clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The enthusiasm is compelling, but . . .

New, comment

Most people who read this blog by now know that I am a devotee of the works of Bill James. This is hardly an unusual proclivity for a baseball blogger, for sure, and I do not intend to portray my retention of James' works as in any way special. I like the guy's books; it's hardly novel, but it describes me.

James' take on Pete Rose was never his finest hour---or, indeed, his finest fifteen years. James was a constant defender of Rose, and he attacked the subject of Rose's alleged (and now admitted) gambling on baseball with ferocity and zeal. And, truth be told, when I read James' fiery critique of the Dowd Report contained in the Baseball Book: 1990, I was taken by both his passion and his devotion to strike out lurid and seemingly irrelevant details to strive for the essence of the case against Rose---which he argued for about a decade-and-a-half wasn't much at all.

I realized later---perhaps it was when I read James' otherwise exceptional The Politics of Glory, or perhaps it was when I first accessed Sean Lahman's comprehensive "Pete Rose FAQ"---that James was ultimately misguided on the issue. This revised impression was confirmed when I read James' discussion on the Rose case in his New Historical Baseball Abstract, which as it turned out was published a couple of short years before Rose himself fessed up. The entry is consequently now a relic, but the error in James' evaluation is still apparent, hanging out for perpetuity in his final paragraph: James evaluated the case as if it were a criminal prosecution.

Of course, James never said so plainly in that paragraph, but it's clear that is what he expected. When he wrote that "Pete Rose is innocent unless there is proof that he is guilty," it left open exactly what standard of proof he sought. But in light of his persistent posture of digging holes in Dowd's case and attempting to strike nearly everything in Dowd's report as irrelevant or in effect prejudicial to Rose, it's clear he analogized the situation as a criminal prosecution.

I won't go into why James was wrong (read something like Roger Abrams' Legal Bases for that), except to say that he simply was. In essence, he unnecessarily required proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Rose had acted in a manner destined to condemn himself from the game. But there's a reason why we reserve such a standard for cases in which individuals' very freedom is in jeopardy: It's a tremendously high standard, and as you might expect, it's reserved for those instances where the stakes themselves are tremendously high.

There are other, less demanding standards of proof, but I won't get into those, either, for the simple reason that you probably couldn't care less and/or wouldn't want to read this stuff from me. The simple point is, if the evidence (pre-admission) guided you to believe that it was more likely Rose bet on baseball than he didn't, then that was pretty much all you needed to be convinced sufficiently that he in fact did bet on baseball. In other words, Henry Fonda is reserved for special occasions, but Jack Warden will usually do just fine.

* * * *

For those lamenting this extended introduction, I'll come to the point far more quickly now: There's really no reason to hold out stubborn hope for the 2006 Washington Nationals.

You no doubt are familiar with the type to which I address this admonition. He or she is the type who, while the team was in the midst of a fifty-one-loss second half slide last season, kept on delaying the inevitable---take two-of-three from the Cardinals here, sweep the Marlins there, run off another ten-game winning streak, and there you go: playoffs.


Well, that expression wasn't just for Jim Mora, as it turned out.

This impulse still lingers this season, emboldened by a fantastic three-week run following a hideous start to the season. It remains vital despite a home sweep at the hand of the Colorado Rockies, because invariably something will occur to restore hope---in other words, to delay reality. In the most recent case, it was a thrilling, emotional, improbable series win against the big, bad New York Yankees.

A humiliating loss like tonight's wipeout in Boston makes for an easy mark against people who doggedly hold out hope, and for this reason let me make clear I intend not to mock anyone who believed two days ago the Nats were "SOOO not out of it" or even anyone who believed Sunday's thrilling walk-off triumph over the Yanks had lasting historical value. Instead, I'm just putting this out there, because inevitably the cycle will repeat itself.

For instance, let's say the Nats escape Boston with a victory and then sweep the Orioles in Baltimore. Could happen, right? Sure, I suppose it could. Such an occurrence would be fun indeed, and some hopeful performances would no doubt result. But, aside from boosting the team's record from nine to five games under the .500 mark, it would mean precious little to the team's fortunes.

Yet, I am certain there would be those (admittedly, not many, but no rule requires a blogger to address a majority opinion on a subject) who believe that the the hope for something greater lives.

Hope is a wonderful thing, but it's sometimes senseless---especially when it's conflated with the dogged determination to poke holes in any and all likely long-term outcomes. The Nats will win some close ones and lose some close ones; they'll be humiliated at times, and they'll score inspiring triumphs at others. In the end, it doesn't add up to greatness or a great story. I daresay that anyone who misses this at this point, however well-meaning he or she may be, is as blinded to the larger picture as James was to sculpting a cause of out Rose's apparent guilt.