Friday, December 17, 2010

Lastings Milledge, Mike Silva, and Lessons in Hearsay and Conjecture

I'm not a psychologist (or psychiatrist, or psychometrician, or anything of that nature) but we're written here before about something called "confirmation bias." I'll try and keep this as brief as possible:
Confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. As a result, people gather evidence and recall information from memory selectively, and interpret it in a biased way. (source: wikipedia)

A few days ago, Aaron Gleeman over at Hardball Talk picked up a story about my boy, Lastings Milledge, and a fight he got into in a Venezuelan winter league game. Here is the description of the event from an Adam Rubin tweet:
Lastings Milledge involved in big team fight in winter ball. Venezuelan friend says: Heated game. After he doubled in 4th, he made like he was throwing grenade to his dugout. Other team didn’t like. Hit him in 7th. Then he took 2B. Other team went after him. BOOM-Big Fight.
Wow, interesting story right? You think it'd be enough to report this story without reporting it inaccurately and generally impugning the character of someone who you know nothing about. Well - apparently not everyone felt that way. Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest picked up the story and did ALL of that.

First, he misreported the story:
Earlier this week in Winter Ball, Milledge was up to his old tricks again when he threw a pretend grenade in the opposing dugout after a double.
Incorrect. He threw the pretend grenade into his own dugout. Is this any different than the "claw" the Rangers did during their entire playoff run and that people loved so much?

Then he was just generally snide about Milledge in general:
Not the best way to let 30 general managers know that you have matured and are serious about playing baseball... Milledge has talked about growing up in the past, but apparently that is still a work in progress.
I'm sorry -- am I missing something here? You mean to tell me that Lastings Milledge stroked a double in what was a "heated" game then made a gesture toward his own dugout. That's crazy!

Then, to make matters worse, he took a hit by pitch in his next at bat, and then stole second? Isn't stealing second after a HBP what every fast little league or high school player is taught to do?

I can't embed the video, so you're going to have to watch it by clicking the link here. The clip begins with the fight. At around 2:39, you get a replay of the at-bat where Milledge steals second. It looks to me like he's just standing there minding his own business while the shortstop and second baseman are jawing at him.

Then at 2:53, who is THAT guy? Was that the first baseman, walking all the way across the field just to get in his face? And then, wasn't it that SAME player who shouldn't have been there in the first place who took the cheap shot and hit Lastings first? Couldn't it be argued that Milledge - who had just been hit by pitch, mind you - showed incredible restraint in this situation? And what exactly was being said between the parties? And where can I download that catchy song in the video?

The point is, we don't really know. We weren't there. It looks to me like Lastings was playing well in a "heated" game and did the right thing by getting on base and taking the extra base. Maybe the other team took exception because of the score. I don't know. Nobody knows. You don't know unless you were in the play, or watching the broadcast.

But you might think that you do know what happened, or close enough, if you already had a very strong preconceived notion of Lastings and who he is. Mike Silva apparently does. This may be an example of confirmation bias at work. "Hey, Lastings was in a fight! It must have been his fault."

Is this newsworthy? Sure, maybe. It is interesting as reported by Aaron Gleeman of the Hardball Talk. It's relevant, and it might not be a coincidence since it involves a player with a bad reputation. But to report it like Mike Silva did is bush league. Aside from the little we have on the video and the Adam Rubin tweet, which is hearsay, the rest is just conjecture.


sam said...

I'm not sure advancing to second late with a five run lead is ever considered "the right thing." Milledge is hardly faultless here.

Brian Mangan said...

'Hardly faultless' is an interesting way to put it -- obviously anyone involved in a fight has to have some degree of involvement.

But yes, as I mentioned in the post, I could see the opposing team maybe taking exception to the score. But I don't know. I don't know what the run-scoring environment is; if its the playoffs; their places in the standings; who is pitching, etc. I do know that he got hit, and he was probably ticked.

James K. said...

The main lesson -- ignore Mike Silva. He's a clown, which I learned awhile ago. Exhibit A of about 100 exhibits: