Where Bad Sports Journalism Came To Die

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Thursday, August 17, 2006


Best Ever?

I don't even know what to say.

I honestly don't. Bill Plaschke has absolutely outdone himself. I mean, for God's sake, the article is called

There's Trust in His Eyes

And it is pure (read: terrible) poetry.

Around the hotel table sat Dodgers executives discussing trades.

In the corner sat the old scout watching television.

Around the hotel table they were talking about dumping Milton Bradley and wondering whom they should demand from the Oakland A's in return.

In the corner sat the old scout who has never worked with radar gun, computer or even stopwatch.

Just like good scouts do. Good scouts never use scouting tools. They trust their goddamn eyes, and their guts, and their spleens. Why?

Because Old Hoss Radbourn was not discovered with a computer, dargbloomit! He was discovered because 130 year-old Petey "Garbageface" Krunkston, who had been a rookie league manager for 142 years and had seen a goddamn ballgame or two in his day, woke up one morning with a wart shaped like a flame on his left arm, and he turned to his wife of 186 years Edna Mae and he said, "The flame mole's back, darlin.' I's a gone and what been done and moseyed to the ballpark -- there's sure to be a great future prospect a-lurkin' about, iffin' the flame mole done appeared-a-mafied on m'arm!" And he did go down there t' ol' Brasston Park, and sure 'nuff, a 4 year-old Hoss Radbourn was thar, an' he was a-throwin' and a-hittin somethin' fierce! And bloogburrmit if Garbageface didn't sign that 4 year-old right then and there! And he became a Hall-of-Famer!!!!!

Around the hotel room table, someone mentioned an unknown double-A outfielder named Andre Ethier.

In the corner, the old scout jumped.

Is Plaschke the most overblown prose artiste in the business, or what? In the corner...around the hotel the corner... I swear, I think Plaschke believes he is the walking embodiment of James Earl Jones's character in "Field of Dreams." People will come, Bill. People will read. People will vomit.

"Wait a minute!" shouted Al LaMacchia. "I know Andre Ethier!"

In a gait slowed by years of climbing bleachers, LaMacchia walked over from the television to the table.

With Dodgers executives staring at him in amazement, the old scout began to sell.

Were they really staring at him "in amazement?" Were you there, Plaschke? I find it hard to believe that in an organizational meeting to discuss prospects the team might want to acquire, that when a scout started talking about a AA prospect, the rest of the organization "stared at him in amazement."

GM: We need some good minor leaguers.

Scout: Hey! I know some minor leaguers!

GM: (falls off chair in dismay) Ga-ga-ga-ga-ga goink!!! This is our lucky day!!!!!!!

He was on the phone, and it sounded as if he was crying.

"You're writing something about an old fella like me?" said Al LaMacchia.

He's 85, and he's been scouting for 51 years, and he can't believe anybody still cares.

I tell him I am writing the story because the Dodgers still care.

For the first time since Fred Claire was their last world championship general manager, the Dodgers are listening to their older scouts again.

They are reading reports scrawled in aging penmanship. They are evaluating players based on dusted-off instincts.

Ned Colletti's new administration is still using computers, but they also value guys who have no idea how to turn one on.

"I trust my eyes," LaMacchia said. "Been good enough so far."

Colletti trusted LaMacchia's recommendation at last year's winter meetings in Dallas, and the Dodgers are in first place in August, and that is no coincidence.

I'm sorry. I can't stop snortling derisively. Hang on. ... Okay. There.

The Dodgers are 64-57. They have the worst record of any first-place team. Let's not go bragging about any aspect of their brilliant system just yet. A month ago they lost like 40 games in a row, and in most other divisions they'd be basically nowheresville.

"You cannot microwave experience," Colletti said. "The only way to get it is to live it. I want guys who have lived it."

Colletti has hired two scouts/advisors since joining the Dodgers last winter in moves typical of him but totally uncharacteristic of any other CEO anywhere.

Both of the new guys were over 70.

Get ready. Here's my favorite part.

The scout, Phil Rizzo, lives in Chicago and does nothing but attend Cubs and White Sox games.

"The guy who watched a bunch of Maddux starts and filed the reports on him?" Colletti asked. "That was him."

I am going to hit return ten times, leaving a wide open white space on this blog, so we can all reflect on how unbelievably stupid that is. Ready? Begin reflecting. Then read the rest of this post, because Plaschke has a lot more to say.

You are telling me that you needed to hire someone to tell you that Greg Maddux might be a good pitcher? I mean, the guy is old, but...he's Greg Maddux. You play in Dodger Stadium, which is pretty friendly to pitchers, generally. He's Greg Maddux. You needed a 70 year-old scout, with all of his accumulated baseball knowledge, to tell you that Greg Maddux might help your team? He's Greg Maddux.

The advisor is Bill Lajoie, a longtime baseball executive who helped engineer the trade with one of his former employers, Atlanta, for Wilson Betemit.

Everyone in the universe knew Betemit was a good young player. He was a 25 year-old SS with a .784 OPS. What are you saying?

"Scouts are my lifeblood, they see players, they know players, they can tell you things that you can't get anywhere else,"' said Colletti.

LaMacchia knew Ethier.

It required thousands of miles on his old Ford, and pages of scribbling in his little black date book.

It required a brief break for congestive heart failure — "He told me it was just a little thing, he'd be back in a week" said Colletti — and it took him all of last summer.


I just typed "Andre Ethier" into Google. The first hit I got was from I clicked on it, and I learned:

in 2005, for the Midland, TX Oakland A's AA team, Andre Ethier:

G: 131
AB: 505
R: 104
H: 161
2B: 30
HR: 18
BB/K: 48/93

I also learned that at ASU, a big-time program, Ethier crushed the ball, putting up a 1.061 OPS with a 52/30 BB/K ratio, and was a 2-time Pac-10 All-Star OF.

I also learned that in 2005 he was the MVP of the Texas League, as well as the Oakland A's Minor League Player of the Fucking Year (emphasis and cussing mine).

You're telling me it took a million miles of driving and a heart attack and 368 years of baseball experience to tell that the 2005 OAKLAND A'S MINOR LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE FUCKING YEAR might be a guy who might interest you? Whatever, man. I learned it in twelve seconds with a computer.

My leg does itch a little though -- I think I have dry skin. Does that medical ailment mean my opinion counts more?

But LaMacchia made it his business to know Ethier.

"I guess that's what I do," he said. "I try to know players."

Most scouts do. Even the ones who use technology.

Working as a national scout from his home in San Antonio, where he lives with his wife of 62 years, Annie, LaMacchia would watch Ethier as he played for Oakland's double-A Midland team.

He saw him play in San Antonio, and Corpus Christi, and Frisco. He saw him taking early batting practice on 100-degree days, and running out ground balls at the end of blowout losses.

He didn't need a stopwatch to judge his hustle. He didn't need a computer to feel his swing. And when LaMacchia ever needs a radar gun reading, well, he just asks one of the scouts sitting next to him.

Luckily, one of the scouts has a radar gun. Because otherwise, LaMacchia would have no idea how fast the guy's throwing.

"The younger fellas look at me like I'm strange," he said. "But it's all in my heart and my head."

In Ethier, he saw so much potential, one day he couldn't help himself.

He walked down to the dugout railing and started giving him instructions.

Said LaMacchia: "I wanted to help the young kid, tell him not to try to pull everything, tell him to take what they gave him."

Said Ethier: "I thought he was just some crazy old man yelling at me from the stands."

I don't blame you, Andre.

A couple of old-timers quickly set the kid straight.

LaMacchia was a right-handed pitcher who won a couple of big-league games for St. Louis and Washington in the mid-1940s then became a legendary talent evaluator.

He played the game! Hey Joe Morgan -- rest easy, man, this guy played the game! You can listen to his opinions. They are valid!

I can't help it anymore. The rest of my comments will be in super-angry all-caps.

...When Ethier's name came up at the winter meetings, LaMacchia perked up as if they were talking about his son.

Logan White, the Dodgers scouting director, also had knowledge of Ethier. But it was LaMacchia's enthusiasm and information that sealed the deal.

"No question, I give Al full credit for this one," said Colletti. "He knew the guy. He loved the guy. We listened to him."

Colletti immediately asked the A's for Ethier. And, initially, he was turned down.


"But I kept thinking about what Al said, and I kept asking," Colletti said.


When the A's wanted the Dodgers to add infielder Antonio Perez to the trade, LaMacchia again pushed Ethier, telling Colletti that the kid had a chance to be better than Bradley or Perez.

"The A's finally gave in, and we got what we wanted," said Colletti.

Did they ever. While the A's received two serviceable players who have probably reached their peak, the Dodgers received a possible rookie of the year.


Before Tuesday, Ethier led all National League rookies in batting average (.333), on-base percentage (.390) and slugging percentage (.557).

He also has an old buddy who still occasionally calls him on the cellphone and reminds him to take what they give him.

From his San Antonio home this week, LaMacchia sighed.

"I am so grateful somebody still listens to me," he said.

From the Dodgers' clubhouse Tuesday, Ethier smiled.

"Everyone thinks they do all these analyses before they make a trade, but, in the end, I'm a Dodger because of that crazy old man," he said. "I can't thank him enough."


Once and for all:

I don't think -- NO ONE THINKS -- that scouts are worthless. EVERYONE who watches baseball and knows about baseball knows the value of scouting. It has value. Okay? It has value. It can tell you things about a player's constitution, and hustle, and all that stuff, which is definitely important.

But what has as much, if not more, value -- in nearly every single fucking possible scenario -- is the analysis of statistical information.

If you seek to invalidate the use of statistical analysis...if you denigrate it, mock it, or look down your nose at it...if you write terrible mock-poetry articles declaring the objective superiority of gut instinct and old-fashioned "stare tests" over numbers-based research...then you are a far bigger snob, a far bigger ignoramus, and a far more provincial person than those whom you target with tripe like this.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to drive 1600 miles on a pack mule to St. Louis so I can give Albert Pujols a little look-see. Want to be able to speak up tomorrow when the Boss Man asks me if we should try to trade for 'im.

Labels: ,

posted by Unknown  # 11:28 PM
Some things:

1. Very special thanks to reader Bryan for the tip.
2. The title of this post, if you're curious, refers to Plaschke's article, and not my feelings about my own writing.
3. My feelings abot my own writing are nearly always: ""
Before people get all hot and bothered about Greg Maddux, let's consider sample size. So far with the Dodgers, this is what Maddux has done in three starts:

20 IP, 2 ER, 9 K, 4 BB

Pretty damn good. But wait. Let's take a look at Maddux' first four starts this season with the Cubs:

27.1 IP, 3 ER, 18 K, 5 BB

Remember, dude was 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA in April. This year. Then the wheels totally fell off, with ERAs of 5.94, 6.25, and 5.21 in the next three months.
Before people get all hot and bothered about Andre Ethier, let's consider sample size. So far this year, this is what he's done:

92 games, 290 AB, .338/.383/.545, 11 HR

Now take a look at Player X:

97 games, 368 AB, .329/.384/.527, 12 HR

Give up? Player X is 31-year-old utility man Mark DeRosa, he of the career .752 OPS. (And it's not the Texas ballpark -- he's OPSing over 100 points higher on the road.) I'm not saying Ethier is Mark DeRosa, but I don't think he's a .340 BA, .900 OPS guy either (E-thier??? get it???). His totals over 3 minor league seasons look like this: .312/.382/.455.

Longer comment? Sure, don't mind if I do. Take a look at Rookie Y:

51 games, 140 AB, .321/.386/.521, 7 HR

Sure, it's only half as many at bats, but Matt Murton sure looked like a world-beater last year. This year he's come back to earth with a .784 OPS and 8 HR in 317 AB.

My point is that Bill Plaschke probably jerks off to old-people porn.
Reader Christian adds more reasons Plaschke should go soak his head: on pace either to approach, match, or plow through his 90th-percentile PECOTA projections (through 92 games thus far):

PECOTA--.290 EqA/.848 OPS/33.8 VORP/.148 MLVr/5.0 WARP-1
Actual--.302 EqA/.928 OPS/25.6 VORP/.334 MLVr/3.4 WARP-1

I only highlighted MLVr because that's the biggest disparity (among players with a min. 300 ABs, he ranks 15th in the majors), and there's nothing at which he has equally underperformed that balances it out somewhat. At his current rate, he would end up with a VORP of roughly 39-40. Something else, too, is that his BABIP is .396.

A BABIP of .396 is nuts. The guy is getting a little bit lucky, I'd say. He seems like a good player, but he will probably come back down to earth a bit. That's one point. The other point is that if PECOTA had him projected for a .290 EqA, an .848 OPS, and a 5.0 WARP, how the hell did no one else in the Dodgers' organization know about him?

Finally, our friend the Beautiful Cynic writes:

The entire crux of his argument relies on his statement early on that "Around the hotel room table, someone mentioned an unknown double-A outfielder named Andre Ethier." How "unknown" could Andre Ethier have been if I'd read about him every two weeks in Baseball America?
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