August 15, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
Taking a Moment
Over the last week or so, I've managed to up the flow into my inbox by about 50%. I did this by, in no particular order, making a lousy choice of lead in a column with political implications; suggesting that one particular pitcher might not be the best, or even the third-best, in his league; and suggesting that another pitcher's great won-lost record had as much to do with his team's offense as it had to do with his own performance.
Now, some of the feedback--hell, most of it--has been fantastic. One of the things that keeps me doing this column is the education I get just by reading my e-mail. The people who read this Web site care about the game, they love it, and that comes through in their letters. When the time comes for me to surrender this post, it's that daily dose of knowledge I'm going to miss the most.
That's not all I get, though. What I often get is e-mail that extrapolates from what I've written and concludes that I have this personality trait, or hold that viewpoint, or this bias, or dislike that team/player/part of the country. This frustrates me as a writer, not because I'm thin-skinned--although I may be--but because the criticisms mean that I'm not making myself clear to the reader.
In just the past week, I've been accused of all of the following, none of which are true:
At various times this year, I've been told that I must live on the East Coast (not since 1991), must be jealous of the Yankees (my favorite team, actually), must not watch much baseball (that would make certain people a lot happier), and must have an addiction to home runs (Coke and chocolate, to be honest). Some days, I expect to be accused of fostering terrorist acts, or something really bad, like inventing reality TV.
I'm not claiming to have no biases. Everybody has likes and dislikes, and it's impossible to not have those creep into the writing. I like hitters with plate discipline; I like groundball/strikeout pitchers; I don't much care for attending Angels games; I think the "Dead Center" camera angle sucks. I'm fairly upfront about these things, and when they get me in trouble, well, that's my fault (see Wilson, Paul).
What agitates me is when someone writes in to tell me that my only motivation must have been to promote someone or something, or to degrade someone or something. They disagree with the content, and rather than address it, they simply decide the content reflects a bias, and they attack that. Some of these responses are vitriolic, occasionally they're obscene, and they're almost always wrong.
I don't expect to change the world by saying this, but it's important to me to make this point: when you read The Daily Prospectus, or any written work, give the writer the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's thought about the issue and done some analysis and reached a reasonable conclusion. Maybe he does believe what he's saying, and wants to share that information with people, free of an agenda. Maybe the information presented even goes against what his preconceived notions, or established preferences, are. (I can tell you that this happens more than you might think.)
So much of the public discourse, of baseball and of more important topics, focuses on the people exchanging the ideas. Let's work on putting the focus where it should be, on the ideas themselves.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.