Note: If you’re curious about the significance of this post’s title, fast forward to the fourth-to-last bullet.
As you might’ve heard, FanGraphs brought its act to New York this past Saturday with a view towards letting smart baseball people say smart baseball things.
“How’d it go?” maybe you’re asking.
Well, actually, kinda even better than this author could’ve imagined.
With the exception of some French Canadians who kept loudly chanting Jonah Keri’s name — that, and the seven or ten bareknuckled fights in which I personally engaged with Patrick Sullivan of Baseball Analysts — the Event (and the congregation afterwards at Amity Hall) were about as frigging convivial as one could imagine.
In what follows, I reduce all of the nuance and personality of the Event to a few shallow observations and badly strained insights.
In other words: Enjoy!
• Discovery: Mitchel Lichtman (creator of UZR, contributor to The Book blog) is not a prick. How do I know? Well, for one, those were the first words out of his mouth on the Stats panel. “Just to clarify,” he said, grabbing the microphone by its stand, “I am not a prick.”
Duly noted, Mr. Lichtman.
Here’s another way you could find out that Mr. Lichtman isn’t a prick: by talking to him and, while talking to him, to avoid statements that demonstrate a lack of clear thinking. So far as I can tell — and he said as much on the Stats panel — baseball very much represents for Lichtman an opportunity to practice thinking, to practice asking questions, to practice being curious.
• This last point was echoed by other panelists, both explicity and implicity: baseball, they might agree, is an excellent medium for practicing critical thinking.
Let’s also be clear, however: that’s not the only thing for which baseball’s good.
• Question: Is sabermetrics — and the wider net that it’s continually casting — producing a generation of young men (and — gasp! — even some women) with more highly developed faculties of reason? with a stronger understanding of randomness? with a better idea of how to separate signal from noise?
• ESPN radio announcer Jon “Boog” Sciambi is our greatest ally*. Before I say why exactly, I’d like just to talk about his voice for a second. Here’s what it (i.e. his voice) sounds like: like it’s covered in an entire barrel of delicious forest honey. Here’s what I wish it (i.e. still his voice) would do: read me stories at night so I could fall asleep more easily.
*By “our,” I mean either (a) those who care about discussing baseball in thoughtful, even tones, or (b) people of Italian descent. You decide which!
With that out of the way, let me tell you another thing: Sciambi is committed to searching for the capital-T truth, and is dedicated to filling his broadcast full of that search. This doesn’t necessarily mean rattling off xFIPs and BABIP, mind you — it has to play to a general audience — but Sciambi made it clear that he makes it a priority to work at his smartest.
• At a post-Event lunch, the question was posed: “What’s harder to predict, the stock market or baseball players’ futures?” The answer? The stock market, hands down.
“The stock market” someone added — maybe it was Tommy Bennett, maybe our Dark Overlord himself — “is more like projecting the future performance of all high school baseball players.” Which, that would be harder.
• During the Media panel, moderator Jonah Keri began one of his questions for the group by positing the existence of purely hypothetical Boston-area sports columnist with the totally made-up name of Shman Shmaughnessy.
It’s still a mystery upon whom exactly this character could be based.
• Also on the Media panel, both New York Magazine’s Will Leitch and the Wall Street Journal’s David Biderman mentioned — offhandedly, if nothing else — mentioned the importance of the headline to generating page views.
“Unfortunately, it’s important,” Biderman said.
I second Biderman’s sentiments on this matter. It’s frustrating to imagine that a well-written post or article would go unread (or less read, at least) merely because it lacked a provocative title. I don’t know, and won’t pretend to know, how greatly the numbers fluctuate given the “quality” of a title. My immediate reaction is this, though: there’s no use wringing one’s hands over the matter. If a good title gets eyes on good writing, so be it. My other reaction is this: good writing gets read.
• Observation: saber-oriented Yankee fans, just like all other kinds of Yankee fans, are disgustingly confident.
• The truth comes out: after long being suspected of such bias, Dave Cameron finally admitted — via a tearful, handwritten confession at the end of the Live Event — to hating all teams except the Mariners and to using FanGraphs as his vehicle for promoting Mariner fandom.
Video available soon. Scout’s honor.
• To echo Cameron’s sentiments from earlier today, but to do it with French words, the esprit de corps of the afterparty was terrifically gratifying, humbling. Essentially, all my interactions were with enthusiastic and curious people. That’s really the most I could ever ask of life.