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When simply “stating the facts” is actually criticism

Mar 22, 2012, 9:44 AM EDT

Boston Red Sox manager Valentine watches pitchers work out at the Red Sox new Major League Baseball spring training facility in Fort Myers

Bobby Valentine talked yesterday about his reputation for criticizing ballplayers. He bristled at the notion.

He says he has never thrown anyone under the bus ever, and that when he is construed to have done so — like, if he says that Mark Melancon got all of his running in backing up the bases after giving up hits — it’s because he’s simply stating facts, not ripping anyone:

“A statement of fact should never be misconstrued as criticism. I don’t think it is, or should be. I don’t have time to deal with intelligence or morality. I can’t deal with those. If ignorant people misinterpret simple statements, it’s not my fault. If factual statements are misconstrued as criticism, that’s somebody else’s problem.”

Maybe I’m about to go too far down the rabbit hole here, but I think this is a fascinating subject that actually illuminates some stuff about how blogging works. And I think I’m taking Valentine’s side here to some degree. But there’s an important caveat.

I can’t think of how many times I’ve simply passed along a fact like “the Mets finances are troubled” or “an unfortunate event happened in Citizens Bank Park involving an unruly fan,” only to have people accuse me of being a hater.  When I hate — or troll or whatever — I would hope that it’s pretty obvious. I have a lot of fun with that. But simply stating facts? Bah, that’s not hating. Fred Wilpon did screw up the Mets finances. That guy did intentionally puke on that little girl at CBP.  Those things happened, even if a bunch of people got all mad after I wrote about, saying stuff like “there you go again, picking on the [Mets of Phillies].”

When someone reacts all hurt about that kind of thing, it says way more about them than it does about whatever it is I have to say. Mets fans don’t like to be reminded that their franchise has issues and Phillies fans don’t like to be reminded that there is a history of ugly things happening in the stands. But that doesn’t change the facts of it all.

But here’s the caveat:  Context matters too. If I have a reputation of hating or trolling — and I’m so happy I do! — it stands to reason that my straight-up statements about the subjects of that hating should fall under greater scrutiny. I try to be fair, but I have a higher burden on me when it comes to subjects I’ve criticized in the past. I have to be careful to play it more straight than usual because I’ve dug myself a bit of a credibility hole, even if it was intentional and, in my view, acceptable to have done so.

Indeed, I want you to hold my feet to the fire on, say, an objective piece of analysis about the Phillies more so than you would other teams, because if you don’t, I get lazy.

Back to Valentine: he’s right. Simply stating the facts, however poorly those facts reflect on a given player, is not ripping them. But if he has a pattern of stating the facts about some players more than others, or if he rarely states the facts, as it were, about other players, that creates a pattern of its own that, in the whole, can be construed as being unfair or throwing guys under the bus or what have you.

To suggest otherwise is to play it a bit too cute.

  1. nategearhart - Mar 22, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Citing butthurt Phillies fans as a cautionary sample in your post on trolling, thereby further trolling Phillies fans.
    Ladies and gentlemen, the internet’s first Meta-troll.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:09 AM

      Acting the part of an oversensitive fan reacting to a factual statement in response to a thread about oversensitive fans reacting to factual statements.

      That’s great stuff.

    • antlerclaws - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:13 AM

      You had me at “butthurt Phillies fans”.

  2. rollinghighwayblues - Mar 22, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    ” I don’t have time to deal with intelligence or morality. ”

    Classic.

  3. El Bravo - Mar 22, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    The Phillies are a the sweaty, old scrotum of the NL East. This is fact people, so don’t jump all over me for stating as much. Just look it up by simply typing “sweaty, old scrotum” in your favorite web search engine and see for yourself.

    • drunkenhooliganism - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:10 AM

      you’re right. most of the first page in google’s image search was pictures of Phillies’ players. Is this one of those google jokes that I missed out on?

      • mrfloydpink - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:16 AM

        I don’t know about that. What I do know is that Craig James killed five hookers while he was at SMU.

    • professor59 - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:47 AM

      So, does that mean the Phillies have been tea-bagging the Braves for the last 6 years?

  4. Baseball Beer Burritos In That Order - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    The key difference is that you, Craig, don’t have any obvious bias in talking about the Mets’ financial woes or the Phillies’ injury problems. Bobby V used his gig at ESPN to pitch himself as a manager for 2 years, and in doing so talked a fair amount of crap about players and coaches alike. Is it a bit blown out of proportion? Sure. Is Bobby V doing himself or the Red Sox any favors by giving defensive explanations that are barely cogent at best? I don’t think so.

  5. danrizzle - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Am I just stupid, or is the statement that Mark Melancon got all his running in backing up bases on hits given up obvious criticism, regardless of factual content? Factual or not, that’s Bobby Valentine ripping Melancon.

    • jimbo1949 - Mar 22, 2012 at 11:06 AM

      No, stupid would be accepting his explanation that he actually did not criticize Melancon.

  6. bravojawja - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    Just to play Devil’s advocate (whoa), it isn’t just context – it’s who you choose to pick on. If you only ever mention all the horrible, horrible things those horrible hoodlum Phillies fans do without reporting on a similar incident in, say, Pittsburgh, your credibility goes out the window, at least among Phillie fans (but who cares about them, anyway?).

    Then again, it’s why some people will only watch FOX News or MSNBC. Or only read The Onion.

  7. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    Back to Valentine: he’s right. Simply stating the facts, however poorly those facts reflect on a given player, is not ripping them. But if he has a pattern of stating the facts about some players more than others, or if he rarely states the facts, as it were, about other players, that creates a pattern of its own that, in the whole, can be construed as being unfair or throwing guys under the bus or what have you.

    Umm not sure how he’s right, considering stating a fact and/or criticizing a person aren’t mutually exclusive. For instance, I think it’s a shame that people like Joe Morgan can’t put aside their biases and read a book like Moneyball (or Keri’s Extra 2%, or whatever) is a criticism and a statement of fact.

    The problem is, especially from the small info quoted above, that Valentine is barking down the tree of feeling he should be immune to criticism merely because he’s stating fact. He’s almost pulling the “don’t take offense but” then saying something offensive.

  8. thinman61 - Mar 22, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    The degree to which this is true can be overblown, but Red Sox fans are still to some extent pining for Tito and his famously low key approach. If the band-aids start popping off the 2012 Red Sox once the season starts, the stuff that comes out of Bobby V’s mouth will be like pouring acid on those wounds. The Boston media, of course, will be there to helpfully organize the lynching.

  9. randygnyc - Mar 22, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    ” I don’t have the tools to deal with intelligence or morality. ”

    There, fixed.

  10. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Mar 22, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    No, you see, I always thought it was the job of the manager and coaching staff to get the most out of their players. So, if Bobby V is stating the facts, with an econo-sized portion of snark mixed in, about his players performing poorly, isn’t he at least partially to blame?

    I think Bobby and Ozzie Guillen both missed that part of Manager Orientation, where they are supposed to help their players, not trash talk about them in the media.

  11. Jonny 5 - Mar 22, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    He’s always trying to cover for those pesky teeth of his.

  12. rooney24 - Mar 22, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    I think the potential problem with comparing what you blog to “not criticizing” is the fact of what is blogged. Something you blog (like the Wilpon thing) may be truth. But, the slippery slope on this issue is that if you only were to blog bad stuff that you find out about certain teams, while only blogging the good stories about other teams, then a bias could show and you might be called a hater.

    I am sure there are good stories that could be told about every team. I would bet that there are good guys on every team and make visits to kids’ hospitals and do a lot of charity work. You are under no obligation to report all of them, obviously. But, what a blogger may pick and choose to report is what may lead some to call them haters (rightly or wrongly).

  13. offseasonblues - Mar 22, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    Mark Melancon after the game:

    “As I came off the field I said, ‘Hey Skip, I got my running in today. I backed up every base about three times.’ He got that from me. I didn’t take any offense to that,” Melancon said.

    It was a joke. It was a reference to all the drills the players are doing this year that I’m sure they’ve done every year, but this year the manager talks about it.
    There will be occasion to jump all over BobbyV I’m sure, but not this time.

  14. bigharold - Mar 23, 2012 at 12:51 AM

    “He says he has never thrown anyone under the bus ever, ..”

    If he said it, .. it MUST be true. The man invented the wrap for Christ sake.

    If you ask me Bobby is going to pen a lot of time this summer not “throwing anyone under the bus”.

    I can’t wait for the season to start!

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