The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Friday, December 23, 2005


How do you destroy a popular weblog? From personal experience I suppose I could say that one method is to prioritize your family and your work over blogging. (However, that statement contains the somewhat unwarranted assumption that my blog was ever popular.)

Another way to kill off your website is to let obsessive or unpleasant parts of your personality get out of control. The Oakland A's fanblog Elephants in Oakland used to be one of my frequent haunts, but during the past season its author succumbed to bitterness and disappointment. There were two last straws, for me: The author's jeremiads against manager Ken Macha (he compared the A's reunion with Macha after a contract dispute to a woman getting back together with the boyfriend who beat her), and his insults directed at Eric Chavez' first failed marriage and his newfound religion. There are several teams for whom self-loathing fandom is de rigeur, and I'd prefer that the A's not be one of them. If your team causes you that much pain, get a new team or follow a different sport.

The world record for calling in fire on your own position must belong to the USS Mariner weblog. USSM is a four-man weblog which covers the Seattle Mariners. Two of the authors have written for Baseball Prospectus, and sometimes they contribute to the Seattle media. The blog is filled with erudite and witty posts. Like most blogs, USSM has a commenting system, and the comments are often filled with lively discussion. A member of the Seattle baseball media is one of the frequent commenters.

Yet those same comments are the subject of endless hand-wringing posts. The authors (Derek Zumsteg seems to be the most offended) are so put out by the occasional silly comment that it makes one wonder if they have ever used the Internet before. Most baseball website discussions consist entirely of l33t-speaking yahoos:


HOW CAN U SAY ALFOZO SORIANO IS NOT A GOOD HITTER I HAD HIM ON MY FANTASIE TEAM HE ROCKED



lol every1 knows u need a masher at the outfield corners.



this team needs some fire to shake it up. Everet is a champion. and hit 23 hrs and 87 rbis last year!!!


USSM hasn't been entirely free from such dross. But goofiness probably constitutes less than 10% of the comments. Even in the threads that are relatively saturated by silly assertions, there's an easy workaround for the fed-up reader: Look for posts longer than two or three lines.

And even the silliest post can spark useful discussion. When the Mariners were rumored to have interest in Carl Everett, Zumsteg wrote an article on "Carl Everett alternatives", listing players who could perform as well as, or better than, the dinosaur-denying veteran. If everyone who commented at USSM believed in the gospel of sabermetrics and echoed the general opinion that Everett was a waste of money, Zumsteg might not have bothered to write anything. Similarly, after Jarrod Washburn was signed, Cameron wrote an article on Washburn's gaudy stats ("Any article you read on the signing of Jarrod Washburn, and any comment defending it, is going to reference his 3.20 ERA last year") examining in detail Washburn's pitching performance last year. Sabermetroids hate ERA as much as Phyllis Schlafly; had the commenters been an amen chorus, would Cameron have bothered to create a more accurate measure for Washburn's performance?

USSM's vigilance against improper commenting has led them into paranoid dictator territory; any day now I expect to see a comment deleted because of "contacts leading to suspicion of off-topic commenting." For instance, in a recent post discussing the Matt Lawton signing, a debate broke out on the merits of Mariners centerfielder Jeremy Reed. The combatants were Bela Txadux and USSM author Dave Cameron. Dave didn't like Bela's disdain for Reed's defense:



I've discussed before that I don't think he's ever going to hit enough to start in the majors


And we've discussed why you're dead wrong. Feel free to just let it go. You've made your point on Reed.


he just doesn't play that well if you watch him


What a lame thing to say. I've watched him far more than you, and in more than just the majors last season. Perhaps you should consider that other people may just see something that you don't?


Here is Bela's rebuttal:


Regarding Reed's play in CF, Dave, now I haven't done a site search for your earliest comments on this, but my clear recollection is that when Reed _came up_ in late summer '04 your expressed position, based on having seen him play (which we hadn't) was that he didn't have enough range or footspeed to excel in CF in addition to a weak arm (which is of marginal relevance as you said at the time). The team could 'get away' with Reed in CF, but that based on having watched him you didn't think he'd cut it there long term. You said more or less the same thing multiple times, and I do not believe that I'm mischaracterizing your position at all.

Watching Reed, I see him make a lot of plays off his feet coming in; in other words, he's late but makes up for it with good hands, which I think he's got. I seldom saw him make the over the shoulder catch going back. He must have made some plays at the wall, but again this seemed infrequent. In general, Reed's footwork on turning around seemed average at best, and it cost him the last step on the deep ball, pretty much what I would expect based on your initial comments regarding Reed in '04 as a matter of fact. Where Jeremy appeared to do well was going laterally into the alleys, which is where most plays are made, sure. He hustles well on the medium ball and his leather is good, but doesn't seem to make the exceptional play on the deep or short ball: you need tools for that he doesn't have. What I see watching him is exactly the guy you described initially, only with a little more hustle than expected.

Seeing is not necessarily believeing, which is where we turn to stats. You don't seem to think the stellar stats are an accurate reflection on Reed's ability. I don't either, not least because I've had the same problems looking at other OFers in Safeco before; the eyes and the numbers don't seem to agree, and the bias of disagreement is consistently high on the stat side.

I'm open to hearing what _you_ see now that's different from this perspective, in detail. And I'd appreciate if you refrain from characterizing my positions as 'lame' unless I can't support them or am substantivly wrong. Just as you do, I do not include everything I see or think or could or choose to research on a player in my off-hand comments.


Which of these posts do you think is more "abusive"? If your dictionary is like mine, you'd say Dave's. And yet when "Revenant Edgar" pointed that out in a subsequent comment, his comment was later replaced with this text:


[Sigh]


(Just another humanity-saving day at the office of the Passive-Aggressive League of Justice.)

One of Bela's later posts was also replaced with


[Sigh]


I don't remember what Bela said -- another reason why I dislike aggressive deletion, as you can only discuss whether it was appropriate if you read the site before Zumsteg happens by the bridge of the USS Mariner with steel balls rolling in his palm. But it certainly wasn't abusive or off-topic. I wrote my own comment pointing this out:


Last night Revenant Edgar pointed out that Dave’s phrase “What a lame thing to say” was the sort of "abuse" that got other peoples’ comments deleted, and that USS Mariner should document that its authors are not subject to the same rules as other commenters.

This comment, #76, was later replaced with "[Sigh]".

Dave was arguing with Bela Txadux about the aptitude of Jeremy Reed. Bela’s latest post was #78. I don't remember exactly what it said, but it was certainly not abusive, profane, or off-topic. Bela is a little long-winded, and I don’t usually agree with what he has to say. But one would have to have led a pretty sheltered existence to imagine that Bela’s comments in any way threaten the quality of this site.

In fact, what threatens the quality of the site is the Queeg-like obsessions of its proprietors — who replaced comment #78 with "[Sigh]".


After a few hours, this comment was replace with "[]" (I don't even rate a "Sigh", but as an A's fan I guess I shouldn't expect much).

Do I have any right to complain about USSM's comment policies given that it's a private site? Well, I haven't called for the Attorney General of the State of Washington to shut down USS Mariner, or to force its authors to attend mandatory sensitivity training. Zumsteg, Cameron, et al have a right to run their site the way they want to, and I have a right to criticize them when I think their conduct is unreasonable. I think it's unreasonable to offer comments to the general public, and then to suppress comments that are on topic and not abusive.

Not only is this conduct unreasonable, but it's just plain self-defeating. Demanding that others comply with your preferred ontology, and your idea of perfect demeanor, is just going to send would-be readers somewhere else. I like and respect the authors' baseball knowledge, but I've often been puzzled by their unwillingness to communicate it with others. Recall Cameron's snide dismissal of Txadux above ("we've discussed why you're dead wrong ... what a lame thing to say"). This isn't the first time I've noticed such behavior. Last year someone questioned USSM orthodoxy, I think on the subject of whether Randy Winn is a good center fielder. He was told that the issue had already been discussed, and that he could use the site's search function to find out why he was wrong.

I realize that educating people who know less than you about baseball might be tiresome, and you might be busy that day, but what's wrong with an approach like this:


We've talked about Winn a lot, and actually we think he's a decent fielder. Here's a link to an article that goes into detail ...


But that would require some amount of humility, which commodity appears to be in short supply at the USS Mariner. Can you remember the last time one of the authors talked about how he was wrong about something? Me neither.

Update (12/24):

It would be unfair of me to ignore this admission of error in a comment by Cameron:


... and, when we’re wrong, like we were with Ibanez, we’ll admit to the fact that we blew it)


On the other hand, what kind of person turns off comments to a Happy Festivus post?! Sheesh.


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