Murray Chass on WAR

For much of my long adult life, Murray Chass wrote about baseball for the New York Times, my hometown paper. His old-school ways provoked the enmity of bloggers and sabermetricians and a few years ago the Times chose not to continue to employ him. But thankfully Murray soldiers on, because despite his myopia about the numbers of baseball, he is a fine prose stylist with a well-stocked rolodex of baseball contacts. His voice is of value, even if he’s not au courant.

I’m writing this because of a recent Chass post on his website (at which he writes short articles about things that interest him twice weekly while abjuring blogs) about the relationship between the Hall of Fame Ballot, which was due last Friday, and stats like Wins Above Replacement, which try to objectify a player’s value to his team. You can read Murray Chass’s blog post, er, article here.

I don’t read Murray Chass’s site regularly, and in fact came to this story via Tom Tango’s The Book Blog, where Tom tried to answer some of Murray’s questions about WAR the other day. Interestingly, his post provoked an avalanche of debate at Baseball Think Factory about whether Tom’s tone was inclusive or condescending.

Tom says he was trying to be helpful. Murray says he thought Tom was trying to be helpful. Case closed. But the lengthy discussion reveals lots about the issues. We love baseball because it’s a game played by humans, in all their variety, that excites us because of the skill of the players.

But we also love baseball because it is a game played outdoors in warm weather. Baseball provides spectacle to fan and family member who couldn’t care less alike about the actual game, but enjoys the experience visiting the ballpark provides.

And some of us love baseball because it is a closed statistical system, that allows us to munch and crunch the numbers in many clever ways to discover things that may not be directly related to describing the humans who play the games, but does give us insight into the way the game works.

I think Murray Chass is wrong about bloggers and sabermetricians, but I think bloggers and sabermetricians are wrong about Murray Chass. We need all the voices who know anything at all about baseball contributing if we’re to get our analysis and history right.