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Thread: Be fair before you criticize

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    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Be fair before you criticize

    The internet is a beautiful thing. No matter how much you know, or think you know about baseball, you can still learn a lot in places like RedsZone.

    And the very nature of baseball lends itself to argument and discussion. It's as old as baseball itself.

    I like to post this article every year. If you've already read it, sorry for the inconvienence. If not, I highly recommend it.

    It's written by Bill James, and speaks to the myriad of things that go on behind every decision, every move, every non-move that goes on in the business of baseball.



    Be fair before you criticize

    By Bill James
    Special to ESPN.com


    I have a question for you, and a proposition (keep your pants on, Andruw; it's not that kind of a proposition). The question is: What is a fair way to evaluate the management of your "own" team, the team that you root for? The proposition, which might seem for a moment to be unrelated, is that the world is infinitely complex, and therefore none of us really understands more than a sliver of all that happens.

    I have a friend who is a Royals fan. Now, when a writer says he has a friend, you should immediately be suspicious, as very often when a writer says "I have a friend who ... " his real object is to delude you into believing he is the kind of person who has friends. In this case, however, I really do have such a friend, and my purpose in using the phrase is somewhat different. I am keeping the friend's name a secret so I can misquote the things he has said to me in private conversations without giving him an excuse to sue me.

    Anyway, this friend is a Royals fan, but he absolutely seethes at the Royals management. Everything the Royals do, in his judgment, is done wrong. This is not uncommon ... there is a mind-set. It isn't just the Royals' management that this friend cannot see eye to eye with; he is hypercritical of the management of any and all teams for which he roots, whether their coaches are good, great, or kill their players by dehydration and heat stroke. And this mind-set, again, is not unusual; I actually have had many friends who ... OK, you caught me. I actually have known many people who had the same mind-set. The teams they rooted for were always mismanaged, in their eyes, no matter what kind of records those teams might have posted.

    We argue about the Royals quite a bit, this friend and I, and one thing he will say to me is, "Bill, how can you defend them when everything they do flies in the face of the things you have written and talked about for the last thirty years?"

    The Royals have chosen for many years to try to win as a low walk/low strikeout team, although I pointed out years ago that there basically aren't any winning teams in this group, or at least in the part of that group where the Royals hide. The Royals make a high-school pitcher their first-round draft pick pretty much every year, although I published research years ago which essentially proves, not to put too fine a point on it, that anyone who uses a first-round draft pick on a high-school pitcher is a moron.

    My friend's approach is to ask, "Do the Royals do what I would have done?" If they don't do what he would have done, then he is disappointed in their decisions. But what I have to ask myself is, "Am I the residue of all knowledge and wisdom about baseball? Must every team do everything the way I would do it? Or would it be possible for someone to ignore sabermetrics, and approach the problem of building a team in other ways?"

    Could you not have, for example, a manager who knew nothing about sabermetrics, but who was so good at identifying and sorting out young Dominican prospects that he could manage successfully anyway? Yes, of course you could; see Felipe Alou. Could you have, for example, a manager who knew nothing about sabermetrics, but who was so good at motivating players, by a combination of intimidation and opportunity, that his teams would play well anyway? Yes, of course you could; see Billy Martin. Could you not have a manager who knew nothing about sabermetrics, but who was so good at teaching and training players, so good at hiring coaches who could teach and train, so good at maintaining the focus of the organization, that he could manage successfully anyway? Of course you could; see Bobby Cox.

    There are many different ways to successfully run a team. I haven't dealt with strategy, creativity, pitching or common sense. If Royals management knew the things that I know, that would help. They don't -- but that isn't the test.

    Baseball organizations make thousands of decisions every year: A-level decisions, like "Who will be our manager?" and "Should we make a commitment to sign Johnny Damon?"; B-level decisions like "Who are we going to use as a leadoff man?" and "Who is going to be our first-round draft pick?"; and on down to Z-level decisions like "Should we use a pinch-runner here or a sacrifice bunt?" and "Is it time to move Tubby Poholsky up to Double-A?"

    It seems to me that if you begin reviewing all of those decisions by a standard of "Is this the way I would have done this?" then you launch into a process that is, by its nature, neither fair, nor logical, nor constructive. Why? Because it is impossible, by doing that, to form a comprehensive picture of what the organization has done. You cannot hold 7,000 decisions in your mind while you think them through, so what you inevitably begin to do is pick and choose those which serve to advance your prejudice.

    Four-and-a-half years ago, the Royals traded Michael Tucker to Atlanta for Jermaine Dye. For two years, people who were critical of the team focused heavily on that trade, and used it to bash the Royals management. But once Jermaine Dye turned the trade around, poof; it disappeared from the list. It wasn't something we talked about anymore. Now we accept Jermaine's presence on the team as a fact of life, and talk instead about the second Jermaine Dye trade, the one where we lost him to Oakland.

    Earlier this year, people who thought the Royals couldn't do anything right would ask why Raul Ibanez was on the team. But when Ibanez turns out to be perhaps the best fourth outfielder in the league, he disappears from the list; we don't talk about that decision anymore.

    When the Royals' bullpen was the worst in baseball, we talked a lot about that. Since it isn't such a problem anymore, it doesn't come up. The Royals do a magnificent job of maintaining and improving their stadium, but since it isn't a problem, it doesn't make the list. The Royals have a better-than-average radio production: good announcers, good distribution. Since it isn't a problem, it isn't on the list.

    I have long argued that on-base percentage is critical to a team's success. But much more fundamentally than that, I have always argued for evaluating players, and teams, and management, by methods that are comprehensive, fair, and logical, rather than arbitrary and prejudicial. The real problem with my friend's view of the Royals is that this process of selective decision review, in which he constantly engages, is arbitrary rather than comprehensive, and for that reason is a forum more amenable to prejudice than to logic.

    Look, there is no way to defend the Royals' management in 2001. I have no inside information, but Tony Muser is going to be fired at the conclusion of this season; we all know that he is, and the season is getting worse and worse as everybody is kind of sitting around waiting for Tony's time to be up. My friend will greet the firing gleefully, and will immediately begin to pick at Muser's successor. I will say goodbye to Tony, quietly, with sadness in my heart, while acknowledging frankly that it would have been better if this had happened some months ago.

    Glenn Dickey, I believe it was, wrote that Charles O. Finley's teams always had poor attendance, even when they were great, even though Finley was a clever and hard-working promoter, because Finley was incapable of psychologically "giving" the team to the fans. I eventually realized that he was exactly right.

    Finley wanted the world to see his teams as a testament to his genius. To force the world to see that connection, he had to re-assert his authority over the entire operation from minute to minute. If the only way he could make you see how much he was in charge was to fire the public-address announcer in the middle of an inning, the PA guy was history. Finley had to remind you every day that this was his team, Charles O. Finley's team, by God, and this made it very difficult for other people to adopt the team as their own.

    But just as Finley was incapable of psychologically "giving" the team to the fans, might it not be that there are some people who are incapable of accepting the gift? It's not "my" team in the sense that I have authority over them. They are my team in the sense that this is the team that I have been given to root for. I accept my wife's flaws and foibles, and I love her anyway, in the hope and expectation that she will accept mine. I accept my children for what they are; I accept my university and my state for what they are, and I love them. It seems to me to be healthier and more constructive to do the same with my baseball team -- even, and especially, when they are having a year like this.
    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    ~ Mark Twain

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    THAT'S A FACT JACK!! GAC's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    I read this before when you posted it. Excellent article.

    It should be a sticky!
    "panic" only comes from having real expectations

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    Churlish Johnny Footstool's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    I do remember this article, and every year it seems to be a little less plausible simply because he's using the Royals for his example. Anyone with opposable thumbs and a basic knowledge of math could run the Royals better than Allard Baird, so asking for compassion and empathy for him and his cronies is like asking someone to sympathize with Charlie Manson. If James had picked a team that could at least achieve mediocrity on a regular basis, his point would be better taken.
    "I prefer books and movies where the conflict isn't of the extreme cannibal apocalypse variety I guess." Redsfaithful

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    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    His point is the same with any team.

    The team is not the issue. It's how many moves that go on behind the scenes that he's trying to portray.
    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    ~ Mark Twain

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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    Quote Originally Posted by RFS62
    His point is the same with any team.

    The team is not the issue. It's how many moves that go on behind the scenes that he's trying to portray.
    Yep, the faulty logic is that move A is independant of any other decisions that are made that day, that week, that month and that year.

    It's all connected and that includes bad moves and good moves, but assuming that each move is a seperate entity in a world that affects nothing else on the team or during the season or the players career is one completely awash in a misunderstanding of business as well as baseball.

    And it happens here every minute of every day.

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    Be the ball Roy Tucker's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    It says on the back of the fan card I have in my wallet that I can make any irrational, knee-jerk, ill-considered baseball comment I want. It is my right as a baseball fan.

    What fun is there in being completely logical and fair? I don't see Mr. Spock getting voted MVP.


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    Matt's Dad RANDY IN INDY's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    Thanks for re-posting that article, RFS62.
    Talent is God Given: be humble.
    Fame is man given: be thankful.
    Conceit is self given: be careful.

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    Churlish Johnny Footstool's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    Quote Originally Posted by RFS62
    His point is the same with any team.

    The team is not the issue. It's how many moves that go on behind the scenes that he's trying to portray.
    I understand the point -- it's a universal phenomenon that all fans of all sports franchises are unjustifiably hypercritical of their favorite team's management.

    MY point is that when you use the Royals as your example, it makes a great deal of that criticism seem justified.
    "I prefer books and movies where the conflict isn't of the extreme cannibal apocalypse variety I guess." Redsfaithful

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    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny Footstool

    MY point is that when you use the Royals as your example, it makes a great deal of that criticism seem justified.

    Well, the article was Bill James admonishing Rob Neyer, both of them lifelong Royals fans and two giants of the baseball press.

    Soooo, I'm able to read the piece as allegorical in nature, and not necessarily take a literal interpretation.
    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    ~ Mark Twain

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    Pitching is the thing WVRedsFan's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    Great post, as usual.

    Like you say, fan criticism is at the heart of baseball, and sometimes it's deserved (cough...Dan O'Brien...cough). Sometimes it's a knee jerk reaction to a player we happen to like who isn't playing enough to please us. We sometimes don't stop and think these guys see the players everyday and maybe they know something we don't.

    Having said that, I don't trust Narron's judgement and I'm mystified at Krivsky's support, but once again, maybe I don't know everything.
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    Score Early, Score Often gonelong's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    I enjoy reading this every year. However, this year it seemed to strike a bit of a different chord to me. Obviously this is because I have changed over the years since the piece is the same each time I read it.

    But what I have to ask myself is, "Am I the residue of all knowledge and wisdom about baseball? Must every team do everything the way I would do it? Or would it be possible for someone to ignore sabermetrics, and approach the problem of building a team in other ways?"
    You don't often see teams that are doing things well getting bagged on for how they do things. You don't see ATL getting too much grief, other than being unable to win the big one. Generally they are regarded as a model franchise. When you are a shoddy orgainzation you will be questioned, repeatedly, and I think you should be.

    To me, the fans that are really out of control are the teams that contend every year and are unable to capture a championship (OSU, Michigan Football come to mind).

    What you see are the Royals getting bagged on because they have been awful at it for years, yet have failed to either hire the people to turn it around or change philosphies. Its frustrating as a fan to be able to check a few numbers and have a decent chance of figuring out how an acquistion is going to perform, often with better success than the club can ,without all the inside knowledge they possess.

    It seems to me that if you begin reviewing all of those decisions by a standard of "Is this the way I would have done this?" then you launch into a process that is, by its nature, neither fair, nor logical, nor constructive. Why? Because it is impossible, by doing that, to form a comprehensive picture of what the organization has done. You cannot hold 7,000 decisions in your mind while you think them through, so what you inevitably begin to do is pick and choose those which serve to advance your prejudice.
    This is a bit more interesting to me. If I can't hold 7,000 decisions in my mind, what does the ball-club do? I'd guess what they do is the same, they inevitably begin to pick and choose those examples which serve to advance their prejudice. They draft the same style of player year over year, etc.

    Look, there is no way to defend the Royals' management in 2001.
    Hmmm ... isn't that speaking out of both sides of the mouth? We can't possibly have enough information about the orgaization to critize their 7,000 decisions ... but we can state that "there is no way to defend the Royals' management in 2001"?

    It's not "my" team in the sense that I have authority over them. They are my team in the sense that this is the team that I have been given to root for. I accept my wife's flaws and foibles, and I love her anyway, in the hope and expectation that she will accept mine. I accept my children for what they are; I accept my university and my state for what they are, and I love them. It seems to me to be healthier and more constructive to do the same with my baseball team -- even, and especially, when they are having a year like this.
    I always get a kick out of people that seem to have the template for how things are supposed to be enjoyed. Not everyone enjoys things the same way, its why you have more than one flavor of ice cream.

    I won't sit back and accept my wife or children making what I believe to be incredibly bad decisions. I'll call out my university and state for the same.

    I enjoy every season. Even when I strongly suspect the team will not be contending for a post season birth I am enjoying the progress of the players through the minor league system, enjoying those players that are getting their first shot at the show, the growth and emotion of the younger MLB players, the way the veterans carry themselves, and the spectacular plays from game to game. The season as a whole is enjoyable to me every year, even if a game or two really gets my undies in a bunch from time to time.

    GL

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    Member Spitball's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    Great article, 62. I don't know how I missed it before, but it is very interesting.

    I admire Bill James. He has great knowledge of the statistical science of baseball, and yet he always seems to have an acceptance and understanding of other factors. I think this quote is an interesting analysis of why the great Oakland teams were never accepted by the fans:

    Finley wanted the world to see his teams as a testament to his genius.
    I find James admirable because he has avoided this same kind of arrogant trapping. He is a smart man.
    "I am your child from the future. I'm sorry I didn't tell you this earlier." - Dylan Easton

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    Big Red Machine RedsBaron's Avatar
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    One of the many things I like about Bill James is his willingness on ocassion to admit that he doesn't know everything and that he can be wrong. Several years ago I was reading one of his articles wherein he noted that he had earlier written that baseball's HR explosion was caused solely by the newer ballparks; James then added that he "didn't know what the [heck] I was talking about."
    In the article RFS posted, James could have named Sparky Anderson as another manager who knew nothing about sabermetrics and yet was successful. Mind you, Sparky probably would have been even more successful had he understood sabermetrics, but he was successful just the same.
    "Hey...Dad. Wanna Have A Catch?" Kevin Costner in "Field Of Dreams."

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    Haunted by walks
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    I think that after years of calling out various organizations for their poorly thought out decisions, James took a moment to call out the fan who is actually more of an anti-fan. This fan's whole energy is negative toward his chosen team. It's as if he's only happy being miserable, or he finds some feeling of superiority in running down his bums.

    The other point James makes about the fans' ownership of the team is an interesting one. There are times when the fans want to change the direction of the team, but all they have to speak with is a blunt instrument. You get the firemikebrown.com kind of thing. When fans protested Lindner's penny-pinching ways, you got 40,000 people chanting for Larkin, which might not have been the best baseball decision. But it was probably growing fan dissatisfaction that forced the move from Lindner to Castellini.

    Very few baseball organizations intend to fail, not even the Royals, but many suffer from malaise, low expectations, pennywise pound foolish thinking, and it's up to the fans to raise the standards and demand more.

    The fan who is always looking for a new bum to deride isn't part of that, though.

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    "So Fla Red"
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    Re: Be fair before you criticize

    Quote Originally Posted by gonelong
    I enjoy reading this every year. However, this year it seemed to strike a bit of a different chord to me. Obviously this is because I have changed over the years since the piece is the same each time I read it.

    To me, the fans that are really out of control are the teams that contend every year and are unable to capture a championship (OSU, Michigan Football come to mind).

    GL
    OSU? The 2002 Miami Hurricanes and Kellon Winslow Jr. say hi


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