When simply “stating the facts” is actually criticism

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Bobby Valentine talked yesterday about his reputation for criticizing ballplayers. He bristled at the notion.

He says he has never thrown anyone under the bus ever, and that when he is construed to have done so — like, if he says that Mark Melancon got all of his running in backing up the bases after giving up hits — it’s because he’s simply stating facts, not ripping anyone:

“A statement of fact should never be misconstrued as criticism. I don’t think it is, or should be. I don’t have time to deal with intelligence or morality. I can’t deal with those. If ignorant people misinterpret simple statements, it’s not my fault. If factual statements are misconstrued as criticism, that’s somebody else’s problem.”

Maybe I’m about to go too far down the rabbit hole here, but I think this is a fascinating subject that actually illuminates some stuff about how blogging works. And I think I’m taking Valentine’s side here to some degree. But there’s an important caveat.

I can’t think of how many times I’ve simply passed along a fact like “the Mets finances are troubled” or “an unfortunate event happened in Citizens Bank Park involving an unruly fan,” only to have people accuse me of being a hater.  When I hate — or troll or whatever — I would hope that it’s pretty obvious. I have a lot of fun with that. But simply stating facts? Bah, that’s not hating. Fred Wilpon did screw up the Mets finances. That guy did intentionally puke on that little girl at CBP.  Those things happened, even if a bunch of people got all mad after I wrote about, saying stuff like “there you go again, picking on the [Mets of Phillies].”

When someone reacts all hurt about that kind of thing, it says way more about them than it does about whatever it is I have to say. Mets fans don’t like to be reminded that their franchise has issues and Phillies fans don’t like to be reminded that there is a history of ugly things happening in the stands. But that doesn’t change the facts of it all.

But here’s the caveat:  Context matters too. If I have a reputation of hating or trolling — and I’m so happy I do! — it stands to reason that my straight-up statements about the subjects of that hating should fall under greater scrutiny. I try to be fair, but I have a higher burden on me when it comes to subjects I’ve criticized in the past. I have to be careful to play it more straight than usual because I’ve dug myself a bit of a credibility hole, even if it was intentional and, in my view, acceptable to have done so.

Indeed, I want you to hold my feet to the fire on, say, an objective piece of analysis about the Phillies more so than you would other teams, because if you don’t, I get lazy.

Back to Valentine: he’s right. Simply stating the facts, however poorly those facts reflect on a given player, is not ripping them. But if he has a pattern of stating the facts about some players more than others, or if he rarely states the facts, as it were, about other players, that creates a pattern of its own that, in the whole, can be construed as being unfair or throwing guys under the bus or what have you.

To suggest otherwise is to play it a bit too cute.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.