Washington Post Poll Supports Dan Snyder’s View!

PETA suggested way to retain team name without slur.

A couple of years ago I made the decision to drop the Washington NFL team’s name from The Fantasy Football Guide.

The rationale was simple. The name derived from a term common to scalp hunters during the Indian wars of the 19th Century. It was considered offensive by many Native Americans. The team’s own history of use of the name began with a racist and his racist intentions. Or, as Tara Houska, quoted in the New York Times article today about the WaPo poll, said:

“Ms. Houska, who lives in Washington, said she was bracing for all the people who would be waving the poll in her face — “the poll, the poll, the poll” — and saying she had no right to be offended by the name of the local football team.

That the matter is even up for debate baffles her.

“It’s a straight-up slur,” she said. “It’s a dictionary-defined racial slur. It should be a no-brainer — but somehow, it’s not.”

After the first magazine issue without the team name came out I received a number of angry letters from people saying that if they’d read the Editor’s Letter about the issue before buying the magazine they would have put it back on the rack. Some were mad because I was attacking their team, their Nation, and they would not stand for that. Others were mad because they saw in my stance the influence of the mad culture of political correctness, in which it is suddenly and (to apparently many) improper to seek to avoid needlessly insulting people and hatefully reminding them that they have it worse than you.

I’m sure we lost some sales since then to these folks, but sales overall are up andI get more letters each year from folks who like the magazine than the year before, so I can live with the consequences of pushing this small principle.

But learning today about this poll disturbs me a bit. Could it be true that 90 percent of the polled Native Americans don’t have a problem with the Washington team’s name? And the poll reports that 80 percent would not be offended if called redskin by a non Native American. There are questions about the poll. The sample was small and there are questions about the demographics. I would be more suspicious of these results if they didn’t echo a 2004 Annenberg poll on the issue that has always been looked at as on the margins, since so much Native American institutional strength was allied against the Washington NFL team name.

The Times article goes into the process of once offensive expressions becoming something else, relates stories from different cultures, but returns ultimately to Ms. Houska, and ends with her quote, which I included above. It’s well worth reading.

Now, production is underway on the Fantasy Football Guide 2016 and I’ve got some thinking to do. Ten percent of 5.4M Native Americans is 540,000 people. That’s not a small number to offend with something as trivial as a team name. I’m inclined to continue the boycott, even if it isn’t politically correct in these times.

Recommended: The Steroid Hunt by Bryan Curtis

Writing in Grantland, Curtis presents a long but very readable survey of the press coverage of baseball’s steroid era, starting in 1988 (with Jose Canseco, of course, defended by Tony La Russa), through accusations against Mark McGwire in 2002, defended by Tony La Russa), and up to McGwire’s confession in 2010.

You can read it here.

There is something of a who knew and when did they know it aspect to this whole thing. After writing about Murray Chass the other day I spent some time looking into when Chass started writing about steroids in the Times. On March 31, 2002 Chass wrote:

“Finally, some people in baseball suggest an unspoken factor has fueled the home run generation — the use of steroids and other supplements, such as the androstenedione that McGwire used during his record-setting year. No one has accused any particular player, and one person who felt certain of the contribution of steroids acknowledged that he had no proof.

But this person said, ”You don’t get bigger overnight pumping iron.”

But Chass also wrote quite a bit about androstenedione, which McGwire was taking during his record-setting home run battle with Sammy Sosa in 1998. After that revelation by a reporter who saw the legal supplement (that was already banned then by the NFL and the Olympics) in McGwire’s locker, baseball launched an investigation into the steroids precursor.

Where I Stand: Miggy v. Trout

First off, a link to Joe Posnanski making some strong points in favor of Mike Trout as AL MVP over Miguel Cabrera this year. My favorite is his suggestion that you vote for whoever Brandon McCarthy thinks should be MVP.

Since the season ended, I eventually came to the idea that Mike Trout was most deserving of the award. The preponderance of the evidence weighs in his favor, even if I don’t think it’s quite so clear a case as some. By that I mean that despite Trout trouncing Cabrera in WAR, the award isn’t solely given to the best hitter or the best player in the league. The MVP is supposed to go the player who was most valuable to his team.

This has led some people to suggest that Cabrera was most valuable to his team because he led it to the playoffs, while Trout was only able to lead his team to third place. These people should note that Trout’s team won more games than Cabrera’s and step away.

But I think a case can be made, sort of, that Cabrera was the more important player on his team. If you use as your measure WAR, and if we’re having this discussion why not, Cabrera contributed 6.9 WAR of Detroit’s hitters’ total of 13.7 WAR, or more than 50 percent. Trout, on the other hand, was worth 10.7 WAR, which was 28 percent of the Anaheim team’s 37.9 batting WAR.

But that’s the best case, and it isn’t that persuasive, since Detroit’s total WAR (they had great pitching, with Justin Verlander worth more WAR than Cabrera at 7.6) was 36.9, while the Angels’ total was 40.5. Trout’s contribution of 26 percent of his team’s total versus Cabrera’s 19 percent of his team’s total is a decisive edge.

Which leaves one final mode of attack: dWAR, defensive Wins Above Replacement, is far from established as a reliable measure of defensive value. Even those who champion it point out that it really takes two years of defensive play to start to establish a fielder’s performance baseline in fielding WAR. In 2012, Cabrera did a decent job playing third base, exceeding expectations but probably not adding to his own value with his defensive contributions (but not hurting it either–some argue that his agreement to play third also helped the Tigers because it meant they didn’t have to play Ryan Raburn), while Trout was simply amazing. Still, if you discount his defense because the measure isn’t reliable (and don’t believe your own eyes), Trout’s contribution in WAR drops to 8.6, or 21 percent of the Angels total, which at least makes it a horse race.

I’ve enjoyed the argument about this MVP race because in discussion new ideas come up. Nate Silver, championing Trout but expecting Cabrera to win, pointed out that Trout was superior to Cabrera while leading off an inning, a not inconsiderable skill that compares nicely with Cabrera’s better stats in the clutch this year.

The bottom line, however, is that the MVP awards are given by voters or judges, and they reflect the values of that constituency. If the BBWA says these 28 voters are the judges, we have to look at who they are to see what values are reflected. They’re the bosses. There was a time when the fans’ access to the records of the game was limited, and some favored Maris while others favored Mantle, for example. Some of that argument was based on numbers, of course, but it was also personality and some ineffable human streak that drew fans to one or the other. And the judges then were Olympian.

We’re now our own best judges, as the ballots of the BBWA so ably demonstrate every time they vote, and this discussion among fans with a much broader understanding of how the game works ideally serves the purpose of helping us better understand baseball, baseball players, baseball teams, winning baseball, and the stats and numbers and opinions that help us describe them. The awards themselves are wan, the judges are suspect, but the discussion is lively, which is just great.

Getting Less Flacid

I should be more rigid about condemning flacid writing (and thinking). We don’t have enough time in our days to sort through all the crap. At mlb.com tonight, in the game preview for tomorrow’s Cards/Brewer’s Beer Bash, MLB.com’s Mike Bauman wrote:

“For a time, the Brewers were seemingly in denial about Marcum’s slump, chalking up his poundings to pitching with bad luck. Now, cognitive progress is being made. The first step toward solving a problem is admitting that you have a problem. The slump is being seen as a combination of not being as sharp as he was earlier in the season and bad luck.”

I like his aggressive style, but really, he’s hyping here the way those acronymically diverse wrestling and kickboxing organiztions do. What we want to know is what evidence there is why Marcum’s success in the first five months has cratered.

The answer doesn’t have to be definite. Especially if luck is a factor, which it seems to be in this case. Marcum early success somewhat lucky, late failure somewhat unlucky. But to add such writerly and faux analytical touches to a story that hypes such totally dreamland ideas of starting Narveson over Marcum in Game 6 is just shoddy. Or maybe even, dare I say it, pandering.

Whoops, I just pandered.

Rob Neyer leaves ESPN

I started working for ESPN in 1995, when the newly launched ESPN Sportszone paid me for the baseball projections I’d put together for the book, “How to Win at Rotisserie Baseball.” The book wasn’t published that year because the publisher worried that the lockout, which killed the 1994 World Series, would kill the 1995 season. The ESPN Sportszone launched in April, shortly after the players and owners settled, and my projections became the first fantasy content on the fledgling website.

In 1996, ESPN paid me to go to Spring Training and report from the camps of Florida from a fantasy perspective, and somewhere in there Ask Rotoman was born. At some point that year, Rob Neyer became my editor. As he says in the fairwell note he posted on his blog at ESPN this week, he was an improbable fantasy baseball editor, and my recollection is that he pretty much left me alone. Now he’s moved on from ESPN, and good luck to him at what I hope proves to be a lively and successful tenure at SB Nation.

His first week there as National Baseball Editor has been energetic and promising. Rob is one of the most original and vibrant of modern baseball writers of the Internet era ( though not necessarily on the Internet). He’ll have a broader canvas to work on at SB Nation, and a chance to wrest some of the power away from the corporate giants. Go get ’em, Rob, for all of us.

A Stupid Story by Rob Biertempfel

This story out of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review alleges that future Pirate Jose Tabata isn’t the age he says he is, backs that up with a vacuous quote from Pirates GM Neil Huntington saying that he’s heard rumors, and then says that there is no evidence that Tabata’s papers (which show that he is 21) are illegitimate.

I have no idea how old Jose Tabata is, but I would like some bit–a tiny little bit–of evidence from someone making allegations. Without it, I waste my time reading the allegations, and then I waste more time writing about the stupidity of publishing conjecture. Oh, I just did. Sorry.

Major League Baseballs outdated, misleading offset camera angle.

By Greg Hanlon – Slate Magazine

I’ve written about this in the past. What this story adds, however, is a better view of what happens when the camera is right behind the pitcher. In order to see the hitter the camera has to be higher. This, it turns out, is just fine for inside-outside calls, but fails miserably to yield better calls on the high and low stuff. The examples are illuminating, in any case.

Evil and Boras

Joe Posnanski

The always excellent Posnanski looks at an incident in the A-Rod book having to do with Scott Boras, and shows how the way our mindsets predispose us to play Boras as the villain, even though author Selena Roberts (maybe inadvertantly) sprinkles the stories with clues that suggest the Mariners were behaving the way Boras claimed they were. That is badly.

At the start of the piece Posnanski says he isn’t commenting on the main aspects of the book because he’s friends with Roberts, and anyway there is plenty of discussion out there, which stirs up a hornet nest in the comments that is interesting in its own right.

And, among other things, there is also a discussion about whether rising ticket prices are the result of higher salaries. One poster suggests, though he admits he can’t prove it, that if all salaries were cut in half, surely ticket prices would be cut, too. Why?

If prices are set by supply (x number of tickets) and demand (how much people are willing to pay), you would have to prove that cutting salaries would either increase the supply of tickets or decrease the demand. I don’t see how either happens.

One factor, if the players make less maybe the owners would make so much that they would be shamed into reducing prices. Except we only know how much the players make. We don’t know how much the owners make, so how can they be shamed?

Eriq Gardner Looks at Player Raters

THT Fantasy Focus

My April prices will finally get posted here, later today. They are like a primitive version of a player rater like those found at ESPN, Yahoo, CBS and Rototimes, the kind Eriq Gardner writes about at Hardball Times today. Primitive in the sense that the sophisticated big-media versions calculate their values automatically, plugging the stats into a formula and spitting it forth, while I cut and paste stats into a rather elaborate spreadsheet, make some adjustments because of the number of samples, and then generate a report.

Gardner’s point about what the player raters are actually measuring is a good one. Head to head values are a lot less useful to a classic Rotisserie player than straight 4×4 values. And vice versa. And, it doesn’t need to be repeated, values generated from current stats measure what has happened, not what will happen. But I think Eriq misses the main point with the raters and why they’re of value: they synthesize (or should synthesize) the fantasy categories into one score.

Looking at the stats of two players with different profiles, it can be hard to judge which is more valuable. A player rater that properly reflects the values of your league (or at least lets you know what it is measuring) let’s you assess the aggregated value of a player in all the categories. That Jason Frasor is more valuable than Felix Hernandez thus far tells us something about the teams these guys are on, and it tells us something about their stability in the standings.

The player rater also tells us which players are running ahead of pace, and which are running behind. If we know that Ian Kinsler is currently earning $52, we can judge that he is likely to earn relatively less for his team the rest of the way than he has thus far. If we know that Big Papi is earning $2 right now, we can hope that his contribution is going to increase dramatically the rest of the way (though, if we expected him to earn $20 on the year, and he’s earning $2 now, he needs to earn about $23 each of the remaining five months to get back on par). 

I don’t think you could tell the difference between a set of $20 and $23 stats, unless they were side by side.

Player Raters are overrated and underrated, too, it seems. Like most tools, it depends on what you do with them.

Baseball Writers Brace for the End


How much do you rely on the daily paper for your baseball coverage? The answer is more complicated than whether you read ESPN or your local paper. Many of the best baseball stories are written by newspaper writers. But if the newspapers stop sending reporters out of town with their local teams, will the coverage stop? No one knows, of course, but this story does a nice job limning the possibilities.