Friday, November 14, 2008

Professional Appreciator: Say it ain't so, Mose; A fond farewell to FJM

There is probably no better time to share an anecdote about the import of Fire Joe Morgan.

Since they're hanging it up, the proper thing would to do be to take their farewell post and give it a right good line-by-line FJMing, although that might prove their point -- when everyone's copied you, your work might be done. It could also be that the shtick became obsolete when Edinson Volquez got rookie-of-the-year votes even though he was ineligible for the honour.

What the hell, let's try to be pure of heart. This might seem like more of a story about someone else. Hopefully it illustrates what a blog started by some TV writers with "a borderline-sociopathic joy for meticulously criticizing bad sports journalism" has done for the thinking sports fan on the web.

A couple years ago, yours truly was interviewing Starling Lawrence, the editor-in-chief at W.W. Norton and accomplished writer in his own right, about being Michael Lewis' editor for Moneyball and the forthcoming The Blind Side. It was for an article that later appeared in Quill & Quire ("The anti-sports book") which posited that publishing was moving away from sports books to good books about sports. As Mr. Lawrence put it, "I don't work on sports books -- I work on Michael Lewis' books."

Anyway, Starling Lawrence, mentioned FJM without the sports-mad interviewer bringing it up: "There's even a website called Fire Joe Morgan based on the fact his reaction to Moneyball was so goddamn stupid."

Mr. Lawrence, who "speaks the soft vowels of what passes for the American aristocracy" (The New York Times, May 13, 2006), could of course call someone's behaviour "goddamn stupid" and make it sound more original and zingy than anything Bill Shakespeare ever put to paper, or any of the mother jokes you ever made during Grade 9 gym.

In a sense, that was what FJM did for a lot of sports fans who, as a matter of course, put up with a lot of goddamn stupid articles about baseball in order to satisfy their Seamhead cravings. It basically did give voice to a lot of stathead snobs, present company very included, who do not expect everyone to start talking about VORP and WARP3 instead of batting average and RBIs, but at least to make sound, logical arguments, no matter what stats you value -- and maybe that if you are a Seamhead, try to realize that if you're going to advance your arguments, it's best if you don't have to explain the stats to people right. Michael Schur (AKA Ken Tremendous, AKA Dwight Schrute's beet farmer cousin Mose on a little TV sitcom called The Office) even did a piss-take on the sabremetricians a while back during an interview with the Kansas City Star baseball writer, Sam Mellinger:*

"Sometimes I find sites where our blog is being discussed, and hard-core stat people are like incensed that anyone would read us or take us seriously ... (like) how can we call ourselves sabermetricians when we haven’t even read the latest Voros McCracken piece refuting Bill James' refutation of Pete Palmer's comment about Super Linear Weights?!

"There is nothing more fun than feeling very worked up and strident about something, and encountering people whose worked-uppedness and stridentitude (not a word) far outweigh your own. But I think those people maybe misunderstand the point of our blog. We're not mathematicians, we're comedy writers. And we don’t calculate anything, or formulate anything, because we aren’t nearly smart enough. We just look stuff up. We keep tabs on the basic tenets of the SABR world, and we try to make judgments on what stats seem like they make sense to use. That’s about it.

Whatever the cause and effect, it does seem like more sports journalists in the so-called traditional media are starting to come around to the idea that, in Schur's words, anything they write will be vetted by an "instantaneous fact-checking machine that anyone can use."

Point being, they won. Hell, ESPN might even separate Joe Morgan and Jon Miller next season.
"Perhaps the future holds another project for us on which to waste massive amounts of time. For now, we will leave the site and the archives up as a testament to the fact that if you work hard enough, and blow off enough social occasions, and stare at the internet enough, and get nerdy enough, and repeatedly ignore entreaties from your friends and loved ones to please God stop blogging about Bill Plaschke and get out of the house it's a beautiful day!, then you, too, can ... have a blog." -- FJM
Newspaper sportswriters, along with TV personalities who are commanded to have an iCab by corporate edict, will still from time to time spread brilliant bits of misinformation about baseball any time soon. The industry will make an idiot of anyone.

However, FJM probably did a lot for helping a lot of like-mindeds arm themselves with the facts and above all else, a sense of humour. It is possible to disagree, and not be disagreeable, to rip apart a weak argument, without ripping someone. In that sense, if the goal of a blog is to write itself out of existence, FJM hit it out of the park. It was also damn funny.

May we all meet up some day in Cooperstown, at the Hall of Very Good.

(And a sincere apology for being so metabloggy this morning.)

Related:
Baseball Writers of America, we can do better (Patrick Hayes, It's Just Sports, Nov. 11)

1 comment:

eyebleaf said...

RIP FJM. Best sports blog, ever.