Howard Bryant: Mark McGwire is "too toxic" to return

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Howard Bryant.jpgToday’s let’s-run-Mark McGwire-out-of-town-on-a-rail tirade comes courtesy of ESPN’s Howard Bryant, who cites the overwhelming outcry from people “around the game” against Mac’s hiring as hitting coach as a reason for him to be fired or shot or tied backwards on a horse while wearing a mardi gras mask and cast out into the desert or whatever.

For the record, here are the outcriers Bryant cites:

  • Whitey Herzog: A man I love, but a man who hasn’t managed in 20 years and hasn’t had a real job in the game for 14 years;
  • Adolphus Busch IV: A man whose father once owned the Cardinals and who, as far as I can tell, no longer has any connection to baseball, if indeed he ever did;
  • Carlton Fisk, Ferguson Jenkins and Ernie Banks: Three Hall of Famers who, while awesome, are all essentially team ambassadors.
  • Jack Clark and Steve Trachsel: guys who aren’t even notable enough to be genuine team ambassadors.
  • I’ll let Bryant explain the last one: “There is a fourth Hall of Fame player, one who shall remain nameless
    because we spoke in confidence, who told me last week that he planned
    on contacting Selig to tell the commissioner he had made a terrible
    mistake with his enthusiastic endorsement of McGwire’s return to the
    game as the Cardinals hitting coach.”

So there you are. Six retired guys, one random son of privilege and an anonymous Hall of Famer who feels so strongly about McGwire that he won’t even let his name be used.  That’s what Bryant calls a toxic insider “backlash.” That’s what Bryant says justifies people calling for McGwire’s head.

Here’s a nice way to test and see if McGwire’s hiring is as big a mistake as guys like Bryant says it is: ignore it. Say nothing about it and see if, say, Cardinals season ticket sales fall off or if protests form at every stadium to which the team travels or if corporate sponsors flee the team due to McGwire’s presence.  I have this feeling nothing will happen, but if it does, well, at least we have something more than Adolphus Busch IV’s rather irrelevant view of things to work from.

I suppose Bryant may respond that this is a moral issue, not one that can be decided by the whims of public and corporate opinion as I propose. But if that’s the case, then why in the hell does trotting out guys like Busch, Herzog, and Fisk help his case?  If McGwire’s presence on the Cardinals is an abomination, say it, Bryant. Come out and demand that he be fired. Don’t hide behind people who are allegedly “around the game.”

Let’s make it a challenge. Ken Rosenthal. Peter Gammons. Bryant. Anyone else who is inclined to bogusly cite McGwire’s lack of candor, the alleged “distraction” he causes, or the pseudo-backlash:  Quit hiding behind your manifestly artificial controversies and rhetorical constructs and just come out and say you want the Cardinals to fire him because you think he doesn’t deserve the job.  Demand it.  Ask for his head because he doesn’t satisfy you.

If you do, I’ll disagree with your call. But at least I’ll respect it as something honest. Because what we’ve seen from you these past three days has been anything but.

Must-Click Link: Sherri Nichols, Sabermetic Pioneer

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If you are old enough and lame enough as I am, you may have lurked around on sabermetic message boards in the 1990s. If you did, you may have heard of Sherri Nichols, who back in the day, was a significant contributor to the advancement of statistical analysis, particularly defensive analysis.

While it’s probably better that not everyone is as old and nerdy as me, the downside of it is that most people haven’t heard of Nichols and know nothing about her contributions. That changes today with Ben Lindbergh’s excellent analysis of Nichols and her work over at The Ringer, which I recommend that you all read.

The short version: Nichols is the one who planted the seed about on-base percentage being valuable in the mind of Baseball Prospectus Founder Gary Huckabay, back in the late 80s. She’s also the one most responsible for the rise of zone-based defensive metrics in the 1990s, such as Defensive Average, which she created and which served as the basis for other such metrics going forward. She also played a critical role in the development of RetroSheet, which collected almost all extant box score and play-by-play information going back to the turn of the 20th century, thereby making so much of the information available at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs possible. A key contribution there: making the information free and available to everyone, rather than closing the underlying data off as proprietary and either charging for access or keeping it in-house like some recent data collectors have chosen to do. Ahem.

A larger takeaway than all of Nichols’ contributions is just how loathe the baseball community was to listen to a woman back then. I mean, yeah, they’re still loathe to listen to women now, as indicated by the small number of women who hold jobs in baseball operations departments, but back then it was even worse, as evidenced by Lindbergh’s stories and Nichols’ anecdotes.

A great read and a great history lesson.