed as a journalist is just embarrassing.
  • Murray Chass hired to be on next ‘Survivor’ but it turns out to be just a ruse to leave him on an abandoned Pacific island. #2014hopes
  • And yes, Murray Chass was given a Spink award. Which is like Jenny McCarthy getting the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
  • Murray Chass is the Donald Trump of baseball journalism. That may actually be too unfair to *Trump*.
  • Some of the bad sportswriters can at least claim to be decent *writers*. Chass writes like a third-grader.
  • Every spink award winner except chass should get a second one. insulting to tell writers they are of equal honor to murray chass.
On second thought, maybe Szymborski does hate you. In his defense, I'm getting where he's coming from.

...

In the nearly 45 years I have been eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame, the most peculiar development I have seen is the growing movement to erase completely the limit of 10 players writers can vote for or failing that, an increase in the maximum number.

I don’t get it. What kind of standards can my colleagues have if they want to elect 12 or 15 or even 10 players whom they believe were good enough to merit plaques in the Cooperstown shrine? I voted for one player this year, Griffey. I thought there were some other good players on the ballot of 32 but no other great ones. I believe only the great ones belong.

Last year I voted for the three players who received the most votes – Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz. I did not vote for Craig Biggio, who was also elected, because I had heard too much from respected sources about his alleged use of PEDs and I don’t vote for players who have allegedly cheated.

The "full-ballot movement" Chass eludes to is a direct result of people like Chass who only vote for one deserving candidate for the Hall of Fame under the guise of respecting the "standards" of the Hall of Fame or not voting for deserving candidates because someone said they "cheated." By his own admission, he declined to vote for Biggio not because there was any proof, but "respected sources" alleged that the former Astro used PEDs. There were WMD's in Iraq, after all. Some respected sources told us. Everybody Loves Raymond is a funny program. Some respected sources told me so. 

By the way, they were wrong.

Ken Griffey Jr. is an incredibly deserving candidate and ought to be elected with 100% of the vote, but to look at this year's ballot and only come away with one candidate is why there's a backlog of candidates. Because the self-righteous blowhards like Chase choose to make it that way.

...

The full-ballot voters, on the other hand, haven’t given up. In fact, it appears they are just getting started. They are growing in numbers, and their views have filled the Internet in the weeks leading to the announcement of the 2016 election results.

They proudly post their ballots in their blogs, and many of them would list 12 or 15 names if they were allowed. But 10 will have to suffice for now.

What really bothers me is writers whom I have respected for their coverage are among the full-ballot voters. How can you cover baseball for years and think all of the players you mark on the ballot are worthy of the Hall of Fame? Standards, gentlemen, standards. Re-evaluate your standards.

One of the full-ballot voters, Richard Justice of MLB.com, quoted Joe Torre recently: “It’s the Hall of Fame. It’s not supposed to be easy to get into.” However, by voting for 10 players, Justice and the others are making it far easier for unworthy players to break through the Hall’s doors.

I agree that there is no need for an increase in the ballot size from a maximum of ten selected players to 12, but there wouldn't exist a backlog of candidates if people like Chass were doing their job. Sensible people can have sensible criteria for choosing which candidates should be in the Hall of Fame, but when those candidates double and triple in number because their colleagues choose to not vote in candidates out of some misplaced need to police the game, what do you expect will happen? Candidates will continue to fill their ballots while others that are available for election will add to it. 

By the way, does it strike anyone else as strange for Chass to mention "they proudly post their ballots in their blogs?" Why shouldn't they? You did.  

...

Those headlines represent opposite points of view on one of the best closers in history, Trevor Hoffman, and there is no right and wrong. It’s a subjective matter. The problem posed by the metrics monsters is that in their fantasy world there are not two sides. There is only one side, and it’s theirs.

Here's where things get really funny. What Chass doesn't get is that "metric monsters" don't even all agree. Their proudly public ballots are an example of that. But sure, continue.

This column will only incite further derogatory remarks about the writer, but someone has to tell what these geniuses are about.

They are arrogant, narrow minded and shallow. It means nothing to them that human beings play the game. They don’t talk to the people who play the game. They don’t need to. They have their computers and their statistical formulas, and they don’t have to emerge into the world where the sun shines on day games and the ball park lights illuminate night games.

Plus, they have a tendency to live in their mother's basement, eat a steady diet of Ramen and Funyuns, and drink Mountain Dew. 

If you didn't know, Chass really despises that people don't look at baseball as this romantic unexplained phenomenon. The idea that we can quantify it angers him to no end. But what about talking to the people who play the game, he screams. We ought to, certainly, and most with the credentials to do so will talk to players, but is Freddie Freeman going to provide much relevant commentary on advanced statistical analysis? He might, but I doubt it. Chances are Freeman, like most ballplayers, will spout some cliched answers that make you recall the bus scene from Bull Durham

Either way, it might surprise Chass to know that sabermetric writers absolutely love going to baseball games - even when it's sunny and our skin burns. Baseball in person is fun. We can bring our families (yes, we even procreate) and if it's not for work, we can turn off our analytical side and even enjoy the tried-and-true experience of seeing a baseball game.

Our love of baseball didn't just end because we compared John Smoltz's cFIP to Curt Schilling's. In fact, we love the game so much that we become obsessed with it. We dive deeper and deeper into it. Baseball is a drug and we don't care about giving it up. We need more and we need the highest quality. 

They especially detest baseball writers and the Baseball Writers Association of America, in large part, I believe, because we vote for the Hall of Fame and MVP and Cy Young awards and they don’t. I offer evidence of their view in the form of an online article I came across in my research for this column.

Written nearly two years ago by Luis Torres, a name unknown to me, it is titled “The Biggest Enemies of the Advancement of Baseball (Part 1): The BBWAA.” An excerpt, faulty grammar included:

The BBWAA are masters at creating narratives that obscure the facts. As long as they continue to do so, we will need to educate the public on what they’re doing so that they can learn to see right through it. Then the analytical writers of the world will be unhindered in elevating the public’s understanding of baseball. It WILL happen. One day, we will look back at the AL MVP voting and other injustices caused by the BBWAA, and shake our heads. Those writers that chose obstinacy over progression? History will judge them poorly, possibly even ridicule them. Just look at Murray Chass right now. As Dan Szymborski put it, he has declined into self-parody. They had the information at hand, and chose to ignore it. Fans today have access to a virtually endless supply of information and data on baseball. The writers know that we can do better than them, and they’re scared of becoming obsolete. After all, if the public figures out that their insider knowledge isn’t worth anything, what good will they be?

With the additional thought that it sounds frighteningly like an ISIS polemic threatening to take over the world, I rest my case.

For what it's worth, Luis Torres is on Twitter...which I guess makes him a twit. But Chass completely misses the point of what Torres said to make a rather absurd argument. "They," meaning people who seek to use analytical means to help justify their position, are, according to Chass, essentially jealous because the BBWAA has the ability to vote for postseason awards. His evidence, such as it is, only shines on Chass's ignorance of the underlying point. When the BBWAA do things like keep out a player only to prevent him from achieving "first-ballot" status (Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin), don't vote for Greg Maddux simply because he played in the steroid era, or make the lackluster argument that Jack Morris was a deserving candidate because you would give him the ball in a Game Seven - something is amiss with the BBWAA. 

When, as is the case with postseason awards, the BBWAA voters use stats to back up their position (such as RBIs for an MVP award), but choose to not use numbers with more analytical value despite the ease of accessing such data, it's a sign that something is wrong. Surely, Mr. Chass's votes for the Cy Young and MVP awards have been impacted by "metrics." This guy drove in 125 runs. This guy won 21 games. Whatever the case, it's not like you are arriving at your decision by just talking to players. You didn't decide who receives your vote solely by going to games. You checked the leaderboards. All Torres and others are asking is that you go beyond simply looking at the classic baseball card stats and make the leap into slightly more advanced stats, especially those that take into account the league, year, and parks you played in. 

In the same post that Chass is convinced that Jack Morris was a worthy candidate, yet Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina aren't, here is a example of how we can compare the three. FIP isn't all that advanced, but it makes for an easy graph to help show the difference. 
Stop being so subjective and vote in the candidates that fit within your own odd criteria, Murray Chass.

In the end, Murray Chass is an example of the BBWAA. Arrogant, narrow-minded, and shallow. Worse than any metric monster he can think of, Chass is convinced that he already knows everything he needs to and any new information is not worth his time. That's the basic problem with the old guard of the BBWAA. They have convinced themselves that the statistical analysis is hokum - a waste of time. Even Chass falls victim to the old standby that these NERDS are stuck inside on their computers crunching numbers all day.

It's fine for Chass to hate the way the game is headed. What is a concern is how Chass then holds his power as a member of BBWAA hostage when the game appears to not be up to his liking. The only good thing that can be said is that when the FireJoeMorgan guys were doing this, people like Chass dominated the landscape. Now, he's part of a vocal and increasingly petulant subsection that has to share the stage with the colleagues he seems to despise. The people who concurred with him are dropping each year either from retirement or enlightenment (or...let's face it...death).

So, I understand why Chass has been desperate to remain relevant and fight the good fight, however misguided. But instead of attacking those he doesn't understand and the analytical side of baseball that has progressed, it might behoove Chass to just give it up. Go to a game. Have a hot dog. And just let this whole BBWAA thing lapse and stop blogging. Just enjoy the human beings playing the game. Isn't that all he really wants anyway?

P.S. Not even touching that deranged ISIS comparison.

4 comments:

  1. Funny thing is, I just found out about my claim to fame this morning. I don't read Chass, even for entertainment purposes. I refuse to subject myself to such drivel. I just read the end of it when somebody on Twitter pointed it out to me.

    It's funny, though, because you're right. Chass didn't understand what I was saying at all all. I'm not jealous that I don't get to vote for awards or the Hall of Fame. It would be a tremendous honor, of course, but I just want the awards and the Hall of Fame to be decided by people who have actually bothered to gain an objective, modern understanding of the game of baseball, and who can tell the difference between fact and fiction.

    Chass cited my content as a strawman, and really, if what you cited from him is any indication, his blog post was full of strawmen.

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    1. I had never read Chass before yesterday and don't plan on doing so again. Really, it wouldn't have even registered for me until someone pointed out that he compared sabermetrics to ISIS. That piqued my interest enough to give it a read. The slightly infuriating nature of it prompted me to write my post.

      It'd be one thing if Chass simply felt he had no need to explain himself and voted however he saw fit. Those guys make up a large glut of the BBWAA. But - and apparently this is his shtick since the New York Times axed him - by attacking analytics so vehemently and almost always incoherently, it only shows Chass to be the worst kind of BBWAA member. He's convinced he has all the answers and anything that dares challenges him needs to be attacked.

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  2. Chass left his ballot blank for two reasons: to make a "statement" (though what that statement really is people can debate to find the truth) or, more likely, because he's a jerk who only wants 'his' guys in, like a kid collecting trading cards. I doubt anyone approves of his blank ballot, if he wanted to make a statement don't vote and say so. Arguments against steroids and biased derivative stats are fine, but beyond that he makes no sense (Guerrero, Raines, Schilling, Mussina, McGriff anyone?)

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  3. So you don't want to vote for steroid players? Fine, nothing wrong with that. No Bonds, Clemens, Rodriguez, Ramirez, Bagwell, Sosa, Sheffield. You don't want to vote for players who's argument is largely based on WAR et al? Fine, so no Walker I guess. You only want facts? That still leaves Guerrero, Raines, McGriff, Mussina, Schilling, Smith, Hoffman, Wagner, even Kent and Posada. Hard to argue Raines and Guerrero are underserving, you have to be picky to find fault with them. If I actually looked up stats I'd bet McGriff, Schilling, and Mussina would hold up. If you think that Rivera is deserving then Hoffman, Smith, and Wagner deserve in. Raines and Guerrero are true greats, easy to prove but it doesn't take much to see they are.

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