Friday, January 22, 2010

In Defense of Marty Noble

For some reason, earlier today, Metsblog and Amazin Avenue (and perhaps others) linked to a blog called Fire Jerry Manuel and their article criticizing Marty Noble's recent defense of his Hall of Fame ballot. The blog post was insulting, crude, poorly-written, impetuous, and I think casts all bloggers in a very negative, very stereotypical light.

Sure, Marty Noble can at times be condescending. Sure, I don't agree with every word out of his mouth. But all things considered, I think Marty Noble has a good grasp of the game, works hard, and does a decent job of covering the Mets. It's no secret that the man comes from a different generation -- but make no mistake, he is not Murray Chass, Part 2. He is far from the worst beat writer out there.

And for him to be attacked, sometimes nastily, as he was by the Fire Jerry Manuel blog post, and for that blog post to be linked by two of the most influential Mets fan sites on the internet, is a shame. Considering the already-existing rift between "old school" writers and the sabermetric community, garbage like that post post should never have been written, much less linked.


So, in defense of Marty's response, I'll give the Fire Jerry Manuel (let's call it FJM) post the exact same treatment that he gave to Marty Noble. FJM's text italicized:

Title: Marty Noble Sucks, Part 1.
Text: Marty Noble is a huge jackass.


First line of the entry. Mature. Boy, I can't wait to see Part 2.

Right away, Marty is really setting himself up for some serious failure. Look at that first sentence. Shit, just look at the first clause. That’s a grammatical coat-hanger abortion.

This line is just incredibly offensive. Forgetting the profanity, making light of a serious topic like abortion is more the province of a 14-year-old. In fact, this entire thing reads like it was written by a 14-year-old.

In the next segment, Marty makes the observation that "It seems a good number of people are opposed to independent thought, which begs the question “Why vote at all?” ... From much of what I’ve read, any player who had distinguished himself for an extended period ought to be inducted immediately upon retirement regardless of whatever else he has done, be it steroid use, wagering on the game or spitting in the face of of the on-field authority."

I find this to be a pretty compelling point. If we can, to a reasonable degree of certainty, identify who the best players are - do we need an electorate? I personally believe the answer to that question comes down to what you think the Hall of Fame exists to do, and I don't really have an answer to that beyond my own opinion.

Baseball is only a game, and the statistics are a only a means to an end. I'm not going to say "JETAH IS THE BEST, COUNT DA RINGZZZZ" but at the same time, there is a lot more to the game, and also to the Hall of Fame, than the numbers alone. We don't watch it for hits and runs - we watch it because of what it makes us feel, we watch because we love it. And Marty, the object of stat-head criticism, challenges us to think about that.

FJM incorrectly identifies this as a "straw man" argument[1]. In fact, he (or she) uses that phrase three times in his response. The truth is, Noble identifies this view as "much" of what he's read - not the entirety. Perhaps it's the majority. Perhaps its a vocal minority. But prefaced as such, it is not a "straw man."

FJM, after then INCORRECTLY criticizing Marty Noble's grammar, goes on to say the following:

It’s like he’s running down the list of philosophical fallacies you get in an introductory logic class. The ad hominem attack on a guy’s spelling, the insane straw men arguments, and so forth. Yes, the reason everyone hated your ballot was because it wasn’t exactly identical to the other ballots. Spitting in the face of an umpire is the exact same thing as violating the competitive integrity of the game.

...If your legs hadn’t atrophied from years of sitting in your parents’ basement calculating Pi (more on this later), you would’ve stood up and cheered when the NASA Mars Orbiter crashed. Our bold, patriotic countrymen refused to kowtow to “unanimity” and “consensus” and dared to boldly measure using English units. Chaos!!!! Sweet, beautiful chaos!


I really have no idea what he is talking about. The thing about this blog entry is that it invokes the infamous FireJoeMorgan style of writing. FireJoeMorgan was a fantastic blog[2]. Granted, I didn't always agree with them and thought they could be vitriolic -- but at least they were funny. This attempt is not funny, it is just mean-spirited.

Next, Noble specifically defends his choice to leave Alomar off of his Hall of Fame ballot. He explains, "Alomar wasn’t worthy this time. Call it punishment if you choose. He did voilate an understood code of behavior." I'm sure that it is painfully obvious that FJM is going to make a big deal out of something as benign as a typo.

Voilate! Marty created a new word. It’s the verb form of voila. It means to, uh… anyway. It couldn’t be that he misspelled violate. That’d be out of the question, this is Marty Noble we’re talking about here.

Also, what else would we call Marty spitefully leaving Alomar off this ballot aside from punishment? Charity?

His usage of the word “this time” is also preposterous. That implies that later on, he’ll be worthy. But right now, he’s not. Never mind that absolutely nothing about his candidacy will ever change, that there are no distinctions in the Hall for how many years a player waited before being voted in, or that the criteria for eligibility will not change. Somehow, in spite of all of this immutability, a guy can be unworthy one year and worthy later. CHAOS! DEATH TO THE ESTABLISHMENT.


Actually, FJM, Marty Noble is right. It says RIGHT ON THE BALLOT that Hall of Fame voters are given that voting "shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." Game conduct outside of statistics are exactly the kind of things that voters are asked to take into account when filling out their ballot.

And in fact, FireJerryManuel actually PROVES Marty's point by making the above argument. It is FJM's view that someone objectively is either worthy of the Hall of Fame on the first ballot or never at all. FJM's ranting about the fact that Marty Noble thinks a player who did what Alomar did should not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer is exactly the kind of "holier than thou" whining that probably inspired him to write his response in the first place.

The amount of votes that players get for the Hall of Fame change every single year. Players are eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame for fifteen years. If FireJerryManuel is correct, why not just have players be eligible for one year? In his opinion, they are objectively worthy or objectively not.

The Hall of Fame ballot DEMANDS that voters make subjective determinations about those players. Maybe you like that, and maybe you don't. That is an issue that has more to do with the institution and with the instructions given to the members of the BBWAA. Maybe you can write them a letter. But what you shouldn't do go on a long-winded, vitriolic rant on a well respected writer who has taken the time to respond, on point, to exactly this criticism.[3]

[For those interested, Joe Posnanski, one of the best, had a great article on the character clause last year at around this time. I'll excerpt it at the bottom of this post.]

The far more important point is this: this Fire Jerry Manuel blog post is irresponsible. It is poorly written. It is the PROTOTYPE for all the things that the mainstream media thinks is wrong with bloggers. I think it's a shame that it got as much attention as it did. Let me leave you with one last quote from Marty's article:

I enjoy the exercise of voting, of annually using the perspective gained in nearly 40 years at the ballpark to decide who is deserving of my vote and who isn’t. It hardly is life and death, but it is important to me. I choose carefully."


I might not agree with his decision not to vote for Alomar - heck, I might not agree with most of the stuff Noble says - but I respect that.[4]

---------------

[1] Per Wikipedia: A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

[2] And obviously, FireJerryManuel is just a complete rip off of FireJoeMorgan. I don't think I need to explain why.

[3] For what it's worth, I would have voted for Roberto Alomar this year. But I can't fault somoeone else if they think, based on the ballot that they were given, that his conduct made him unworthy of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And yes, FJM goes on a long-winded rant about how first-ballot Hall of Famers are not in any way separate from other Hall of Famers ... but once again, that is just his opinion, stated as fact. Some people view first-ballot admission as a rare honor.

[4] Yes, of course, Noble's viewpoints on VORP and other advanced statistics are ridiculous. From the same article: "And those who have their noses pressed against their computer screens and think VORP is a valid means of measuring a player's performance ought to get a life and a credential that would allow them to see and hear the game up close."

I mean, that's just insulting. I've been a Mets fan since as long as I could pick up a bat, and I've been to and played hundreds of baseball games in my life. Noble is wrong about VORP. However, I respond to arguments based on their merit, not based on my pre-concieved notion of the person who they belong to. And that is why I think Noble deserves this defense.

[5] Here is the majority of Posnanski's article for Sports Illustrated. I was going to excerpt parts, but it's really too good to snip:

[T]he clause has been something that voters have embraced and ignored, depending on the mood of the moment. Mark McGwire's alleged drug use has been a clause celebre: The guy hit 583 home runs, broke the single-season home run record, is the all-time leader in home runs per at bat, but almost 80 percent of the voters did not vote for him because they believe he cheated the game.

Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame is filled with people who admitted to using drugs (Paul Molitor, Ferguson Jenkins, etc.), who willingly cheated (Gaylord Perry threw spitballs, Don Sutton and Whitey Ford cut baseballs, players undoubtedly corked bats), who enthusiastically used illegal performance-enhancers (that would be anyone who ever popped an amphetamine to get a boost, and it's likely that represents a high percentage of Hall of Famers) and so on. It's all a matter of degree. And it's all how you look at it.

Thing is: The clause is now causing real problems for the Hall of Fame. Because, the majority of voters have decided, at least for the moment, that steroid use disqualifies a player from the Hall of Fame. And the fact that McGwire got fewer votes this year than he did last year suggests that the opinion is hardening.

* * *

And ... I would ask the Hall of Fame to change the clause. I think the clause should have been changed a long time ago; it makes me queasy to think about sportswriters (or anyone else) trying to judge a man's character.

* * *

We already have a Hall of Fame without Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader... Now, Mark McGwire, perhaps the purest home-run hitter who ever lived, is not in and, honestly, I don't think he's going to get in.

* * *

Point is: It's the Baseball Hall of Fame. That's all. Are people coming to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame without some of the greatest players of the last 20 years? Will people still view it seriously? I sort of doubt it. Baseball has been a messy game for more than 100 years. In the years before Jackie Robinson, there were no black players. Players caroused and gambled and boozed. Many cheated to get ahead. Many took drugs. There have been beanballs and stolen signals and thrown bats. There have been thugs and racists and liars and everything else. And, yes, there have been steroid users, too.

19 comments:

Joe DeCaro said...

Outstanding and well thought out rebuttal. Noble earned his right to vote by his long and distinguished service. The sabermetric folks will attack anyone who fails to pass their litmus test. I was a little surprised it was featured on MB, especially when you consider the tone, language and lack of comprehensible points and substance. It read like a prepubescent rant. I was already finishing my own post on this, but instead will link to yours. Nice job!

James K. said...

Just an FYI - Amazin' Avenue linking to a piece is not a tacit endorsement of the piece. Write your own stuff, link to other stuff, but don't criticize others' linkage. Especially when it's not in an editorial post, and rather a link-dump type post.

And how does FJM's piece cast "all bloggers" in a stereotypical light? I think it casts FJM in a stereotypical light. That's like saying Roberto Alomar's behavior (spitting in an umpire's face) casts all Puerto Ricans in a stereotypical light. It's a dumb thing to say.

Brian said...

James-

I know a link doesn't mean that you necessarily agree with what is being said by the originating site, but it is an endorsement. It means that you found it fit to link. I wouldn't have given that article publicity the same way I wouldn't have linked to porn or to any other kind of hateful website.

As for the "stereotypical light", I believe it did just that. There already is a prevailing view held by the MSM that bloggers are a certain way -- snarky nerds, holed up in their mom's basements, undeserving of serious consideration. This kind of stuff fits right with that stereotype. Your analogy with Alomar only makes sense if that's what you think about most Puerto Ricans.

I think that bloggers in general, and particularly a site like Amazin Avenue (which I think is great, by the way) has an obligation to keep the discourse to a certain level - at least things that they think will be read and may influence what people think of the genre.

scott from peekskill said...

"Shit, just look at the first clause. That’s a grammatical coat-hanger abortion."

Why is this a superb sentence? Hmm? From the start of his piece FJM slaps the reader across the face. From the first sentence the reader knows what this piece sets out to do. the entire article is well thought out, pulls no punches, is satirical, sarcastic, canny and intuitive.

FJM shows Noble for what he is. You can disagree with FJM about the in-your-face approach but it works incredibly well. He succeeds while your rebuttal fails markedly.

Paul Zummo said...

I wouldn't have given that article publicity

You just published a post linking to the article and criticizing it. Therefore you gave it publicity. And likening it to porn is fairly silly.

Dan said...

I think this is an outstanding post. Well done.

Brian said...

@ Paul Zummo:
Those are both good points. I think my saying that I wouldn't link to "porn" or anything "hateful" was indeed over the top.

I was running out the door and in a rush to respond to it. I should just have said I wouldn't have linked to it because I didn't think that it was tasteful, and I wouldn't want to implicitly endorse it as worth reading.

As for linking it myself -- it's already out there. With Metsblog and Amazin Avenue linking to it, the cat is already out of the bag. I'm linking to it explicitly to state my disapproval of it. That's not the same kind of publicity.

@Scott from Peekskill:
I guess that's your opinion. I thought the article was crass, rude, and factually inaccurate.

I'm sorry to hear you think I didn't do a good job communicating my point.

Ryan said...

Outstanding post - I was shocked at the disrespect shown by FJM towards Noble and commend what you've written above. It's unfortunate today that blogs like FJM receive such publicity for a ranting article that instead of actually trying to say something worthwhile, instead wastes time poking fun at the grammar on Noble's blog, which wasn't even posted to a professional website. Really does the author of the FJM have nothing better to do than poke apart the word usage in Noble's personal blog? I am not a fan of Noble by any means, but I do know that he's had an interest in prose and poetry which is probably why many of his sentences are structured as such in his more casual, personal blog page.

Bill Brown said...

Excellent post. Actually, I am in agreement with Marty. Marty was honest enough to say that he will vote for Alomar next year. He, and other "nay" voters, were denying Alomar the honor of first year induction for the spitting incident, and his dogging it towards the end of his career. It's the voter's right. Unless MLB changes the voting criteria then players are subject to being arbiterially gigged for their behavior.

Brian said...

This is funny. The above article was reposted on a Mets message board by someone, and most of the commenters were really laying into me. One called me a "piece of s***" and another a "tool." That's all fine and good, not everybody will agree with you.

But here's the most recent comment someone left -- I think it's outstanding:

"I'm currently writing a message board post in response to a message board thread about a blogger writing about a blogger writing about another blogger writing about a beat writer writing about other writers that vote for retired baseball players.

how many days til opening day again?"

Wright and Co said...

It was funny and that's what I care about. People need to stop overreacting. I agree with neither article, and who cares.

Anonymous said...

how about the fact the guy misuses the word abortion... FJM is sloppy blogger who only name-calls. He has no credibility

Anonymous said...

"BAWWWWWWWW A BLOG POST WAS MEAN TO A CANKERSORE OF A SPORTSWRTIER BAWWWWWWW"

Robbie Alomar was jobbed for an infantile reason and tools like Noble need to go.

Ginseng said...

"The blog post was insulting, crude, poorly-written, impetuous, and I think casts all bloggers in a very negative, very stereotypical light."

Ha! I thought you were referring to Noble's blog post at first, because that's a valid description.

As far as I'm concerned, any beat writer who starts insulting his fans for misspelling words when they e-mail him loses the right to be treated with respect in a response. If he doesn't treat his readers with respect, why should we afford him respect?

Anonymous said...

If I may borrow a line from the infamous MGF. "You're an idiot"

Anonymous said...

Shallow attack on Cerrone and FJM. Blogging is all about stating your opinion, while letting the fans reacts.

Its your quality of work is poor (Noble), then you expose to criticism for readers. Although FJM was a little harsh in his language his points are well taken. Noble needs to be held accountable for his poor work.

As for this pathetic site, good job ripping people yourself to boost the traffic on your blog.

I for one am a diehard mets fan who would not have come on this hogwash blog if i didn't need to read an article that defends Noble.

Viva Cerrone!

Aidan G. said...

Fire Jerry Manuel is not a rip off of Fire Joe Morgan. If it was, you'd see more of what Fie Joe Morgan (The real FJM) did. Marty Noble is an imbecile, and props to Fire Jerry Manuel for writing that post.

Brian said...

I for one didn't see this as an attack on Cerrone. I wouldn't have linked it, but whatever. I like Metsblog.

As for holding Noble accountable, this is from his personal blog, not MLB.com. People need to relax and stop taking pot shots at people who they perceive to be authority figures, it's childish.

Anonymous said...

At least this argument is written in a non-profane, literate, and logical way. The FJM post on Noble was immature, lacking in quality or interesting writing, and as a result did little to persuade an objective reader. It was a rant, and those who already agree with the viewpoint will continue to agree, and those who don't, won't.

But regardless of your stance on Marty Noble, the person who wrote the post on FJM is not a good or interesting writer.