…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.
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similar thoroughly debunked nonsense that was regarded as cant back when John McGraw was managing but now is about as outdated as the assertion that women can’t drive.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