Where Bad Sports Journalism Came To Die

FJM has gone dark for the foreseeable future. Sorry folks. We may post once in a while, but it's pretty much over. You can still e-mail dak, Ken Tremendous, Junior, Matthew Murbles, or Coach.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008


Heady Days

Friends, we have truly entered a strange era of sports journalism criticism. It's not like the salad days of sports journalism criticism, where all of the sports journalism was straightforward and sincere in its idiocy. Nowadays, it seems to me, the increasing prominence of sports journalism criticism has led to what appears to be ironic sports journalism, which -- again, it appears to me -- seems to be either (a) taking into account or (b) outright like seeking sports journalism criticism, in order to draw attention to itself or get more hits for its specific site, or just maybe to stir some good old fashioned shit. (If these pieces in fact contain what the legal system calls "intent," they might be properly called: sports journalism criticism criticism. This is one of those f(f(f(x))) deals that make Junior giddy.)

With this Pynchonian-style paranoia as my backdrop, I present to you what was called "The Most Ridiculous Article Ever In The History of Everything Ever" by reader Matt. It comes from Jim Armstrong of AOL, and it's called:

Baseball Stats Mania Rates a Zero

Let's go ahead and take it as a given that this turdpile may be tongue in cheek, or at the very least, bait. If it's a parody, it's brilliant. If it's sincere, holy God. And if it's bait, well, I just bit, and it tastes delicious, even though I know the hook is about to pierce me through the lower jaw and drain my lifeforce.

Given the state of the economy and all the political mud slinging going on, I probably should be worried about my country these days. But the truth is, I’ve got more important things on my mind, including the most important thing of all.

Me too. Love baseball. Love it. Love everything about it. You and I have a lot in common, here, Jimmy. Let's talk baseball. What do you want to hit first? The Tigers' surprisingly bad start? The Go-Go Royals? The Yankees' injuries? How about Johnny Cueto?! Have you seen that guy pitch? Holey moley! Whatever you want to talk about, man -- it's your article. You pick.

No, not the lab rats who play it or the trust-fund babies who run it. Baseball has been around since they used cowpies for bases. It has survived despite itself for this long, so there’s no reason to think it won’t continue to.

So you're not thinking about the players, or the owners, or even the game itself. Seems like those are fun things to think about when one thinks about baseball -- the players, teams, or games. But okay. I'm all ears. What subject tickles your fancy this fine Spring day?

I’m worried about us, the fans. I’m worried that aliens are trying to attack our brains.

If the article stopped right here, it would be my favorite sports article of all time. Armstrong should have stopped right here, and then, as a publicity stunt, run onto the highway wearing only a Green Hornet mask and diving flippers, waving a toy gun and screaming about the Warren Report. He would be a legend.

At least they might as well be aliens. But for the record, they’re lifeless geeks who wake up every morning in hopes of creating a new baseball statistic.



Hang on a second. I was half-asleep asleep on this old busted-up futon in my mom's basement, eating handfuls of sugary cereal out of the box and contemplating buying some vintage Ram-Man action figures off eBay, but now I guess I have to struggle to an upright position and try to address this guy's concerns.

Have you seen some of the quote, unquote stats out there?

My man: when you are talking you say "quote-unquote" to indicate sarcasm. When you are writing you can just put things in quotes. As in: Jim Armstrong is a "journalist." He is also "funny" and "smart" and I "want to hang out with him" because he seems to have a lot of "good" "points."

When I was a kid hustling autographs at Wrigley Field, the game was all about W’s and L’s. Now it’s about WHIP and VORP and OPS and BABIP.

Anyone who writes anything for a living should avoid cliché. I think we can all agree on that. This thought is now officially the #1 cliché about the baseball statistics debate. When I was a kid, people only cared about wins and losses. Now everyone is a nerd who loves weird stats and hates baseball. Please, all of you who have this thought, listen to me. Please. Here we go.

There have always been statistics in baseball. Always. Statistics like WHIP and VORP and OPS are better than the old statistics, because they give you more actual pertinent information. This is not up for debate. If you don't like these stats, don't use them. But don't tell me that they aren't interesting or good.

I just don't get it, man. No one ever said: "When I was a kid, if we were going to cut off your leg we'd give you a shot of whiskey and a rope to bite down on, and we'd just take a dirty hacksaw and just hack away, outside, on the ground. Why do all these nerds keep talking about 'anaesthesia' and 'sterilization?!'"

And let’s not forget the most important acronym of them all: HGH.

Has nothing to do with the argument you are developing. Not a stat. Bad writing.

VORP? WHIP? BABIP? Since when did a Harvard physics degree replace a ticket stub for admission to the left-field bleachers?

Since March of 2003. You didn't hear? You need a math/science/engineering degree from Harvard, Cal Tech, Harvey Mudd, MIT, or University of Mumbai. Or a Philosophy degree from Pittsburgh.

I don’t know about you, but I liked the way things were before some self-absorbed numbers cruncher dreamed up VORP (Value Over Replacement Player, whatever that means.)

It's pretty self-explanatory, but here. Read something. It makes you smarter.

Additionally: pandering to ignoramuses is not a flattering character trait. And being a snooty dick is? Hey! How'd you gain the ability to type, Ken's superego?

And while we’re on the subject, didn’t that guy have something better to do that day?

Here we go.

Like getting some fresh air

It's a-comin'.

instead of spending the entire day

Oh my god. I can feel it. It's so close.

in his boxer shorts

Do it!

in his





...yessssss! Whoooooooo!


In his mother's basement!!!!!

In his fucking mother's fucking basement!

Holy shit.

Holy shit, you guys.

In his mother's basement!


In his mother's basement.

He fucking nailed it, you guys.

Nailed it. Jesus.

Man. Okay. Just...that was awesome, is all. Awesome.

Let me guess.


The guy spends every waking moment of every day on his computer. And his only correspondence with the outside world is with fellow self-absorbed numbers crunchers who spend every waking moment of every day in dogged pursuit of the next esoteric pseudostat.

Keith Woolner is his name. He currently works for the Cleveland Indians. I guarantee he has watched more baseball games in the past ten years than you have. Also: they're not "pseudostats." They're just: stats. (They're not even really that esoteric, though I suppose what's straightforward to some might be "esoteric" to someone who never reads anything, or cares to, or has any intellectual curiosity at all.) (When did having zero intellectual curiosity about the world -- and a corresponding sneering contempt for those who have any -- become a positive character trait instead of a flashing warning signal that this person is a stubborn dummy?) (Oh -- right.)

These are the baseball writers of today. Forget Roger Angell and David Halberstam and all those other curmudgeons. They wrote about the romance of the game, the visceral attraction of the game, the simple pleasures of the game. They wrote about the Boys of Summer and the dads who took their sons out to the yard to watch them.

Fantastic writers. Brilliant. I eat 'em up. Most people I know love them.

Today, it’s all about the numbers and the psychos who crunch them.

No it's not. No. Wrong. It is not. Did you read Tom Verducci's piece about Red Sox fans in SI, for their Sportsmen of the Year issue in 2004? Do you read Leigh Montville, or Buzz Bissinger, or Bill Plaschke? Now, I am not personally a fan of some of these people, but they write about the humanistic elements of the game. That kind of writing is out there, if you want it.

They call themselves sabermetricians. I call them seamheads, among other things.

(crying) Shut up. That's mean. Shut up. (runs home)

I’m telling you, we need to stop these people before it’s too late. Before we’re all walking around in a cyberfog talking in acronyms that only Stephen Hawking could understand.

Come on, man. Hawking is such a hacky choice. At least go Roger Penrose, or Andrew Wiles, or Max Tegmark or something.

President Bush, your basic baseball junkie, needs to swing into action in the best interests of the country. He needs to have his Homeland Security Nazis break into these people’s homes and take a Louisville Slugger to their computers.

I don't exactly know how this is offensive, but I'm sure it is. Let's figure it out together. He mentions Nazis, which is generally considered offensive. He mentions them in reference to people serving in the U.S. Government, which is probably not supercool. He is asking the President of the United States to order the government to attack its citizens for talking about baseball statistics, which is interesting. Huh. Can't quite pinpoint it. At least it's a hilarious joke, though.

If not, I may have to resort to drastic measures. I may have to become a soccer fan. Think about it. There are no seamheads trying to take over the soccer world.

Ha ha! Fuck you, dude -- you're too late!

There can’t be because there are no numbers to crunch. Well, a few maybe, but not enough to get all hot and bothered about.

Also, soccer is cool and fun to watch.

Things are simpler in soccer. There’s no WHIP or VORP in soccer, just a few DOAs after the usual fan rowdiness in the stands. In soccer, all the stats are the same. All the goalkeepers have a .001 goals-allowed average and, at the end of the season, everyone ties for the league lead with one goal scored.

Not in baseball.

Right. Which is why we need more statistical analysis.

In the past few days alone, I’ve come across such stats as OPS (One-base Plus Slugging percentage),


GWRBI (Game Winning Runs Batted In),


DIPS (Don’t Ask),

What'd you call me? You're a DIPS!

QERA (Quantified Earned Run Average),

That looks like "queer!" Heh heh heh heh heh!

WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched)


and BABIP (Batting Average for Balls In Play).

(slack-jawed; confused; drools)

Let me just get a few things straight. (a) You just found out about OPS? (b) You just heard about GWRBI, a stat that was so mainstream it was briefly on the backs of baseball cards in the late 1980s before people realized it was dumb? (c) You can't succinctly explain DIPS? Here.

Good thing Casey Stengel isn’t around to see this nonsense. All this numbers crunching might have interrupted his nap in the dugout.

And that...would be...bad?

Or Earl Weaver. He would have been so busy thumbing through computer printouts, he wouldn’t have had time to sneak in a half-pack of smokes in the runway.

Napping and smoking. You know -- baseball. What baseball should be. Napping and smoking while you manage a professional baseball team.

GM: Thanks for meeting with us.

Prospective Manager
: Thank you for seeing me.

GM: Look. We are one of 30 professional baseball teams in the country. The franchise is worth about $500 million, give or take. We have a brand new stadium, partially financed by the taxpayers of this county. The revenue of our sport last year was roughly $7 billion. You are going to control a roster of 24-40 men, the average salary of whom is north of $3 million. They come from Canada, the U.S., Central America, South America, Australia, South Korea, Japan, and several Caribbean Islands. You have to make sure that they are used correctly, that their egos are in check, that they can withstand the grind of a 162-game schedule, that they don't do stupid extra-curricular shit like go to strip clubs, and you need to be aware of which guys are in trouble with steroids, which guys need carrots and which need sticks, and you'll need to soothe the feathers of the veterans (and rookies) who get sent down, and you have to do all of this while winning at least 90 games.

Prospective Manager: Got it.

GM: So, what will you do during the average game?

Prospective Manager: Nap and smoke.

GM: You're hired.

Prospective Manager: Great.

GM: Now you're fired. I wanted to hire you just so I could fire you.

Prospective Manager: But Casey Stengel napped!

GM: He managed the fucking Yankees from 1949 to 1960. You'd've napped too, if you had those players.

Prospective Manager: And Earl Weaver smoked!

GM: He also used stats. A lot. He famously encouraged his hitters to walk and knew the value of 3-run homers. Get out of my office.

Other than their utter lack of social skills, I’m not sure why all these computer nerds keep dreaming up new stats.

Look. It may be true that I have no friends, no wife, no children, and that I live in a soggy refrigerator crate in my mom's basement. That's no reason to be rude.

I guess my hope is that by dreaming up new stats, I will somehow attract the attention of a nice, introverted, monobrowed nerd girlfriend with bad teeth who will take pity on me and marry me and we can have nerd children who will grow up to be rocket scientists and develop a secret Doomsday Device with which we can rule the world!

In the end, the question is whether their numbers add to the enjoyment of the game. And the answer is no.

Shut up. Seriously, man, shut the fuck up. This is like saying,"I don't like action movies, so no one can ever enjoy action movies because action movies are terrible." If you don't want to use stats, don't use them. I don't care. But for the love of goddamned God, don't tell me that statistical analysis "doesn't add up to enjoyment of the game." You are telling me that my friends and I are incapable of enjoying baseball. I promise you -- I PROMISE you -- I enjoy baseball. I love baseball. This is not a situation where only one kind of person can love baseball. Lots of different people can love baseball for lots of different reasons. In my case, I love baseball every bit as much as you, but -- and here's the difference between you and me -- I also understand it. If you are interested in learning how to understand it, just ask. I can teach you in like 10 minutes. (And I don't even know that much about sabermetrics.)

I’ll tell you what adds to the enjoyment of the game, and I’ll put it in terms these geeks can understand.

(a) Fuck off, again, and (b) hit me...

ABAB (a Beer And a Brat).

Blammo. Nailed the joke. I give up. I will crawl into your cave with you and relearn how to enjoy baseball without using any part of my brain. Just my stomach. And we'll be alcoholics together and high-five a lot and yell "You Suck" at opposing players. Sounds like a good time.

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posted by Anonymous  # 5:53 PM
Also -- and this is a giant "no shit, dude" -- but writing about stats and writing about the "humanistic" side of the game don't have to be mutually exclusive. Anyone who's read an ounce of Bill James knows this.
hey guys, it's me. what's been going on? anyway, shouldn't "a Beer And a Brat" be ABAAB? kinda sad that he had us wait for this gem and then flubbed it anyway. okay, cool, see you guys later.
Couple things:

in response to those of you who requested the coveted "Food Metaphors" label due to either (a) "salad days" or (b) "ABAB," I say: these are not, strictly speaking, metaphors. However, we like to reward those who keep an eye out for coveted "food metaphors label" opportunities, so I am going to tag this with the less-coveted 'liberal use of food metaphors label" label.

Second, many of you sent in this better example of sabermetrics-style approaches to soccer:

"Better" because it actually involved Billy Beane himself getting interested in the subject.
F a "liberal use of 'food metaphors' label." This is a perfect opportunity to begin the era of the "food based acronyms" label! Catch the fever!
Food Acronyms is now a label. Congrats, Murbles.
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