Monday, March 20, 2006

NY Times' Murray Chass is Losing It

by Doug Silversten

In baseball, as in all sports, one of the biggest myths is that "experience" can be the difference between success and failure. Obviously, the same applies to sports writing.

According to his biography, Murray Chass has been writing for the NY Times since 1969. For the sake of all long-time loyal NY Times readers, I hope that the quality of Chass' work from 1969-2005 was vastly superior to what he has had to offer so far in 2006. If you just began reading Chass this year, you would honestly have to wonder if he were new to the game of baseball. Where do I come up with such a claim? I'll use evidence, something Chass often fails to do.

First off, let's look at a January 20th column, where he discusses the press conference where Theo Epstein returned to the Red Sox as GM:

They spoke of having "bonds of a shared vision for the organization's future" and of becoming "a more effective organization in philosophy, approaches, and ideals." These are the people who built a team that reached the playoffs the past three years and won the World Series for the star-crossed franchise for the first time in 86 years.

Are they going to eclipse that record in the next three years? Not likely. They'll be lucky to get back to the World Series once in that period. Will they even be able to eclipse the Evil Empire? If they do, it will very likely result more from the Yankees' shortcomings than from the improvements the Red Sox make through their newly forged lovefest.

Whoa. Where did that last paragraph come from? Since John Henry’s management group purchased the Red Sox, the Red Sox have won a total of 288 games to the Yankees 297, or three fewer games a season. Three. Championships during that span? Red Sox, 1. Yankees, 0. Oh, and the Yankees spend almost $100 million more each year. Yes, $100 million. Let's put that money difference in perspective: the difference between the Yanks and the Red Sox 2005 payroll is MORE than the difference between the Red Sox and the lowest payroll in baseball (the Devil Rays). Think about that for a second before we move on.

So, despite having far fewer dollars to work with, the current Red Sox management team has, at the very least, matched the Yankees the last few years. Yet, Chass gives the Sox little chance of topping the Evil Empire again. And he states this in a column right after an announcement that the same Red Sox management team that recently toppled the Yankees is going to remain intact. I'm confused here. Help? Anybody?

On February 7th, Chass wrote a piece criticizing the Moneyball craze. Okay, fair enough. There are some valid criticisms, but if you are going to criticize something, please, please please provide some shred of credible evidence that makes your point. The blogosphere did such a good job shredding the February 7th column to pieces that I do not have anything original to add. For the best shredding, definitely check out Fire Joe Morgan’s excellent line-by-line analysis.

Maybe Murray just had a bad first two months of the year. Let's see if he improves in March. Let’s check out the opening paragraphs of his March 8th piece:

Miracle on ice? How about miracle on grass?

How else to explain Canada's 8-6 victory over the United States on Wednesday in their second game of the World Baseball Classic? If the Tampa Bay Devil Rays won the World Series this year, it would not be as stunning.

When I read this, the first thing I did was send the above to my brother with the statement, "Is that not the most ridiculous thing you have ever read?!?!" A few hours later, my father (who knows I read the NY Times religiously) called and stated, "By the way, you read the opening paragraphs of Murray Chass’ column, right? Was that not the most ridiculous thing you have ever read?!?!?"

You might be thinking, "OK, dumb statement by Murray, but no big deal." But writing something like that shows a complete lack of understanding of the basic fundamentals of the game of baseball. It makes you question why I should ever read a baseball column by this man again. Yet, I read on...

A few days later in a March 12th column, Chass returned to more unsubstantiated bashing of Moneyball when discussing John Schuerholz’s new book Built to Win. Chass comes up with this brilliant line when supporting Schuerholz’s anti-Moneyball claims:

Although the Oakland Athletics were the star of Michael Lewis's book, they have not gone beyond the first round of the playoffs in recent years.

THAT is the evidence you use to knock the A’s/Beane/Moneyball? That a team that spends $150 million less than the Yankees, $30 million less than the Braves, and yet has managed to average over 90 wins has failed to go "beyond the first round of the playoffs in recent years."?!?!? SCANDAL! Every reader of Moneyball should demand their $25 back for the book.

There are teams like the Mets who spend double the A's, who sign a bunch of top free agents and they barely break .500. Meanwhile, the A's lose their top players to free agency each year or are forced to trade them before they inevitably leave anyway, and yet consistently break 90 wins. Look, maybe it isn't Moneyball, but something is going right in Oakland.

Not much, however, is going right in Chass' columns.

Doug Silversten's column appears alternate Mondays


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