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.