Craig Calcaterra

Scales

“You’re biased!” is usually a dumb criticism. Because it’s aimed at the wrong bias.

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Matt Taibbi has spent time as both a sports journalist and a political journalist. If you’ve read him before you probably have some strong opinions one way or the other about his work, and that’s fine. He freely admits that he lives in the world of opinion and commentary and would likely further admit that if there weren’t some people who hated his guts he probably wasn’t doing his job.

I offer that little bit of a disclaimer simply so that the stuff he’s saying in this interview of him in the Cauldron isn’t dismissed simply because you didn’t like something he wrote in Rolling Stone once. Also, because the very fact I felt obligated to offer it speaks to something he himself speaks to in the interview: that we as a society have some pretty messed up notions of what is or is not credibility, bias and the like.

Specifically, he is asked about how weird it is that Americans are hyper-critical of sports and sports coverage in ways that they’re not about political coverage. And to the extent they’re critical of either, it rarely is about the actual information being conveyed or obfuscated, but in the perceived “bias” of those delivering it:

Our sports reporters treat beat coverage like they’re covering the White House. They scrutinize and investigate and harangue owners, coaches, and players, over a game that kids follow; that should really just be fun. And they worry so terribly about being labeled as “homers” . . . Whereas, if you actually hang out in Washington — and I’m one of the few reporters that’s been in both worlds — the reporters who cover the White House, or the financial services industry, or the criminal justice system — for the most part, they aren’t a tenth as aggressive as sports reporters are . . . I think you need both. You need to have people who are open about their biases, and you need that objective perspective, as well. But I do think it’s interesting that that bias is much more frowned upon in the sports world than in politics.

The bias thing has always seemed so weird to me, both in sports and other sorts of coverage. The biases that people get mad at are the very understandable human biases: what sports team someone likes and what their political orientation is. EVERYONE has some feelings about these things and it’s unreasonable to expect that they don’t. Yet people go NUTS and dismiss a writer’s work out of hand, regardless of the content, if they perceive the writer to harbor a bias. As if there is not a difference between having a bias and having it infect a writer’s work. And, in some cases, as if any bias the author harbors changes the basic facts that are presented as opposed to the writer’s characterization of them.

On the other hand, very rarely are other sorts of biases scrutinized. When, say, a sportswriter writes or doesn’t write something based on whether his employer has business dealings with a team or a league. Or when they write something that is clearly aimed at serving a certain source or interest apart from rooting. Depending on the story, whether Big Network’s Johnny Sportswriter has a Chicago Bears pennant in his rec room seems less important than whether or not his source is an agent or the league or whether his employer pays the NFL a billion dollars to broadcast games, does it not?

Likewise, in politics, we fixate on whether the writer leans right or left but we rarely question who pays him or what his non-partisan predispositions are with respect to any number of topics he covers. Depending on the story, whether Big News Outlet’s Johnny Political Writer is a registered Democrat or Republican seems less important than whether or not he has any actual personal frame of reference with the subject on which he is reporting or whether his employer (or its corporate owner) stands to benefit one way or another from a given outcome.

I don’t personally mind the human biases. I think we are all capable of knowing whether or not we’re getting straight dope or homerism in most cases. The deeper biases are harder to get at sometimes. And, based on how negatively and defensively both sportswriters and political writers react when you try to talk about them or call them out on them, they’re likely a lot more critical to the given bit of journalism we’re consuming. A lot more personally ingrained and close-to-home for the writer in question.

Pay less attention to who someone roots for or how they cast their own individual vote. Look more closely at what truly shapes their work. In both sports and politics.

Tony Clark thinks a draft lottery may be a good idea

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, JAN. 18-19 - This Jan. 15, 2014 photo showing new baseball union head Tony Clark during an interview at the organization's headquarters, in New York. Clark has big shoes to fill _ and not just as Michael Weiner's replacement as head of the baseball players' union. Moving from Arizona to New Jersey, the former big league All-Star also needed to find size 15 snowshoes.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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With all of the chatter about “tanking” lately, I suppose this was inevitable: someone suggesting an NBA/NHL-style draft lottery for baseball. That, in theory, would make finishing with the absolute worst, or near the worst, record in the game less important than it is now and could put a little more weight on the scale when it comes to a team deciding if it should try to win some games or merely punt for next year. Or punt for three years.

MLBPA head Tony Clark was asked about a lottery last week. Here’s what he said:

“It will be beneficial to look at that,” Clark said, “and not look at it in a vacuum but appreciate whatever it is that we attempt to negotiate there or propose there, that it ties into the other moving pieces and doesn’t create an imbalance.”

As I and others have noted — most recently Ken Rosenthal, who notes it today — “tanking” is something of an invented problem. It’s rebuilding, basically, and it’s hard to point out any team which has been accused of tanking in the past couple of years who would’ve been better served signing a veteran or two rather than just burning it down and starting from scratch. To this end, a lottery is something of a solution in search of a problem.

But if you accept that tanking is real and that it’s a big problem, implementing a lottery is no panacea. Indeed, it could even be counterproductive depending on how you do it. The NBA’s original lottery system, which was a straight “everyone who missed the playoffs had an equal shot at the first pick” thing was a fairly useful when it came to eliminating tanking. The problem, however, was that it also served, some years, to not benefit teams truly in need of top talent to compete.

Look at those late-90s San Antonio Spurs for an example of this. They were a strong team, then they were a lottery team for one year by virtue of a freak injury to David Robinson, got Tim Duncan in the lottery, Robinson came back and the rest is history. To combat that and other anomalies, the NBA went to a weighted lottery, which made the worst teams more likely to win the lottery. That brought tanking right back into things. Indeed, the NBA, despite its lottery, is where the term “tanking” was invented in sports.

All of which is to say that, as with most things, the devil is in the details. And, with as something as complicated as building a winning baseball club, which has a lot more moving parts than building a winning NBA team, there are many, many more variables in play, such as revenue sharing, draft money and slotting, rules restricting free agents, which could then impact the ability of a team to make a quick-turnaround and a half dozen other things I’m not even thinking of.

So, yes, I welcome Clark talking about lotteries. I just hope that he and Major League Baseball talk about a lot of other stuff too.

 

“YER OUT!” Jenrry Mejia permanently suspended for a third positive PED test

Jenrry Mejia
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You knew someone would be dumb enough to do this eventually, you just didn’t know who. Now we do: MLB just announced that reliever Jenrry Mejia has been permanently suspended after testing positive for Boldenone. That was his third positive test and under the Joint Drug Agreement that means his career is more or less over.

Mejia’s three strikes came in pretty rapid succession. On April 11, 2015 it was announced that Mejía had been suspended for 80 games after testing positive for use of stanozolol. On July 28, 2015 it was announced that Mejia had failed a test for Stanozolol again and Boldenone to boot, giving him a 162-game suspension, which he’d still be serving at the beggining of the season. Now this third test.

Mejia has played five seasons in the big. He started with so much promise, looking like a great prospect coming up. His performance only matched the promise in fits and starts, however, resulting in a 9-14 record with a 3.68 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 162/76 in 183.1 innings, all with the Mets.

Per the rules of the Joint Drug Agreement, Mejia can apply for reinstatement after being banned for two years. But it would obviously require him to spend two years doing a lot of smart things he hasn’t been doing in the past year. And it would also represent a near-unprecedented comeback. It could happen, I suppose, but it’s a far safer bet that his career is over.