More On Detente

This is written largely in response to letsgocyclones' excellent post on the intransigence of the mainstream media regarding the Mets' insane misuse of Jenrry Mejia. The post raises certain issues that occasion a bit of further reflection.

The most crucial aspect of this face-off, in my opinion, is that this is an issue where all logic and reason fall onto one side. If you believe this to be an arrogant posture, consider Kevin Burkhardt's retort, posted in response to the thoughtful analysis of AA's inimitable Sam Page: "I want the Mets to win now, not in three years; that's the way I feel". The opposition, in consistently resorting to these explicitly emotive, unargued (not underargued--unargued) and defensive arguments in effect concedes my point that all evidence and reason are on the side of allowing Mejia to develop as a starter.

This brings me prematurely to my response to the question concluding letsgocyclones' piece:  "Come on," you might be thinking, "we're not asking you to be on-air baseball scientists!  We understand that you have a job to do. We just not to say things that are reprehensibly stupid and obviously so. There is no mathematical exactitude or specialized knowledge necessary to understand why it is a bad idea to groom Jenrry Mejia as a reliever (and while this is not the explicit course Manuel is pursuing, it is in practical terms what is objectively happening). All it requires is the kind of simple capacity for delayed gratification and risk vs. reward calculation that we make in our everyday lives when we--for example--forgo a decent meal because we are running behind schedule and stopping to eat would put our prompt arrival at too great a risk. Anyone who has the ability to follow this chain of reasoning can understand why it is a terrible idea to mess with Mejia's development for the sake of adding one or two wins at absolute maximum to what is almost certain to be a decidedly mediocre season.

Similarly, letsgocyclones' sympathy for the predicament of the major media is, in my view, misplaced. No one is saying that major media outlets should assault the casual sports fan with a barrage of unintelligible acronyms or academic statistical analysis. But incorporating the information yielded by the new stats does not require any such thing.  In fact, the new statistics and the avenues of discourse that they open do not hinder the gasbag "debates" that are contrived to generate ratings, but rather open them up and conform them to reality. Gary Cohen for all practical purposes flatly stated in June of 2009 that David Wright's batting average was fueled by an unfathomably lucky BABIP and was unsustainable, particularly given his strikeout rate. Understanding the concept of an average of all balls put in play requires no more mathematical skill than understanding a batting average, and yet this simple observation could have been fodder for a thousand hours of pointless talk-radio puffery. 

Or consider the comparison between Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. The factual certainty of Utley's superiority to Howard could easily be concealed by a wily media operator looking to manufacture a non-existent controversy. Such a provocateur need only bring up that Utley is a great defensive 2nd baseman, while Howard is a poor (mediocre in 2009) first baseman, and that Utley wastes Howard in OBP to the tune of about 50 points a year, and let the moot points roll. What is not cool is allowing a false impression (that Howard is superior to Utley) to dominate the media apparatus and laugh those who challenge it off the air, which they would undoubtedly do. There are scores of concepts addressed by the new thinking on baseball that could each kill hundreds of hours of air time and educate the fan base in the process. The media's reluctance to do this cannot be explained by appeals to the demands of their profession. What then might explain it?

The world of sports media is a small, cliqueish, and tribal one, where personalities are constantly recycled from program to program and station to station and where the players (by whom I mean metaphorical players in the media, not to be confused with actual former players who form a depressingly large subset of the aforementioned group) are very much aware that they are riding a gravy train wherein they receive handsome compensation for doing little but shoot the breeze with their compatriots.  They are also aware that their cover of expertise is an even more laughable ruse here than it is in the soft sciences and other fields where dubious and ill-founded agendas get pushed under the guise of expert consensus. It should thus come as no surprise that such a group would respond to any challenge by hunkering down and deriding skeptics.  In this insulated world where everybody knows everybody else, the bloggers are perceived as outsiders; and no matter how testy things might get between Adam Rubin and Omar Minaya, a shot fired against one of the club by someone not in the club is a shot fired against all, for it is a threat to the stability and predictability of the order of things.  If Dave Cameron or Sky Kaulkman get enough exposure, it might curb the market for hot air, so that John Kruk or Steve Phillips might not land immediately with MLB or TBS once they part ways with ESPN. The direct motives may not be such calculated self-interest,  but the tribal instinct is sufficient for that purpose, and probably evolved along those lines. 

The result of all this is that one sees a hidebound conformity that is more extreme than that which you would see in the absence of a perceived threat.  Under peacetime conditions, you would not see media functionaries seriously entertaining notions of Kate Hudson giving Alex Rodriguez clutch ability or pushing mindless memes about the Mets lacking "grit" that drag on for weeks and that, on the whole, probably bore and alienate viewers.  Had the writers of Sports Illustrated been major players in the recent baseball innovations, there would be far less hostility to them in the big media than there is now.  You would still see impassioned defenses of positions long since falsified, but you would not see the irascible defenses of ignorance for its own sake that have become the new normal for sports media.  You would not see attacks on knowledge qua knowledge, and you would see far less in the way of zealous guardianship of flagrantly and self-evidently stupid ideas.  Grit used to be a sentimental fairy tale that sportswriters would conjure on slow news days.  Today, it's the banner upon which the media's guardians of ignorance invest their very identities.  It is their rallying cry in the face of the sabermetric offensive.  It's their secret handshake that distinguishes the good guys from the bad guys.  It is no accident that we have seen an explosion in Grission memes.

And this opposition is only reinforced by the utter routing of the elite commentariat in the market of ideas.  The Grits McHeartnsoul old school commentariat offers a diet of tripe and boulderdash that may coax a complacent and uninformed audience kept unaware of real alternatives, but real analysis, if it were allowed serious airplay, would expose the racket. It might usher forth an environment where people demand sense and substance from sportswriters, and if my name were Bob Klapisch or Chris Carlin, there is nothing I would like less. So they do the only thing that such mediocre and talentless people are capable of doing. They obscure; they demagogue; they caterwaul; they misinform.

The line it is drawn; the curse it is cast.

Simply put, baseball operates in a high-stakes marketplace, and the absence of market competition is offset by the presence of actual baseball competition. Look at Jack Z and Tom Tango of the Mariners, Theo Epstein and Bill James of the Red Sox, Andrew Friedman of the Rays, and a host of other savvy GMs who understand the value of the New Thing in baseball. Now look at Dayton Moore, Ed Wade, and Omar Minaya. Then take a look at the company that Ed, Dayton Moore, and Omar are certain to find, hopefully sooner rather than later: Bill Bavasi, J. P. Ricciardi, Jim Bowden, et al. The actual argument is over.  The folly of Omar Minaya has to come to a head at some point, and the idiocy of the Loudmouths style of commentary will attract the notice not just of stats-savvy fans, but of all intelligent fans.  And what happens then?

Throughout the twentieth century, there has existed a trend of cognitive segregation, where the more and less intelligent are less and less likely to interact in their personal or cultural lives. The invention of the internet has accelerated the process. SNY's non-game programming seems explicitly designed to weed out the intelligent and only appeal to the dumbest of the dumb (Loudmouths, Daily News Live, anything with Joe Benigno).  Meanwhile, the New Thing dominates the internet and is seeping through to the New York Times and Sports Illustrated.  What is happening here is that the "mainstream" is in the process of conceding the reading (read: thinking) audience, and is in all bit its rhetoric shifting from producing actual mainstream content accessible to laymen to serving up prolefeed,  The center has broken folks. WFAN has probably been hemorrhaging triple-digit IQs for years; I doubt SNY ever sought them in the first place. Their arguments, hosts, and programming are dumb because they are deliberately courting the dumb. Sports itself however, has too universal an appeal, rooted in the primal instinct of survival and competition, for any demographic to secede completely. (The Mets, however, are another matter.)

Which is why we owe the likes of Eric Simon, Sam Page, and James K our sincerest gratitude.

This FanPost was contributed by a member of the community and was not subject to any vetting or approval process. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions, reasoning skills, or attention to grammar and usage rules held by the editors of this site.

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