Fire Jim Tracy

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

An Immodest Proposal

Oh, how I would love to go hear Adande lie about the Dodgers and his colleagues tomorrow night. Alas, my return to Los Angeles remains several months in the future, and family concerns forbid me from jet-setting. But I did think about what I might say if anybody cared to ask me. I would also write something like this (though shorter, of course) for "Outside the Tent."

Ladies, Gentlemen, Times Reporters (Rim Shot!),

We do not meet tonight for crisis. There are so many more important topics to be discussed than this one. But we are here, and the topic is at least important enough to demand alcohol. With that established, there is a problem at the Los Angeles Times. Its current baseball coverage is, how would you say…abysmal. Allow me to discuss with you some of the symptoms of this problem.

1) Arrogant Ignorance

I am not ashamed to confess that I am ignorant of what I do not know – Cicero.

Scouts and stat-crunchers are going at each other with daggers, with the Dodgers at Ground Zero of the debate. But this story receives ZERO coverage from the Los Angeles Times, with the exception of the cheap sneers against “weird statistics” that Mr. Plaschke delivers on a semi-regular basis through his columns.

Whether Bill likes it or not, this is the baseball story of the decade, and will have much to do with how the game of baseball continues to develop into the future. The point was not whether .OBP or stealing bases wins games; the point was that markets work – it is beyond sportswriters to recognize that Michael Lewis’s first book was Liar’s Poker, about New York securities traders. There are bull markets and bear markets and market sectors that have buy and sell ratings. Those markets will change; weekly, daily, hourly. Good sportswriters, and analysts, have not had the story stolen from them; they have had the story handed to them. But Bill Plaschke ignores it. He ignores it because he does not understand it. How do we know he does not understand it? A key part of his criticism of the Green trade was Green’s stats…in 1999. But Dodger fans are not served by ignorance of these issues. What is the effect of substitution in the economy? The same as the effect of having Joel Guzman in your organization. Prices become a little less sticky.

Which leads to Topic 1(b), and a related discussion of the presence of related terms such as “chemistry,” “homegrown,” “malcontent,” “Dodger math,” and the like in Plaschke’s and Simers’s columns. It is not that these terms have no meaning (though Dodger math, in context, had no meaning – it was literally ridiculous), but they only have limited application. To wit, it is always more fun to watch happy people who like each other. They get along better with the crowd, they provide better news copy, they’re easier for us to like. Who wants to watch Mondesi, Sheffield, Brown, Carlos Perez et. al.?

But “Dodger math?” Chemistry is not “winning.” Nice to believe in, and it’s great that Chuck Tiffany went to Charter Oak (I went to Venice High, so please consider this as "homegrown" opinion, and adjust your respect for it accordingly), but none of it has any effect on the actual score of the game. So if the Times wants to run an astrology column masquerading as a sports column, it may do so, but put it back in the Calendar section where Shirley McLaine will be sure to see it.

2) Obvious Biases

Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized.

“But he’s a columnist!” you protest. But shouldn’t he come by his biases honestly, rather than picking them out of his rolodex? Can there be any other way to explain his UCLA basketball column from three weeks ago? Nothing but unwarranted hype in the wake of, get this, beating Washington…at home. After which they turned around and laid three straight eggs, then came minutes from dumping the entire season against a USC team that’s worse than they are. The message: Butter Bill Plaschke mercilessly, Ben Howland. If all you have to do is win a few home games to keep the man happy, that is an excellent gig.

Conversely, if you continue to read Plaschke hammering McCourt, feel proud that you have a man running your baseball team, and not a Plaschke ass-kisser.

3) Petty Demagoguery

"When ideas fail, words come in very handy." – Goethe

Take a poll. Any poll. Trading LoDuca and Mota. Unpopular. Not re-signing Beltre. Unpopular. Trading Green. Unpopular. Not re-signing Cora. Unpopular. Not re-signing Finley. Unpopular. Not re-signing Lima. Unpopular. Have you seen Bill Plaschke on the other side of any of them? How can one man be so in tune with popular opinion? Easy…if the egg comes before the chicken.

Perhaps more pertinent to our discussion, where was Bill Plaschke when the Dodgers were re-signing Cesar Izturis? Or Odalis Perez? Or…Eric Gagne? All of these re-signings undermine Plaschke’s (and Simers’s) most cherished stereotypes regarding the team. They inflame passions, but they do so in favor of McCourt and DePodesta, who are unworthy of praise. So he’s right out in front of the Green trade, but the Gagne signing slips by without a word. Too busy writing about some Brady guy he’s just discovered. Thanks for pointing him out, Bill. I'll make sure to look out for him on my fantasy team next year.

The Times’s entire purpose is to elicit emotional reactions from its readership, leaving one to wonder whether if that is the whole point, one should simply go rent "The Notebook" instead. If there is any story worth telling in the off-season, for instance, it is that of Hideo Nomo. A warrior pitcher, who despite obvious injury, followed his manager into the breach (an entirely different subject) and got killed each and every time. Nomo-mania lit up this town for a few years, and his comeback story over the last few years was no less compelling. But what does he get from Bill Plaschke or T.J. Simers? Nothing. Why? Not a good interview (so no pre-disposed bias), doesn’t inflame the masses (so no point), and Bill Plaschke is afraid of the guffaws for writing about a pitcher who went 4-11 with an 8 ERA. Tell the stories that deserve to be told, and not the ones you think people want to hear. Because when you do, you end up discovering Tom Brady.

4) And Most Damning, The Misuse and/or Misunderstanding of Caricature

A caricature is putting the face of a joke on the body of a truth – Joseph Conrad

Caricature is a fine, old American art form. Take a well-known person, emphasize their most outstanding or obvious traits, and do so for laughs, or to make a point. The problem here is that in order for caricature to work, people must have an understanding of that which is being mocked. Will Ferrell’s “strategery” wouldn’t have worked in 1997.

The Los Angeles Times went straight to caricature in their coverage of the Dodgers, ignoring the “body of a truth.” We have the “Screaming Meanie,” and the “Parking Lot Attendant” and “Google Boy,” but we have none of the textures that would make such appellations interesting or amusing. From Day 1, Plaschke and Simers have painted Frank McCourt as a penniless drifter who lucked into a baseball team and having done so, is frantic to turn it into the Brewers and sell off Dodger Stadium and move to Palmdale. But because they failed to wait until the entire picture formed, they now have the signings of J.D. Drew, Jeff Kent, Odalis Perez, Eric Gagne, and most importantly, Derek Lowe. They are one year from being completely out of the Malone-era contracts of Green and Dreifort, after which we can see whether Frank pockets the money or re-invests it in the team [Ed. note -- This is, in my mind, perhaps the most crucial question of the McCourt regime, but unanswerable until next season]. Simers and Plaschke are forever locked into the caricatures they created within weeks of McCourt taking over, and they cannot leave them. This leads to a cramped, limited, and boring method of writing about the Dodgers, and leaves for unsatisfying analysis that treats the caricature itself (or straw men, as one might call them) as real, instead of exaggerated archetypes. If Simers and Plaschke had the courage of their alleged convictions, they would develop “the body of a truth,” and not just a middle finger.

If they want to start somewhere, take “Google Boy,” the computer nerd who whipsawed the SABR community by signing Derek Lowe to a $36 million contract. This contract fit into virtually none of the neat boxes any of us had assigned to Paul DePodesta. In short, some of us wanted to know who had kidnapped DePodesta and replaced him with Omar Minaya. Since the only obvious lessons that can be taken from the Lowe signing is that McCourt is not afraid to spend lots of money in dubious ways, and that DePodesta is not afraid of getting away from his computer, we’re left with a cheap guy spending money and a computer guy following his gut. It doesn’t make any sense. The Times is not discovering the truth, or expanding on the truth. It’s creating the “truth.”

I have come not to build, but to destroy. Destroy the prejudices which MUST inevitably color the Times’ coverage of the Dodgers from this point forward, as long as those that have stuffed these straw men still write. Destroy the ignorance that keeps Times readers in the dark regarding the most significant baseball-wide innovations in decades. Destroy the emotional twaddle that makes grown men pine for…Alex Cora? Destroy the arrogance that hides information from the masses in favor of spoon-fed propaganda. And finally, destroy the entire Wizard of Oz construct that the Times has created around the Dodger organization, so that I can make up my own damn mind about the future of the organization I know and love.

English translations will be available after the closing speaker in the hall, Mr. Plaschke.

P.S. Reports on what I missed would be appreciated. But leave out the navel-gazing about Kobe Bryant.


  • Priceless title. Reminded me of the damndest argument I got into, last year, with a guy who said Simers was great because he's a satirist.

    Swift was a satirist. So was Voltaire, Twain and GB Shaw. You don't have to be in that class to write satire but it would be nice to at least consult the great one's and get a feel for the meaning of the word before calling a hack like Simers a satirist. I agree with Jon Weisman over at Dodger Thoughts: calling Simers funny is like laughing at the guy who just painted graffiti on your car.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/03/2005 04:59:00 PM  

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