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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And Jose Reyes As Babe Ruth

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Judging from the reaction in fan and media circles, you’d think the Mets are running the risk of losing Babe Ruth rather than Jose Reyes and David Wright.

It’s grown stale.

The latest bit of journalism to catch my eye aren’t from the usual suspects in the New York media who are doing everything they can to paint the Mets as the epitome of the big market team whose ownership issues have forced small market behaviors.

No.

It’s Will Leitch in New York Magazine whose latest piece has inspired me to say the following: Will Leitch should stop writing about baseball.

At least until he learns something about it and can maintain some semblance of belief—backed up by intelligence—regarding the subject.

When a writer has me hearkening to the similar baseball-ignorant related ramblings of Stephen A. Smith, it’s time to step back and contemplate fresh tactics.

Previously, I thought Leitch simply had a Moneyball-fetish and truly didn’t comprehend what he was saying as he continually advocated the nonsensical book as the Holy Grail; that he believed everything in the mythical tome of Michael Lewis (coming to a theater near you in September). Now I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s an opportunist who’s using the issues hovering over the Mets as a hammer to brutalize a club that is trying get its act together.

From the fanboy perspective, I suppose Moneyball is a convenient set of tenets upon which to build oneself up as an “expert”. In the tradition of that atrocious film “Kick-Ass”, it’s the loser makes good, gets the pretty girl and becomes popular.

In other words, it’s a fantasy.

You see it repeatedly when the self-proclaimed baseball experts who haven’t any in-the-trenches, innate knowledge of the game make declarative statements of what they’d do were they running a club or functioning as part of a front office.

This is how you get the caller to Mike Francesa’s show who claimed he would’ve ordered Jorge Posada—a borderline Hall of Fame switch hitter—to bat left-handed against a left-handed pitcher because the numbers dictated that it was a good idea; how you find a Padres numbers cruncher with the abject failure to understand protocol as he suggested to then-manager Bruce Bochy that he bat pitcher Woody Williams second in the batting order.

And how no one is willing to get into a substantive debate about the subject, choosing instead to make comments from afar where they’re safe from retort by the object of their vitriol.

Leitch’s piece combines familiar Mets ridicule with profound negativity and a “they can’t win” sensibility.

It also exhibits a total lack of knowledge and memory of that which he’s advocated previously.

Not long ago, he wanted Billy Beane to come and take over the Mets ignoring what Beane truly is, not in the Moneyball sense, but in objective analysis.

Beane is a competent executive. No more, no less. His teams haven’t been good in recent years; he’s made some overtly stupid decisions; and has taken advantage of his fame without acknowledging the pitfalls of a “genius” and crafted perfection that never existed in the first place.

The Mets hired Sandy Alderson to run the club and he imported many of the characters and strategies from Moneyball—Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi among them.

Now, as the Mets tenuous financial situation is in the process of being untangled, there’s concern that they’re going to go the way of clubs like the Padres and Marlins who’ve repeatedly torn down the entire foundation of their franchises due to financial constraints.

They might trade Reyes or not even make an attempt to re-sign him; they could deal Wright; there are no impact free agents to be available in the coming years; they’re an exercise in dysfunction with no discernible strategy and few prospects both practically and metaphorically.

We’ve heard it all before.

The New York Mets will not crumble to the ground if Reyes and Wright are no longer the cornerstones of the franchise. They’re not the end-all, be-all of club existence. With the way the franchise is currently constituted, the Mets have to have everything on the table in terms of willingness to deal.

But here we are with Reyes playing brilliantly and placing a wrench in the theories of those who claim there’s no “evidence” of a contract-year bump; of course there’s a contract-year bump for certain players and Reyes is one of them. He wants to get paid and is doing everything he can towards that end.

Each sparkling defensive play; every stolen base; all the exciting triples into the Citi Field gap and Predator-style dreadlocks flying through the air complete with the Reyes smile that was so prominent in 2006, the media and fans pound the drums, blogosphere and social networks with entreaties as to how they want the Mets to ante up and prevent any possibility of the player entering his prime years playing in another uniform.

It would be a similar mistake to do anything desperate now as it was when the prior regimes made such ghastly and short-sighted errors such as the trading of Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano and the bidding-against-themselves signings of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.

In fact, it would be the exact opposite of why they hired Alderson; of doing what it was the likes of Leitch wanted them to do: find someone like Alderson, unbeholden to fan/media whims and acting in a way commensurate with his Marine-lawyer background to do what needed to be done for the good of the club without reverence to the past nor what would look good in the short-term.

So which is it?

If you examine similar clubs who’ve had financial catastrophes in the past, you come up with some interesting parallels.

The Red Sox were a joke before John Henry took over. Yes, they were good occasionally (like the Mets); yes, they spent money (like the Mets); and yes, they had a loyal and frustrated fan base that took a perverse and masochistic pride in their lot as a punching bag for the Yankees both literally and figuratively (like the Mets).

Spurned by the “genius” Beane—who’d agreed to take over the franchise after the 2002 season and backed out to remain in the comfort-zone of limited media exposure, fan obsession and expectations—they turned to young Theo Epstein who has presided over a model franchise since then.

The Rangers were a train wreck and financial nightmare as recently as last season. They made a decision in 2007 to trade a player the same age as Reyes is now (27)—Mark Teixeira—and laid the foundation for the pennant winning club of 2010 and rebuilt the franchise with the ridiculous haul of prospects they received from the Braves that included Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

You can’t say now what will work and what won’t; if a team comes to the Mets and makes an offer that would yield a substantial return for any player, they would be stupid not to think about it.

Alderson’s not stupid.

Indicative of a lack of baseball knowledge or the barest interest in accuracy is the comparison of the Mets to a small-market locale when Leitch writes the following:

But do the Mets want to be the sort of franchise that trades away its best players in their prime because of financial concerns? What are we, Minnesota?

Minnesota?

Which Minnesota is he referring to?

The Twins with their $113 million payroll? The same club that just lavished a contract worth $184 million on Joe Mauer?

Actually, with the way they flamed out in the playoffs last year—the year they were supposed to finally get past the Yankees—and the injury-ravaged, high-expectations, disaster they’ve been this year, you can compare the Twins to the Mets, not the other way around.

Leitch’s allegiance to the Moneyball model isn’t based on any deep-rooted understanding of the concept, but that it’s a book that he read and hasn’t the faintest clue as to how terribly the story was twisted to suit the ends of the author; in order to comprehend that, there must be a foundational baseball knowledge to start with.

Now I’m starting to see that Leitch’s baseball savvy is clearly more in line with the aforementioned Stephen A. Smith rather than someone with whom you could have a legitimate back-and-forth without having to explain these concepts to them like a college professor.

I don’t see Leitch’s column as slimy in a Joel Sherman sort of way, but it’s ignorant and tilted towards smarminess to attack the Mets.

At the end of the piece, Leitch writes: “And yet whichever path they choose, as any die-hard Mets fan knows, will probably be the wrong one.”

Perhaps taking that statement to heart considering his own goal in writing a hit-piece of this kind would serve him well. Get it right or quit writing about baseball altogether. Or at least present a case that isn’t dripping with sarcasm for its own sake.

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