I know I’ve been belly-aching about the decline in views on Ethics Alarms this year. There are a lot of theories, but one certainty: I’ve written fewer posts. Beginning in July, I’ve had an unavoidable two-hour commitment during the work week that has compressed my schedule, and removed crucial time that would normally be used, in part, to create one or two additional blog commentaries. The task also left me fatigued and frequently caused time crunches with other projects. That commitment finally ends after today. I would celebrate, but I don’t have the energy.
1. Twitter bites Bill James. James, the free-thinking, courageous baseball iconoclast often credited with creating the discipline of sabermetrics, has been an inspiration to me for decades in his relentless commitment to banishing bias, majority beliefs and conventional wisdom from his analysis. (“Signature significance,” often mentioned here, is Bill’s term.) Yesterday, I learned that Bill was once again the target of fury within the baseball establishment (it doesn’t “get” Bill, and never will), this time because of a series of tweets he issued in discussing baseball with some followers. Inspired by Washington Nationals free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper’s rejection of a 300 million dollar offer from his club, Bill was musing about the conventional wisdom that players. especially stars, are the reason people watch baseball. Among other tweets, he wrote,
“If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are…The entire GAME is the product…We’re all replaceable, the players as much as the beer vendors. If they’re unhappy about that, talk to God about it; I don’t make these rules.”
This attracted the ire of the Players Association, which deliberately or foolishly misconstrued what James was trying to convey. As a long-time reader of James’ work, I have seen this theme before. It’s a simple (but too complex for most players and broadcasters, essentially) proposition: even if the over-all quality of the players was reduced, the game being played would look and feel the same, its thrills, strange bounces and dramatic turns would be unchanged, the new, lesser players would yield new stars, and the popularity of the sport would not be significantly diminished. James makes such observations to jolt people out of comfortable assumptions, and force them to think. Too many people in baseball don’t want to think, or don’t know how. James also suggested that for a baseball player who was paid $3,000,000 a year to feel underpaid was ridiculous in some respects. Of course the Players Association and the players themselves couldn’t let that go without objection.
James is a consultant to the Boston Red Sox, and the team felt it had to reject James’ theories in this matter…mustn’t make the union mad, after all. The team wrote:
“Bill James is a consultant to the Red Sox. He is not an employee, nor does he speak for the club. His comments on Twitter were inappropriate and do not reflect the opinions of the Red Sox front office or its ownership group. Our Championships (sic) would not have been possible without our incredibly talented players — they are the backbone of our franchise and our industry. To insinuate otherwise is absurd.”
Of course, James never said that the game could be played without players.
To his credit, and typical of him, James took full responsibility for the mess. “I understand that the Red Sox are not in business to offend people, and certainly regret that I gave offense to anyone,” he wrote. That was clearly not an apology, nor was it intended as one. James has not retracted his statements. He has said that he should have been clearer. Speaking of his rebuke from the Red Sox, he said,
“I’m not offended. None of us in the organization — or, like me, sort of attached to the organization although not exactly in the organization — none of us should give offense unnecessarily. If I did that — and obviously I must have — it isn’t their fault; it’s mine. I do think that my remarks, taken in context, could not be misunderstood in the way that they have been. But it is pathetic for a writer to say ‘I’ve been misunderstood.’ Our job is to make ourselves understood.”
Yesterday, I heard one of the Sirius-XM Major League Baseball hosts ridicule the idea that a millionaire player shouldn’t feel underpaid, citing the salaries move and TV stars get. But James point, if anything, is more valid in reference to that industry. In my tiny corner of professional theater, I have encountered literally dozens of actors, actresses and artists who are as talented and accomplished as many, indeed most, of the stars who get paid multiple millions for their performances. If every film actor alive decided to emigrate to Denmark, it would take less than three years to replenish the talent pool. It would not even take one. For the most part, he public goes to see good movies, not stars. Movies, not actors, are the product.
2. Just so you know that I’m a nice guy...A lawyer representing someone I criticized in a post from several years ago contacted me and asked if I would take the post down. His client, he told me, has been periodically contacted on social media by individuals who have read my post, and she is embarrassed by the episode I was writing about. The lawyer did not demand that I remove the post. He did not claim that I had defamed anyone; he conceded that I had published an opinion within my range of expertise, and that he had no grounds to force me to do anything. He just said that his client would be very grateful if I took down the post.
I checked the statistics. I rather liked the essay, but it had attracted few comments, no more than a hundred or so people had read it, and the topic was now moot. I took it down.
3. The Bad Guys (cont.) Matt Yglesias is an infamous left-wing pundit, and not a very bright one, in my experience. Naturally, he writes for Vox. In the wake of another leftist mob setting out to intimidate those with whom they disagree (Note: I will NOT take down a post if a mob outside my house demands it) Yglesias tweeted,
I think the idea behind terrorizing his family, like it or not as a strategy, is to make them feel some of the fear that the victims of MAGA-inspired violence feel thanks to the non-stop racial incitement coming from Tucker, Trump, etc….I agree that this is probably not tactically sound but if your instinct is to empathize with the fear of the Carlson family rather than with the fear of his victims then you should take a moment to reflect on why that is….I met a woman who didn’t leave the house for months because she was afraid of being picked up by ICE and never seeing her US citizen kids and husband again. What sense was there in terrorizing her family?…I honestly cannot empathize with Tucker Carlson’s wife at all — I agree that protesting at her house was tactically unwise and shouldn’t be done — but I am utterly unable to identify with her plight on any level.
The entire series is signature significance for someone with no ethical comprehension or bearings whatsoever. There is nothing here but bias and rationalizations, and no news organization who employs such an ethically-handicapped writer can be trusted or taken seriously. Because an illegal immigrant is frightened of the fair and legal consequences of her own actions and choices, it is legitimate for a mob to terrify the family of conservative news commentator. Allow me to add intellectual bankruptcy to Yglesias’s undeniable maladies.
Now he’s deleted all of his tweets. Too late! We know you’re a vicious, biased idiot, Matt.