Who Cares What Bill James Says About Paterno?

Books, College Football, Fantasy/Roto, History, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Politics, Stats

If Joe Shmo on the street says something offensive about the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky/Penn State mess, he’s dismissed as a crank and ignored. Bill James does it and it’s a national catastrophe of outrage and shame.

You can read the recap with all the required links here on Deadspin.

I’m not weighing in on what James said because I really don’t care what he said.

Why is James’s opinion on this story given weight? Why does anyone care what he says?

James’s obnoxious pomposity—that’s been present in his writings from the beginning—was accepted as the personality of an iconoclast and because he was providing something useful that the market wanted. Now that he says things that are borderline lunatic, he gets roasted or has excuses made for him. He’s the same person.

Frankly I never saw what the big deal about him was in the first place. His writing is overwrought and intentionally obtuse. He’s taken as the final word on baseball when he’s more of a theorist whose main attribute was that he was able to, as he himself said, “count things”. He’s just a guy. A guy who talks about baseball and managed to carve out a career for himself by appealing to those who were also crunching numbers and finding different ways to think and assess the game of baseball. He wasn’t curing cancer and he’s not always right. There are ways to analyze players and discuss the game without being a slave to numbers to the degree that much of James’s work has been twisted.

He’s been mythologized because he was the first so-called “stat geek” to enter the mainstream. Does that make him an authority on everything? He was asked about the Paterno situation and he gave his opinion. That opinion was somewhat ridiculous and in it he does what he used to tear into baseball executives for doing by making random statements based on nothing.

“(Showering with) boys was quite common in America 40 years ago”? Really? In how many homes was this prevalent? Did James do what he says is the basis for his baseball analysis: counting? Did he check into the number of homes from 40 years ago and do in-depth research with the requisite analysis of exactly how these showers were taken? Was it in a lockerroom situation with dividers between the showerheads? Was it in a bathtub? A walk-in? What?

How would he know that it was common? And if it was, why is that relevant to what Sandusky was doing? Maybe he needs to come up with the Pythagorean Shower Theorem to adequately categorize what’s deemed appropriate and inappropriate.

What I find ludicrous about the James story isn’t simply what he said, it’s that a large chunk of the criticisms of him are laden with caveats from people like Craig Calcaterra who believes similarly to James in baseball thinking and because of that feels the need to provide apologetic explanations and addendums for perfectly reasonable statements he’s made because they were later described as “cheap shots”.

Is there a difference between levying criticism at Bill James and the people in baseball who receive abuse from outsiders who don’t know anything about baseball other than how to read a stat sheet? Well-known Jamesean bloggers send nothing but cheap shots at GMs, managers, coaches, broadcasters and writers who dare disagree with them, but that’s okay?

In the end, why is anyone offended by something James says about a story not baseball-related? When did he become a credible commentator on subjects outside the world of intricate stats in baseball? He’s not a legal mind; he’s not a politician; he’s not a newsman; he’s not a columnist. He’s just a guy who wrote about baseball and is no more important than you or me.

By that shower-metric, there’s no reason for this over-the-top response to what he said because it’s essentially meaningless.

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