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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Bill James Mailbag

Latest round from James…with a Mike Webber sighting.

I recently read another quote from an old time ball player going on about how players today don’t have good fundamentals. Suppose this were true rather than just belly-aching. How would you measure when the peak of good fundamental play happened? I think a list similar to the one you came up with list of what you need to be thought of as a major league, would make it possible to measure this. Related question, because not striking out has steadily decreased in importance throughout the history of baseball could every grumpy old ballplayer actually be correct – at least with batting fundamentals? If you aren’t aware that the value of contact is decreasing you could easily be fooled into thinking that what was bad fundamentals a generation ago is now a winning strategy.
Asked by: Mike Webber

It is difficult, but may not be impossible, to measure the quality of play in a league.  When you make a subset of that, and try to measure the quality of play is some nebulous, ill-defined area.. . .I’m sayin’ it’s impossible.  Once a year, we should declare something impossible so that we don’t have to worry about it any more.


Nate Silver created an interesting table before the HOF results were announced based on the NYTimes (incomplete) survey of BBWAA voters. It breaks down support for the candidates among voters who selected Bonds compared to those who did not support Bonds. 97% of Bonds supporters also supported Clemens, while 0% of those who did not support Bonds voted for Clemens. This confirms the obvious pools of voters will not vote for candidates linked to PEDs (no one who did not vote for Bonds voted for McGwire, Sosa, or Palmeiro, and fewer voted for Bagwell and Piazza). I found it surprising that no voter took your position: Bonds not worthy, but Clemens should be in. Do you think that the writers will take a more nuanced view over time reflecting the lack of evidence on Clemens compared to Bonds? To paraphrase that former Cabinet member acquitted of corruption, how can Clemens get his reputation back?

Well, first, I DON’T feel that Bonds is not worthy.  I merely think it is better, for Bonds and for the Hall of Fame, to allow a little time to pass before he is honored.  Bonds’ sullied his good name and damaged the game by dishonest and disreputable actions—not to the extent that his accomplishments should never be acknowledged, but it just seems to me obviously better not to rush it.  Give it a little time to heal. 

On the other question, I’m not optimistic that Clemens’ reputation can ever be restored.  There is, I would point out, absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Tris Speaker participated in fixing a game at the end of the 1919 season—but people continue to write that he must have been guilty, since an allegation was made against him.  That was 90-some years ago. 

Allegations were made against Cobb AND Speaker; there is some evidence that Cobb was guilty.  But the letters produced by the accuser make no reference to Speaker, and no reference to any unnamed person who could conceivably have been Speaker.  It’s relatively obvious that Dutch Leonard merely included Speaker in the allegations because he was angry at Speaker and wanted to hurt him.  But people still believe that Speaker MUST have been guilty.  We have a great capacity to believe the worst about our neighbor.

Repoz Posted: January 17, 2013 at 06:21 AM | 17 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, hof

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. AROM Posted: January 17, 2013 at 10:23 AM (#4348887)
It’s relatively obvious that Dutch Leonard merely included Speaker in the allegations because he was angry at Speaker and wanted to hurt him.


I hate it when people like Dutch Leonard and Chris Truby throw out baseless accusations out of spite.
   2. McCoy Posted: January 17, 2013 at 10:40 AM (#4348897)
Bill has become the old curmudgeon.
   3. Cblau Posted: January 17, 2013 at 12:06 PM (#4348994)
Hasn't Bonds already waited five years? What is the appropriate waiting period? When it's over and he has a plaque in Cooperstown, is it going to read, "Nyah nyah, we made him wait"?

And on an unrelated matter, from this week's Onion horoscopes:
"Virgo: After 14 long years, you will be admitted to the Baseball Hall Of Fame when you finally come up with the $11.50 admission price."
But Jack Morris is a Taurus???
   4. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: January 17, 2013 at 12:23 PM (#4349029)
Bill has become the old curmudgeon.

That he has, but OTOH he's one of very few known writers who's actually had the sense to distinguish between the cases against Bonds and Clemens, and has done so with respect for the actual facts. It makes sense to vote for both of them if you don't care about steroids, or if you're a "steroid discounter". And it also makes sense to vote against both of them if your standard of evidence includes hearsay that was heard and soundly rejected at trial by a series of acquittals. But what makes little or no sense is to reject hearsay in other cases (Bagwell, Sosa, etc.) and yet accept it in Clemens' case. And that's what many of the "anti-steroids" writers are clearly doing. It's as if Clemens' trial didn't even take place at all.

And BTW as I'm sure it will be brought up, I was completely wrong in thinking that at least 5% to 10% of the "anti-steroids" writers were going to vote for Clemens on the basis of the trial and its outcome. It's as if they read the accusations against him and then shut their minds to any possibility other than assumed guilt. Not exactly a cheerful thought.
   5. dr. scott Posted: January 17, 2013 at 12:52 PM (#4349089)
Roger was acquitted, but in high profile cases, that is often not the final word in the court of public opinion... see OJ for an example where the majority of people disagree with the jury and discount its findings.

The court does not dole out truth, it simply responds to a set of laws of which there are protections for the accused and the barrier to guilt is purposely high.
   6. Ron J2 Posted: January 17, 2013 at 01:06 PM (#4349111)
#5 Sure, but you'd think (well hope -- I know better than to expect evidence to matter to people) the actual evidence (or lack thereof) presented at trial would matter somewhat. Not so much.
   7. zonk Posted: January 17, 2013 at 01:08 PM (#4349115)
I think the Bonds stuff from James was something he didn't really think through when he proposed this sort of crazy, zig-zagging, nebulous difference between Bonds and Clemens, but in somewhat classic (or recent vintage classic) Bill James fashion -- he's shoring up various levies of the argument here and there to avoid having to just say "Never mind, I was just musing and upon closer inspection/deeper thought, it really doesn't make much sense."
   8. Ron J2 Posted: January 17, 2013 at 01:22 PM (#4349131)
#7 But he's never minded that saying that he's changed his mind or that he hadn't completely thought things through. Or at least the James of 25 years ago had no problems saying stuff like that.
   9. dr. scott Posted: January 17, 2013 at 02:24 PM (#4349199)
#6 agree, but the actual evidence produced at trial was not covered nearly as much as the evidence that people thought was presented in trial... i.e. what we read about for years coming up to the trial.
   10. Ron J2 Posted: January 17, 2013 at 06:00 PM (#4349412)
Also, James is wrong when it comes to Speaker. There is evidence in the form of what Joe Wood said in the Glory of Their Times Tapes.

But: It's directly contradictory to what he said at the time. Also, Speaker never got the chance to rebut the new version -- being dead.

All in all it's questionable how much weight you'd want to put on Wood's revised version, but it's not really true that there's nothing on Speaker.
   11. Kurt Posted: January 17, 2013 at 06:41 PM (#4349445)
#5 Sure, but you'd think (well hope -- I know better than to expect evidence to matter to people) the actual evidence (or lack thereof) presented at trial would matter somewhat. Not so much.

In fairness this was a bit easier to do for OJ, given the round the clock trial coverage and analysis for months on end.
   12. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: January 17, 2013 at 06:41 PM (#4349446)
Roger was acquitted, but in high profile cases, that is often not the final word in the court of public opinion... see OJ for an example where the majority of people disagree with the jury and discount its findings.


The difference IMHO is that the OJ jury had ample evidence to convict if they wanted to, Clemens jury simply was not represented with sufficient evidence to convict

what's depressing is that the MSM reporting evidences very little recognition of that fact (especially insofar as the Clemens case is concerned- and some reporters did indeed mention that the jury was given too little to support a conviction- but blamed the judge (or Andy Petitte)- which was simply wrong, even including what the judge threw out I was shocked by how little evidence the government had gathered- I went from thinking with 97.5% certainty that Clemens was a roider to somewhere between 50 and 75%...
   13. Morty Causa Posted: January 17, 2013 at 07:52 PM (#4349497)
10:

That's why there's a rule of evidence in law (and in a lay sense it applies in "real" life, too) that you just don't count everything as equal. You have to weigh and assess the evidence. You can have a 100 bits of evidence that promote guilty and only one that promotes not quilty and find not guilty beause it's the better and the weightier evidence.

If you justify your decision on the basis of any evidence whatsoever, then you can justify anything you decide to anyway you want to. That's pretty sweet. And pretty scary. And that's not a standard in law, and it shouldn't be in life either.

We don't know with 100 percenbt certainty whether Clemens is guilty and we don't know with 100% certainty that he's not quilty. We can only go with probablities, and these aren't even numerical probabilities. And we can only decide what will be binding in what setting.
   14. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 17, 2013 at 09:10 PM (#4349541)
That he has, but OTOH he's one of very few known writers who's actually had the sense to distinguish between the cases against Bonds and Clemens, and has done so with respect for the actual facts. It makes sense to vote for both of them if you don't care about steroids, or if you're a "steroid discounter". And it also makes sense to vote against both of them if your standard of evidence includes hearsay that was heard and soundly rejected at trial by a series of acquittals. But what makes little or no sense is to reject hearsay in other cases (Bagwell, Sosa, etc.) and yet accept it in Clemens' case. And that's what many of the "anti-steroids" writers are clearly doing.


Andy, McNamee's testimony was not "hearsay." McNamee testified as to direct knowledge that he had: he witnessed Clemens using steroids, and he heard Clemens make various statements about wanting to and using steroids. Etc. Hearsay does not mean "the witness testifying has little credibility."

Pettitte's testimony was not hearsay either. Pettitte testified as to direct knowledge that he had: he heard Clemens say he had used HGH - however unsure he later became that he had understood Clemens properly.

It's as if Clemens' trial didn't even take place at all.


Again, we learned nothing new at the trial, so we didn't need it to assess the facts. All of the witnesses stories were laid out under oath and in very, very specific detail per the questioning in the Congressional depositions. And the trial didn't bring forth new evidence. Though I guess that's a point to be made: they spent four years and tens of millions of dollars investigating/trying him, and could find no new evidence against him.
   15. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 17, 2013 at 09:16 PM (#4349542)
James has turned into Willie Mays with the Mets. Or maybe it's not quite that bad. But geez.
   16. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: January 17, 2013 at 09:27 PM (#4349547)
Hearsay does not mean "the witness testifying has little credibility."


The technical term for that being "perjury."

All of the witnesses stories were laid out under oath and in very, very specific detail per the questioning in the Congressional depositions. And the trial didn't bring forth new evidence. Though I guess that's a point to be made: they spent four years and tens of millions of dollars investigating/trying him, and could find no new evidence against him.


I think the real point to be made is that the voters in question had already decided that Clemens was guilty based on the Congressional depositions, without actually bothering to read or understand those depositions. They weren't expecting new evidence to be presented at trial, and they didn't think any new evidence was necessary since Clemens' guilt had already been proven. They obviously weren't going to have their minds changed by the outcome of some silly trial.

Andy's surprise at the voting stems from a belief that there would have been a difference of opinion on Bonds/Clemens among the subset of voters that actually are willing to think things through enough to be a "discounter" or to require a standard for suspicion that exceeds "he got better in his late thirties." Apparently, all the voters who think there is more evidence against Bonds than there is against Clemens either don't care about PEDs or don't care about evidence.
   17. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: January 17, 2013 at 09:29 PM (#4349548)
James has turned into Willie Mays with the Mets. Or maybe it's not quite that bad. But geez.


I watched Willie Mays with the Mets. Trust me, it's not quite that bad.

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