I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that the off field activities of the Boston Red Sox, a high profile baseball team that suffered a spectacular collapse in the final month of the season, aren’t newsworthy. I’m a baseball fan. I’m as interested in that kind of stuff as anyone else.

I won’t even criticize the use of unnamed sources. I can’t think of another way that a story like this would ever break without the use of people who would otherwise want nothing to do with a reporter, if their anonymity wasn’t protected.

I suppose I do take issue with reporting on an individual’s possible addiction and marital problems, while citing his son fighting in a war overseas as a distraction to his job. Those details are unnecessary specifics, and they come across as little more than a thinly veiled attempt to embarrass Terry Francona. However, this blog’s purview is baseball, not ethics in journalism. So, that issue is probably best tackled by someone else.

What I take umbrage with is the way in which these supposed facts are being used as some sort of explanation for Boston’s late season melt down. I touched on this subject a bit in today’s links, but I think it’s worth delving into a little bit deeper.

I rely heavily on statistics to form my opinions in baseball. I believe very strongly that for people like me, who don’t have the necessary experience to make judgments on pitching mechanics or approaches at the plate,  looking at numbers is the only method to use when forming an opinion on baseball or making a prediction about a potential outcome.

That’s not to say that I believe numbers dictate everything. I understand that there are human beings playing the game of baseball. I understand that these human beings are fallible creatures who from time to time won’t be at their very best, or even at their very average selves. However, I’m also not a psychologist. I can’t speak to the private motivations of specific individuals, and so I’d rather not talk or write about it at all.

In other words, the intangible elements that the recent Boston Globe article relies on to explain the Red Sox collapse are entirely immeasurable. Thinking about myself, I’ve been in situations where both good and bad things have motivated me, just as both good and bad things have led me to get lazy on certain days at my job. I’m sure that the incidents laid out in the Globe had an effect, but it’s not as though we can definitely state that Problem A caused Outcome B, just because they happened at the same time. There’s absolutely no proof of correlation causation.

What’s happening is we’re learning about supposedly bad behaviour from players on a team that didn’t perform up to expectations, and then forced to draw conclusions that really don’t have any basis in reality. Who’s to say if the supposed undisciplined approach taken by starting pitchers didn’t actually allow them to play better? What if Terry Francona’s alleged marital problems forced him to buckle down and focus on the team?

We don’t know. And I’m entirely more comfortable when sticking to the realm of which we do know. And that realm suggests that a very good team missed out on the postseason by one game. That is all.

Comments (7)

  1. I agree, if bad clubhouse behavior results in missing the playoffs by one game, exactly what kind of behavior results in the anemic offense of the Mariners? Or what divine plea did the Rays make to enable them to win the final game of the season in extra innings?

    Surely it can’t be a combination of talent and luck! No, there are darker forces at work here. I’m sure of it.

  2. Couldn’t disagree more. The Red Sox just had a historic September collapse. While this was going on, there was a simultaneous erosion of clubhouse culture. This may not mean causation, but you’re crazy if you think we can’t assume correlation of some kind, which is what you wrote above.

    You also ask rhetorical questions which have clear answers: who’s to say the approach didn’t help rather than hurt the pitchers? Their September record and clear lack of stamina in their final starts is to say. Who’s to say that the manager lost focus? The owners who fired him, the players who didn’t support him and the man himself, who admitted he lost control over his team.

    If explaining on field results with something beyond statistics causes you distress, consider the Red Sox final month as a statistical outlier. Any statistician will tell you that an outlier can often only be explained by factors beyond the scope of the model in question. Leadership, management and conditioning are all important variables in the performance of a baseball team. A deterioration of these factors, when coupled with a surprising collapse is both suspicious and very interesting to me as a reader. What strikes me as irresponsible is criticizing a writer for, at the very least, uncovering some strange irregularities in the conduct of the team he gets paid to cover.

    • Thanks. I suppose I meant causation, not correlation. But I wasn’t thinking in terms of statistics.

      There remains absolutely no reason to think that having chicken and beer in the clubhouse at some point in the season would lead to a lack of stamina, which I’m not even sure you can prove occurred. Injuries? Sure. But those happen at every point of the season. As for Francona, losing control is very different from being distracted which is what the article was claiming, while bringing up unnecessary specifics about the man’s life.

      As for the article, I’m not being overly critical at all of it. There were items that rubbed me the wrong way, mainly the way in which it presents its findings as reasoning for the September collapse without offering the link. That’s my issue.

  3. well said. i don’t know why i continue to be surprised by the Boston media’s relentless need to find answers and meaning in places where sometimes there is none, but i do indeed continue to be surprised. the depths to which they plunge are even more shocking than the content of the stories. listening to Felger and Mazzarotti speak on the air to John Henry was simply incredible. the extent of their pre-conceived notions was such that when Henry said things like “I am outraged by your misleading statements to the public that Red Sox owners are behind the smearing of Tito, it was not us, the author of the article admitted that we were not the sources,” their response was “well, we find that hard to believe.” they then proceeded to mis-read quotes and take Henry to task for things he plainly never said.

    i wish more people understood the complete lack of credibility and qualifications that people like Felger and Mazzerotti have. way, way too many people assume that since they are on the radio, they must be experts, and since they say it on the radio it must be true. in fact, they are nothing more than radio infotainment shock jocks contributing to the dumbing down of America.

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