Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 17, 2003
Hey look, it's Ralph Wiley writing about -- what else -- racism! This column starts out halfway sensible -- at least this time, Wiley has some half-decent excuses for playing the race card -- but then check out this section on why young black baseball players feel disrespected by the game:
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.
This is an extraordinary display of crackpottery even for Wiley, who overlooks three rather important facts in his quest to label Bill James a racist:
1. James has always been a huge Rickey Henderson fan, arguing that he was a far better player than Don Mattingly in their primes, calling him the greatest leadoff man ever years and years ago and urging fans in the mid-80s to appreciate the great leadoff men (notably Henderson and Tim Raines) while they were in their primes.
2. James has actually bemoaned the decline of steals even as he argued for them; on an aesthetic level, he was a big fan, explicitly so, of the elements of speed brought into the game after the breaking of the color line.
3. James was, you know, right. And citing evidence that managers today still ignore him doesn't change that.
Wiley couldn't be bothered with little facts like who's right, though, since it undercuts his narrative.