Bill James invented baseball statistics. Right? Anyway, Rob Neyer apprenticed for Bill James, then popularized advanced stats for the masses at ESPN. Joe Posnanski was one of the first mainstream sportswriters to successfully understand and incorporate advanced stats in his work. The three also seem to have a mutual admiration society. Collectively, they are the Kansas City Sabermetric Mafia.
I have appreciated much of the work each has done over the years, and each has made important contributions to our collective understanding of baseball. And they all have curious minds that have served them well in looking past and through the narratives that have long held sway over how people write and speak about baseball.
However…recently, this Missouri trio have turned their intellects, and their willingness to question the seemingly obvious, to an area where they perhaps don’t fit: Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, and the whole Penn State molestation imbroglio.
Don of the KC Sabermetric Mafia
James made headlines recently when he wrote that:
[Paterno] knew less about [Sandusky] than everyone else there … He had very few allies. He was isolated. He was not nearly as powerful as people imagine him to have been … they kept it quiet because they had no idea what was happening … they just thought they were dealing with a little misunderstanding … people who are responsible for it are the media. The media created this smokescreen behind which Sandusky operated, and then they’re trying to blame Paterno.
This was following the release of the Freeh report. Crazy, right? As Craig Calcaterra wrote, “Stop it, Bill. You’re talking total nonsense. You’re being a contrarian because you like being a contrarian and you hate what you consider to be rushes to judgment, mob mentality and piling on. But this is one case where your instincts are failing you and you’re making yourself look like a fool.”
James, as was the case when he stated public doubt about climate change, is willfully ignoring the facts and evidence at his disposal — basically, the opposite of what he espouses to do with his baseball work.
Well, never let it be said that the Kansas City Sabermetric Mafia doesn’t stick together, because Neyer immediately leapt to his pal’s defense:
Instead of calling for his firing, if not his head, maybe we should applaud Bill for having the courage to ask questions that nobody else seems interested in asking.
Also, Neyer argues that James might have more insight into Paterno than the rest of us because their cohort Posnanski has a book coming out about JoePa’s life, and James might have seen the manuscript. Which is a ridiculous argument to make for many reasons, not the least of which is because it’s essentially claiming, “I know a secret but can’t tell you about it yet.”
Posnanski lived on Penn State’s campus while working on his bio. He stirred controversy when the Sandusky scandal first broke by reportedly defending Paterno to a journalism class. He has also written ridiculous bullshit like this since Paterno’s death:
The last week or so was filled with pain and goodbyes, but even then Paterno did not falter into self-pity. In the last moment of his life, his son Jay recalled saying to his father: “You’ve done all you can do.” And then Jay saw his father’s shoulders shrug and his eyes close, and he stopped breathing. “My father did not have a broken heart,” his daughter Mary Kay says. “His heart was too strong. It couldn’t be broken.”
So, a couple things are clear: Posnanski has no objectivity where Paterno is concerned, and his forthcoming book is either going to skirt the key issues surrounding the molestation or defend Paterno. It’s going to be, as Deadspin put it, a “love letter” to Paterno, a book about the nonexistent figure who’s been lionized since the ’80s, not the dude who helped cover up child rape.
But the Mafia is strong, and they have each other’s backs. Neyer has continued his head-in-the-sand routine by posting a link to another defense of Paterno (this one by an anonymous lawyer who had done nothing more than read the Freeh Report), saying it was “worth a read, I promise.”
Spoiler alert: it’s not.
And James and Neyer should both probably just keep their mouths shut about the whole affair. Free country and all, but this is a subject on which they’re not qualified to speak as experts. They’re baseball writers and consultants, not lawyers. Being able to understand xFIP doesn’t mean that you’re qualified to dissect the Freeh Report.
Now I’ve gone and done it.
I’ve spoken out publicly against the KC Sabermetric Mafia. Think well of me.
The KCSM has a long and notorious history of violence, terror and mayhem. Among recent alleged activities, the KCSM has:
- Walked together down Grand Boulevard in Kansas City in slow motion, like in the opening credits of Reservoir Dogs
- Banned Rany Jazayerli from Missouri after he refused to take the Omertà oath, exiling him to a life of practicing dermatology
- Forced mainstream writers attending the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City to pay a “protection” fee
- Made sure that, when Peter Gammons talked about Jack Morris “pitching to the score” in a radio interview, he awoke the next morning with David Eckstein’s severed head in his bed
- Taken over the back room at Gates Bar-B-Q for all-hours, high-stakes games of Strat-O-Matic Baseball
- Led Jason Whitlock to think he was about to get “made,” then gunned him down in an alley
- Declared war and went to the mattresses against a rival crew from Baseball Prospectus, leading to several harshly written blog posts and a handful of snippy comments
- Actually gotten Joe Morgan fired