Bill James

Bill James probably needs to stop commenting on the Penn State scandal


I love and respect the work of Bill James. It changed my life in a lot of ways. And the one time I met him I found him to be a really nice man.  When he strays away from his baseball bailiwick, however, he often loses me.  And I don’t think he’s ever lost me more than he did yesterday when he decided to defend Joe Paterno for some reason.

Deadspin has the details, taken from James’ online chat session yesterday.  Upshot: someone asked him about Joe Paterno’s knowledge of the 1998 investigation of Jerry Sandusky. That investigation, which involved a now clearly-established incident in which Sandusky molested a boy in a shower at Penn State’s football facilities, did not lead to criminal charges at the time.

Paterno did nothing to Sandusky after that investigation. And then, in 2002, when he learned that Sandusky was still molesting boys in the shower, he continued to do nothing. And then last year when all of this broke he lied about what he knew in 1998, both publicly and to the grand jury.  Which is why James’ defense of Paterno made my jaw drop. Emphasis supplied by James:

The Freeh reports states quite explicitly and at least six times (a) that the 1998 incident did NOT involve any criminal conduct—on the part of Sandusky or anyone else—and (b) that Paterno had forced the resignation of Sandusky before the 1998 incident occurred … In any case, what EXACTLY is it that Paterno should have done? Fire him again? It is preposterous to argue, in my view, that PATERNO should have taken action after all of the people who were legally charged to take action had thoroughly examined the case and decided that no action was appropriate.

I suppose if the question is, for some reason, limited to whether Paterno broke any laws in 1998, this exceedingly legalistic answer is marginally acceptable. But to sit here in 2012, knowing what we all now know about this, and about Paterno’s knowledge, subsequent inaction, subsequent lies and the tragic consequences of all of it which he, and maybe he alone, could have done the most to stop given his stature, and focus on whether at one brief moment in time Paterno was legally required to do more than he did seems preposterous.

It’s the sort of cherry-picking that, had someone done it to baseball data, would cause James to flip his lid. It is legalistic argument for argument’s sake that is so utterly beside the point when it comes to assessing Paterno in the present day that the word “misleading” doesn’t begin to do it justice.

I like it when people play devil’s advocate as long as it attempts to be instructive. And I don’t much care for sanctimonious piling-on at all.  But unless James added more to this point later, I don’t see what he is trying to accomplish here. And even if he had some instructive point to make, it is severely outweighed by just how disingenuous it is in light of the overall action and inaction of Joe Paterno since 1998.

And I do not think that avoiding a disingenuous point like the one James is making here necessarily renders one a member of the mob piling on someone. James is simply missing the glaringly obvious point to this story in an effort to make an intellectual point that is utterly meaningless.

Which, sadly, is what James is often accused of doing with baseball. It’s always been a bogus charge. In this case, though, it’s right on.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.