Bill James is not a racist

rickey hendersonFor most of this column, I’m kind of going, “uh?” (link sent to me by Steve Smith). It’s something about race and baseball and how black kids don’t get fair breaks, but meanders for a long time firming up that point.

Then I get to this:

It is usually the American-born blacks’ records and place that are resented instead of celebrated. For example, it’s the stolen base that is denigrated as a weapon by baseball sabermaticians like Bill James, at precisely the time when a Rickey Henderson steals 130 bases in a season. There are sour grapes when a baseball man uses stats to tell you a stolen base isn’t important. Any time a baseball manager will give up an out for a base, as with a sac bunt or groundball to the right side, any time a base is so precious, then it goes without saying that the stolen base must be important. Not the CS, the caught stealing, or stats of success rates, but the stolen base itself.

OK, I think the point here is that Bill James is a racist. Why? Because Bill James doesn’t value stolen bases enough and he did so at precisely the time when the best base stealer is black. I believe that logical fallacy is called “post hoc” — Right after Rickey Henderson, a black baseball player, steals 130 bases, Bill James, a white guy, writes an article that devalues stolen bases.

One problem with the premise is that James doesn’t argue against stolen bases. Sabermaticians like James, say instead, “Don’t get caught.” The generally accepted principle is, if you want to help your team, you need to get caught less than 30 percent of the time. Henderson, over the span of his career, has been caught only 20 percent of the time. That means he’s helped create runs, not cost his team runs. A stolen base is worth, or so I’m told, .18 of a run. A caught stealing costs twice that. (Also, I should note that Henderson has a career OBP of .402, which makes him even more worthy of a roster spot on a Jamesean team).

The thing sabermaticians understand, and Wiley obviously does not, is that a baseball team gets only 27 outs. That makes them a finite and ever diminishing commodity. You want to avoid volunteering them to the enemy. Bases, on the other hand, contrary to Wiley, are a replenishable resource. So long as you haven’t used up all of your outs, you can always get more bases. This makes outs much more valuable than bases.

As for Henderson’s and Barry Bonds’ treatment by the media — Wiley compares their treatment with that of Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, forgetting that those three stars were just as reviled by their contemporaries as Bonds and Henderson today. It is only with the passage of time that we’ve elevated them to the pantheon of baseball gods and forgiven them their human frailties. Someday, we’ll do the same for Henderson and Bonds (and personally, I already have). Of course, acknowledging that would leave Wiley without a column.

It’s ironic that Wiley is writing his column about blacks not getting a fair break in a year when the most phenomenal rookie, Dontrelle Willis, is black. It is also a year when the number one and number two draft choices, Delmon Young and Rickie Weeks, are black.

Wiley actually gets around to discussing Weeks, but then blames racism in the lower levels of baseball for why Weeks had to go to an all-black college instead of a major baseball university. It apparently never crosses Wiley’s mind that Weeks, like many, many college players, didn’t really fill out and develop until after he started college. No, it must have been racism.

Of course, as we read on, we learn that this column isn’t really about Rickey Henderson or Rickie Weeks, it’s about Cole Wiley. It’s about Cole’s inability to succeed in baseball. In other words, it’s all about a Dad’s sour grapes.

I’m surprised ESPN would allow it’s server space to be used for tripe inspired by nothing more than bitterness.

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