How Not To Be A Journalist

Justin Edmonds

Are we really just beholden to pageviews, or should we strive to be a bit better?

Bill Shanks wrote an article, and like most Bill Shanks articles it was bad. But this particular article is bad in a way that most terrible baseball writing, of which there is plenty, isn't.

The article in question was ostensibly about Jason Heyward, or at least that was the prime tie in to make it borderline relevant in the sports section of the Macon Telegraph. But what the article was really about was Bill Shanks; more specifically the article was about how Bill Shanks is sick and tired of people questioning things that Bill Shanks says. If Bill Shanks wants to believe dumb things, he implored us that by all means we should let Bill Shanks believe dumb things. Because Bill enjoys the game. Apparently the Macon Telegraph pays Bill to enjoy the game, not to understand it, analyze it and explain it to his readership. He's a paid fan of the game, according to him.

In this article Bill creates a lot of false dichotomies. First he creates the dichotomy that Jason Heyward must either be as good as Chipper Jones was (which he admittedly hasn't been, no shame in that) or he is a failure just as bad as (if not worse than) Jeff Francouer.

Much of Bill's ire is due to the factual nature of events that have taken place since Bill wrote an article comparing the two players, Francouer and Heyward, in mid June. Over the time span since Bill wrote that article equivocating two players who couldn't be more different, Jeff Francouer was desginated for assignment by a team as terrible as the Kansas City Royals, and Jason Heyward was statistically the best hitter on a team as good as the Atlanta Braves (even using 'traditional stats' that Bill admittedly values). Bill got mad about these objective facts and mad at the people who would dare point them out. So Bill wrote about how he's mad at people who use facts to make their points, "they even use statistics to support their beliefs you guys!" He uses sophomoric name calling such as "statheads" and absurd hyperbole regarding "taking out our slide rules during games." He never remotely addresses any of the arguments 'we' make.

Now that would just make the article bad. What makes the article laughably bad is the hubris that allows someone to write an article entirely about himself, and publish it in a small town paper. Bill devotes an entire paragraph about why he supposes that statheads don't like him. Which his belief is that it's due to him writing an anti-Moneyball book 8 years ago. I'll say that based on the book's sales, it's not even possible that this is a main (let alone the primary) reason why he's disliked. I've never even read Moneyball, and I don't even actually know anybody that read his anti-Moneyball book personally. I don't even dislike Bill Shanks, I think he's just incredibly awful at his job (unless that is, if his actual job is being unintentionally hilariously bad at his nominal job).

Bill's second false dichotomy is that one can either yearn to love the game, or to understand the game, and that one cannot do both, putting aside the fact that many of the community he criticizes write about baseball entirely because they love the game. I fully agree that understanding advanced statistical analysis isn't necessary to enjoy the game of baseball. When I go to a game by myself from time to time, I very rarely bring up advanced statistics when discussing the game with the patrons around me, and I have a fantastic time. We talk about memories of games, the "let's goooooo piiiiiiraaaaaaates" girl, Hank Aaron, all sorts of things, and only very rarely do I bring up WAR. However, as someone who is paid (a very small amount) to understand and explain the game of baseball to others, I do find it necessary to avail myself of the best analytical tools the game has to offer to me when the time comes to write about baseball.

Bringing this blog back to Braves relevancy, it's hard to interpret Shanks' articles regarding Jason Heyward as anything more than a personal vendetta at this point. Shanks has openly questioned Heyward's love of the game of baseball, his motivation and work ethic, and decried his performance at nearly every turn. There are a few legitimate questions about parts of Heyward's game, but from everyone who knows him, his work ethic is least amongst these concerns. This is perhaps the least tolerable aspect of Bill's writing. If Bill was nothing but a simple "old school" blow hard, he'd just be a simple amusement. However, because the Macon Telegraph (perhaps sadly) is one of the primary papers covering the Atlanta Braves, Bill continuously lambasting one of the faces of the franchises for entirely specious reasons is worth criticism.

Now one curious aspect of this article is that it has almost certainly driven pageviews for the Macon Telegraph. Mostly from outraged readers via twitter. Bill has effectively trolled us all. And maybe that's all Bill was after in the first place. He motivated me to take an extra long lunch break to write an article mostly about him. Maybe he actually won. But what's the battle here? Is the battle to simply drive page views and court idiocy and controversy? Or is it to promote understanding of the Atlanta Braves? If it's the latter, I don't see at all how Bill Shanks has furthered that goal, and in fact he has almost certainly undermined it.

So, what do we do about Bill Shanks then? Well, the best solution I can come up with is simply laugh. I mean, if you read that article, and you don't take it seriously, it is kinda funny.

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