Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Meanderings are what you get when I either have no coherent ideas for a post or a number of things I want to write about that are all insufficient to fill out a full post. Other times, like this time, it's just a collection of junk thrown together.

* The recent deaths of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson within a few days of each other revived one of my least favorite memes--people dying in threes. I realize that very few people, if anyone, actually takes this sort of thing seriously, and really thinks that if two celebrities die today that movie studios should be contacting their insurance companies. Still, it is a perfect example of how multiple endpoints and loose definitions can lead to some awfully silly things being said.

The endpoints are wide open, as this adage never defines what the period is in which the three deaths should occur. Obviously, if you wait long enough, you will be able to group at least six billion people together in death. Practically, though, it leaves it open until the third person you need to form your group dies. Had Michael Jackson died three days later than he did, he still could have been in the group. If he was still alive and well, then people could have reached back in time for David Carradine, or waited around for Steve McNair and Robert McNamara. No matter.

The loose definition of such groups is also apparent. That they are reasonably well-known is the only qualification. Certainly Michael Jackson's fame outshined the other two, but they are in the group all the same. There was no need to wait around for two other people of Jackson's notoriety. If time had gone by and no one else of note had died, I'm sure somewhat would have dug through the obituaries and found a lesser-known individual to include in the group.

* Speaking of silliness, how about ESPN's 20 Year All-Star team, covering the twenty years that ESPN has been broadcasting MLB games? They have been showing the nominees for various positions during the Monday and/or Wednesday night games, opening up an internet poll throughout the week, and then announcing the winners on Sunday Night Baseball.

Obviously any time you let internet voting occur without any sort of screening or restrictions, you are bound to get some silly results (remember the pitiful All-Century Team that didn't include Hans Wagner among others?) So it's not worth criticizing the selections themselves, and it would be hard to do so anyway because they are the result of a disparate group of individual choices.

However, the whole exercise illustrates why I don't like this kind of exercise when the time period is restricted arbitrarily (obviously ESPN had its reasons for using twenty years, but it has no particular baseball significance). The selection of Nolan Ryan as top right-handed pitcher is illustrative of one of the biggies. Leaving aside the fact that Ryan has been lionized and overrated by many ordinary fans, with his strikeout and no-hit feats overshadowing the more mundane aspects of the game like preventing runs and winning games, and accepting for the sake of argument that Ryan is one of the five or ten greatest pitchers of all time, it is patently absurd to suggest that he is the best right-handed pitcher of the last twenty years, given that he only pitched in four of them...

...Unless you look at it from the perspective of "best to play in this period, period". Since Ryan played in the twenty-year period, he's eligible, and he's a reasonable choice within the bounds of this idiosyncratic viewpoint (remember, above we agreed to accept the premise that Nolan Ryan was one of the very greatest pitchers in history). I don't think this is what most people have in mind when they look at a question like this--do you want to put Cal Ripken or Tony Gwynn on an all-00s team?

There's the middle ground, which would be something like "I'll consider someone if they played a significant amount in the period, whether or not they actually have a case to being the best in that period." From this perspective, you could justify a vote for Cal Ripken on the 20-year team, because he was played in roughly half of the seasons and was still productive in most of them.

And then there's the literalist definition of twenty years, in which only performance within the period is taken into consideration, and thus it is getting dicey when you argue for Nolan Ryan over Dan Haren, let alone Greg Maddux or Mike Mussina. While most people will gravitate towards one of the latter two definitions, these types of exercise usually leave it open-ended, and the results are as much a question of how you approach the exercise as they are a judgment on any of the players involved.

There will be a rash of this stuff coming up near the end of the season and over the winter as the decade ends (Or does it? Even that is not so easy to define). I'll be over here with my fingers in my ear, yelling "STOP!" in vain, thank you very much.

* I love the MLB Network, and think it knocks ESPN's socks off in every aspect of broadcasting, analysis, game coverage, ...except one. Statistics.

The stats displayed on-screen on MLB Network, either during games or on MLB Tonight, are pathetic. I think the standard line for starting pitchers is W-L, ERA, K, and W. That's not so bad except for the omission of innings, which are sorely needed to contextualize the last three categories.

For hitters, though, you get BA, HR, R, and RBI. No plate appearances (or even at-bats). No OBA or SLG. They do display the OBA, SLG, and OPS leaders sometimes on MLB Tonight, but that's about it.

ESPN is running circles around them in this department. The standard batter line when watching a game on ESPN is BA/HR/RBI/OPS, with OBA, SLG, and OPS in tiny print at the top of the screen (at least until the at-bat starts and they are replaced by the always captivating "after x-y count" stats).

* You always see the barb that "you don't watch the games" directed at sabermetricians, and this is often coupled with the "living in your parents' basement" type of stereotype that adds up to nothing more than "sabermetricians are losers". You know, socially maladjusted folks who think girls have cooties and stand in the corner at any sort of social gathering they are roped into attending.

Obviously this argument is not even worth attempting to refute. However, the implicit assumption is kind of funny--that watching a large amount of baseball games makes one cool. After all, this argument is usually advanced by fans, not baseball professionals who are paid to watch and attend games. To the public at large, people who watch a lot of baseball games are probably not considered to be at the top of the social hipness scale. So the whole "watching games" argument (even if one was to accept the premise that sabermetricians don't watch games) really boils down to the Star Trek fans telling the Star Wars fans that they are losers.

* I am embarrassed to say that I was unaware that Steve Phillips attended the University of Michigan. Suddenly, it all makes sense.


  1. Not to be nitpicky (even though I guess this is), you could have added Karl Malden.

  2. I may be showing my age or my ignorance of the film industry, but I had to google him when I read your comment.


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