Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Shaughnessy Redux

Earlier today I took Dan Shaughnessy to task for his comment about Jim Rice inspiring intentional walks with the bases loaded when, in fact, no such thing ever happened. After I wrote that, I thought that it would be interesting to see why Shaughnessy would write such a thing, so I emailed him a condensed version of my post and basically said "hey, what gives?"

It wasn't long before Shaughnessy responded to my email. In it he acknowledged that while Rice was never walked with the bases loaded, he personally witnessed teams clearly pitch-around Rice in such situations, citing one specific occasion "against the Brewers in 1978." Because I'm me, I went to check. Though Rice never walked with the bases loaded against the Brewers in 1978, it did happen against them on July 28th of 1977, and again on opening day in 1988. He recalled seeing it happen at least on other time, but did not say the date.

Knowing how the human brain works, it's very likely that Shaughnessy is either remembering the first time it happened but just got the year wrong by one or was remembering the second time it happened and merely typed "1978" instead of "1988." No matter the case, Shaughnessy says in his email that he considers being pitched-around with the bases loaded to be essentially the same thing as being intentionally walked. For the record, Rice walked 11 times with the bases loaded in his career. Absent video analysis, there's no way of knowing how many of those were pitch-arounds and how many times the pitcher truly went after Rice, only to miss the mark.

While I don't agree that a pitch-around is the same thing as an IBB -- and while no matter what you believe on that point, I don't think it adds up to Rice being "feared" in the way Shaughnessy has claimed he was (if that indeed matters) -- that is Shaughnessy's reasoning. Does it rebut all of my criticisms from the earlier post? Not in my mind, because it is still hyperbole and potentially misleading hyperbole at that, but it is an opinion based on an experienced reporter's baseball observations rather than mythology, or emotion or what have you, and that's (a) more than I thought we could say about it a few hours ago; and (b) more than we can say about some other writers' Hall of Fame choices.

In the end, though, these are merely baseball opinions, and baseball opinions -- my own included -- come cheap. At a greater premium these days is common decency, good humor, and politeness, and I'd like to thank Dan Shaughnessy for exhibiting all of those things in our exchange. While he's no doubt a busy guy with better things to do than correspond with bloggers, Dan's response was prompt and cordial, as was his permission to write about it when asked (I have a policy against reprinting email exchanges without the express consent of all participants). Regardless of what I think regarding the merits of the Rice-was-feared argument, Dan deserves credit for interacting with readers in a polite and meaningful way while doing so, which is more than can be said for many other sportswriters with whom I have corresponded.

Hey, ya'll: More ShysterBall!


Anonymous said...

I emailed shaughnessy, too. He claimed that the "Orioles did it" and the Brewers "pitched around him"

Couldn't find any evidence that the Orioles intentionally walked him. The Brewers claim is, well, subjective at best.

Shyster said...

He said basically the same to me. Looking at, there does not appear to be a time when the Orioles did it. Brewers did it twice. Indians did it a few times.

I'm not going to slam him for not being able to recall the exact specifics -- Rice has been retired for close to 20 years now -- but yeah, there is an awful lot of subjectivity involved here.

Gary Geiger Counter said...

Craig, the game account of the first game in the Hartford Courant doesn't mention Rice's walk, but it did say the Red Sox rookie Mike Paxton threw 126 pitches. Fire Don Zimmer!

Ken Dynamo said...

wow, you are being real nice. this is pretty hack by shaughnessy.

local sports journalists should own up to the fact that have to play up the home crowd and are totally biased. especially when theyve been writing to a boston crowd for so long. its when they pretend they are being honest and objective that they get caught and dig themselves deeper holes trying to explain otherwise.

i dont really have a problem with rice getting in the hall but if i had a vote i would definitely not vote for rice and then i'd write an article about how i believed rice was worthy i just didnt vote for him because i wanted to piss off the inhabitants of the greater boston area.

oh boy that would be sweet.

Shyster said...

Gary: thanks for the background. Man, if Zimmer isn't careful, he's going to blow the Sox' chance at the division title, which is totally theirs to win.

Ken: I've made the conscious decision to make a clear distinction between what people write and who they are. I think I was pretty clear in the earlier piece and this one that I disagree with Shaughnessy, think what he wrote was misleading, and that by doing so he was being really irresponsible and coterproductive.

At the same time, the guy was nice to me even after I told him I thought he was lying, and continued to be nice to me over the course of our back-and-forth.

So, yeah, I see your point, but I can't really see the percentage in putting too fine a point on it.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone here needs to get off the high horse- are we talking about one line (the capable one)? i am a sometimes hater of dan (saying the race is over in june or july every year it seems) but this is the DAY AFTER rice doesn't get in. you dont think a boston writer might have something to say? and be a little emotinal Shyster i think you have OFFICIALY JUMPED THE SHARK!!I dont feel like I am reading a guy who loves baseball anymore just ANOTHER F'N LAWYER!!! get a few newsday quotes and you say a long standing writer is lying in his articles? All in one week? you quoted 30+ words of dan but wrote 200x that amount (if that is not correct are you going to post that about that? point? dont know anymore shyster just real disappointed-

Anonymous said...

"Derek jeter was capable of snagging everyball hit to his right!" tell me you wont here this when jeter done-

Shyster said...

Anon (the one who's yelling at me) -- I think you and Ken need to compare notes to decide if I'm being too nice or being a jackass.

But seriously: DS is making an argument for Rice, and as a part of that argument -- which has spanned several columns now -- he has claimed that Rice was so feared that he gave Chuck Norris the willys. That's fine. I disagree with it, but that's fine. I draw the line, though, at makin' stuff up, as I hope you would too.

But it's only one sentence? Sure, but facts -- and this is presented as a fact, not just random opinion -- have a way of becoming detached from their content to such a degree that they become urban legends. This is especially true in baseball, where people feel strangely free to make up facts all the time.

Which is fine to a degree -- it adds color -- but if it goes unchecked it risks distorting the history of the game, and nowhere is the history of the game more on the line than it is with the Hall of Fame.

So yeah, maybe I am being too lawyerly here. And maybe DS is entitled to be emotional and plead his case for the last time until next year. But it strikes me that he could do it without making up facts.

bobby said...

'Being pitched around' is not the same as being intentionally walked. The result is the same, and possibly the intention as well, but it is up to the scorekeeper to decide what is an intentional walk, and not a biased fan looking back 30 years. The fact is that Rice has 0 IBBs with the bases loaded in his career. Asserting otherwise, without explanation, is misleading at best. He was not capable of drawing an IBB. That is like saying, "Willie Mays was capable of playing 1000 games in a row without making an error" and then when being called on it, responding, "Well, I saw all of his errors, and they weren't really errors."

Furthermore, according to wikipedia, only Barry Bonds has drawn an IBB with the bases loaded since 1944. So this claim, if it were true, might actually hold some weight with people in establishing the "most feared hitter" myth.

PatHajovsky said...

Another reason why Rice wasn't IBB'd a ton was because he was a freakin' double play machine! He led the league in GIDPs from 1982 through 1985, a 4 year period of dominance. And it's not like he sucked at it the rest of his career either. Why would you IBB that?

logie316 said...

More to the point, walking with the bases loaded is not particularly a Hall of Fame skill. Just look at last year's playoffs. Sure, Manny walked with the bases loaded 3 times in 2 games of the ALCS, but Kevin Youkilis did it once himself in game 5. In the WS, the Sox saw Lugo, Ellsbury, and Pedroia each draw a walk with the bases loaded in succession.

It's fine that Shaughnessy believes these walks are equivalent to a IBBwBL, and therefore an indication of how feared Jim Rice was at the plate, but it's at least insincere to apply that standard to Rice while tossing it aside for all the other hitters who have drawn a walk under the same circumstances.

Personally, I'll take a double in the gap instead.

jhgjr7 said...

The fact that players like Phil Rizzuto are in and Rice isn't is a crime. There are dozens of players with worse stats than Rice who are in, some voted in by the veterans commitee and I just can't respect writers that view former players so inconsistantly like the BBWOA.

Shyster said...

Why should the BBWAA lower the standard of induction to that of the old-style Veteran's Committee, which as many have noted, functioned like a crony committee for so many years? Moreover, the argument of "yeah, but there are worse ones in already" isn't exactly inspiring, is it? Why should we be so beholden to the mistakes of the past?

That said, you probably have nothing to worry about. Rice is a mortal lock to make it next year, I'm afraid.