Faith and Fear in Flushing

The title is a nod to a Mets blog of the same name, which is unrelated to what will follow. I think it captures the issue perfectly, though.

News flash: Phillies fan criticizes Mets organization; Mets fans recoil.

Denis Leary, captured above, perfectly sums up the situation.

Disclaimer: What will follow will likely be boring to read, as it’s yet another response to an SB Nation blogger that felt personally insulted by something I wrote about his team. This is your opportunity to click your way out of here before you get swept up in blog drama.

Initially, I wasn’t going to respond to it because the author of the latest response, James Kannengieser, appears to be trolling. After he read my article at Baseball Daily Digest about the Mets’ lack of leadership, James sent me an e-mail informing me that he was, in fact, personally offended by my thoughts. He went as far as to call it, “an ignorant writeup I would expect to read at The Fightins‘ or Beer Leaguer or some other mongo Phillies blog,” and “the biggest turd of a piece you’ve ever written.”

I regret to send page views to Amazin’ Avenue for what clearly amounts to trolling, but I don’t want to show only one side of the argument. So if you want to read James’ full argument, instead of what I will selectively quote here, then click here to go to Amazin’ Avenue. I also recommend reading my BDD article that inspired James’ rebuttal.

James’ thoughts will be quoted in bold and my responses will follow in regular typeface.

Let’s just ignore the lame Phillie fan throwaway line about All-Star Jose Reyes being known more for celebrations than on-field performance. Although it does provide a backdrop for the (usually objective) writer’s perspective.

Perception is a funny thing. Human beings are egotistical beings, they really are. James accuses me of not being objective in my BDD article, and I don’t particularly disagree. I said as much prior to going into my argument:

Before I introduce my theory, in the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to put out there that I’m a die-hard Phillies fan with a blog about them. I’m sure there’s bias in my perception, so feel free to comment below and steer the ship back to center if you feel I’ve gone adrift.

But James, of course, is totally objective, right?. He…

  • …is a Mets fan;
  • …writes for a Mets-based blog;
  • …is on the Internet

In other words, he’s not impartial as he seems to think he is and just as biased as I am. I pointed this out in our back-and-forth via e-mail, saying that the crux of our argument hinges on perception; that there’s no one correct perception. It’s like saying, “You don’t have the right taste in music; there’s way too much country filling up your iTunes.”

If James had said, “I disagree, I think Jose Reyes showed leadership,” that would have been fine. That wouldn’t have merited his blog entry, of course, but it would have been fine. But James went the extra step in saying, “I think…” and indicting my opinions in the same breath. He wrote via e-mail, “don’t write about shit you don’t know about (the Mets).”

Reyes is selfish for wanting to come back from injury and do his job? Come again? Pushing his body to rehab from injury, in order to better his team, seems like the very opposite of “selfish”.

Selfish is defined as “Holding one’s self-interest as the standard for decision making”.

I linked to sources in the BDD article describing the Mets’ front office and the Mets fan base questioning Reyes’ toughness. I also linked to an article with quotes Reyes’ mindfulness of these criticisms. He attempted to return from a hamstring injury prematurely in an attempt to silence his critics. That is blatantly obvious.

Believe it or not, James agrees, he just doesn’t realize it. A couple months ago, he wrote:

It’s this foolishly negative perception that may have driven him too hard to try to come back this season from injury.

He completely agrees with my statement; he was just upset that the criticism of Reyes was coming from a Phillies fan, which is why he had the knee-jerk reaction. It’s akin to a brother picking on his sister at home, but standing up for her when she is picked on by someone else at the playground.

He pushed himself to come back and was bizarrely called selfish. If he didn’t come back, he’d be labeled “soft” and “not a gamer”.

Kannengieser seems to think that I’m in the business of bashing Jose Reyes, but I’m not. I recognize Reyes as one of the premier players in baseball when he’s healthy, and I admire his work ethic and loyalty to the Mets organization. I simply said it was a selfish decision to come back prematurely from a serious injury just to protect his public image. That is the very definition of selfish.

This revelation doesn’t mean Reyes is a selfish person, just that he made a selfish decision. It’s not exactly breaking news, as people make selfish decisions on a daily basis. When you’re on a team, though, selfish decisions are not good.

Mets management and players have made numerous embarrassing blunders the last few seasons — let’s not fabricate more for the sake of a tidy narrative.

Nothing was fabricated, as my thoughts on Reyes were preceded by the thoughts, directly quoted above, of Kannengieser himself.

Next, James doesn’t like my criticism of Johan Santana…

I tried to come up with reasons why a fun, harmless handshake exercise would be portrayed as a negative. The potential argument that Santana should be preparing for the game instead of wasting time with handshakes is a poor one — by my count the whole process took 1 minute, 24 seconds.

I think it’s funny that James took the time to e-mail me and to have a debate about this, yet posted this flawed argument anyway. I debunked this criticism by the time we got to the 20’s in our e-mails. It’s like Bill O’Reilly saying Richard Nixon never met Chairman Mao (true story), showing him video evidence of Nixon meeting Mao, and then O’Reilly arguing on his next show that Nixon never met Mao.

Anyway, my point about the handshakes is that Santana designed close to, if not more than, 25 unique handshakes for each of his teammates. In the video, it takes him about a minute and a half, as James mentions, to make his way through the dugout going through each unique gesture. That would be a solid debunking of my argument… if it were my argument.

I told James several times that that was not my argument. Yet he completely ignored that and used the strawman argument anyway.

My point is that it takes a lot of time to come up with, edit, and practice/memorize each of these unique handshakes. I challenged James to prove me wrong, telling him I’d donate $25 to a charity of his choice if he could come up with 25 reasonable and unique handshakes himself by the end of the night (it was about 6 PM when I wrote it, giving him six hours). He did not even acknowledge this (I challenged him at least twice), knowing full well he couldn’t and that my point was valid. I realize it’s a stupid challenge but it very well illustrates my point and, hey, it benefits a charity.

In the time Santana used to come up with those handshakes, he could have been doing something much more productive, such as working with his catcher, or pitching coach, or infield; poring over video tape; going over scouting reports, etc.

If Santana had just a few of those handshakes, that would be fine, but it’s clearly a hobby and an unproductive one at that.

Also, listen to Ron Darling describe Santana as a leader of the ballclub towards the end of the clip. Maybe Baer had his speakers on mute.

Because what Ron Darling says is gold. Let’s say a video exists of Gary “Sarge” Matthews (Phillies color broadcaster for you out-of-towners) in which he says Santana is not a leader. What happens? A stalemate?

It’s just an appeal to authority; just because Ron Darling says something doesn’t mean it is a fact.

What business is it of anyone how he spends his free time? More importantly, what in the name of Zeus’s butthole does this have to do with not exhibiting leadership?

I believe the concept of leadership is to set an example for younger or newer teammates. Correct me if I’m wrong. What if everyone on the Mets followed Johan’s lead and spent a lot of time working on handshakes when they could be going over scouting reports or something more productive?

In our e-mail conversation, I did admit to James that citing this probably did more to harm my point than to help it. However, that’s not because my point is flawed but because my point requires a bit more than the passive examination James gave it.

Hypothetically, if I were a 22 year-old rookie who made the Opening Day roster and Johan Santana approached me about creating a secret handshake, I’d be ecstatic. One of the best players in baseball wants to connect with me? Wow — I’d really feel like a part of the team.

As would I. I don’t deny there may be some positive effects from Johan’s handshake routines. However, the utility calculus doesn’t favor spending so much time on these handshakes. Others may calculate the utility differently; there’s no one correct calculus, hence why we perceive the same issue in different ways.

Maybe it’s a waste of time, but that lies in the eye of the beholder and has absolutely nothing to do with team leadership.

In this statement, James a) agrees with my entire point once again, rendering his rebuttal moot; and b) contradicts his previous point: “One of the best players in baseball wants to connect with me? Wow — I’d really feel like a part of the team.”

A classic myth propagated by the New York mainstream media is that of the 3 AM “middle of the night” firing of Willie Randolph.

[…]

Saying it happened at 3 AM is exaggeration in an attempt to make Mets management look as inept as possible.

James is absolutely correct that the firing took place shortly after midnight in Pacific Standard Time, which would be about 3 AM on the East coast. However, this is mere nitpicking on James’ part as he completely ignores the fact that Minaya waited to fire Randolph:

  • After he and the team flew out to the West coast on a six-game road trip
  • After the Mets won the opener in Los Angeles against the Angels
  • After midnight

The situation was totally botched and it was completely embarrassing for Mets fans everywhere. The only thing that would have made it worse is if Minaya fired Randolph via text message.

In closing, SB Nation blogs don’t really like me too much it appears. I don’t know what it is but while some of their blogs and their respective communities are outstanding (Lookout Landing and Beyond the Box Score, among others), others are the equivalent of YouTube commenters (Halos Heaven and Amazin’ Avenue).

I think it says a lot about human nature that I left an open invitation for dissenters to comment on the article to point out where I erred, and no one used the opportunity. Instead, they stayed inside their gated communities and left snide comments such as:

  • Boy, that Baseball Daily Digest article really brought the stupid
  • those guys are douches
  • that’s the worst article I’ve ever read like, literally ever.
  • haha this is just comically bad writing
  • Why are people so stupid????
  • I really hope that, that guy is not paid to write, because oh my was that ridiculous.

People, for the most part, want to have their beliefs reinforced. When their sheltered beliefs are challenged by an outsider, they feel threatened and react accordingly. Looking through Amazin’ Avenue’s archives, claims very similar to mine have been made; the Mets organization and the players have been thoroughly roasted by their very own writers.When a Phillies fan does it, however, suddenly those points are immediately wrong and he is clearly “stupid”, a “douche”, “comically bad”, and “ridiculous”.

James’ trolling is simple preaching to the converted, a rallying of his base. It’s no different than Glenn Beck calling President Barack Obama a socialist. (In the interest of fairness, an equivalent analogy will be made. It’s like Keith Olbermann calling former President George W. Bush a war criminal.) In the end, we all like to feel that what we know and believe is true, and if we can push out the outsiders to keep our gated communities sterile, that’s what we’ll do.

Blogs should not be in the business of suppressing thought, but encouraging it. It is a disservice to the baseball (and Sabermetric) community to try and squelch opposing opinions. Blogs are at their best when they freely welcome in dissent and at their worst when a conscious effort is made to homogenize the community.

“The most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.” — George Orwell

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