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I’ve never liked Murray Chass.

Murray Chass, New York Times writer.Admittedly, I’ve only read about eight columns by Chass in my lifetime, but there is a good reason for this, and it has to do with the first sentence of this post. Basically, I avoid reading his writing for fear that it will endumben me and make me write fake words like “endumben.”

In every column by Chass that I’ve ever read (yes, all eight), he has hoisted himself up on to some high horse or other, from which height he could look down his nose at all of us lowly peons and proclaim to us his wisdoms from on high.

Sometimes he is standing on multiple high horses at once, like some sort of crazy circus act. As he did this week in his latest column in the New York Times, which proclaimed the all the baseball-related topics he thinks should never be mentioned again.

The final item on Chass’ list of “Things I don’t want to read or hear about anymore” is “Statistics mongers promoting VORP and other new-age baseball statistics.”

In what ESPN.com contributer Keith Law called an “unintentional satire of dinosaur journalism,” Chass went on to say:

I receive a daily e-mail message from Baseball Prospectus, an electronic publication filled with articles and information about statistics, mostly statistics that only stats mongers can love.

To me, VORP epitomized the new-age nonsense. For the longest time, I had no idea what VORP meant and didn’t care enough to go to any great lengths to find out. I asked some colleagues whose work I respect, and they didn’t know what it meant either.

Finally, not long ago, I came across VORP spelled out. It stands for value over replacement player. How thrilling. How absurd. Value over replacement player. Don’t ask what it means. I don’t know.

I suppose that if stats mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, that’s their prerogative. But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein.

People play baseball. Numbers don’t.

I don’t get what Chass’ point is. He seems to be saying that VORP is bad simply because he and his collegues don’t know what it is, and therefore it somehow undermines his enjoyment of the game.

This has to be one of the most moronic passages ever penned by a writer at the New York Times (and there are plenty of other contenders). Or by a sportswriter who is in the Baseball Hall of Fame for that matter (elected by the Veterans Committee, perhaps?).

I mean seriously, to viciously slam an an entire community of devoted baseball fans just because they use a stat you don’t know about and admit you can’t even be bothered to look up?

And finally, Chass goes on to imply that baseball is about “people” and not about “numbers.” As if baseball hasn’t been the most stats obsessed sport in America for 150 years now.

Inventing new stats is exciting and fun and has been going on since the days of Henry Chadwick. If Murray Chass doesn’t like VORP, nobody is going to make him use it in his columns, but he shouldn’t try to impose his Luddism on the rest of the baseball world by trying to stop other people from using it.

And the fact is that nobody is going to stop using VORP just because Murray Chass says so. Baseball Prospectus is a business, so the folks over there were very civil in their response. But fortunately, I’m just a lowly blogger, and I don’t have to be, so I’ll just say it: Murray Chass is a Hall of Fame idiot.

3 Responses to “In Which Murray Chass Drives Me Insane”

  1. Sarah Green says:

    I believe I can shed some light on the essential anxiety that is the raw nub of Murray’s irrational hatred of VORP. It goes back to the age-old schism between Number People and Word People. Murray Chass, like most journalists, is a Word Person. The seamheads and stat-geeks who come up with things like VORP are Number People. It is to baseball’s great credit that it can accomodate these two antithetical groups, as counterposed to one another as, say, the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Hatfields and the McCoys, the Roundheads and the Cavaliers. However, it is an uneasy coexistance. While Number People like to generate ever more stats to quench their insatiable thirst for new data, Word People dig in their heels and insist upon “the human element.” While the Word People then go on to quote Shakespeare, allude to characters of Hellenic mythography, and desperately attempt to coin new timeless phrases to describe the same old things, the Number people scoff and insist on finding new statistics to describe the same old things.

    Indeed, it appears that without some sort of Road Map or preliminary peace accords, possibly with the intervention of NATO or resulting from a personal appeal by Kofi Annan, the two camps of baseball fans will forever have a no-fly zone between them.

    Except here on UmpBump, of course.

  2. Nick Kapur says:

    Well, I’m completely cognizant of this difference between “Word People” and “Numbers People,” but that doesn’t mean that Murray Chass has to acuse the Numbers people of destroying the game or whatever. As someone who considers myself one of the Word People, I’m ashamed and outraged that someone whose words are so consistently asinine presumes to represent us in a war that shouldn’t even be taking place. As you say, baseball is big enough for all kinds of fans.

  3. Nick Kapur says:

    By the way, I just found some great Murray Chass ripping over at Fire Joe Morgan.

    Hilarious!

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