FIRE JOE MORGAN: Let's Hit Rewind on Buzz Bissinger's <i>Play</i> Article


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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Let's Hit Rewind on Buzz Bissinger's Play Article

Maybe you've heard -- Buzz Bissinger is in the bloggy sports news ether today. Several people sent us Buzz's piece on Kerry Wood in the New York Times magazine Play from about a year ago. I read the article from start to finish. It's artfully written, evocative, unPlaschkely poetic -- and deliberately, wrongheadedly misleading. Buzz Bissinger, such a gifted wordsmith and storyteller, weaves a beautiful, heart-rending tale about Wood, but doesn't bother to do enough research to avoid coming to the exact wrong conclusion about Wood's generation of pitchers.

And that's where blogs come in. Bissinger writes:

The rule of thumb is that a pitcher should get some 400 innings of work in the minors before being called up. But with today’s baseball economics, La Russa knows that has become an untenable luxury.

Buzz's stance is clear: leave 'em in the minors longer! Wood, Prior, Liriano, King Felix -- they've been picked while still unripe. Big Bad Economics, Modernity, Progress -- whatever your boogeyman -- that's who's to blame.

Buzz is wrong. And had he done a modicum of research, he would have found this out immediately. I know this because people did that research for him here, here, here, here, here, and here. Good people on the Internet. Blogging. Posting on message boards. Thinking. Writing. Addding. Subtracting. Mother's basement-ing. Spreadsheeting. Checking on articles that get published in the Old Gray Lady so we don't just have to accept what's in black and white print as pure gospel.

How is this a bad thing?

Jared Park:

Pitcher, Minor League Innings (numbers courtesy of The Baseball Cube)

Steve Carlton, 306
Nolan Ryan, 287 (and quoted by Bissinger in the piece)
Don Sutton, 249
Tom Seaver, 210
Jim Palmer, 129
Bert Blyleven, 123

And a few current players with no durability issues:

Johan Santana, 334
C.C. Sabathia, 232.7
Mike Mussina, 178

Joe Posnanski:

I looked up, by decade, the number of pitchers who were 21 or younger and had seasons throwing 150-plus innings in the big leagues.

Here's what I came up with:

1960s: 32 different pitchers.
1970s: 26 different pitchers.
1980s: 15 different pitchers.
1990s: 5 different pitchers.
2000s: 8 different pitchers (so far).

Clay Davenport:

I dug out a 1974 Baseball Register I have, and, far more slowly, did the same for all pitchers who made their major league debut in 1973.
For the recent years the numbers were:

2004 averaged 137 minor league games and 433 innings (113 pitchers)
2005 109 games and 353 innings (100 pitchers)
2006 130 games and 434 innings (134)

Bounce to the old stuff:
1973 85 games and 420 innings (53 pitchers)

More Buzz:

Francisco Liriano, in his first full season with the Minnesota Twins in 2006, went 12 and 3 and seemed destined for greatness, but he will miss the entire 2007 season after undergoing ligament replacement surgery — the so-called Tommy John procedure — on his elbow last November. “The economic push is to bring kids up, and it’s unfortunate,” La Russa says.

Yes, so unfortunate that Liriano was called up after only 484.1 minor league innings. I looked it up. Searched for francisco liriano cube. Took 0.23 seconds.

Buzz -- Pulitzer Prize-winner, exceptional prose stylist -- arrived at the exact opposite of the truth. And thanks to an entertaining, extremely satisfying interview of Buzz by Boog Sciambi (spoiler alert: it ends with Buzz calling an unrelated radio host a "slimebucket" and Boog hanging up on Buzz), we know why Buzz did this.

It was because Tony LaRussa told him what conclusion to draw, and with maestro LaRussa conducting Buzz's train of thought, Buzz didn't care to punch a few numbers into Google ThoughtMaps to guide his thought-train into Accuracyville Station. (Is this better than the Underwater StupidTank metaphor from a few posts back? I can make it more convoluted, if that's the problem.)

Old Baseball Men told Buzz what to think and Buzz dutifully wrote what they told him. He did so beautifully, but I'll take an ugly truth over a beautiful falsehood every day of the week except those days I'm feeling really shallow. The Kerry Wood profile as a whole still has some value, of course, but how much value, considering its central tenet is based on purely anecdotal, and ultimately inaccurate, information? Why can't Buzz Bissinger see that blogs provide a valuable fact-checking service as well as a place to see athletes drink Creme de Menthe off a naked lady-shaped ice luge? And why is Buzz Bissinger in my house spitting on me, punching me, and screaming "Stop being so fucking goddamn profane, you cunt-word!" as I write this?

Next up: I tear Braylon Edwards a giant new poophole.

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posted by Junior  # 3:40 PM
Man, I just rewatched the Leitch/Bissinger tête-à-tête because my girlfriend said "I want to see that crazy man again." At the end of the segment, Bissinger goes after Leitch for staying out of the press box, accusing him of ignoring the facts. Reader Thomas chimes in:

"Don't let facts get in the way of your writing," as Bissinger condescendingly asserted that Leitch (and bloggers in general) tend to do.

Rather, let cute anecdotes from Tony LaRussa and Jim Riggleman get in the way of facts.

"Accuracyville Station" label, please.
Another crazy Buzz moment I liked was when he was all "It's amazing to me that you say 'sports news without access, favor, or discretion' when you admit to being biased for the Cardinals." Umm, dude? I don't think that's the kind of "favor" they're talking about.
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