A Brief Response to Some of the Smaller Bits of Backlash from Scorekeeping

First off, I’m really proud of the work Adam and I did, particularly Adam.  I want to show how much work this was to everyone that put it down and questioned it.

Almost three years ago, I started collecting smaller bits and pieces of broadcasters, reporters, and any kind of sports commentators calling a person of color lazy and a white person scrappy.  It wasn’t much.  I knew it wasn’t scientific and it was mostly for shits and giggles.

About a year and a half ago, Adam, who read my blog and also posted on the same message board as me, asked if we could take this to the next level and make it a real scientific study about the use of descriptors and adjectives in baseball with a hypothesis about the use of “hustle” and “grit” being primarily used for white players and laziness and all its substitutes being used for players of color.

I said OK.  After taking a month to organize PR materials, I launched a gritty little hustler of a kickstarter that worked hard in the span of another month and huffed and puffed its way to a $2,500 and even went a little past that.  All of the fundraising came from grass roots organizing, word of mouth, help from a message board, and a little help from Craig Calcaterra and Bill Baer.

And then came the hard part.

See, this wasn’t easy.  This wasn’t just some dudes watching some TV, marking down the time Vin Scully called a dude a butter and egg man in the background while playing MLB 2k11.

This was some motherfucking hard work.

When we started, we hired about 15 people to track the data.  We explicitly outlined what was required of them, what they had to pay attention to, and how to keep track of the data.  We offered a small stipend.

After the first week, about seven dropped out immediately and the rest stopped after their first (and only) week.  Only three completed an entire month’s work of data (thank you Eric, Mike and Anthony).  We were looking at about 150 games that needed to be covered with almost nobody to cover them.

When was the last time you watched a baseball game intently?  And by that, I mean while you weren’t doing some other task.  Not working on your computer.  Not while you were on your phone at the same time.  But actually sitting down, staring at the screen, start to finish, listening to the entire goddamn broadcast?  I made it through six games before it drove me insane.

That’s what I want you to see: Adam and Michael Carver and Adam’s wife Alaina and the rest of our coders who put in three hours of work every day for weeks.  Not one week, but multiple weeks.  Michael particularly worked hard–he did about 7 teams by himself.  Adam did more than all of us–I didn’t even count how many he did.  I think he did 8 or 9.

So for simple math’s sake, let’s take the conservative estimates: 8 teams covered x 6 games in a week = 48 games total, right?  48 games x 3 hours each = 144.  144 hours.  8,640 minutes of straight listening to dudes making mundane small talk while describing a baseball game happening in front of them.  I almost feel sorry for the broadcasters for having that considerable amount of pressure on them to produce that much material.

And not only that, but writing down several variables (date, inning, score, who said it, who was it said about, what was said, and what category of speech, just to name a few) for each time even the mildest descriptor/adjective was used: hustle, gamer, grit, hard-working, butter and egg man.  Don’t forget to pause after each time one is said so you don’t miss another one.

To be honest, it was fascinating, if not mind-numbingly boring.  I would do it all over again if I had a job that paid me more than 13 an hour and gave me 12 hours in the day to do anything I wanted.

When it went to publish, almost all of the fundraised money had been used with the exception of a couple hundred dollars.  I can assure you, as a nearly-broke behaviorist living in Los Angeles, this was NOT about the money.  The Atlantic didn’t even pay us, as far as I know (Adam???).  All of this was simply because Adam and I love the sport and and hey, we were curious if there was any truth to the old jokes we used to throw around about hustle and grit and laziness.

So for someone like Rob Neyer, whose work I respect immensely, to immediately shit on it breaks my heart.  This wasn’t some fly-by-night operation.  This wasn’t some BIG ATLANTIC COVERING THE SCENE story.  This was two guys who love baseball–two guys who are part of the same baseball fabric that Neyer is a part of–working diligently to see if there’s something to the old rumors and pontifications that he and we and Keith Law and Ken Tremendous and everyone else have been scoffing and guffawing at for years.

And believe it or not, we found something–and it wasn’t what we thought it would be.  We found an actual goddamn correlation to something and it was awesome.  How about that shit. Something worth publishing.

Now suffice to say that the actual printed version on The Atlantic wasn’t everything Adam and I hoped it would be.  That happens.  When you take a 4,500-word article and chop it down to 2,500, some things aren’t gonna make the cut–and that’s not even factoring in the parts where we had to edit to make it “readable” for an Atlantic audience.  It seems to me neither Adam nor I nor The Atlantic crew knew how to publish the article and it turns out that we landed in the middle spot where most casual Atlantic readers would say “tl;dr” and the baseball-specific fans tried to find the holes in the article.

As for Keith Law’s criticism, he’s at least partly right.  Our study was entirely on scrap and grit and so on, but we did harp on Jon Heyman and that was unfair.

The point of the study wasn’t to point out anyone as racist–though, I mean, how could you not love the irony of an implicit association test using Jon Heyman as a point of reference three times.

Jon Heyman is almost definitely not racist (unless he’s secretly a member of the KKK or something).  The point was that even solid reporters like Heyman, who do a great job of breaking news, can sometimes be susceptible to the potentially hidden racism of casual use of adjectives.

It’s not that Heyman’s racist, and that’s far from the conclusion we want to draw.  Heck, it’s not even about Heyman; it’s about all of us.  We know what racism is and what it looks like.  It’s far easier to draw the line at an individual being racist–does that person not like people of color?  Yes?  Then that person’s a racist.  That simple.  But the line gets blurred on institutional racism and the use of those adjectives could be potentially (institutionally) racist.

That’s what our findings show.  And if that’s the case, then we should probably not be using these terms.

The good news is the full version answers a lot more questions.  If you bought one through the kickstarter, you’ve probably received it by now.  If you want a copy, contact me on twitter.  I think we may have a few hard copies left over at the end of this.  We’re gonna try to make it available by PDF so other people can see it.

Thanks for reading.  It’s a little frustrating that such hard work was taken so lightly by a number of people, but thank you so much for even stopping by and reading it and taking it seriously if you did.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Filed under MLB, Scorekeeping

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