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Thread: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

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    He has the Evil Eye! flyer85's Avatar
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    Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    almost everyone else on the planet can see that Matthews is a horrible signing but these supposed "baseball people" are oblivious to it. Maybe they think wishing it so will make it true.

    first hand evidence from BP

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    The early signing season has cut the knees out from under some column ideas. For example, I’ve been wanting to follow up the piece on stealth free agents with one on some guys I wouldn’t sign with my worst enemy’s money. Then the Angels—not my worst enemy, at least not since I got over the 2002 Division Series—go ahead and give the top name on my list, Gary Matthews Jr., a five-year deal for $50 million.

    This contract may be the most perfect example ever of a bad free-agent contract. It’s a ton of money for and a long commitment to a player with a vanishingly small track record of success. Eight months ago, the idea that Gary Matthews Jr. might command a five-year contract would have been laughable. It’s no less so today, but here we are. We’re here because baseball teams remain incapable of distinguishing between the best four months of a player’s life and a sudden change in ability at 31 years old, despite the fact that the latter is as rare as a bad “How I Met Your Mother” scene.

    Prior to 2006, Matthews had established himself as a decent fourth outfielder, a player with some speed, some power, a reasonable walk rate and a propensity for striking out. He was a classic tweener, with a bat good enough to be a contributor in center field, but a glove that was only an asset on the outfield corners. In 2006, he was essentially the same player, with three key differences:

    1. He had a spike in his batting average on balls in play, leading to a career-high singles rate and a career-high batting average;

    2. In part due to 1), he got 620 at-bats;

    3. He made a great, home-run-stealing catch.

    Matthews’ high BA got him playing time that ratcheted up his counting stats, and The Catch gave him a reputation as a great defensive center fielder. Add water, boil, and you make $50 million. How is is possible for people to hate America?

    The problem, of course, is that Matthews is the same player he was a year ago, a toolsy fourth outfielder who isn’t going to hit enough to carry a corner or field enough to play center. Clay Davenport’s numbers put Matthews at eight runs below average last year in center, and both Chris Dial’s and John Dewan’s zone-based metrics are in line with that assessment. Put simply: Matthews wasn’t a center fielder at 31, and thinking he’s going to be one through age 36 is just a huge mistake. Paying him $50 million based on that idea is even worse.

    Matthews is the latest in a long line of players who have had the best few months of their lives at the right time and gone on to become wealthy busts. It was a different era, but Matthews is essentially an update on Jeffrey Hammonds, a very comparable player—toolsy failed prospect—who had a big year at 29, altitude-aided no less. The Brewers signed him to a ill-conceived three-year, $21-million contract after that, and got 660 at-bats and 16 homers from him. Total. We see this kind of deal all the time, where a player’s peak is mistaken for a new level, and the result is almost always the same: the player regresses to his established level and disappoints his new team.

    The frustrating thing is that it should be obvious that Matthews is the same player he was a year ago. It’s not like he added power or dramatically changed his plate discipline or got faster or suddenly became a Gold Glove outfielder. All he did is have a few more hits fall in and get additional playing time because of it. His isolated power has been constant for three years and his walk rate is actually slipping over that period, as are his defensive numbers. There’s probably more evidence that he’s declining than that he’s improving.

    Despite all of that, the Angels are full of talk about how, at 31, Matthews suddenly improved his game. Bill Stoneman was quoted by AP: “Guys learn at different times in their careers. Gary’s coming into his own.” Mike Scioscia, same source: “He plays center field on a Gold Glove level. I think his experience has helped him to understand this league and understand his talent. He can lead off or hit in the middle of the lineup.”

    This isn’t just happy talk at a press conference. These are the guys who decided to pay Matthews $10 million a year. These are the professionals, folks.

    I honestly didn’t think the Angels could follow up the last deal they reached with an overrated center fielder—the Darin Erstad contract—with a worse one, but here we are. I’m the last guy to praise Erstad, but the Angels would be much better off with him roaming center field on a one-year deal or something similar than they will be with this commitment to Matthews. At least Erstad is a plus defender.

    So as you might guess, Matthews was the lead man on my list of free agents I wouldn’t touch. Another one, Carlos Lee, signed a six-year, $100-million contract with the Astros. For the life of me, I don’t get the fascination with Lee, a poor defensive left fielder with a bad body who’s past his peak and who was never that good during it.

    OK, that’s a little hyperbolic. My objection to Lee isn’t that he’s a bad player—he’s much better than Matthews, for instance—but that he’s not one of the best hitters in the game and he never has been. He was 44th in MLB in Marginal Lineup Value in 2006 (min: 300 PA), 92nd in 2005, 36th in 2004. He’s very durable, which has led to excellent counting stats and, now, a heck of a lot of money, but he’s not a great player, he’s not an impact hitter. Add in that he’s put on a lot of weight and he’s signed from 31-36, and the chances are that his playing time will take a hit. Lee is being paid like a superstar when he’s never been one, and any loss in performance or durability is going to expose this contract as a terrible one. With no baserunning or defensive value to speak of, Lee has to be worth $17 million a year with the bat. Even in a park that caters to his skill set, I doubt he’ll reach that mark more than once during the deal.

    The contract made little sense for the Astros, who after this signing still have OBP sinks at four lineup spots and a starting rotation consisting of Roy Oswalt and David Carr. Left fielders who can hit for power and not play any defense are a dime a dozen; consider that the Indians added David Dellucci for nearly $90 million less than the Astros will pay for Lee, and they will get a decent approximation of Lee’s output by platooning Dellucci and Jason Michaels, with much better defense. The Astros will struggles to score runs next year even with Lee, because no team can carry Brad Ausmus, Craig Biggio, Willy Taveras and Adam Everett and have a credible offense.

    Matthews and Lee topped the no-sign list. The others on it include:

    Jeff Suppan: I list him here with this caveat: if you have a great defensive team, you can roll the dice on him. Suppan has been a credible six-inning guy the past three years with the Cardinals because the Cards suck up balls in play like…oh, man, I’m not going to finish that thought. His peripherals have been fairly consistent; his translated strikeout and walk rates are basically the same across the three seasons, and he’s actually gotten better about the long ball. However, when you strike out less than a man every two innings and you don’t have incredibly low walk and/or home-run rates, you need help. Suppan rides a knife edge, and without the support of a top-tier defense, he’d see his ERA jump by a run overnight.

    Jay Payton: Think Matthews, but without the hype. Payton isn’t a plus center fielder any longer, and without that, he’s just another guy. He’s coming off a .296 batting average, despite which he still only had a .325 OBP and a .418 SLG. He walks less than once a week, but he makes silly baseball plays a bit more often than that.

    Take the following with a grain of salt. Late last season, I was watching the A’s and Angels play, and Payton grounded into a double play. Here’s the e-mail I sent out after seeing the action:

    1) Payton takes a ball, the last pitch he takes in the at-bat. (In case you missed it, Ervin Santana has JUST WALKED BACK-TO-BACK BATTERS.) He then fouls off the 1-0 and the 1-1.

    2) On the 1-2, he takes a lame swing and hits a double-play grounder to short. A great slide by Nick Swisher induces a weak throw by Kennedy, soft and offline, but Payton--theoretically fast--isn't anywhere in position to take advantage. He makes a token dodge, and is doubled off. A replay from behind the plate shows him going into a jog 30 feet down the line.

    3) DP completed, Payton takes off his helmet and starts to toss it into the dugout. He thought the inning was over, but this not being co-ed kickball, there was one more to go.

    So in one play, Jay Payton showed poor decisionmaking at the plate, a lack of hustle, and cluelessness as to game situation.

    Far too much information? Perhaps, but players get reputations based on nothing. This is three "dumb baseball" moments in 45 seconds, where any halfway-decent student of the game could tell you that the player was hurting the team.

    Jay Payton's a millionaire, by the way.

    What I found interesting was what followed: a string of e-mails from other BPers describing similar incidents involving Payton. I can’t say I’ve watched his career carefully, but a half-dozen people responded with their own impressions of bonehead plays Payton had made over the years. So in addition to a mediocre statistical record, Payton doesn’t appear to be adding a whole lot of value that’s not showing up in his stat line. Pass.

    Pedro Feliz: Think Carlos Lee, but without that pesky .300 BA. Feliz is probably my least favorite player in the game, a hacktastic right-handed batter who never met a slider he wouldn’t swing and miss at and who is always a threat to go through a season with more double plays than walks. His career-high OBP is .305. However, he’s become a “consistent” 20-homer, 80-RBI guy, he nearly had 100 ribbies in 2006, and he’s missed just nine games the past two years. With a number of teams looking to fill holes at third base, and the market simply having gone nuts, there seems to be a good chance that Feliz will get a significant contract. Pray it’s not from your team.

    Feliz’s teammate-for-a-spell Shea Hillenbrand fits almost all of the above, and is also a player who I wouldn’t want any part of. The era of Pat Tabler ended 20 years ago, and corner infielders have to do more than hit for an empty batting average to play these days.

    Ray Durham: Six of the nine Giants’ starters last season are free agents, and the only one worth bringing back is Barry Bonds. (Well, Moises Alou, too, given that he signed the best contract of the offseason.) Durham has the potential to be a huge mistake for some team. Not only did he have a fluky power spike in his walk year, but he’s completely lost the ability to be a major-league second baseman. I might take a gamble on him on a very short deal, but he’s going to cost you a win in the field, which means that if he loses that power, he’s unliklely to be better than average overall.

    I will say this: I hated the free-agent contract Durham signed in 2003, and while he wasn’t durable and lost all his defensive value over the course of it, he didn’t decline at the plate at all. In fact, he had two of the three highest EqAs of his career for the Giants, and was never below .274 in the four years of the deal. Signing Durham was one of the best decisions Brian Sabean has ever made.

    --

    Last Wednesday’s piece made frequent references to the “BBRAA.” That wasn’t a typo. The organization of professionals who cover baseball games and lay claim to the voting process for the major awards and the Hall of Fame is, to me, the Baseball Reporters Association of America. That’s not to denigrate what those people do; it’s to better describe it. The organization has made it clear that it exists as an advocacy group for the people who cover baseball games on a daily basis for print publications.

    My argument is simply that they don’t get to co-opt the term “writer,” not in this era, not when they actively exclude talents like Rob Neyer and Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl and Alex Belth and so many other people who cover baseball by means other than traveling with teams and relaying quotes to the public.

    I don’t think I’m on unsteady ground here, and I hope that my renaming of the organization serves only to point out that the definition of “baseball writer” can be as expansive as you want it to be. Limiting that term to a subset of people who write about baseball does a disservice to those on both sides of the line.
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  3. #2
    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    I get the distinct impression that GMs have so much crap on their plates that they lose the forest for the trees sometimes -- especially teams that don't have a distinct organizational philosophy like the Braves and A's do.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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    Churlish Johnny Footstool's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    Matthews Jr's reputation as a good fielder is a prime example why baseball needs good fielding metrics.

    Of course, most "baseball men" would ignore those metrics and base their opinion on a SportCenter highlight reel...
    "I prefer books and movies where the conflict isn't of the extreme cannibal apocalypse variety I guess." Redsfaithful

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    Member Redny's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    After checking this thread out because of the title I saw this on Rotoworld:

    Back and forth. "We like Royce Clayton. We like a lot of guys," Ricciardi said. "We're going to address that in the next few days." Ricciardi indicated yesterday that Adam Kennedy was getting more money than the Jays were willing to pay, which seems ridiculous after he signed for just $10 million over three years. If the Jays really sign Clayton to play shortstop, they'll be taking a huge step in the wrong direction.

    Hows that for not really very smart.

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    GR8NESS WMR's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    Quote Originally Posted by Redny View Post
    After checking this thread out because of the title I saw this on Rotoworld:

    Back and forth. "We like Royce Clayton. We like a lot of guys," Ricciardi said. "We're going to address that in the next few days." Ricciardi indicated yesterday that Adam Kennedy was getting more money than the Jays were willing to pay, which seems ridiculous after he signed for just $10 million over three years. If the Jays really sign Clayton to play shortstop, they'll be taking a huge step in the wrong direction.

    Hows that for not really very smart.
    Or maybe downright stupid???

    As much cash as they're throwing around, and they're going to consider going with Royce Clayton at the most or 2nd most important fielding position???
    Last edited by WMR; 11-29-2006 at 04:58 PM.
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    Bread Gloves Razor Shines's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    What are you guys talking about? I thought that Matthews robbed like two or three homers a game. This year he's going to do a double toe, triple loop at least once a week. If that's not worth 50 mil. I defy you to tell me what is.

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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    I think a lot are dumb...here are my reasons:

    They operate on names: like Royce Clayton is a good fielder (he was), people think Griffey Jr. is still the best hitter on the Reds, or that he is still a good CF'er (finally lost steam this year), Rick White.

    They like people with experience: like QMac and Tony Womack. Just bc someone has won, doesn't mean they help their team win.

    They don't back up their reasoning: with the exception of guys like Theo and B Beane, GM's use scout talk to explain why someone is good when the numbers don't back it up. Theo will say, "we got him bc his obp is .390 and he knows how to take pitches, it's proved in his P/AB." 'Old school' GM's say, "we like his approach, he gives a professional AB and he is versatile." This has been said about Rich Aurilia all too often, that he gives professional AB's, when in reality, he consistantly ranked at the bottom of the team for pitches per AB, and couldn't take a walk (but everyone has their own definition of professional AB, mine is not swinging at the first close pitch (that includes Sean Casey)).

    People offer contracts to Juan Pierre for 10 mil a year. HAHA, that needs no explanation, and I don't care how inflated the market is, I would hope that that deal never would happen 10 years from now when middle relievers are getting that type of money.

    The O's signed Sammy Sosa to a ridiculous contract despite him having an awful finish in Chicago. That one hurt them big time. About $450,000 per RBI two years ago...ouch.

    The list goes on and on, but I think one major problem IMO are teams still leaning on "old-school" scouts for Major Leaguer info. Every breath a ML'er takes is recorded by a stat, but by no means am I saying visual scouting isn't important (for that is part of my career choice), but they say things like "good insincts...reads the ball well..." Those things were said about Griffey a couple of years ago to defend him playing in CF, when, even if he has those things, his legs are shot and he still couldn't get to half the balls even if he started moving towards them before the pitch.

    Overall, I think the new era of GM's will soon take over, and guys like DanO, Jim Hendry, and other "baseball guys" will fall to the "numbers guys" or the "hybrids" (like myself).

    Just my humble opinion.

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    Member Cedric's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    Quote Originally Posted by AvesIce51 View Post
    I think a lot are dumb...here are my reasons:

    They operate on names: like Royce Clayton is a good fielder (he was), people think Griffey Jr. is still the best hitter on the Reds, or that he is still a good CF'er (finally lost steam this year), Rick White.

    They like people with experience: like QMac and Tony Womack. Just bc someone has won, doesn't mean they help their team win.

    They don't back up their reasoning: with the exception of guys like Theo and B Beane, GM's use scout talk to explain why someone is good when the numbers don't back it up. Theo will say, "we got him bc his obp is .390 and he knows how to take pitches, it's proved in his P/AB." 'Old school' GM's say, "we like his approach, he gives a professional AB and he is versatile." This has been said about Rich Aurilia all too often, that he gives professional AB's, when in reality, he consistantly ranked at the bottom of the team for pitches per AB, and couldn't take a walk (but everyone has their own definition of professional AB, mine is not swinging at the first close pitch (that includes Sean Casey)).

    People offer contracts to Juan Pierre for 10 mil a year. HAHA, that needs no explanation, and I don't care how inflated the market is, I would hope that that deal never would happen 10 years from now when middle relievers are getting that type of money.

    The O's signed Sammy Sosa to a ridiculous contract despite him having an awful finish in Chicago. That one hurt them big time. About $450,000 per RBI two years ago...ouch.

    The list goes on and on, but I think one major problem IMO are teams still leaning on "old-school" scouts for Major Leaguer info. Every breath a ML'er takes is recorded by a stat, but by no means am I saying visual scouting isn't important (for that is part of my career choice), but they say things like "good insincts...reads the ball well..." Those things were said about Griffey a couple of years ago to defend him playing in CF, when, even if he has those things, his legs are shot and he still couldn't get to half the balls even if he started moving towards them before the pitch.

    Overall, I think the new era of GM's will soon take over, and guys like DanO, Jim Hendry, and other "baseball guys" will fall to the "numbers guys" or the "hybrids" (like myself).

    Just my humble opinion.
    Billy Beane is great because he's got no box. Theo Epstein? Ugh.

    I'd like to set up a poll and see what other Redszoners think about every gm in the game. What category they would fall under. I think the "hybrid" would get more votes than you think. Off the top of my head I would list Jocketty, Ryan, Krivsky as hybrids. There are plenty more I think.

    Each side has their own ingrained biases and all GM's will make stupid moves based on those biases. Just the good one's limit those mistakes and learn from them.
    This is the time. The real Reds organization is back.

  10. #9
    1st pick 2022 B.B. draft George Foster's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    I judge a GM on how he manages the money he has to spend. Cashman is not a real GM, he plays fantasy baseball, no real budget. That's why in my opinion Bean is head and shoulders above anyone else. He runs a great farm system and has limited resources and consistantly puts a good product out on the field. If he had an extra 20 million a year to work with, he would win circles around the Red Sox and Yankees. He is the best right now, bar none.
    Not this year...maybe a Wild Card

  11. #10
    nothing more than a fan Always Red's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    Ricciardi just signed Clayton for 1.5 million, thus defining himself.

  12. #11
    Joe Oliver love-child Blimpie's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    The Matthews signing still confounds me more than does the Lee signing. Wasn't Matthews given his outright release by his team as recently as 2003? Wasn't he sent down to the minors as recently as 2004? There is absolutely nothing he has done to indicate 2006 was anything other than a career year.

    Perhaps that was a different Gary Matthews, Jr. I am thinking about???
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    BobC, get a legit F.O.! Mario-Rijo's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    Cashman is not a real GM, he plays fantasy baseball, no real budget
    I disagree a bit here. I don't believe Cashman had been given the authority to run the ship the way he saw fit until only recently. I have noticed that he has passed on a lot of bad contracts over the past season or so and his assets have went up and his payroll down. Steinbrenner was running that show up until approximately '06.

    I am not saying he is a genuis by any means I just dont know that we have seen enough of his true work to distinguish that point just yet. But by not being a Yankee fan I am disheartened to see that he seems to be making good decisions.

    The interesting thing about Beane is that his teams seem to always put together a nice season. But they do not play well in postseason play for some strange reason. My gut says that he is TOO reliant on statistics and doesn't appreciate enough other aspects of the game. But he could always learn.

    I guess what I think about that, is sometimes those guys you don't expect to make the one play that determines you winning or losing a game, series or entire postseason isn't always the greatest statistical player. He is Joe Oliver, Billy Bates, Mazeroski.

    He isn't always Joe Carter or Kirby Puckett.
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  14. #13
    2009: Fail Ltlabner's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    Any random sampling of people will turn up some smart and not-so-smart people in a given group. Same holds true for GM's the good ones find success and the bad ones end up in KC, Pittsburg or the scrap heap.

    As far as embraceing stats more deeply, I think it's only human nature to resist change and rely on the skills that got you to where you are. If you've been successfull in baseball, being a "baseball guy" your whole life, it's not natural to wake up one day and say "I think I'll radically change the way I think."

    Time also plays a factor. WOY posted a story once that detailed the length of time it took for major changes to take place in the game....years and years. Desktop computing has only really been widely available since the early 90's let alone the wide use of stats in baseball.

    My guess is most executives in baseball predate the advent of stats (as we know them today) by many years. It's typically the "younger generation" that pushes new ideas or processes to the forefront of an industry. As the use of stats grows and the younger folks who embrace them work their way up in baseball orginizations you'll see more and more use of them in evalutating player moves.

    I think talent pool plays a role also. Every GM would love to field 9 hall of famers for every game but budgets and who is available limits that from happening. Many GM's settle and in a very normal human behaviour, they rationalize why said player is valuable. Frankly, I think a lot of those GM annoucements are for the GM's themselves (to reinforce why it was ok they just lit fire to a pile of money with the name Royce Clayton attached to it) moreso than the fans.

    The last factor is human nature. For a lot of these wild FA signings lately I think there is some element of herd mentality and competitive nature in play.

    Just some ideas.
    Last edited by Ltlabner; 11-29-2006 at 10:54 PM.
    a super volcano of ridonkulous suckitude.

    I simply don't have access to a "cares about RBI" place in my psyche. There is a "mildly curious about OBI%" alcove just before the acid filled lake guarded by robot snipers with lasers which leads to the "cares about RBI" antechamber though. - Nate

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    Churlish Johnny Footstool's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny Footstool View Post
    Matthews Jr's reputation as a good fielder is a prime example why baseball needs good fielding metrics.

    Of course, most "baseball men" would ignore those metrics and base their opinion on a SportCenter highlight reel...
    I got negged by xxxxx for this post. He called it "arrogant".

    Are you serious, xxxxx? You're going to neg me for expressing an opinion you don't agree with?

    Are you a GM? Did I personally insult you or something?

    The whole point of the original post was that some GM's don't make smart decisions. The original article made *exactly the same points I made*, and yet you feel the need to call me out as arrogant. How petty and vindictive of you.

    *edited to remove your username*
    Last edited by Johnny Footstool; 11-30-2006 at 09:53 AM.
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    Member Cedric's Avatar
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    Re: Are most GMs just not really very smart?

    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny Footstool View Post
    I got negged by **for this post. He called it "arrogant".

    Are you serious, ? You're going to neg me for expressing an opinion you don't agree with?

    Are you a GM? Did I personally insult you or something?

    The whole point of the original post was that some GM's don't make smart decisions. The original article made *exactly the same points I made*, and yet you feel the need to call me out as arrogant. How petty and vindictive of you.
    We've all done some stupid things on here I'm sure. Can we keep that kind of thing private? I don't neg often at all, but the system is flawed if what you did happens a lot.
    Last edited by Cedric; 11-30-2006 at 05:06 PM.
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