Joe Sheehan on baseball punditry:
When the situation was reversed, when the best team in baseball was, at least on the surface, a smallball team, the revolution was upon us. Now that the winningest teams in the game are power teams, though, there’s no mention of a paradigm shift, no discussion of how the little guys are more important than the brutes. Just an awkward silence from the peanut gallery.
I’ve written about this before, but I think the contrast between the way in which the 2005 White Sox and the 2006 version–along with the 2006 Tigers, who might as well have Earl Weaver on the bench–have been covered is illustrative of an insititutional blind spot. For whatever reason, there’s a morality attached to various forms of playing baseball; teams that succeed with power are considered in many circles to be inferior to those that succeed using smallball. I think this is a generational thing; many people in the game and covering the game had their worldview shaped by the baseball of the Second Deadball Era and the years immediately after, when scoring was very low, pitching dominated and smallball tactics were most effective.
There’s also an element of something Bill James discussed in “The Politics of Glory” in a chapter comparing Phil Rizzuto and Vern Stephens. People want to be perceived as savvy, and showing an appreciation for less-obvious skills is one way in which they do that. Anyone can be impressed by homers, but it takes a true student of the game to understand how steals, sacrifices and baserunning contribute to a winning team.
What can be said of baseball transfers so easily to the world of political punditry. If the boys at Slate wrote about baseball, is there any doubt that they’d be the first to extol the virtues of the bunt, the stolen base, and the sacrifice fly rather than the things that actually win baseball games? Consider this: Anyone can see how Roe vs. Wade improves access to abortion, but it takes a true student of politics to understand how support of a broadly popular Supreme Court decision actually hurts the Democratic party. Consider also that instead of attaching moral content to the bunt, the political editor and journalist attach it to the “bipartisan maverick”. Unfortunately, this kind of too-clever-by-half thinking dominates not just baseball, and not just Slate, but the entire edifice of political punditry.