Why Your Child Should Watch “MLB Now”

…other than the fact that teaching your child to understand and enjoy baseball is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give, that is.

Don't be like Harold, son.

Don’t be like Harold, son.

No, the best reason to watch “MLB Now,” a program on the cable MLB channel, has nothing to do with baseball. It does have to do with preparing your child for life, showing him the danger of bias, and teaching her that remaining open to new ideas and information is essential, not only to ethical conduct, but to rational conduct as well.

The show features two commentators, Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds, debating various baseball questions while coming from different disciplines and perspectives. Reynolds, a former player of some note with the Seattle Mariners, is “old school,” meaning that he belongs to that dwindling cadre of people, in the game and out of it, who rely on traditional wisdom, misconceptions, myths, false assumption and, most of all, their own gut level observations to interpret the deceptively complex game and evaluate its players. Thus he extolls doing the “little things that win,” like bunting and stealing bases, talks a lot about “protection” in the line-up, prattles on about clutch hitting and “pitching to the score,” and other similar thoroughly debunked nonsense that was regarded as cant back when John McGraw was managing but now is about as outdated as the assertion that women can’t drive. Kenny is thoroughly versed in the art of sabermetrics, the statistical measurements of baseball pioneered in the 1980’s by Bill James and others. Sabermetrics has transformed how baseball is watched, operated and played, greatly aided by the availability of computers. They can show how a pitcher with a losing record is both better and more valuable than one who wins twenty games, the traditional measure of excellence. They can prove that a batting champion is actually less of a positive offensive force than some obscure, .270 hitting player few have ever heard of. Sabermetrics can prove that managers with the reputation of being geniuses were really lucky dimwits. They can, that is, if you are willing to learn and pay attention.

Harold Reynolds isn’t. He played the game, dammit, and he knows the inner working of baseball that Brian Kenny can’t possibly comprehend. Thus he not only disdains the enlightenment Kenny tries to bring to him, but rolls his eyes and ridicules it, while doggedly sticking to his ignorant version of reality no matter what facts are presented to rebut them. Yesterday I watched a typical segment in which the two were debating the relative merits of National League second basemen. Reynolds declared unequivocally that Reds second-sacker Brandon Phillips was the creme de la creme, while Kenny declared that the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter was the clear choice so far in 2013. Kenny calmly explained that his position was completely objective and based on numbers and results: Carpenter led all players at his position in virtually every offensive measurement, and had superior fielding stats as well. Reynolds smiled in his nice, “boy, are you an idiot” way and said, simply, “But Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the National League.”

Initially, I believed that MLB was irresponsible to air such a show, because it posits an equivalence between rational, open-minded analysis and stubborn resistance to inconvenient facts. The topic is baseball, but Reynold could just as easily be a Holocaust denier, a creationist, a Communist, a faith-healer, a white supremacist or an astrologer. At some point, individuals determined to preach definitively discredited theories to the public are a menace, and should not be given any forums more prominent than a street corner or a podium at a wackos convention. Then I realized the service “MLB Now” renders to humanity by widely exhibiting Reynolds’ toxic resistance to reality in the face of evidence and tools that he, as someone in the profession of analyzing baseball, should eagerly embrace. Such irrational conduct is so much more obvious when we witness it in others than it is when engage in it ourselves. Any installment of “MLB Now” will support a play-by-play  commentary while Reynolds is making his arguments, identifying the cascading rationalizations and reasoning fallacies. The overall message is that Harold Reynolds, a nice, sincere, not unintelligent man, makes a fool of himself on television because he..

…refuses to listen, and thus is incapable of learning,

…will not abandon assumptions when they are proven false, choosing instead to dismiss the proof because it is not consistent with his assumptions,

…is not receptive to new data or ways of examining issues he cares about,

…is personally invested in defending his past positions rather than seeking the greater understanding and truth that should supplant them.

You don’t want your child to end up like Harold Reynolds, and having your children watch him is an excellent way to ensure that they won’t.

________________________________________________

Spark: Craig Calcaterra

Graphic: The Starting Five

 

34 thoughts on “Why Your Child Should Watch “MLB Now”

  1. I’m sorry, are you not a fan of baseball, or any sport?

    People, even former players, and announcers are FANs and as such have BIAS. Pro Sports are entertainment, and those announcers are the entertainers’ MusicMen. They are paid to be that person you love to hate yet watch anyway. The Fix is In. It’s not unethical but a well oiled media machine.

    Better Example
    Tennis player Rafael Nadal has 12 Grand Slam singles titles, and Roger Federer has 17 titles, most all time in the Open Era. Nadal beats Roger almost every time they play each other. In Tennis the prime indicator of greatness are Grand Slam singles titles. Yet you will have well paid former players and other announcers ignore those statistics and argue that Nadal is the best player of all time. It’s called passion and why people tune in to watch and listen.

    • It is possible to be a fan of the game, and seek the best, most complete understanding of it without succumbing to the celebrity-worship nonsense you describe.

    • Not responsive to the issue described. Tennis greatness is not determined solely by head-to-head competition–there are frequently such anomalies. Individual sports and teams ports are not comparable. Harold Reynolds is an analyst, not a “fan.” And the post was not about sports.

  2. You cant just evaluate players by numbers and stats. Its also about intangables that cant be measured by stats. And you know and i know that if you get 20 fans in a room they will have 20 different opinions about a player.

    • Of course you can evaluate players just by numbers and stats, how else would you? Intangibles are meaningless for evaluation of past performance. The only ‘different opinions’ that are of interest are about future performance. If I state that Derek Jeter’s career defense has been a bit below an average MLB shortstop, I can prove it. If you think it will get better, you can make your case. There is no case that he has been ‘the best ever’, or even very good.

      • A quick check of the stats requires me to change ‘…Jeter’s career defense has been a bit below…’, to ‘…Jeter’s career defense has been substantially below…’.

        • But Joe! What about that great play he made against Oakland in the play-offs! Nobody else could make that play! What about all those Gold Gloves??? Five! The stats can’t disprove what everyone knows is true! The stats have to be wrong. (I was just possessed by Harold Reynolds.)

          • Well, Jack/Harold, the Gold Gloves can stand as trophies of ignorance, since Jeter has never, even once, posted league average defensive stats for a season.(Surely HE knows that?). As to the spectacular plays, I once saw this guy in Vegas make 32 straight passes at the Craps table…hey, maybe that was an anomaly?

      • By what they do in different situations, how they react to being behind, do they get intimidated, how tough they are, etc etc tec.

        • By the time you are one of the 750 guys on an MLB active roster, any effect these have will be reflected in your stats. You seem like a fan, enjoy the game. Glory in the toughness, grit and veteran calmness (or rookie spunk!) of your favorite players. I prefer to know whether a guy can take the walk when he should, or if he is going to toughly swing at strike three in the dirt, because he can’t be intimidated and they’re behind. The best way to gather that info is to look at his last couple of thousand at bats, not his last interview.

    • I don’t discount intangibles like a lot of stat-heads, but intangibles don’t trump real, measurable facts. I thought Bill Buckner was a great hitter, but the facts show that he made a ridiculous number of outs because he never walked, and thus his offensive contribution, with all those hits, was less than met the eye. I appreciate Jim Rice’s showy stats, but the figures show that his relative lack of walks and all those DP’s mean that he was a worse player than Dwight Evans, even though Dewey has no chance at the Hall of Fame. Harold’s arguments are “I just know” arguments, like “I just know that same-sex marriage is bad for the country.” The short word for this is “bullshit.”

      • Why did you think he was great hitter? What made you think that?

        There are things that make a great player that can not be measured by a stat and the only people who would think there isnt are the stat heads who have never played a sport.

        • Buckner? He had over 2700 hits, more than Ted Williams, Jimmy Foxx, Richie Ashburn, Joe Morgan, and is 61st on the All-Time list. He won a batting championship. He’s #144 on the rbi list. He could hit anything—that was his problem. He got hits on lousy pitches, so he never took a walk. As Bill James wrote, Buckner would have hit .400 in the dead ball era. But Buckner, though based on traditional stats a just-miss Hall of Famer, made so many outs that his perceived value was exaggerated.

        • Like what? Offensive baseball is incredibly easy to measure. Those “intangibles” show up in the stats. If they don’t show up, then they don’t help the team win.

    • Ah, I’m full of surprises. Joe’s in game analysis was the best I’ve ever heard, when he was talking about positioning, base-running, how ballplayers think on the field. He was one of the brainiest players ever, and the fact that he doesn’t get sabermetrics was a flaw, but he was a color man. I always learned things about the game from Joe. Joe PLAYED like he understood what was valuable and what was winning baseball, because he did understand it, without the numbers. And Joe knew when to shut up, unlike Tim McCarver. Every now and then, he’d do a Harold, but he was as superiot to Harold off the field as he was on it.

      Rick Sutcliffe, on the other hand—ARRRGH!!!!

      • Hah! You are full of surprises, Jack.

        Your post reminds me of perhaps the best combination of old-school baseball insight and a Sabre-metrics-like appreciation of vital statistics, well before Sabre-metrics had even been invented. Doing a Cubs game in the late ’70s or early ’80s, my wife’s favorite lush, Harry Caray, merrily ignoring all rules of being a paid team broadcaster (bless his heart), late in a game as the Cubs “bull pen” was being decimated before his bleary eyes, moaned in absolute agony: “Can’t ANYBODY on this team get an OUT?”

        • I liked Joe as well. He could sound pedantic, which I think drove younger fans nuts. There was a website called “Fire Joe Morgan.” I suspect the animus might also have been a little racially discriminatory. I think Joe was way, way too articulate and authoritatively self-confident for what some people thought a black broadcaster should be.

            • We can disagree about Joe Morgan’s ability as John What’s-his-name’s color guy on ESPN, but how many non-white announcers or commentators are there in major league baseball at a team or network level? Harold Reynolds is one. I don’t know whether Joe Morgan’s working anymore, for the Reds maybe? Who else is there?

              • The one baseball stat I can’t easily access! My home team, the Mariners has Dave Sims, the others I’ll have to research a bit.

                • Oh, also, most teams have a Spanish language broadcast, my guess is that racial diversity is substantial there.

                  • Tony Gwynn and Barry Larkin also come to mind. But Tony Gwynn seems to have become less prominent in broadcasts and Barry Larkin seems to come and go on ESPN.

                    And I think the Hispanic thing is different. Also, I don’t think it’s fair to include Spanish speakers in a diversity calculation. But in any event, ESPN seems to be making a concerted effort to get more Hispanic former players in front of the camera and behind microphones. It’s very noticable this year.

                    But is it my imagination or has there been a huge concern that there are so few African American kids going into baseball and playing in the majors? And the people expressing this concern don’t seem to want to include Afro-Carribean players (Dominicans, Venezuelans, Cubans, etc. of color) in this calculus.

                    In any event, for every Joe Morgan there are ten or twenty moronic white ex-players who get a pass because they’re just ex-players (See, eg., Rick Sutcliffe, Mark Grace or, dare I say it, Pete Rose.

                    • Joe Morgan’s prominence is why he’s so reviled. Sunday night baseball was the main place to see non-local teams play in the 90s. Morgan had that job for 20 years. I only found the broadcasts tolerable because of Jon Miller, who actually was a great announcer. (I may be biased, since I grew up hearing his voice 100 times a summer).

  3. On the topic of Sabermetrics, Jack, have you ever read a book called “Super Crunchers”?

    I’d be curious about your ethical analysis of some of the marketing strategies based on data geared towards psychology of selling.

    • Know it, haven’t read it.
      The psychology of selling is a terrific, disturbing, ethics area. I’ve touched of it and related issues a bit in the past. Thanks for reminding me–I need to revisit it.

  4. This is classic stuff — a rant about bias that’s shamelessly biased from start to finish. And you have to love this:

    “He could hit anything—that was his problem. He got hits on lousy pitches, so he never took a walk. As Bill James wrote, Buckner would have hit .400 in the dead ball era. But Buckner, though based on traditional stats a just-miss Hall of Famer, made so many outs that his perceived value was exaggerated.”

    If there’s one man on base, and he’s standing on second base, a single will usually move him to third (at least) and a double will usually score him. Take a base on balls, and he’s still standing on second.

    And sometimes an out is a positive outcome. Ever heard of a sac fly? Buckner had 97 of them, more than all but 48 players in the history of the game. See, that’s why you see people in the dugout — people who actually play the game every day — high-fiving a batter who sac bunts a teammate into scoring position, or drives in a run with one of those silly hits on a bad ball, or makes an out on a long fly ball that scores a runner. They know that their teammate just contributed to a win, even if it doesn’t help his stat line all that much.

    • Just an ignorant comment, worthy of Harold Reynolds.Yes, and Bucky moves alot of runners along with his graound-outs too, but the point is, and there’s no getting around it, he made a disproportional mount of the outs allotted to his team during a season, and that hurts run production. Recognizing a fact and basing one’s analysis on it is not bias. It’s called “accepting hard reality.”

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