Change-UpJanuary 21, 2010
In Response to Murray Chass
By Patrick Sullivan

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.


My favorite part is the end. Falsifying opposing on-base percentage numbers, and saying that the difference between a fake .430 OBP and a fake .410 OBP is insignificant.

Also, if I were to start a blog, it would be called Stat Zealots and our New-Fangled Numbers.

Great post. A complete incineration of a crusty old d-bag. Well done.

Nice job, Patrick.

Somehow people in the mainstream media often have difficulty understanding that the skill set needed to write baseball articles, especially when one's career started quite awhile ago, is different from the skill set needed to determine how valuable a player's performance was. Excelling as a member of the mainstream media does not necessarily mean that that individual is best qualified to determine whose performance was worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Well done. And even as the Chass's and Shaughnessy's of the world opine on the irrelevance and wrongheadedness of the analytic-minded writers, the best (Mr. James and others) get hired and have their research relied upon by real life baseball teams. If any product of Chass was ever relied upon by a baseball team, I'd assume it was as toilet paper.


Murray Chass, time to retire. And time to shut your mouth. Hand your Hall vote over to someone who knows how to use it.

Nice "clearly deserved" response Pat. I've been following his blog for the past several months and get annoyed because he just doesn't seem to know anything about baseball beyond the average 8 year old and he talks like he's the be all end all.

Now he just sounds like he's proud of that & flaunting that. I don't even know where this Chass guy came from. his arguments for things often sound like he's making Pascal's wager or he just displays a lot of logical fallacies.

I can understand why he doesn't enable comments on his blog... ehh, articles.

Well said, Patrick.

Of course Jack Morris is better than Curt Schilling! He has 254 wins to Curt's 216!

Wow, way to stay classy Patrick.

I think it's freakin' hilarious that Murray Chass doesn't understand that he's a blogger.

P. Sullivan's diatribe will do nothing to change the public's perception that the Bill James-obsessed New Age baseball writers are a myopic, rigid orthodoxy more akin to a geek religion than a science.


..keep feeding the potential backlash against the saber community? Why?

Be thankful of the publicity he gave you :)

Anyway, you accuse Dan Shaughnessy of not being bothered enough to figure out who the best players, and then vote for them. Well the fact is he did actually vote for the best eligible pitcher and position player (Alomar and Blyleven).

Ok he also voted for Morris (a personal favourite of his, buddy of a buddy, whatever his reason, albeit the Schilling argument was not good) - well so what?, he is not the enemy because he votes for Morris, because he also votes for Bert. It's the people who vote Morris not Bert you need to work on to persuade (not vent at, no diatribes, because you just entrench their position)

How will you feel if you piss him (and others) off so much that they has a rethink, wouldn't take too many of these for borderline Bert to be unhappy next time around.

It might make sense to read Chass's original post. It argues that sportswriters (including him) should NOT vote for the Hall, and implies, not too subtly, that in the end it's always going to be a matter of opinion, no matter what that opinion is based on.

@jim - Good point, Jim. I would urge others to read it as well.

I only dealt with two parts of the column but to Murray's credit, he did advocate in the past for writers NOT voting on the HOF.

@Paul - I think you're giving me too much credit.

Really, really well done, Patrick. Thank you.

If anybody needs one example of why print newspapers are dying in this country all they would have to do is read the patronizing comments of Chass and Shaughnessy.

Why are Rich and Patrick's opinion worthless? Because the don't work for a print media??? Is that Chass' argument. We can't understand baseball unless Chass and Shaughnessy tell us their Point of view?? Why would anybody want to read an article by two men who hold their readers with so much contempt??

Why exactly are Chass and Shaughnessy more knowledgeable about baseball? Did the play in the Majors? Do they have a Master's degree in Baseball History??

If anybody needs one example of why print newspapers are dying in this country all they would have to do is read the patronizing comments of Chass and Shaughnessy.

Why are Rich and Patrick's opinion worthless? Because the don't work for a print media??? Is that Chass' argument. We can't understand baseball unless Chass and Shaughnessy tell us their Point of view?? Why would anybody want to read an article by two men who hold their readers with so much contempt??

Why exactly are Chass and Shaughnessy more knowledgeable about baseball? Did the play in the Majors? Do they have a Master's degree in Baseball History??

You're right on the substance, and I wouldn't go so far as Paul ("backlash"), but the tone of this post is horrible.

Look, guys, we (the people favoring an analytical approach to evaluating baseball players) have won. Sure there are holdouts, but increasingly they are irrelevant - except to some extent in the HOF debates, and even there the problem is IMO more a lousy voting system than lack of appreciation for statistical analysis per se.

So how to respond to this? Well, I can see several options. Maybe Chass is hopeless, but some people are reachable. But they won't tend to be persuaded by this sort of stuff. Or maybe we've already persuaded the persuadables. Then the best strategy is probably just ignoring this crap. Or if you can't do that, then take the FJM approach and enage in some well crafted ridicule.

But this - the defensiveness, the attempt to seriously refute what are in the end unserious arguments, the nasty tone (no, the fact that Chass is also nasty doesn't make it okay for you to sink to that level) - is beneath you.

You know one of the funny things about Chass' argument is that he is implicitly arguing that most of the hall of fame voters don't matter. You see many people have hall of fame votes and have never worked the baseball beat and are actually not baseball writers, but instead editors and assorted other newspaper people that just did enough to qualify them to eventually get a Hall vote. A lot of these people haven't seen a game in years. Of course I'm sure if you told Chass this his head would explode as he tries to reconcile the justice of them having a vote and internet baseball writers not having a vote.

Thanks for the feedback, LarryM.

You know what the irony is? Baseball players claim that "geeky sportswriters" (such as Chass and Shaunessy) don't and CAN'T understand baseball because they never played. Apparently Chass didn't learn the Golden Rule growing up.

It's this ridiculous food chain in which athletes believe you can't understand the sport unless you play, sportswriters believe you can't understand the sport unless you write for a newspaper/magazine. Of course, we're also seeing a trend today that the Sabermetrics crowd is getting on their high horse and saying that you can't understand baseball unless you understand tRAs, zone ratings, etc.

At the end of the day, the only truth is that we're all hypocrits.

I think the tone of this post was refreshing in its honesty. People like Murray Chass shouldn't be treated as respected colleagues in a simple debate when they clearly show they have no respect for their audience or the process of argumentation.

I remember a few years ago the BP guys took a much higher road when Murray ripped them for taking the joy out of the game with stats like VORP. Nate Silver responded with a mostly amicable piece along the lines of "Hey try to have a more open-minded view on us, we do this because we have a strong passion for understanding the game."

But Chass doesn't deserve that show of respect or patience. Not anymore. Time has indeed passed him by, and it's about time someone finally told him the truth - that he's just an old fart who shows with each post on his (gasp) blog that he is less informed than the typical blogger that he holds such unwarranted contempt towards.

I took such umbrage with Mr. Chase's ludicrous blog post, I sent him an email:

Dear Mr. Chase,

I am a career journalist, and have worked for legitimate news organizations my entire life, have lived and worked on both coasts and Texas. I read your most recent blog post, as well as a rebuttal from Mr. Sullivan, regarding Hall of Fame voting, empty ballots and the war between bloggers and “real” journalists.

Let me add here that I am a lifelong baseball fan, and have ravenously devoured baseball literature, box scores, television programs, documentaries, and any other information related to the sport for as long as I can remember. What I no longer consume regularly or have much use for are traditional baseball columns. I have make a couple of exception, but for the most part, I get the bulk of my baseball information and education from the many bloggers you despise. Why? Because I don’t feel traditional columnists have a lot to say. You are a crotchety and snarky lot who seem uninspired and unwilling to evolve. This is unfortunate, because the sport is constantly evolving. And thousands upon thousands of educated, engaged fans like me want to evolve with it.

I highly recommend you put down your poison pen for a moment and consider actually reading the work of some of these bloggers you’re lashing out against. Is it traditional journalism? No. But it is, without question, interesting. And even you might be able to learn something.


Simon Gutierrez
San Antonio, TX

Oh man. I think we all need to write letters/emails to Murray and call him "Mr. Chase" now. I don't know if that was intentional, Simon, but it's wonderful.

People like Chass are so embarrassing, at some point, those who "get it" simply need to ignore them like a senile elder. Of course, I'm certainly glad you didn't in this case.

The sad irony is that Chass was once a trailblazer - pioneering the coverage of the business and labor side of the game. Many people thought that such issues were taking the joy out of the game too, but his persistence on the topic helped earn him a Spink Award.

I guess it just goes to show you that even good writers can overstay their welcome to the point where it's painful to watch what they do, just as it is with players. Chass would be better off hanging up his typewriter instead of pissing all over his legacy.

Chass is well known for being an unpleasant jerk and has long been referred to as "Chasshole."

I'm surprised no one's mentioned what seems to me by far the biggest howler in Chass's blog post: "That’s just one difference between a blog and a newspaper article. A newspaper would have deleted all mention of Olson and her ballot once the correct story was learned."

Can he be serious? Yes, a mistake caught prior to publication will generally be edited out of a newspaper, but 1. once it's in print, a newspaper error is far, far more permanent and damaging than a blog post. The former may, perhaps, get a small Editor's Note, which no one will read, in the next day's paper, where you would have to physically track down the previous day's paper to match the two up; the latter will have the correction right there on the same page, permanently, so that anyone who comes across the post on the web will be certain to see the correction, once it's been made - which can be immediate, rather than waiting 24 hours. Does he really think dead-tree publishers go back in the microfiche and expunge any trace of erroneous statements that ever made it into print? Do they visit the libraries of America and retrieve their faulty editions?

2. Besides, this is the >sports


I think I'll emulate the argument of our esteemed Mr. Chass:

Bert Blyleven's opinion > Murray Chass's opinion

Clearly, the people who played baseball are more equipped to decide whose opinions count than people who just write about it. And since Blyleven trusts in the opinion of Rich Lederer, and others, they have all the credibility they need. Nice try Mr. Chass...

Myself, I don't go after wounded prey.

I think Sullivan's sour grapes prove Chass' point. Nobody's ever heard of Sullivan anyway. Gee whiz, Chass has watched thousands of ball games and written about it for decades. Yet his opinion doesn't count with this crowd. The intolerance and pack mentality of the sabermetric crowd is pretty ugly to see.

Maybe some of the BBWAA guys have the same problem I have. I'm math challenged. In Bible College, I barely squirted through algebra and that was all the math that was required.
But I just started an online algebra course and my engineering major son is going to help me (when he's not laughing at me).
I do wish the entrenched experts would make a little effort to investigate beyond their tiny universe.