I had intended to write a blistering hit-piece on Murray Chass, the former New York Times baseball writer, whose obstinate determination to remain ignorant about advanced baseball statistics contributed to his increasing irrelevance. He now writes for a blog that he refuses to call a blog because he hates bloggers, so some already consider him “retired,” but he’s still out there, writing ridiculous things about baseball. While saying ridiculous things, he got me wanting more.
Let me explain.
Chass admits disdain for most untraditional statistics like FIP, WAR, and WPA, but shows little love for any statistic other than those possessing no analytic value, like pitcher Wins and RBIs. He admits he does not understand sabermetrics, and, consistent with proper curmudgeon mentality, instead of taking an informed stance against sabermetrics, he symbolically waves his hand, mumbles “bah!” and yells at kids to get off his lawn.
Sometimes, it seems that the only reason he likes pitcher Wins, is because many now consider them irrelevant. In his most recent diatribe about how much he hates new stats, he unleashed this opening salvo against anyone who questions the validity of pitcher Wins as a viable analytical tool for approximating a player’s value.
If I am guilty, as charged, with demonstrating disdain for the stats patrol (notice I didn’t say geeks or nerds), I blame their arrogance for prompting such feeling.
First of all, side note. Stats Patrol should be a TV Show.
His article possesses an abundance of both passive-aggression (“notice I didn’t say geeks or nerds,” while implying exactly that by putting it parentheses) and open contempt (calling fans who prefer sabermetrics “arrogant”). It’s linguistically and argumentatively clever, like a backhanded compliment–only this is a backhanded insult. It’s a tactically sound strategy, even if is quite malicious. Say what you will about his opinions, his mastery of English is impressive.
He eventually strays off-topic and somewhere near the end of his rambling post, he confuses WPA and WAR, which couldn’t be more different. When someone tried to explain WPA to him, he absolutely refused to seek understanding.
That did it for me. I decided I would be better off playing a game of War with one of my grandchildren than reading about WAR
My favorite thing about this article, though, is how he sets up straw-men and can’t even knock them down. He tries to defend pitcher wins with an appeal to traditionalism (I think).
So what should we do about, say, Cy Young’s 511 wins? Do we wipe them out of the record book, the history book? Do we change the name of the Cy Young award maybe to Cy Young and teammates award?
In Cy Young’s era, the “Win” had more relevance because, for all intents and purposes, there were no such thing as relievers. Out of Cy Young’s 906 games started, 815 of them were complete games. While not a flawless stat, even then, it hadn’t reached the level of silliness as it has now. Back then, a guy came in and pitched until the game was over or his arm fell off. Chass accuses advanced stats of being confusing, but supports a stat that allows a closer to come in the top of the ninth, blow a 3-run lead, and get the “Win” because his team scored in the bottom of the inning. So he pitched badly, his team did the work, and he gets rewarded with a “W” on the box score. Explain that.
Chass has also somehow confused the logical conclusion that “pitcher Wins are not good analytic tools” with “sabermetricians desire to eradicate Wins from the history books.” The pitcher “Win” will still exist; its just that no one will care.
Because of all those things and more, I originally wanted to tell Chass to quit writing about baseball. He’s an anchor on the game’s intellectual advancement. Some people still listen to what he says because of his once prestigious position. They still draw fictional conclusions based on his ideas.
Keith Law accused baseball writers who are ignorant to sabermetrics of, essentially, being bad at their job. They willfully ignore an important aspect of front office decision-making. Writers like Chass have no business writing about trades and player acquisitions because, honestly, they have no idea what they’re talking about. They can’t. They refuse to understand why the trades were made in the first place. Certainly, writers who have shut themselves off to the most important data in the sport should not have any say in any type of award voting, as Murray Chass does (kind of).
I got fed up with his whiny “good ol’ days o’ baseball” schtick. A year before winning the National Headliner Awards for sports journalism and becoming Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated, Joe Posnanski called Chass a “bitter” nobody, and soundly destroyed Chass’s pathetic attempt to inflame a race-debate about Stan Musial. Allen Barra of the Village Voice called Chass “difficult and truculent,” blatently stating, “I don’t like Murray Chase.” Baseball writers have called him dumb and insane. Bloggers have called him worse.
I wanted him out of baseball for good. This article was to be a call to arms for sensible baseball fans, to rally against Chass and shame him into seclusion. I was going to linguistically euthanize him like an old blind dog that won’t stop biting anyone within snipping distance. I was going to use this platform to annihilate him, belittle him, verbally eviscerate him. I wanted to yell, “Good day, Sir!” Dramatically pause and repeat, “I said good day!” Then I’d drop the mic and stroll off like a boss (or whatever the blogger equivalent is).
However, when I thought about all the times I read his articles, steam coming out my ears, and ranted to other baseball fans, laughing at his anachronistic baseball values, I realized I’d miss him. I’d miss berating his ignorance to my friends and other bloggers, acting in mock-defense of him, rolling my eyes when he was brought up in conversation.
He is a perfect foil for writers who want to let off steam. He unifies thinking fans of all teams in defiance against willful ignorance. For amateur baseball writers, he is an absurd mustache-twizzling villain who ties ladies to railroad tracks. He slashed Inigo Montoya’s father through the heart. He threatened to cut Robin Hood’s heart out with a spoon. He called Marty McFly chicken. He’s the reason we need a bigger boat. He’s a guy we can easily loathe from the other side of a screen, but will never take seriously enough to actually hate.
Why would we deprive ourselves of the witty rejoinders that erupt after his harmless stupidity is emphatically Twitter-bashed? BaseballProspectus.com would not have had material for several excellent articles. We’d lose smart and insightful articles proving his worthlessness in the continuing pursuit to better understand baseball.
Murray Chass is like one of those inflatable children’s punching bags. It’s so satisfying to knock down! The genius of its design is that it automatically pops back up just so you can knock it back down, endlessly punching it in the face for the sake of punching it in the face. Brilliant! How disappointing would it be if ol’ Murray stopped popping back up?
I, for one, would miss knocking him back down.