Today In Poorly Formed Thoughts

Dave Perkins is a semi-retired sports columnist for the Toronto Star who has been granted the privilege of participating in the selection process for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s an honor to which he attaches a hearty amount of seriousness, going so far as to sanctimoniously refer to his duties as “guarding Cooperstown’s entry gate” in his latest column for the newspaper.

Yes, it’s a pompous way to describe a fairly simple process by which baseball writers with ten or more years of membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America literally mail in a selection ballot, but smugness is better than the alternative of not caring at all. Mr. Perkins ensures that he’s unlikely to ever be accused of possessing such a lack of wherewithal, as he spends the majority of his recent 500-word piece describing his internal conflict over whether or not the greatest batting and pitching talents of an entire generation deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

Making such a decision the least bit difficult is almost as onerous of a task as genuinely constructing an opinion-based article with enough fallacies to resemble text that might be used as an example in an undergraduate-level polemics class of what not to do. That Mr. Perkins also manages to insult an entire community of baseball fans in the process is testament to his efficiency as a creative writer, even if it does come at the expense of logic, reason and rational thought

Ad Hominem / Straw Man

After a single introductory sentence/paragraph (in which he miscounts the number of writers voting for the Hall of Fame), Mr. Perkins hearkens back to the dated battles of yore between bloggers and members of the mainstream media. Like the best war stories, fact gives way to exaggeration and imagination.

We are, allegedly, ancient idiots who, after years of watching and reporting and talking to those involved, couldn’t possibly have the same understanding of the game as those who mould statistics according to the latest truth-revealing formula. They, like religious zealots, know the only true path to enlightenment and scorn all others.

It’s unfortunate that Mr. Perkins didn’t attempt to write a piece of fantasy, because this selection might prove to be an enjoyable launching pad. Instead of fiction, he employs the rather popular method of discrediting an opposing view through misrepresentation. In this case, it’s the proliferation of the idea that those who might disagree with Mr. Perkins are brutish know-it-alls more interested in name-calling and proselytizing – a combination that rarely works together - than anything else.

The humor of Mr. Perkins taking offense to name-calling, supposedly being referred to as an ancient idiot, and then to refer to his mock opposition as religious zealots notwithstanding, he expresses a common and untrue sentiment. No one is attempting to convert Dave Perkins to sabermetric analysis. No one interested in baseball analytics is wasting their time making up names for him, either. Well, at least not because of his opinions on baseball.

This is the reaction of someone who offers or at least offered their opinion for a living, and has had it countered by what I’m guessing is fact or reason. It’s reminiscent of a spoiled bully being incensed at his comeuppance when he gets bullied by an older child. Not expecting one’s commentary to inspire dissent is as realistic as imagining that your team can play a game of baseball in which they get to bat in both the top and bottom of each inning.

In order to combat being wrong, Mr. Perkins resorts to building a straw man based on the methods of those who would offer a counter argument to his.

Appeal To Accomplishment

From there, the writer attempts to prove his accomplishments without tackling a single argument that has seemingly upset him so much.

This year, in addition to allegedly not understanding numbers that matter — even though some of us were reading Bill James 30 years ago — those tasked with guarding Cooperstown’s entry gate are required to not only reset their moral compass but to make it jive with everyone else’s. It’s a job no more difficult than putting one’s elbow into one’s ear.

It remains one of sports writing’s greatest triumphs to have read Bill James for so long without not only adopting his methodology for looking at baseball, but also his sense of logic and reason. In addition to believing that congratulations are in order for having read a respected writer so many years ago, Mr. Perkins seems to be of the mind that his job is one of moral consideration, likely to have a lasting impact on the lives of many.

He’s voting for a sports hall of fame. And he’s doing so under fairly clear guidelines:

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

The measurement of all these qualities is fairly well set by the precedent of an institution established in 1939. Making matters all the more clear is that two of the candidates with whom Mr. Perkins struggles so mightily were quite clearly the best players by any measurement to play in decades.

Argumentum Ad Populum / Ludic Fallacy / Fallacy Of The Single Cause

Not to be outdone, the writer continues to express what a difficult decision he faces. In order to prove his dilema, Mr. Perkins “corrects” a lack of evidence by citing the opinion of the majority of people.

As became apparent when the ballot was revealed this week, the full steroid-era tsunami has crashed upon the Hall of Fame seashore, namely Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza, to gently libel four men who didn’t necessarily fail the tests as administered but would be accepted by many, if not all, rational observers as having benefitted from bottled help during their careers.

Without a shred of awareness, Mr. Perkins uses the term “rational” in a sentence that could be translated into: “We don’t have any evidence, but they hit a lot of home runs so they must have been using steroids.” This is akin to making a vanilla cake without any vanilla and lots of chocolate.

The column at this point takes a strange turn. The reader suffers through the first few paragraphs hoping that there will be an opinion offered and then defended, but instead, we’re presented with a person in a position of privilege distastefully bemoaning the responsibilities that come with that privilege.

False Analogy

Just in case there are any readers not already alienated by Mr. Perkins, he then goes on to liken the dilema that he faces in deciding who should enter a sports hall of fame to a woman’s right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.

This time it is about more than statistics and what we saw and heard and how we feel about a player’s dominance and where his career stacks up. Now it’s an abortion issue, meaning there is no middle ground and anyone who does not agree with you should go straight to hell.

Not only is such an analogy objectionable, it’s completely inaccurate. Once again, Mr. Perkins is confusing disagreements and counter arguments with personal attacks without providing a single example. He expects the reader to take him at his word that they are in fact out there. But where? Where is it that people are attacking writers for their opinions? There is a difference that Mr. Perkins fails to comprehend between telling someone that they should go straight to hell and expressing dissent to their commentary.

However, arguing against that dissent is far more difficult than employing a straw man fallacy, and so guess which method Mr. Perkins prefers to combat this questioning. And even if such a straw man were to magically come to life, it can only be arrogance causing Mr. Perkins to assume that he alone or that only those who support his position are the sole subjects of name-calling and the like. Has he never read the comment section of a blog? Judging by his characterization of those in disagreement with him, I suppose that’s a likely possibility.

Historian’s Fallacy

Mr. Perkins concludes his meandering woe-is-me attack on those who might disagree with him, not with an actual stance on an issue, but by comparing perspectives from the past on matters that don’t correlate at all.

Major League Baseball, which never cared much about the issue of performance-enhancing drugs when it was happening, issues no guidelines.

Yes, because baseball writers were all over that at the time.

MLB is more concerned with gambling as an issue, barring Pete Rose forever — and please don’t make the Pete Rose case, that if the No. 1 hits guy isn’t in then you can’t vote in the drug cheats. The electors were never given the chance to vote on Rose; he was barred from the ballot. Not so with the drug-tainted class. The Hall of Fame and MLB is leaving it up to the voters to make the call. With that responsibility naturally comes the heat.

Gambling and the use of banned substances are completely different matters that should be handled differently. One holds the potential to call into question the integrity of the game through players losing on purpose, while the other is about players putting their health at risk by essentially trying too hard.

However, this would actually be an interesting topic for comparison. Instead, Mr. Perkins glosses over the fact that the decision to ban Pete Rose from the ballot occurred with different people in charge who had different perspectives and different information available to them. He then makes one final plea for our sympathy by once again imagining his duties to be of greater consequence than they are.

There’s no heat, here. Mr. Perkins is voluntarily taking part in a privilege that’s been assigned to him as a long-time member of an association that decides on such matters. Far more worrisome than the stress supposedly caused by this is that the former editor of the Toronto Star’s sports section is so concerned with the fallout of his actually offering an opinion, something that he’s been paid to do for several years, that he wrote an entire column on it without actually offering an opinion. Instead, he literally described his own anxiety in trying to form an opinion, while attempting to discredit those who have disagreed with him in the past, and those that might disagree with him in the future.

The whole matter is extremely disagreeable.

Comments (13)

  1. Y’know Parkes, there is a section in one of my favourite reads of all time called Zoom in, Zoom Out (Zen Guitar – http://www.maui.net/~zen_gtr/index.html).

    The basic gist of the suggested philosophy is for one to examine an issue in it’s most tiny detail (which you accomplish in this post), but also that one examine the issue from as far away as possible so one can add perspective to that of exact detail, and hopefully a synthesis resulting in a well tailored solution will come.

    This is apt to the BWAA’s inevitable conundrum of not just its evolution of it’s membership, but also the challenge to its value as an institution as it is clearly in a little win situation regarding the new class of HOF candidates.

    I suggest the following…..

    A one year deferral of player voting for the HOF.

    The only person added to the Hall this summer will be Marvin Miller. His death is before entry is considered a black mark on the BWAA by some, but to me I see it as an opportunity.

    By having only Miller inducted this year there becomes an opportunity to create a tone of reconciliation by this guild. With that spirit in place the BWAA can take the year to reorganize it’s membership in both its membership and standard. One year to find a balance between the old and new, an update that respects the past, but understands that this is 2012.

    This works for both statically driven, and old timey guy because there is an opportunity to create the following…….

    -An inclusion/proper representation of the appropriate constituents who are dedicated to the game. I feel that if properly represented, many of the statistically enthusiastic or other disenfranchised voices would spit less venom.

    -But also an opportunity to enshrine and make clear the values that were developed by those who remember the game from the 20th century. If the Dave Perkins of the world were given their view of the game is inshrined and protected (to a reasonable degree of course) they would feel much less threatened by their eventual successors, and therefor be much more inclined to make a decision based on the merit of the argument within the parameters of a clear frame work, as opposed to including a personal battle of everything they once believed being challenged, and consequently drag it into every decision they make.

    If a body like the BWAA can send the message that something is/has been/will be broken and we have to stop, figure out the solution, then do the right thing, who knows what reasonable and rational solutions may happen next in baseball. It could possibly trickle down in to an improved moral golden age in the sport (this is relative of course).

    My only concern is that this reasonable, yet simple and clear solution is dependent on the powers that be having a sense of vision for what is best for the game and the BWAA in the long view. The problem is that many of the writers would sell their sister for a scoop, and finish their articles before the end 5th inning.

    Oh well.

  2. Wow, great article Parkes.

  3. Wow, who doesn’t love to read about someone pointing out fallacies in a Toronto Star opinion piece. Can we get back to baseball, please?

  4. I like what seems to be the general tact here at GB. If a newspaper columnist goes unnecessarily out of his way to shit on sabermetrics he’s gonna get shit on. Otherwise, leave the dinosaurs to their own devices.

  5. Didn’t you fuck off somewhere Parkes?

    Seriously though, this is a great piece. I wonder how you feel when you read an article like this for the first time. Do you spit out your morning brew? Feel the gears turning for a post? What happens, man? I NEED TO KNOW.

  6. You know what, I went and read Perkins piece, and I don’t think it’s that bad. Reading your analysis here I came away with the feeling that it was a virulently ‘anti-cheat’ piece. In fact, that’s not the case. Perkins is saying ‘this is a grey area’, but one where the camps have become very polarised. He is also saying, although he could be clearer about it, that MLB has put the voters in a ridiculous position, of acting as the jury on the steroid era when every other attempt to make a judgement has failed. I think he has a point.

    I happen not to really agree that the argument is that polarised, and calling it an ‘abortion issue’ was unnecessary. I’m not sure it’s offensive so much as just a bad metaphor. In fact most people are aware of the contradictions. But as usual, the most extreme make the most noise. I also don’t know why sabermetrics were brought into it at all. However you measure it, Clemens and Bonds are among the best players ever – our favourite choice of statistics make no difference.

    But when all is said and done, this doesn’t crack my top ten of dumbass baseball journalism to be found in the Star and Sun.

    • Yeah, I think you pretty summed up my thoughts as well Ben. I just think the over the top cunty tone of Parkes makes this almost unreadable. Its almost like somebody writing in all caps so we know they are angry. As well, the completely inaccurate characterization of Perkins use of abortion is pretty embarrassing. Should have been titled “Poorly formed thoughts about poorly formed thoughts”.

  7. ““We don’t have any evidence…”

    You seem to be very confused about what evidence is. You should probably learn more about it before you make jokes about other people’s ‘poorly formed thoughts’.

    “…he then goes on to liken the dilemma that he faces in deciding who should enter a sports hall of fame to a woman’s right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.”

    When you read something and find the conclusion absurd it’s often a good idea to consider whether it is due to what is written or to your own faulty interpretation. Only someone desperate to be offended would interpret Perkin’s quotation in the way you have done.

    It’s obviously absurd that he would compare his dilemma to that of a woman choosing whether to have an abortion. Instead, he is comparing the polarized PED HOF debate to the polarized abortion debate; both are topics that the majority have never personally experienced but for which they nevertheless have strong opinions.

    • Yes, I agree. I think if you want to deconstruct the thing, you should do it accurately.

      Sure, the guy is being an idiot — but he does not say “we have no evidence”. He says they didn’t fail actual tests. And in 3 of those 4 cases, we do have evidence — just inconclusive evidence (which is what virtually all evidence is with varying degrees of probability).

      In any case, the phrase you put in his mouth in this case is clearly not what he is saying, and it isn’t what you should be saying either.

  8. Excellent post whether I agree or not. You should be proud of this one.

  9. You’re a gifted writer with a fucked up view of the world Parkes.
    So many holes in your “observations” and “opinions”,it’s mind boggling.
    So sad that you feel a need to vent your frustrations in this manner.
    My guess, is that it’s cathartic for you.
    What a waste of talent.

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