In Response to Murray Chass
Recently, former New York Times journalist and J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Murray Chass took to the pages of his blog titled Murray Chass On Baseball to discuss Hall of Fame voting. He addressed an array of topics, from Hall voting eliciting strong opinions, to Tommy John's Hall of Fame candidacy, to my own personal "track record". There's no need to FJM someone like Chass - he's just writing on his blog that he refuses to acknowledge is a blog, snarling at (certain) stats and just sort of watching the world pass him by. Honestly, it has to be difficult. On a human level, I pity Murray Chass.
Since I guess Chass probably maintains a broad readership and has decided to come at me personally in his column, I suppose I should respond to a few of the points he made. It's evident to me that Chass doesn't like the tone of the Hall of Fame debate, and I suppose that's reasonable. Heck, we get awfully passionate around here about it, maybe excessively so on occasion. Chass points out one reader who emailed to say that one candidate "clearly deserved" enshrinement, and Chass thought that language was too strong. Fine, I suppose, but surely there are "clearly deserving" Hall candidates, no? Anyway, and Craig Calcaterra has already dealt with this nicely, problems arise when Chass veers off "can't we all just get along" course and into this:
“Clearly deserve” in whose judgment? His, of course. Does that make him right and me wrong? Of course not. Am I right? Yes. Why? Because my opinion counts and his doesn’t. My ballot was one of the 539 counted in the election. He did not have a vote. Therefore, his opinion is worthless as far as the election is concerned.
That’s the real problem self-proclaimed experts have. They want to be the ones voting, but they don’t have that privilege. It’s their own fault. They chose the wrong profession. Accountants, lawyers, doctors, teachers and salesmen don’t get to vote for the Hall of Fame. Baseball writers do.
Someday, a curious individual might set out to understand why it was that baseball websites were able to amass strong followings at a time when the profession of mainstream media baseball writing was still so entrenched in American culture. How could Rob Neyer and Nate Silver and Jonah Keri and Joe Sheehan and Keith Law and David Cameron and Sky Andrecheck and Cliff Corcoran have risen to such prominence, when the baseball writing establishment was still churning out columns? Well, that individual researching why it was that new internet baseball writers succeeded will stumble across what Chass has written above, and it will all make sense.
You don't get credibility because you hung around clubhouses for 30 years. Or because you traveled on the team plane, have had cocktails with Lou Gorman, were at Fenway the day Bucky Dent hit his home run or because you can recall the fear in opposing pitchers' eyes as Jim Rice came to the plate. You don't even get credibility because you have a vote. You get credibility by doing good work. And if your work is good, it stands on its own. If a new age of writers comes along with a new way of thinking about the game, and a new medium like the internet emerges, you don't kick and scream and yearn for yester-year, you evolve and learn and continue to do good work.
As for the notion that a non-voter's opinion is "worthless", tell that to Bert Blyleven or the proprietor of this site. Blyleven has publicly expressed gratitude for Rich Lederer time after time, and recently Peter Gammons praised Rich's work as well. About a dozen writers have explicitly attributed their Blyleven support to Rich's Blyleven series. How many more writers have been persuaded and not admitted as much? Rich may not have a vote, and he may not have swayed Murray Chass, but his opinion is anything but "worthless".
To be sure, there are nobler causes to take up, but there is virtue in working to ensure the Hall of Fame voting process is more just. A baseball career is a man's life's work, and there is no more prestigious recognition than to be enshrined in Cooperstown. So if Murray Chass and Dan Shaughnessy can't be bothered to figure out who the best players were, others will have to take it up. Whether we're writers or salespeople or money managers or entrepreneurs or consultants or lawyers, we'll take it up. We'll do so by building strong cases for the candidates we think deserve enshrinement, and we'll do so by exposing and discrediting flimsy logic. Because flimsy logic, when it comes to the Hall of Fame, can lead to a man's life's work being remembered in the wrong light, or even not remembered at all. Readers, fans, other voters - they'll be the ones to decide whose judgment should be called into question. Not Murray Chass through a baseless assertion on his baseball blog.
As I noted at the outset, Chass also came at me personally in his blog entry, and I want to address it quickly. It was actually quite harmless but let me just offer up a few thoughts. Chass wrote the following...
Patrick Sullivan, a name unknown to me, ridiculed Dan Shaughnessy, a highly respected columnist for the Boston Globe, for writing that … well, just about anything. I don’t know that Shaughnessy wrote a sentence that Sullivan didn’t ridicule.
One of the statements he faulted Shaughnessy for was his belief that Jack Morris was better than Curt Schilling. Preposterous, Sullivan suggested. True, I say in agreement with Shaughnessy. But then I would probably take Shaughnessy’s view over Sullivan’s on any subject. Shaughnessy has a track record; Sullivan doesn’t, as far as I know.
I have had a similar debate with a reader over Morris and Bert Blyleven. Like Sullivan in his case for Schilling, the reader used statistics to argue his case for Blyleven. Most of the Hall arguments today seem to be statistics-centered.
All I can say is if you're going to be called out in public by a washed-up sportswriter on his baseball blog, this is how you want it to be done; in a fashion that is so self-evidently discrediting. We learned three things from this Chass excerpt:
1. Chass thinks Shaughnessy is right and I am wrong because Shaughnessy has a track record with which he's familiar.
2. Chass thinks Shaughnessy would be right and I would be wrong on ANY subject because Shaughnessy has a track record as a baseball sportswriter and I do not.
3. He thinks Jack Morris was better than Curt Schilling.
Two thoughts. One, how harebrained do you have to be to admit freely that you won't entertain the merits of a particular argument, but rather will simply appeal to authority? What a great way to discredit your whole philosophy in one fell swoop.
Two, and I can't be clear enough about this. If you think Jack Morris was a better pitcher than Curt Schilling, THEN YOU DON'T KNOW THE VERY FIRST THING ABOUT BASEBALL. Talk about life's work? The life's work of Murray Chass, all those days and nights hanging around a smelly clubhouse, and what does he have to show for it? A baseball mind that leads him to believe that Jack Morris is better than Curt Schilling. It's nothing short of embarrassing.
The piece ends the way so many of these do. After berating those of us who look to statistics to form the basis of our baseball-related arguments, he transitions to Tommy John's Hall of Fame case, comparing his to Blyleven's.
John had a career 288-231 record with a 3.34 earned run average. Blyleven’s record was 287-250 and his e.r.a. 3.31. John retired 57 percent of the batters he faced, Blyleven, with all his strikeouts, 59 percent.
Yup, stats. But not just any stats, moronic, wrong stats that say Tommy John yielded a career .430 on-base percentage and Bert Blyleven yielded a .410 figure. Truth is, John's career on-base against was .315 while Blyleven's was .301. I am not sure where that gets us, but at least we're dealing in reality.
Anyway, back away from the word processor, Murray. People, successful people, knowledgeable people who adore baseball, are all laughing at you.