“These damn, over-sized new stadiums. They’re ruining the game, I tell ya.”
Murray Chass is 15o years old and has been writing for The New York Times since the founding of the New York Yankees in 1913. He remembers when the game was great–when the second basemen hit .136 on the season, and no one cared because he could make the turn on a double play. First basemen were big because they were overweight, not because they were on steroids. Mickey Mantle was a great centerfielder because he smoked cigars and drank whiskey before and after every game which made him so paranoid he feared that if he didn’t catch the long flies, the baseballs wouldn’t like him anymore since he allowed them to get grass stains. He remembers before the players got big contracts and egos and celebrity and their owners could lock them up for their entire life, paying them less than a kid in Burma gets for making Nikes. That’s the baseball Murray Chass remembers and loves. We’re all just watching its bastard cousin.
Chass, in all reality, has been writing baseball for the times for nearly forty years. He’s in the baseball writers’ hall of fame. And, to be fair, there’s not much going on baseball-wise. Free agency is over, spring training has begun. There haven’t been enough games to write about yet, and there hasn’t been enough of anything for teams to decide they need to make some trades. So on Tuesday, when Chass wrote his column in the NYT, it’s obvious he was just looking for something ramble on about for 6 inches.
His topic? Stuff he’s sick of hearing about. Allow us to quote to you the section of his otherwise blandly predictable column that’s created all the fuss:
Statistics mongers promoting VORP and other new-age baseball statistics.
I receive a daily e-mail message from Baseball Prospectus, an electronic publication filled with articles and information about statistics, mostly statistics that only stats mongers can love.
To me, VORP epitomized the new-age nonsense. For the longest time, I had no idea what VORP meant and didn’t care enough to go to any great lengths to find out. I asked some colleagues whose work I respect, and they didn’t know what it meant either.
Finally, not long ago, I came across VORP spelled out. It stands for value over replacement player. How thrilling. How absurd. Value over replacement player. Don’t ask what it means. I don’t know.
I suppose that if stats mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, that’s their prerogative. But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein.
People play baseball. Numbers don’t.
In summation: “There’s this new fangled stat called VORP, and I don’t know what it is, but it’s threatening all of baseball with its numberology and witchcraft, God help us!”
There’s been a great deal of backlash on this, but we’re going to add our two cents, just the same. Before hand, some links to other, better responses:
“Sportswriters, Stats, and Journalistic Standards,” by Timothy Savage. An analysis of what’s unnacceptable about Chass’ piece from a writerly perspective (similar to our approach).
“This Is Why This Site Still Exists,” by FireJoeMorgan. Mercilessly going after Chass’ “argument”.
“An Open Letter to Murray Chass,” by Nate Silver. Baseball Prospectus’ own response.
As for us, we find Chass’ column appalling. We’ve long had complaints with the editorial staff at the New York Times. We’re aware of a number of the Times’ rules for journalism, and it seems as though we seem them violated every time we open up their site.
Chass is criticizing the [excellent] work of another publication while admitting he does not know what they do. His claim that VORP is undermining baseball seems akin to those who claim homosexuality is ruining marriage. The average baseball fan has, perhaps, heardof VORP, but doesn’t have a clue what it means. Or cares, for that matter. For the average fan, the joy comes from watching the game. For that matter, the statistically inclined fan enjoys, above all, watching baseball.
The New York Times is supposed to be the finest newspaper the U.S. has to offer. Its editorial staff is responsible for making certain its journalists are diligent and thorough in their research, and they address their stories openly and without bias. Chass’ position is, at best, old-fashioned, and at worst, absurdly stupid. Worse, his editorial staff’s work was neglected or willfully ignored.
The Curious Mechanism has no editors. We have very little in the way of editorial policy:
When talking of politics, no partisanship. When talking of sports, pro-Philadelphia. Ending a sentence with a preposition is some up with which we will not put. Only swear when it’s funny.
That about does it. And we admit, we’ve made mistakes. (For the record, we’re sorry about that, and we’re sure Steve Serby is a lovely fellow, but we still hate that article and the perspective it takes). But we like to think that if we were the sports editor or whoever is reading over Chass’ writing before sending it to the printer, we’d stop and explain VORP to him and tell him those paragraphs won’t cut it.
Our only problem with VORP is that we don’t know how to calculate it. Anyone wanna teach us?