UPDATED: Bob Costas, You’re On Notice!

Joining the ranks of Marcus Hayes and Bill Conlin is Robert Quinlan Costas, or as many in “the biz” know him, Bob Costas.

On Notice

He has some not-so-nice things to say about bloggers in an article written by Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.

Costas, speaking before he emceed (and donated $50,000) at Tuesday’s Make-a-Wish sports auction at the Broward County Convention Center, doesn’t understand what compels so many nonjournalist sports fans to seek a forum for their opinions.

I don’t know… maybe it’s the enjoyment one gets out of discussing something you enjoy? I’d much rather talk with a bunch of baseball fans than with some Englishmen about cricket. Wouldn’t you?

Why is one’s lack of journalism credentials prudent to seeking “a forum” for his opinion?

Before the Internet, most fans were content talking about sports with their buddies.

It’s funny that this line of reasoning is somehow passable. Try it in another context.

“Before anesthesia, most patients were content having open heart surgery while wide awake.”

”Today, I saw on ESPN a poll about which Western Conference teams would not make the playoffs,” Costas said. “Well, 46 percent said the Denver Nuggets, which has zero percent influence on anything. [...]

A) Voting in an online poll != Blogging.

B) Welcome to the world of voting, Bob! Your vote has never had any influence on anything meaningful, ever. Voting is an illusion of democracy.

[...]Who has the time or the inclination to do this, even if you’re sitting on your computer? Why would you weigh in on it?”

There are many reasons why you’d vote in an online poll:

  • It’s easy.
  • You’re bored.
  • You’re feeling mischievous and you vote 12,000 times for the most ridiculous answer to the question “Who will win the NBA championship?”
  • You actually believe that your vote will have a meaningful impact.

‘But it’s one thing if somebody just sets up a blog from their mother’s basement in Albuquerque and they are who they are, and they’re a pathetic get-a-life loser[...]

Oh, boy. First, I’ll focus on the obvious: not all bloggers live in their mothers’ basements (talk to the elbow ’cause the hand is on vacation).

Not all bloggers are “pathetic get-a-life losers,” either. Many simply blog as an activity. Bloggers can just as easily be neurosurgeons as they can be fry cooks at Wendy’s. That’s the beauty of it, actually. The internet provides a true democracy of opinion. Dictators like Costas, however, would prefer the power rest in the hands of the elite, the haughty sports journalists. Don’t you know, sports journalists can do stuff that regular people just can’t do!

Let’s see, sports journalists…

  • Watch games, and record important events from those games.
  • Talk to integral people involved with those games.
  • Write a narrative about the event using quotes from the people spoken to.

That’s stuff that even Harvard-graduated neurosurgeons can’t fathom. “I know how to send electromagnetic signals to the thalamus*, but I just can’t put into words what occurred during the Blue Jays-Twins game! And I have no idea what Ron Gardenhire is saying: ‘The ump blew a few calls.’ What?”

* I have no idea if this is even necessary, much less possible.

[...] but now that pathetic get-a-life loser can piggyback onto someone who actually has some level of professional accountability and they can be comment No. 17 on Dan Le Batard’s column or Bernie Miklasz’ column in St. Louis. That, in most cases, grants a forum to somebody who has no particular insight or responsibility. Most of it is a combination of ignorance or invective.”

How can a blogger “piggyback” onto someone? I’m not following this one (I realize it’s metaphorical). Is commenting on an article “piggybacking”? Is blogging about an article (as I am doing here) “piggybacking”? My understanding of the term is that you actually have to have some kind of tangible gain from someone else’s work.

Decent choice with Dan LeBatard, though. He seems to have his head on straight:

The Celtics don’t get to be the best team in the East because they have three superstars and play exceptional defense, which seems obvious enough. They’re great because of the ”chemistry” and ”determination” and ”leadership” of those three great players, but might yet lose to the ”unity” and ”experience” and ”clutchness” of Detroit, a team with, um, four great players.

Truth is, at the top of the sports food chain, the difference between the most talented teams — and the most important of the intangibles — is often dumb luck. You, too, can beat the clutchness of Tom Brady and genius of Bill Belichick and desire of Wes Welker if David Tyree happens to catch the ball off the top of his helmet after Eli Manning magically becomes Vince Young.

Back to the subject, why just flat assume that those commenting have “no particular insight”? I’m a cynic of the highest degree, but that is just too cynical even for my tastes, and it reeks of elitism.

Costas seems to think that his degree in journalism somehow gave him the power to understand everything sports-related.

Internet and talk radio commentary that “confuses simple mean-spiritedness and stupidity with edginess. Just because I can call someone a name doesn’t mean I’m insightful or tough and edgy. It means I’m an idiot.”

So, Costas has a problem with people on the Internet calling each other names. The pot calls the kettle black. Let’s recap:

  • Bloggers set up blogs from their mom’s basement in Albuquerque.
  • These bloggers are pathetic get-a-life losers.
  • People who comment on articles have no insight and are ignorant.

It’s true: people are more likely to act immaturely since they are protected by the anonymity the Internet provides. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water, however.

Lastly, I’d be offended if I was from Albuquerque. What does that have to do with loserdom?

“It’s just a high-tech place for idiots to do what they used to do on bar stools or in school yards, if they were school yard bullies, or on men’s room walls in gas stations. That doesn’t mean that anyone with half a brain should respect it.”

So, blogging about how David Wright > Jimmy Rollins for ’07 NL MVP, for instance, is something I’d do while sitting in a bar? Sure. So is pontificating about U.S. foreign policy, asking for cheap one-liners, and begging for my car keys after my 9th beer.

I don’t see how being a school bully has anything to do with blogging. Is this a Freudian slip? Bob… is there something you’d like to talk about? Is it not the bloggers who are wedgie-prone, but you?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen someone write on a men’s room wall, “David Wright > Jimmy Rollins for ’07 NL MVP because he has a higher OBP/SLG, plays better defense, and has comparable base-stealing ability.”

Most bloggers do a great job in adding to the dialogue in a broad array of subjects. I get more of my sports information from bloggers (I have five blogs with RSS buttons in my browser, still more in my favorites; none on both counts for newspaper and magazine websites, including ESPN). I think it’s the same way for most Web surfers.

If we can infer one thing from Costas’ unnecessary, immature, factless rant, it’s that his displeasure over bloggers and the people who read and comment on them is based on the fact that they are competition for his job. Bloggers do for free what elitists like Costas do for six-figure incomes, and many do it at a comparable level and are more entertaining in the process.

Focusing on those who comment on articles is fallacious. It’s what a statistics-inclined person would describe as a “small sample size.” Making a judgment based on two sentences is awfully flawed. It’s absolutely true that more than just a few people who leave comments do so to start flame wars, to spam, or to simply make a (usually) unfunny joke that adds nothing to the intellectual level of the conversation.

The next step up for Costas is calling for comment Eugenics. “Want to leave a comment on a Bob Costas article? Take the 30-minute IQ test. If you score 110 or higher, your comment will be held in moderation for approval by Mr. Robert Quinlan Costas himself.”

Even worse is imagining how he’d handle blogging. “So, you wish to start a blog about the Cincinnati Reds? Answer the following question: Do you have a degree in journalism?”

If you answer no, your computer immediately shuts down and you become unable to access the Internet through a browser the next time you turn it on. If you answer yes, you are instead redirected to a Google image search for “Bob Costas.”

Just be glad that elitists like Costas aren’t in charge of policing the Internet.

UPDATED: Costas contacted Deadspin to clarify his comments.

I noted that many of the comments expressed disappointment. I wanted to clarify and amplify my points, not backtrack or apologize or anything.

He’s sticking to his guns. Okay.

No entity has a monopoly over good writing from a valid point of view. In that sense, the more the merrier. In fact, many bloggers, on numerous subjects, sports included, are talented, humorous and bring fresh perspectives.

(Scowl slowly turns into a smile) Good.

My commentary was aimed solely at a portion of Internet sports discourse, an unfortunately large portion, that consists of nothing more than potshots, ad hominem arguments, ignorance and invective. No one who is familiar with the general tone of public discourse, whether it be sports, politics, whatever, can honestly deny that much. It comes from that direction.

Okay, but these aren’t “bloggers.”

I was absolutely not saying that most or all bloggers were losers. It just seems so often that commenters use insults in the place of arguments.

Bloggers != Commenters.

And if some bloggers do use “The Yankees suck” instead of “The Red Sox have better pitching, and a comparable offense and defense,” they’re not going to stick around for a while and they’re not worth reading. Perhaps I’ve happened to avoid blogs that do this, but I haven’t noticed any legitimate blogs that ad hominem their way home.

But forgive me for not placing the exact same value on an comment on a political blog that I would to something said by Ted Koppel. Sure, they have the equal value in a voting booth. But you have to assume that if you’ve done something reasonable well for an extended period of time, you have some notion of what you’re talking about.

Is 2+2=4 any less correct if George W. Bush says it as opposed to Albert Einstein saying it?

Costas rails against people using ad hominem arguments, but this is the basic ad hominem form:

[Claim] is right because [positive quality about the claimant; not evidence for claim].

Costas is likely railing against the converse:

[Claim] is wrong because [negative quality about the claimant; not evidence against claim].

Some have inferred that I have this elitist view, and that I think only people who have been somehow “certified” have the right to comment on sports. It shouldn’t be confused with somehow being superior.

I would be among those that felt Costas is elitist.

Notice that he didn’t amend his statements, but still doesn’t want to be viewed as elitist. Bob can start by saying, “You don’t need to have a degree in journalism to opine on the Internets.”

If you opened up anything to large numbers of participants, you’d find some real gems in there. But you’d have a lot of muck to sift through.

Yes, there’s a lot of muck in the comments.

I do think newspapers’ comment boards need to have the same sort of standard they’d have for a letter to an editor.

Ah, there it is. Remember when I alluded to Costas’ next step being the need for comment Eugenics? Just about there.

I look at some baseball blogs, Baseball Prospectus and what-not.

+1 E-cred for reading BP.

[Deadspin] We think the tipoff for people being angry was the “basement” line. Everyone’s a little tired of that line. [Costas] Yes, well, that might have lapsed a bit into cliche.

Still no retraction, though.

Costas tried to manage the backlash and really just ended up saying a whole lot of nothing.

Stadiums: What’s the Big Deal?

Call me a sourpuss, but I fail to see the importance of the hallowed grounds in baseball. When I was a kid, my uncle would tell me about how he’d been to Connie Mack Stadium, and that he’d been to Yankee Stadium, and that he’d been to Candlestick Park. I’d hear all of the lore of the players that took the field during his youth, and all of the memorable moments: the game-winning homers, the remarkable catches, the ninth-inning drama. But I was never impressed by it; the locale seemed to have little relation to the events that took place.

Going into the 2008 regular season, I’m being constantly reminded of this season being the last for the current Yankee Stadium, and that Wrigley Field could be renamed.

Knock ‘em down, I say. Knock all those old stadiums down.

We all have our personal reasons to be attached to a ballpark, but I will never understand why I should revere Connie Mack Stadium, or Yankee Stadium, or Fenway Park, or Wrigley Field, stadiums in which I’ve either never been or don’t have any emotional stock invested. Sure, I was sad when Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia was demolished in favor of Citizens Bank Park. I’ve been to many a game there and never had a bad time despite how unattractive, poorly maintained, and unsanitary it was. One of the best memories I have of a game I attended at the Vet was Kevin Jordan’s pinch-hit grand slam against the Braves. But that’s all they are: personal memories, and they are certainly no reason to keep a pathetic excuse for a stadium alive. All things said, Veterans Stadium lived way longer than it should have.

I think Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park and Wrigley Field should all be demolished (assuming all of the logistics of doing so, and building new stadiums are in place).

Regarding Wrigley Field, I cite the Chicago Sun Times:

Wrigley is a baseball treasure that puts fans on top of the action. But its washrooms are the pits — and there aren’t enough of them. Concessions are mediocre. Concourses are so narrow you could play three innings in the time it sometimes takes to get out of the place.

And let’s not forget the infamous falling concrete of 2004. An overhaul — accomplished over several off-seasons, so the Cubs wouldn’t have to move out — would eliminate the need for the netting installed to catch falling debris after it happened three times in six weeks.

It’s unfair to lump the other stadiums in with Wrigley, since I doubt Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium have falling debris the way Wrigley does (or did, assuming they nullified that problem). But they’re all old, they’re all probably slightly behind technologically, and it’s just so more aesthetically pleasing just to watch a game at a newer stadium, even if it’s on TV. I’ve never ranked baseball stadiums by my personal favoritism, but I have no doubt that it’d be close to ordered chronologically.

To quickly delve into the pragmatic aspect of new stadiums, new parks for teams like the Red Sox and Cubs (the Yankees are moving into new digs after this season) would be excellent for their respective cities. New stadium construction would create more jobs in a recessing economy, generate more tourism, and generate more money for their franchises, which leads to the potential signing of big name free agents that can help bring a championship home, which leads to more fans in attendance, which leads to more concession and merchandise sales, which leads to more television advertisement and national television exposure, which all leads to more money for the city and for the franchise. It’s a big circle; Economics 101.

Fans don’t really think about that stuff when they wax poetic about old stadiums, though. Among other moments, fans think of Carlton Fisk’s home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series when they think of Fenway; they think of “The Sandberg Game” (June 23, 1984) when they think of Wrigley. They don’t think of C.C. Sabathia — who is the prime free agent pitcher after this season — with a Cubs logo sewn on his jersey in 2009, or a couple thousand people who are better able to feed their families because of the jobs created by the creation of a new ballpark.

Fans, for the most part, are hopelessly romantic (to use a tired cliche). Maybe there’s a genetic defect that I have that hasn’t been discovered yet, but I have never seen the need for sentimentalism. That fits in all areas of life: I think engagement and wedding rings are superfluous and inane traditions (probably part of why I don’t plan on getting married). I think the current fad with picture-taking is some kind of social scream of “I’m here; I’ve had an impact on other people — I’ve lived!” And I think that the romanticism of old baseball stadiums is, in the same vein, illogical, delusional, and in most cases, selfish.

I realize it’s borderline heresy to claim that I am an avid baseball fan and in the same breath denounce Fenway and Wrigley, and maybe that’s part of my defect as a human being. I just don’t see the big deal. I’d much rather spend three and a half hours and $60 at a game in a new, clean stadium with relatively state-of-the-art facilities than at a game at an old, ill-maintained stadium. Some of that is probably colored in with having been spoiled with Citizens Bank Park after many years of Veterans Stadium. The rest of it seems to be practical.

Maybe I’m just being a Negative Nancy in refusing to be immersed in the beauty of these old stadiums. Or maybe I’m just being realistic in realizing that Fenway Park’s seating is cramped and the green hue of the structure clashes unfavorably with the green of the outfield grass, the ivy on Wrigley Field’s brick outfield walls is unappealing (not to mention the bricks being dangerous), and the blue gradient of Yankee Stadium reeks of a Viagra misadventure. You tell me.

A Quick Commentary on the Updated Mortal Sins List

Vatican updates its thou-shalt-not list.

In olden days, the deadly sins included lust, gluttony and greed. Now, the Catholic Church says pollution, mind-damaging drugs and genetic experiments are on its updated thou-shalt-not list. Also receiving fresh attention by the Vatican was social injustice, along the lines of the age-old maxim: “The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.”

In the Vatican’s latest update on how God’s law is being violated in today’s world, Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, was asked by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano what, in his opinion, are the “new sins.”

He cited “violations of the basic rights of human nature” through genetic manipulation, drugs that “weaken the mind and cloud intelligence,” and the imbalance between the rich and the poor.

Besides the fact that “updating” the list shows just how fake this religion is, it’s overtly hypocritical that they are citing excessive wealth as a sin. Christian churches rake in nearly $20 billion every year, cost taxpayers nearly $1,000 every year due to religion’s tax-exemption, and own between 20 and 25% of the land in the United States (source).

If Christianity wants to point the finger at those accumulating wealth, they need look no further than in their own mirror.

That aside, it’s amazing how vague they are in describing the sins (either the fault of Yahoo! News/Associated Press or the Vatican). What, exactly, are drugs that “weaken the mind and cloud intelligence”? I’m assuming they’re talking about heroin, cocaine, and other drugs like that (since they’re anti-science, I’m sure they’d also wrongfully include marijuana). Do they account for prescription drugs, most of which are potentially more harmful than street drugs? What about people who can take the drug with no ill effects on the strength of the mind or the non-cloudiness of intelligence? These are questions I’m sure no one asked, since their motive isn’t philanthropy anyway.

And, of course, they are, in part, referencing embryonic stem cell research when they cite genetic manipulation as a sin. You know, ignore the fact that stem cell research has a far higher probability of curing diseases like AIDS and some forms of cancer than anything else we’ve come up with thus far, but we shouldn’t take that road because of their intentionally ambiguous criteria for what constitutes life.

I will give credit where credit is due and applaud them for at least taking a positive step forward with their anti-pollution message. However, a familiar adage may apply here: Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Lastly, I would just like to point out and laugh at one more piece of the article:

Closer to home, Girotti was asked about the many “situations of scandal and sin within the church,” in what appeared to be a reference to allegations in the United States and other countries of sexual abuse by clergy of minors and the coverups by hierarchy.

The monsignor acknowledged the “objective gravity” of the allegations, but contended that the heavy coverage by mass media of the scandals must also be denounced because it “discredits the church.”

Yeah, read that last sentence again. The media should be denounced because they’re not helping to cover up the religion’s dirty little secrets. Somehow, I’m sure that no one will care that one of the top guns in the Catholic Church is more concerned with people holding them accountable than holding pedophiles in their own ranks accountable. Religion always gets a free pass with this stuff.

As always, a screed against religion isn’t complete until George Carlin is cited. Enjoy:

Why Eva Longoria and I Will Elope to WARP-3 Island

Eva LongoriaLet’s play a guessing game. In the last five years, how many mainstream baseball journalists have linked to anything on Baseball Prospectus? I’m going to go ahead and guess “three.”

Today, Todd Zolecki makes it four with an article titled “Phillies show striking out not all that bad.” I believe every dead baseball purist just rolled over in his grave. But there are a few people who are interested in hearing more: me, the other mother’s basement-dwelling nerds, and Eva Longoria (pictured to the right with the caption, “It’s so sexy when a man rattles off statistics”).

Zolecki links to two BP articles:

Just Another Out?

Baseball Prospectus looked at the relationship between teams’ strikeout rates and run production from 1950 to 2002. It found there was no correlation between the two. It also found that a hitter’s strikeout rate correlates positively to power, slugging percentage, and walk rate.

Whiff or Whiff-Out You.

After another look at strikeouts by Baseball Prospectus in 2005, analyst James Click wrote, “On a very rough scale, a strikeout costs a team about three one-hundredths of a run. Looking at team totals from 2004, Reds batters led the league in strikeouts with 1,335. . . . All those failures at the plate cost the Reds an estimated 13.6 runs over the course of the season, or just over one win.”

Most interesting in Zolecki’s article isn’t the plethora of statistics that show strikeouts as rather meaningless for a hitter, but the feelings of Ryan Howard regarding the use of K’s to judge a hitter’s worth:

Ryan Howard struck out 199 times last season, the most strikeouts in a season in baseball history. He’d rather talk about anything else.

“I feel like I’m back in double A,” he said. “That’s all people used to talk about were strikeouts. You don’t hear anybody say, ‘That guy led the league in ground outs last year.’ “

Howard could benefit from reducing his strikeouts, but they are part of his game. He is one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He has hit 100 home runs faster than any other player in baseball history.

“You ground out. You fly out. You strike out. An out is an out,” Howard said. “People want to glorify what they want to glorify. If hitting into double plays were a big thing, then people would make them a big thing.”

Howard’s logical reaction is a breath of fresh air, especially when you consider some of the bigger names in baseball have become all hot and bothered with the advent of in-depth statistical analysis. Derek Jeter, when he was told that “clutch” hitting doesn’t exist, said, “You can take those stat guys and throw them out the window.”

It’s not just the players that have balked at the notion that you can better understand the game of baseball with Microsoft Excel; fans (especially the better-educated sportswriters) have been just as unresponsive to the science of baseball. We, of course, remember Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News, but there’s also Jon Heyman, Bruce Miles, Joe Morgan, and a plethora of other guys out there scowling at the calculations.

For Zolecki to not only link to, but quote a Baseball Prospectus article and to write a non-traditional article like “hitters striking out means nada” — bravo.

Congratulations aside to an honorable Philadelphia sports journalist (one of very few), I do take issue with just one thing he wrote towards the end of his article:

Howard is a career .291 hitter. He has struck out 493 times in 1,461 career at-bats, which means he hits .439 when he puts the ball in play. If he could have cut his strikeouts from 199 to 175 last season, his average would have jumped from .268 to .289. He might have hit 50 homers instead of 47.

First of all, Howard’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .353, not .439.

Zolecki states that if Howard cut down on his K’s, his production would increase as a result of putting the ball in play more often. However, there’s no way to know this, even if we know his BABIP. The theory hinges on all of the variables staying exactly the same except for strikeouts, as if none of them are related to each other. Howard’s power production is, in fact, related to his propensity to strike out.

Look at the kings of not striking out. They are overwhelmingly players with puny to mediocre slugging percentages, like Juan Pierre and Jason Kendall. You don’t see 20+ HR player on the page until you hit Albert Pujols. The defense against a swinging strikeout is a shorter swing. Shortening the swing results in more bat control but less power.

If we learned one thing from Zolecki’s article, it’s that we shouldn’t go into cardiac arrest every time we hear “strike three.” But if we learned another, more important thing — say, from Dan Shaughnessy — it’s that Zolecki and his calculator are “living at home, in the basement, rent free.”

P.S. Sorry, Tony Parker, you just weren’t nerdy enough for her. You didn’t even cry when Gary Gygax died.

Don’t Ray-Gun Me, Bro!

Check out this baby: The Pentagon’s Ray Gun. You can watch a clip from 60 Minutes about the Active Denial System, a new technology being developed for crowd control. According to the ADS Fact Sheet (PDF file):

The ADS projects a focused beam of millimeter waves to induce an intolerable heating sensation on an adversary’s skin, repelling the individual with minimal risk of injury.

It sounds cool and it seems like another positive advancement in technology, but when you watch the 60 Minutes clip and think about some of the possibilities, it brings with it far more detriment.

For instance, did you notice in the clip that the ray gun is being tested on anti-war protesters? And these protesters, armed with nothing more than rocks, are perceived as a safety threat to armored and armed soldiers? Yes, that’s how you deal with people carrying signs that say, “Hug Me,” “Peace Not War,” “Love For All,” and “World Peace” — you microwave them to shut them the hell up with their crazy ideas.

This really has little to do with foreign crowd control; it’s really a domestic crowd control weapon. We’ve seen the advent of the Taser and in its relatively young age, and we’ve seen it abused — far too much. The ADS will be abused in the same way, only this new technology, since it controls large crowds, is more beneficial for politicians interested in squelching dissenters. It’s bad enough that you have to register to protest in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 1 when the Republicans arrive (the protesters are penned like livestock far away from the intended recipients of the message), and it’s bad enough the federal government has specified “protest zones.” The ray gun only helps the advancement of a police state and only hurts the existence of free speech.

Equally as appalling in the 60 Minutes clip is that David Martin never once asks about any potentially harmful side effects that may arise from the 100,000 watt beam. How does it react to those wearing contact lenses? Won’t the beam heat up the lens and cause it to fuse to the cornea? What happens if the victim is caught in the beam for too long, perhaps because he’s been trampled by the rest of the crowd? Won’t it cook the victim from the inside?

And most importantly, what steps are being taken to ensure oversight on the use of the ray gun, so that it is not abused?

Seriously, are crowds of protesters really a danger to armed members of the military? I thought the real danger was that there are terrorists hiding in caves in the Middle east, not sign-carrying proponents of peace.

Another possibility to consider: Blackwater, the privately-owned (by the son of a Christian neo-conservative) military company. They have essentially everything the military has, but they aren’t required to abide by military law. What happens if they get their hands on this ray gun? Considering that they’re right-wing Christian war-mongers, the possibilities are endless, and none of them are good.

It’d be nice if the media (which definitely doesn’t have conflicted interests) actually did some real investigation about the potential uses of this ray gun, instead of simply assuming that power never corrupts. It’s cliche at this point to reference George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but this ray gun has Thought Police written all over it.