Archive for the ‘a conlin’ Category

Drastically changing the mound height was a terrible idea. Let’s do it again!

August 13, 2009

Yesterday, Bill Conlin came up with quite the conlin.

In a nutshell (and I really don’t think I’m being unfair to his work at all, but you be the judge): with the pitcher’s mound higher than it is now, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Lefty Grove did good things. Therefore, baseball should raise the mound back to where it was in 1968. They lowered the mound after 1968. This was ostensibly to restore the balance between pitching and hitting, but really it was to restore the balance between the AL and NL. Because, see, the NL was more racially diverse, and was better. Rose led the league in batting average at .335 in the NL, while Yastrzemski led the AL at .301. There were a bunch of Hall of Famers in the NL, and only a couple in the AL. Bob Gibson is in the Hall of Fame, while the pitchers who put up great numbers in the AL in 1968 are not. Therefore, the NL was a whole lot better than the AL, and baseball saw this as a problem, so they lowered the mound just to make the AL as good as the NL again, and now they should raise it again. Ruben Amaro, Jr. doesn’t think they should do that. Ruben Amaro, Jr. is an idiot.

Have you already figured out how crazy this is? ‘Cause, frankly, this is a busy day for me, so I don’t have a lot of time to explain it to you. But here, look at this:
1968 AL: .637 OPS, 2.98 ERA, 3.4 R/G
1968 NL: .641 OPS, 2.99 ERA, 3.4 R/G

If Ichiro! were playing in the 1968 AL, Ichiro! would probably hit .350, even while Yaz finished second at .301. And that wouldn’t do a thing to change the balance or imbalance between the leagues. Randomly listing facts about the league leaders in certain statistics is just about the worst way you could possibly look at balance between the leagues as a whole. And in fact, Conlin doesn’t just list facts, he lies about them: in extolling the NL, he cites the fact that McCovey led the NL with 36 homers as though it shows you how much better the NL was, but doesn’t mention that over in the AL, Frank Howard hit 44 and Willie Horton hit 36.

To Conlin, the AL was embarrassingly atrocious; the NL produced “below-average but not anomalous offense.” Back in reality, though, the difference between the two leagues was essentially a rounding error (and they were both very, very anomalous). You know how I feel about Conlin generally, but this is poor even for him. In almost any other profession, if you put in the effort and showed the level of competence Conlin does in this piece, you’d be investigated and probably fired.

Here’s a big reason why I hate the writing of hopeless hacks like Conlin: they have the ability to take things I really believe in and, just by writing in support of those things, make me start looking for reasons to disagree with those things. I do think that lowering the mound was a short-sighted, kneejerk reaction to a very weird season (and a pretty weird five or six seasons). It was silly. They shouldn’t have done it.

Additionally, I don’t doubt that, in the beginning, the AL as a whole was slower to integrate than was the NL as a whole. The lag in some AL teams’ response to integration was deplorable, and I don’t doubt that it hurt competition. For a while.

On the other hand, I don’t think that the mound height is to blame for the high ERAs or low inning totals of today. Starting pitchers threw a lot more innings in the 1970s, low mound and all, than they did in the 1950s or 1960s. Pitching ruled, low mound and all, in 1988-1991. It’s a cyclical game. These things happen. Also, I’m not totally convinced (without research) that the competitive disadvantage from the AL’s collective racism lingered all the way to 1968, the year 22 A.J. (Anno Jackie, The Year of Our Jackie 22). The fact that the NL seemed to have all the great players of color doesn’t mean that the AL wasn’t trying. Hank Aaron and Willie McCovey were a lot better than Willie Horton or Tony Oliva, but they were all about equally non-white.

And on a third hand, or something like that, I totally agree with Amaro. Changing the mound height back to where it was more than 40 years ago would be exactly as drastic and rash a change as the one Conlin is denouncing for being too drastic and rash. There’s just no reason to do that, and there’s no reason to believe that doing so would do the things Conlin thinks it would.

Anyway, read the article, have a good laugh. The craziness and all-around logiclessness of the whole thing is really pretty amazing.

But then come back and tell me what you think of the mound height thing (or what you think you would’ve thought if Conlin’s article hadn’t turned you instinctively against the idea).

I agree with Bill Conlin, dammit

June 12, 2009

Well, okay, that’s not true. Just the opposite of that is true, as you’ll see. And it will probably never be true. But I do agree with his headline:

In desperate times, Nationals must throw cash at Strasburg

The article itself is a meandering, incomprehensible mess full of contradictorily ridiculous assertions (which qualities could fairly be summed up by calling any article like this “a conlin”; in fact, I think I’ll use that from now on), so you can’t really coherently “agree” with the meat of it. If you thought I was crazy for saying that Strasburg is worth considerably more than $11 million, you’ll love this.

In a perfect world, owner Ted Lerner would transfer about 500,000 Benjamins to the account of Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras. Then the new face of the franchise would make a couple of starts before full houses and go off to the minors to learn about pitching every fifth day for 6 months.

But cf. Conlin, a few paragraphs later, after rambling about a huge top prospect he once covered who in the end could only manage to be Lew Krausse Jr.:

Nationals owner Ted Lerner can only pray he gets a little more bang than that for the 50 million Stephen Strasburg bucks Scott Boras is about to pry out of him.

So I find the first quote almost offensively stupid. Conlin’s “perfect world” is essentially a system of something like indentured servitude. I know, it’s hard to sympathize with a 21 year old kid making half a million dollars, but focusing on the figures involved just obscures the brain-exploding wrongness of this line of thinking.

I’m not going to get all philosophical about what would really be a “perfect world,” but there’s certainly no arguing that in the most perfect version of our own capitalist system, everyone would be free to obtain the highest price his or her services could bring on the open market. For Strasburg, that’s a hell of a lot more than $500,000. It’s a lot more than $11 million. And it may be even more than $20 million. You could draw a lot of frightening conclusions about Conlin, if you wanted to read that much into it, from the fact that his “perfect world” involves robbing a young man of something like 98.7% of the value of his services (and transferring that cash directly to the young man’s billionaire bosses).

That’s a little unfair, since one presumes that by “perfect world” he means the perfect world in Ted Lerner’s head, not a utopian society. But if that’s the case, why stop at such a ridiculously low figure? In Lerner’s “perfect world,” wouldn’t every player just play for free?

In my opinion, it’s because of the effect I alluded to on Wednesday (more directly discussed in the comments): writers like Conlin and former players like Harold Reynolds just don’t want a kid making that much money. It offends their delicate sensibilities, which in turn mangles their capacity to reason (if Conlin ever had that capacity, which I kind of doubt). They get this figure in their head of what a young player “deserves,” and what he’s “earned” by his play on the field. These ideas have nothing to do with concepts of value and everything to do with their own preconceived notions of merit and hard work and the value of a dollar (dagnabbit).

But Conlin’s ultimate point (apparently, though I think he forgot to actually make it amidst all that pointless blather about Krausse) is that, as offensive and horrible it is, the evil Strasburg and the eviller Boras have the Nationals over a barrel, and they have to pay him as much as he wants. To Conlin, that means paying him $50 million, a pipe dream of a figure that Boras kind of alluded to in a roundabout way in comparing Strasburg to the bidding on imports like Dice-K.

Saying he’ll get $50 million is, in a way, even dumber than saying he should be getting 1% of that total (and the fact that he said both those things in the space of one article is what makes him Bill Conlin). Boras consistently has incredible success at getting his clients hilariously huge amounts of money, but when has he ever gotten the top figure he’s asked for? And he hasn’t even asked for $50 million; that’s just a pie-in-the-sky number he floated in an interview, hoping to make the $18 or $20 or $25 million Strasburg will eventually get sound more palatable by comparison. Conlin is the only dude I know of who has even considered for a minute that $50 million might even be somewhere on the far-right, fading-to-zero tail in the bell curve of possible outcomes of these negotiations.

As Mark noted in the comments to the Wednesday post, Strasburg isn’t really in a much better position than any other draftee. Yeah, it would look terrible for the Nationals to fail to sign him, but Strasburg’s alternative is to play independent ball for a year for almost no money and hope he doesn’t blow his arm out (and inevitably watch his draft position slip in ’10 even if healthy, since the Nationals are pretty much locked into the top pick in that draft too). It’s an alternative I don’t think he’ll hesitate to take if the Nationals really lowball him, but it’s not exactly an attractive one.

So I guess it’s just kind of an army of straw men Conlin has set up here. Strasburg should be getting half a mil, but Conlin has resigned himself to the fact that, in this modern world gone mad, Strasburg will be getting $50 mil. It’s just lazy, bad, brainless, worthless writing. And it makes it just a little harder to feel sad about the impending death of the newspaper industry.

Also, Conlin once said he wished Hitler were still around so he could kill all the bloggers. Essentially. So, you know, there’s that.

BLACKBERRY EDIT: ha! As Mark points out in the comments below, I’m not nearly as up on my mid-90’s lingo as Conlin is. Of course “500,000 Benjamins” is just a really lame way of saying “$50 million.” So while I have no interest in being “fair” to a guy like Conlin, I guess I should axknowledge that he’s only dumb about one of these two things. The rest only applies to almost every other newspaper writer out there…