L.A. Times writer ignorantly bashes “statistical gobbledygook”

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Bill Dwyre was the sports editor of the L.A. Times for a quarter century and now writes columns. And he’s apparently quite proud of being an ignorant, uncurious know-nothing which, when thinks about it, should be disqualifying traits for a journalist. But hey: this is sports journalism and newspapers apparently don’t care if the folks who do that work are embarrassments. Indeed, some papers apparently embrace it.

The column he wrote which fully justifies the charges above came out in Friday’s paper and concerned Dwyre’s visit to the SABR Analytics conference in Phoenix. He went to hear Angels’ GM Jerry Dipoto speak, but spent most of his column bashing statistical analysis of baseball, which he calls “statistical gobbledygook.” You’ve seen columns like this before, but this is particularly egregious example of the genre.

I highlight Dwyre’s column less to bash it in its own right, however, and more to highlight a couple of responses to it that I find particularly apt in insightful. Less so for what they say than for who is saying it.

The first comes from Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present. He writes an open letter response to Dwyre.  Graham is a member of the Los Angeles chapter of SABR and he speaks from the perspective of someone who once had some meaningful interaction with Dwyre which helped shape his views on sports writing and now finds himself disappointed in what this person now seems to champion. The second comes from former L.A. Times staffer Matt Welch, who once worked for Dwyre and offers a thorough rebuttal over at Halos Heaven.

Both Graham and Matt do more than mock this silly stuff, which is what I’d be inclined to do if I were to offer my own specific rebuttal to it. They explain, with some degree of sadness it seems, how unfortunate that this is what passes for journalistic curiosity and insight from a major figure at a major daily newspaper. These are two people who, one presumes, represent no small part of what was once newspapers’ customer base but which have now lost faith in the institution in one way or another. As time goes on — and if nothing changes in the approach of people like Dwyre — they will be joined by many more.

Derek Jeter calls Bryant Gumbel “mentally weak”

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Derek Jeter has not covered himself in glory since taking over the Miami Marlins. His reign atop the team’s baseball operations department has been characterized by the slashing of payroll in order to help his new ownership group make more money amid some pretty crushing debt service by virtue of what was, in effect, the leveraged buyout of the club. A club which is now 5-16 and seems destined for five months more and change of some pretty miserable baseball.

Jeter has nonetheless cast the moves the Marlins have made as good for fans in the long run. And, yes, I suppose it’s likely that things will be better in the long run, if for no other reason than they cannot be much worse. Still, such reasoning, while often accepted when a lesser light like, say, White Sox GM Rick Hahn employs it, isn’t accepted as easily when a guy who has been defined by his hand full of championship rings offers it. How can Derek Jeter, of all people, accept losing?

That’s the question HBO’s Bryant Gumbel asked of Jeter in an interview that aired over the weekend (see the video at the end of the post). How can he accept — and why should fans accept — a subpar baseball product which is not intended to win? Jeter’s response? To claim that the 2018 Marlins are totally expected to win and that Gumbel himself is “mentally weak” for not understanding it:

JETER: “We’re trying to win ball games every day.”

GUMBEL: “If you trade your best players in exchange for prospects it’s unlikely you’re going to win more games in the immediate future–”

JETER: “When you take the field, you have an opportunity to win each and every day. Each and every day. You never tell your team that they’re expected to lose. Never.”

GUMBEL: “Not in so–”

JETER: “Now, you can think — now– now, I can’t tell you how you think. Like, I see your mind. I see that’s how you think. I don’t think like that. That’s your mind working like that.”

. . .

DEREK JETER: “You don’t. We have two different mi– I can’t wait to get you on the golf course, man. We got– I mean, I can’t wait for this one.”

BRYANT GUMBEL: “No, I mean–”

DEREK JETER: “You’re mentally weak.”

I sort of get what Jeter was trying to do here. He was trying to take this out the realm of second guessing among people who know some stuff about sports and subtly make it an appeal to authority, implying that he was an athlete and that only he, unlike Gumbel, can understand that mindset and competitiveness of the athlete. That’s what the “get you on the golf course” jazz was about. Probably worth noting at this point that that tack has never worked for Michael Jordan as a basketball executive, even if his singular competitiveness made him the legend he was on the court. An executive makes decisions which can and should be second-guessed, and it seems Jeter cannot handle that.

That being said, Gumbel did sort of open the door for Jeter to do that. Suggesting that baseball players on the 2018 Marlins don’t expect to win is not the best angle for him here because, I am certain, if you ask those players, they would say much the same thing Jeter said. That’s what makes them athletes.

No, what Gumbel should have asked Jeter was “of COURSE you tell your players to win and of COURSE they try their hardest and think they can win every night. My question to you is this: did YOU try YOUR hardest to get the BEST players? And if not, why not?”

Question him like you’d question Rick Hahn. Not like you’d question Future Hall of Fame Shortstop, Derek Jeter.