The Sarah Palin Effect and Baseball Nuance

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The Brewers have hired Johnny Narron as their new hitting coach to replace new Cubs manager Dale Sveum.

This gives them two Narrons on the coaching staff—bench coach Jerry Narron along with Johnny.

I’m not being snarky when I ask whether Keith Law has finally realized that Johnny Narron and Jerry Narron are not the same person.

In 2007, when the Rangers acquired Josh Hamilton, Law wrote a piece for ESPN about the move suggesting that they hire the “former Rangers manager” Johnny Narron as a “support system” for Hamilton given Johnny’s relationship with Hamilton in prior years as he recovered from substance abuse issues.

It made perfect sense.

The problem was that it was Johnny’s brother Jerry who was the former Rangers (and Reds) manager. It wouldn’t have been as glaring an error but for Law’s status as a “baseball insider”.

I wrote a blog posting in my loooong-ago blogging home MLBlogs that was indeed snarky—link.

But I’ve evolved since then. Slightly.

Law’s posting was later edited to correct the mistake. But that’s not the point.

There are factual errors and there’s are screwups.

This was a screwup stemming from an empty vault.

Jerry Narron shouldn’t be an unknown quantity for someone who fancies himself as enough of a baseball expert to comment on everything from scouting to stats to player moves to how stupid GMs of today are. In fact, it was Jerry Narron who, along with Brad Gulden, replaced Thurman Munson as one of the Yankees regular catchers for the remainder of the 1979 season after the Yankee captain’s tragic death in a plane crash.

This reminded me of a brief and not unfriendly back-and-forth I had with a fellow Twitter user about Joe Buck. I’d said something to the tune of, “we all know how Joe Buck wound up in the position he’s in” alluding to his father, Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck. The other user, a relatively known blogger attached to ESPN and angling for a position in a baseball front office, said Joe Buck was in his current position because his dad was a former ballplayer.

How, if you want to be a baseball executive, do you not know enough basic baseball history to understand who Jack Buck was and what he was famous for?

It’s the Sarah Palin effect and the nuance of knowledge.

You can cram all the bits of information into anyone’s brain to try and make them sound like they have a baseline comprehension of whatever’s going on, but that doesn’t imply actual knowing—knowing by observation and retaining information as a matter of course through in the trenches work.

It’s why the armchair analysts who have the audacity to sit in front of their computer screens and criticize Tony LaRussa by implying what they would do were they in his position sound so ludicrous.

It’s not about making the statistically viable decision in every circumstance—it’s about handling people and accessing an accumulated experience to do what might seem unconventional or difficult to explain, but works.

This can’t be accrued by regurgitating scouting terminology and being an “expert” in name only; it comes from years-and-years of involvement. If the former governor of Alaska did something as elementary as reading the newspaper on a daily basis, she wouldn’t have had to go through mock debates with her benefactors on suicide watch and praying for the best possible scenario (or a fire) that she not humiliate them with a ridiculous gaffe that a 2nd grader would know was inaccurate.

It’s the same thing in baseball.

Studying statistics and being able to sound like you know what you’re talking about doesn’t make it so.

It’s why a numbers cruncher has no business walking into then-Padres manager Bruce Bochy‘s office and suggesting he bat pitcher Woody Williams second.

It’s why you have to know who Jack Buck, Red Barber, Russ Hodges and Mel Allen were.

And it’s why you should know who a fringe player who replaced a fallen hero and became a big league manager is and that he and his brother are two separate people.

Either you know it or you don’t; and most of those who are accorded credibility in today’s era of internet journalism and repetitive, circular factoids plainly and simply don’t.

It’s easy to tell the difference if you’re actually listening and know what you’re talking about yourself.

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Viewer Mail 7.11.2011

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Players

Mike Tursi at YankeesGab writes RE Michael Kay and Derek Jeter:

2 points. See if you agree with me. 1) Kay is a writer by trade, so he broadcasts like he writes. Not saying it’s right or wrong. But that’s why he’ll never be like those broadcasters you mentioned. 2) Kay is a Bronx native & a huge Yankees fan. I’m sure his bias was coming through.

All fair points, but there’s a difference between innocent enthusiasm or simple excitement a la Russ Hodges and “The Giants won the pennant!!!” and a planned and crafted series of statements that, truth be told, were horribly constructed and telegraphed in their presentation.

I don’t remember him as a sportswriter and I say this in all seriousness: it’s Michael Kay; how good could he have been?

Part of Kay’s shtick is to be annoying; no one is expecting any broadcaster—especially one who’s a fan of the team—to be impartial, but the Jeter worship was beyond over-the-top; it was off-putting and egomaniacal in its attempt to forcibly act as the spokesman for the moment and be part of it rather than to do his job and step back from it, letting the story be the story.

Nick Dimi writes RE Kay and the Yankees:

Johnny Sterling is the voice of the Yankees. Let’s not forget Michael Kay was just his Suzyn Waldman in the 90s.

I like Sterling because he’s not trying to portray himself as a reporter/baseball expert while simultaneously wearing his Yankees footy pajamas and waving a pennant in the booth.

Sterling’s there to entertain Yankee fans, pure and simple; he puts out no pretense of impartiality. Plus Jane Heller says he’s a terrific guy.

Think about how disturbing it was that Kay was the analyst while in the booth with Sterling. Suzyn knows more about baseball than Kay ever will and I don’t think Suzyn knows much of anything either.

Franklin Rabon writes RE Jair Jurrjens:

The problem with Jurrjens is that he isn’t that much different than he was last year, he just is getting wildly different results. This happens a lot with pitch to contact guys. They’re wildly inconsistent. I expect Jair to regress a lot, though I hope he keeps it rolling.

The only thing is that it’s hard to tell if his drastically lowered walk rate is real or just an aberration.

I tend to think this year is a combo of real improvement (better movement on his pitches, and better control) and pure dumb luck. I hope it’s all real improvement, obviously, but I also hope to win powerball.

Apart from the fewer walks, Jurrjens’s in-depth numbers are almost identical to what they’ve been year-after-year.

If the Braves have gotten it into his head to throw the ball over the plate and let the movement and his defenders take care of things after the fact, then there’s no reason he can’t continue pitching well. It’s doubtful he’ll maintain an under 2 ERA the whole season, but he’s never allowed a lot of homers and the Braves infield defense isn’t exactly mobile, fast or rangy.

Maybe, just maybe, he’s figured it out and is adhering and executing a game plan.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Pirates:

I would love to see the Pirates throw the bomb. It’d be good for the game.

We’re all learning the lesson from teams that have built for the future with an organic plan of action; cultivated youngsters and made what were perceived to be smart free agent signings and trades, but have failed. It rarely works as it was drawn up on the blueprint.

The Pirates have an unexpected opening and it’s either try to charge through it or don’t. The NL Central is wide open and they have to make a move to steal it.

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