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Anti-stats rant: This is either the worst column or the best satire ever written

Mar 10, 2010, 4:25 PM EDT

Jerry Thornton of WEEI starts his latest column off good enough, waxing optimistic about the Red Sox, and imagining that they’ll be popping champagne corks in November. But then he gets in a time machine and heads back to 2002 or so:

And as I do, there’s only one thing I see spoiling the party. One
small, nagging turd in the punchbowl, mitigating an otherwise perfect
celebration. I’m afraid that if … when … the Sox win it all this year,
it will mean total victory has been achieved by that odd, creepy little
subculture that lives among us: the Stat Geeks.

There’s no escaping this conclusion: the Stat Geeks have quietly and
insidiously taken power. Every hot stove report I’ve read this
offseason, every article written from Fort Myers, every statement from
Sox brass, has the Stat Geeks’ grubby little fingerprints on it.
They’re like the Communist Party plotting to take over Hollywood in the
1950s before Ronald Reagan got wise to them and kicked their pinko
butts all the way back to Moscow and Harvard Square. Only, instead of
trying to write screenplays full of anti-capitalists rants, the Stat
Geeks have succeeded in making otherwise normal, decent, God-fearin’
Americans start talking about VORP (Value Over Replacement Player)
ratings and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) numbers like they really believe
in this nonsense.

I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not entirely sure this isn’t satire. It’s so badly over the top that I am this close to believing that it’s not real.  But if it is satire it’s so dry that there’s alost zero evidence suggesting as such, so I’m going to proceed as thought it’s a straight up thing.  With that out of the way . . .

Every single front office in baseball believes in this “nonsense.”  Actually, I take that back. Most of them consider VORP and UZR to be nice starts and have developed their own, proprietary metrics that take things even further. Stuff that would probably make Thornton’s head explode in rage, fear and confusion.

While I don’t expect writers to be conversant with the intimate details of statistical analysis, there is no excuse for this kind of retrograde ignorance. It’s like reading a national security journal and finding an article in which the author says he doesn’t trust newfangled things like radar and anti-aircraft installations and wondered aloud whatever happened to barrage balloons.

I realize that WEEI isn’t supposed to be a scholarly journal, but if I was in charge over there and one of my guys turned in copy so blindingly ignorant of decade-plus old developments in the sport in which he’s supposed to have at least a modicum of expertise, I’d run him out of his job on a rail.

  1. bisonaudit - Mar 10, 2010 at 4:36 PM

    I’m pretty sure, despite their recent success, that the Twins are not real keen on the whole statistical revolution.
    revealed t-shirts

  2. Jonny5 - Mar 10, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    “It’s like reading a national security journal and finding an article in which the author says he doesn’t trust newfangled things like radar and anti-aircraft installations and wondered aloud whatever happened to barrage balloons.”
    Ouch!! because that type of thought led to a very very successful bombing we all well know about, on a small harbor in Hawaii, the name is on the tip of my tongue…….. Named after a precious bead made of mollusk secretions….

  3. JBerardi - Mar 10, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    “They’re like the Communist Party plotting to take over Hollywood in the 1950s before Ronald Reagan got wise to them and kicked their pinko butts all the way back to Moscow and Harvard Square.”

    Really, this should indicate that the whole thing is satire. On the other hand, this is WEEI we’re talking about…

  4. SteveP - Mar 10, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    Sports talk filters for “bar stool” sorts I think and there’s this incredible resentment that somehow these “geeks” might not only know something, but are given these jobs, with teams..and teams listen.
    I always tell these people that *most* of this isn’t new anyway, Branch rickey knew and implemented the outlines of this a long, long time ago.
    But they want to cling to their batting averages, “clutch” performances and so on…oh well.

  5. JohnMcG - Mar 10, 2010 at 5:16 PM

    but if I was in charge over there and one of my guys turned in copy so blindingly ignorant of decade-plus old developments in the sport in which he’s supposed to have at least a modicum of expertise, I’d run him out of his job on a rail.
    And then you wonder why some people don’t consider the emergence of stat-based analysis to be an unalloyed good.

  6. Pandamonium - Mar 10, 2010 at 5:32 PM

    I’m close to 100% sure that the Giants front office hasn’t adopted the “nonsense.”

  7. IdahoMariner - Mar 10, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    okay, I read the whole damn thing and he’s totally serious. and completely self-delusional. the stuff that makes it look like it should be satire is just him despearatly trying to be funny. the whole thing reads like one geek royally pissed off that all those other geeks that stuck with it got jobs and are making a living at the thing he did as a teenager. sad.

  8. John - Mar 10, 2010 at 5:48 PM

    I honestly don’t think it’s sarcasm…which is just sad. Nauseating, even. If it’s sarcasm then the satire isn’t pronounced enough. I am officially a Red Sox fan who hates (most) Boston sports writers. If I read one more article like this my head will explode from the stupidity.

  9. jwb - Mar 10, 2010 at 5:57 PM

    They’re like the Communist Party plotting to take over Hollywood in the 1950s before Ronald Reagan got wise to them
    Satire. Everybody knows it was Joseph McCarthy and Elia Kazan who saved us from Burgess Meredith and Dalton Trumbo in the 1950s. Ronald Reagan is a universally beloved today, so Jerry Thornton name checks him.

  10. Old Gator - Mar 10, 2010 at 7:17 PM

    The funny thing is, Tailgunner Joe was a stat geek!
    .
    “I have here before me a list of 36 communists in the state department….which, when adjusted for OBP, yields a list of 27 communists in the state department….which, when you factor in slugging percentage (this is 1954, after all) gives you a list of 43 communists in the state department….”
    .
    And here we all thought he was making his numbers up!

  11. Matt M - Mar 10, 2010 at 7:46 PM

    Haha. VORP. That’s so… 2008.

  12. John from Concord - Mar 11, 2010 at 8:26 AM

    But but but my dictionary says that “retrograde ignorance” and “Boston sports media” are synonyms!

  13. Xao - Mar 11, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    Sorry gents, but having read through the whole article, that has to be satire. Galaxy Quest references? Strat-o-matic? The Han Solo Shot First t-shirt? Yeah, he’s one of ours.
    Also, I’m pretty sure nobody ever writes “God-fearin’ Americans” complete with the apostrophe and expects it to be taken seriously.

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