Murray Chass makes negative sense

In honor of FJM’s triumphant return to the interwebs today, I want to go ahead and put together my own FJM-style piece (call it Ken Tremendous Karaoke, if you will) on the one and the only, Murray Chass. After reading Dak’s whooping of the guy earlier today, I felt compelled to check out Chass’s not-blog and see what he was up to. He did not let down.

As the season dwindles down to a precious few weeks, attention is focused on remaining races – not that there are any –

I love those non-existent races. Go, the eventual end of the season, go!

and the playoffs ahead. But pause for a moment in your excited anticipation and think of how Pittsburgh Pirates fans approach the post-season.

Getting ready to watch their defending champ Steelers kick some ass, all the while waiting for the also defending champ Penguins to hit the ice again?

They may actually look forward to it eagerly because once they get beyond Oct. 4, the Pirates can’t lose any more games this year. They probably can’t make any more trades either because they have already traded everybody of value.

First off, don’t forget the 1894 Cubs, who were so bad they lost three games after the season ended. But I’m pretty sure the Pirates have guys of value, and that they can trade anyone they want, even if guys don’t have your subjective definition of value.

On second thought they have Andrew McCutchen on their roster, and if they traded Nyjer Morgan they can trade Andrew McCutchen.

Ohhhh yessss….I forgot the rule about how trading one player means you can trade anyone. Ya know the Cardinals traded Chris Duncan two months ago. Hey Albert, you’re next.

Simply put, the Pirates are an embarrassment to Pittsburgh and an embarrassment to Major League Baseball. It’s not just that the Pirates are a poor team, a losing team, but they are an embarrassment because of the way they have become a worse team than they already were and how they are trying to hoodwink their fans.

I had to read that last sentence about three times before it hit me: Murray Chass has no understanding of the English language.

The Pirates this year traded Nate McLouth, Morgan, Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Eric Hinske, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, John Grabow and Sean Burnett. You could almost put a team on the field with that lineup.

Yeah, the Pirates did to that in real life, Murray. And they sucked.

The team the Pirates were left with on the field has been far worse than that one would be, and that’s what prompts this mid-September look at this terrible team.

How will Neal Huntington ever explain to the fans that the team will be thirty games under .500 rather than twenty??? You got ‘em there, Murr-dog.

When the Pirates completed their roster cleansing July 30, they had a 43-58 record (.426) and were 11 ½ games from first place. Since then, through Monday’s games, they had a 12-29 record (.293) and had tumbled 28 ½ games from first.

Yeah, they went from crappy to really crappy. Your point?

In the interim they set a major league record by insuring their 17th successive losing season, but they were going to get that record with the players they traded away; it would just have taken them longer.

Oh, your point is to…contradict yourself by admitting they sucked anyway?

If the Pirates incur losses in their last 20 games at the same rate they have lost since July 30, they will finish with a 60-102 record (.370), their worst record in the 17-season stretch and their second worst record since the early 1950s and the days of Vic Janowicz, the O’Brien twins Johnny and Eddie and Joe Garagiola.

I only know who that last guy is, but don’t blame me, as I was born when you were turning 147.

Also, Pirates are going to get a nice draft pick, eh?

At least those teams had Ralph Kiner, the perennial National League home run champion, who gave the fans a reason to go to Forbes Field. Why fans go to PNC Park is beyond me. For their last home stand, six games with the Cardinals and the Cubs, the Pirates drew a total of 105,000 fans.To get 17,500 fans a game is remarkable. I would speculate that the fans went to the games because they had previously bought tickets, but why do Pittsburgh fans have to buy tickets in advance when there are plenty of seats available the day of a game?

I don’t know, maybe the fans go because the Pirates have a beautiful ballpark? Because they like baseball?

Maybe the fans go to games just to see PNC Park, the nicest new park in my opinion. Or maybe they just like baseball.

Murray, I’m supposed to be saying these things. I don’t even know what to boldface anymore!

Also, the Pirates have the nicest new park that exists in Murray Chass’s opinion? Huh, misplaced modifiers are funny.

But do these Pirates play a credible game of baseball? Maybe it doesn’t matter. The Pirates of the early ‘50s didn’t play a credible game of baseball, but I frequently paid a dollar for a seat in the left field bleachers at Forbes Field nevertheless and not just for the chance to see Kiner hit a home run. I was not one of those fans who left after Kiner had batted for the last time.

I can’t…this is just too much, people. Murray, you are perplexed as to why people do something to the point where you find it compelling to write a non-blog non-post about it, then give extremely plausible reasons as to why this phenomenon happens, and then admit you proudly did it too! FTW?!?!

But today’s fans should not be so kind to the Pirates because management is cheating them and trying to fool them. Club executives justify the trades by saying they have to start over by accumulating good minor league prospects and building with them.

Yes, and these club execs aren’t just saying that for lip service, either. That is how you build a team.

But what was Morgan? He was a rookie who showed he was ready to play in the majors. He was hitting .271 when he was traded, and he has hit .351 for Washington for a .307 season average.

A rookie? Murray, what in the hell are you talking about? Morgan was 29 years-old and played in 28 games in 2007 and more than one-third of the season last year. Huh?

They didn’t need to trade Morgan to make room in the outfield for McCutchen because McCutchen was already there and hitting .295 in his first month. They didn’t need to trade Morgan to get Lastings Milledge, another young outfielder, because they didn’t need Milledge, who in trials with the Mets and the Nationals had failed to demonstrate major league maturity.

But they did want to trade Morgan for Milledge, Murray. We can argue the merits of the trade (which intelligent analysts have ), but this wasn’t the tipping point in the Pirates season by any means.

“The bottom line for us is upside and potential,” general manager Neal Huntington said at the time he made the trade. “The two players we are getting in return are guys that we think can play quality roles for us as we return to winning baseball here in Pittsburgh. Both players, we feel, have the upside to be above-average Major League players, and that’s why the trade happened.”

Gracias, Neal.

The Pirates, however, already had those players in Morgan and Burnett. Trading them was bizarre judgment at best and poor judgment at worst.

The belief among officials of other clubs is that the Pirates traded Morgan because of his age. At 29, he is five years older than Milledge. The Pirates, though, shouldn’t be concerned about having a 35-year-old Morgan playing center field for them. They would have traded him well before they reached that juncture.

When the Pirates projected themselves to be competitive once again, they felt that Morgan would be past his peak and Milledge would be hitting his. Besides, Hanrahan was an undervalued commodity thanks to his robust ERA, but his 2009 FIP is 3.22 and his tRA is 4.21 (Murray has no idea what those numbers mean).

C’mon, Chass. Are you even going to mention the billion other deals Pittsburgh made?

There is more. The Pirates traded their middle infield, Sanchez and Wilson, not to stockpile minor league talent but because Sanchez and Wilson, who had expressed a desire to stay in Pittsburgh, rejected woefully underpriced contract offers designed for effect.

Wrong. Absolutely terrible reasoning skills. They traded Sanchez and Wilson because they A) were aging, B) have expensive contracts, C) were reaching the decline of their careers, and D) were valued highly.

The offers were designed (1) to show fans that the Pirates tried to sign Sanchez and Wilson and (2) to induce them to say no so that the Pirates could then justify trading them because they did not plan on exercising their contract options totaling $16.4 million for next year.

Yes, that is called good PR! You’re getting it, Murray!

Perhaps the most striking figures are the payroll numbers. The Pirates opened the season with a $48.7 million payroll. They are closing it with a payroll (based on the Aug. 31 roster and disabled list) of $20 million. The players they traded during the season have salaries totaling $31 million.

Wow, that’s an extremely impressive way of saving money by the Pirates, which I am sure they will use to make the team better.

Now for the kicker. The Pirates, one of the smallest revenue teams in the majors, received approximately $40 million in revenue sharing last year and most likely will get at least that much, despite the economy, for this year. One thing we know for sure. They aren’t spending the money to pay players.

Actually, they are. They can now use that money to sign free agents, for player development and scouting, to lure international teenagers (like Sano) over, to resign current young players (like McCutchen) to long-term, reasonably-priced contracts, to sign high-end draft picks. Revenue sharing money doesn’t go into a piggy bank.

Under the collective bargaining agreement, teams that receive money have to notify the commissioner’s office each April what they did with the money the previous year. “They’re going to have some explaining to do,” a baseball official said. “It’s going to be difficult for them absent some substantial moves between now and April.”

How much do we want to bet that the “baseball official” is either:

A) Murray Chass
B) Murray Chass’s neighbor
C) Murray Chass’s dog
D) No, c’mon, it’s just probably Murray Chass

High-revenue teams don’t appreciate revenue recipients that don’t spend the money to improve themselves but pocket it instead.

Huh? Why not? The money is already sunk; the owners can’t get it back. Wouldn’t they then rather it be spent on rival teams not improving rather than improving?

The commissioner’s office is supposed to monitor the spending to make sure teams use the money as they’re supposed to, but no team has ever been disciplined or even reprimanded for not using it correctly.

The Pirates might be a good place for the commissioner to start. It would be the best win for the fans all year.

Oh, that’s right, the Commissioner’s Office should step in and tell the Pirates how to run the team in the year in which they decide to rebuild for a better future (but not the sixteen terrible seasons previous).

But here’s the kicker. Who just happens to be the President of the Pittsburgh Pirates? Frank Coonelly. And what was Mr. Coonelly’s job before that? He was a Senior Vice President in the Commissioner’s Office! And what did he run? Labor Relations!

So yes, the Commissioner’s Office should waste their time investigating a team heading in the right direction, under a new front office, which just so happens to be run by the guy who used to be pretty high up in the Commissioner’s Office.

Sounds like a plan, Murray. Maybe you could do something about it if you weren’t stuck not-blogging in your not-mom’s basement.

Big thanks to FJM for making my childhood infinitely better.

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Comments

  1. Lou said...

    My favorite part about Chass’ non-blog weblog site is there is both a bio section, and an “about.”

    Mr. Tufts just my opinion, but Chass can both be a very nice man in person (I am sure he is) and incorrect as a writer. Nice to hear he can admit in person he has been a bull in a china shop, but I don’t have very much respect for him because even if he does feel that we he continues in public to express similar views. (Check out the “about” section of the site.) It doesn’t take much to act humble in an individual setting, but it takes real character to say “I was too harsh” to the world. Not knowing Chass he comes off to me as a blowhard, and I think the world will keep spinning even if someone has the nerve to point out when he is wrong.

  2. Bob Tufts said...

    How was “Fire Joe Moragn” triumphant? Joe Morgan is still ruining our Sunday Night Baseball!

    Chass was the first columnist to analyze union/management issues in great detail. The spending of revenue sahring dollars may or may not constitute a violation of MLB agreements. He eventually gets to that point.

    As for the ridicule, I’ll bite my tongue.

    In conversations with him he has told me that all of his friends told him that he was wrong about blogging (the column that started the dump on Chass club). He admitted to me that he was out of line during a lunch one day.

    On a personal note, Murray has been extremely supportive during my cancer scare (myeloma) having been a cancer survivor himself.

  3. Pat Andriola said...

    Mr. Tufts,

    Thanks so much for responding to my post, and I hope your cancer scare is completely behind you.

    I can only judge Murray Chass by what I’ve seen him write pertaining to blogging and baseball, and I just haven’t liked any of it. I’m sure he’s a nice guy in person, but in the 21st century I think he should have higher standards than what he is currently producing.

    Relating to FJM’s return…you’re right, it is bittersweet. But with Steve Phillips there anyway, maybe Joe not getting fired is a blessing in disguise, as even his dribble isn’t as bad as Phillips’s at times.

    PS- I go to Tufts University. I’m assuming no relation.

  4. DJC said...

    Pat,

    As a fellow Tufts alum I have to tell you that you’re a moron.  You’re trying so hard to be cute and pick apart the column you ignore the point of it.

    I won’t go line by line but I’ll make a few comments:

    * Your first interjection – do you disagree with what Chass wrote about the “non-existant races”?  Your comment seems pointless.

    * Chass makes a comment saying that if the Pirates traded Nyjer than anyone, including McCutchen, is tradeable.  The point is the Pirates, unlike most teams, don’t consider anyone untradeable.  Again, do you disagree?  Your smart ass comment about the Cardinals and Pujols proves this point.

    * Your fifth comment about Chass not understanding the English language.  I could refer you to several of my English professors at Tufts who would gladly tell you there is nothing wrong with Chass’ sentence.

    * Several times you make the point that once the Pirates are bad it doesn’t matter how bad they are.  It sure does to the fans.  If you are a fan of a team don’t you want to see them improving, not imploding?  There are plenty of teams that you know won’t make the playoffs but they are still enjoyable to watch.  There is nothing enjoyable about the Pirates.  And to counter your potential point about needing to accept losing as the club rebuilds, they’ve been rebuilding ever since Jim Leyland left the team and they’ve gotten nowhere.

    * Misplaced modifiers?  Again, my former professors on the Hill would tell your attempt at a “gotcha” is a laughable stretch of grammar rules.

    * I agree that teams often build their clubs by trading for prospects.  Problem here is that the Pirates have been trading for prospects for years and haven’t done a good job.  Those prospects they have nurtured have been traded almost as soon as they reach the majors.

    * Chass nowhere suggests that the trade for Milledge was a “tipping point.”  He uses it as another example of bad decisions by the Pirates.  Why are the Pirates the only team in baseball that wants Milledge?  No one thinks he can be an above-average major league player as Huntington says.  Not even the Nationals wanted Milledge.

    * Regarding Sanchez and Wilson, you cite three reasons (A,B,C) why the Pirates shouldn’t have wanted them but then add a fourth (D) saying they are highly valued.  Had Chass written such a contradictory point you would have been all over him.

    * Again re Sanchez and Wilson … if I’m reading your comment correctly it is good PR for a club to pull a fats one on its fans by pretending to sign the players.  Yup, that’s what I want in a team, one that lies to its fans.  If you believe in your three reasons they should have been proud to trade him without making any fake offers.

    * Getting to the end here … so now you’re suggesting the Pirates’ cost-savings through the trades and their receipt of revenue sharing dollars will be used to improve the team.  Is there any indication from the last pick it, 1,2,3,5,10,15 years that the Pirates are ever going to spend money on players?  Who was the last quality player they paid any real money to?  The Pirates have no history of using their revenue sharing money on players – check your facts.

    * Pretty funny that toward the end you are questioning Chass’ integrity by suggesting he is making up the “baseball official.”  Have you ever read anywhere any baseball executive (league or team) or player suggesting Chass misquoted them or made something up?  There’s a reason he has been writing for 40+ years and is in the Hall of Fame.

    * Again showing your lack of knowledge with respect to revenue sharing.  Why would the other owners care?  You suggest the money is already sunk but the whole reason for revenue sharing is to ensure teams spend money on players.  If they don’t, there is no reason to have revenue sharing and the owners will want their money back.

    * Finally, and increduously, are you seriously suggesting that the Pirates are heading in the right direction? What evidence do you have for that?  Chass has 17 years of losing seasons to question their progress.

    Of all people, Chass wishes the Pirates were headed in the right direction.  As he’s written many times he grew up in Pittsburgh rooting for the Pirates.

    Perhaps you were trying to be cute but unfortunately for you you’ve made yourself make look like a jackass.  Unbelievable waste of time for you.  The only reason I took the time to respond is that other readers shouldn’t think all Tufts students are morons.

  5. Matt Bandi said...

    Just thought I would point out that most of Murray’s numbers are very wrong.  The Pirates’ 2009 payroll is around $48 million (not $20 million) and reports have them receiving about $27 million in revenue sharing (not 4$0 million).

  6. Matt Bandi said...

    DJC,

    *Comparing Nyjer Morgan and Andrew McCutchen is like comparing apples and desk chairs.  McCutchen is a young impact talent.  Nyjer is a mediocre player having a career year.  At 29, he is probably about to start declining.  Perfect sell-high candidate.  Very few players in baseball are untouchable.  Pujols is (probably) one.  Nyjer definitely is not.  Nobody on a 90-loss team is.

    *Speaking as a fan, I see no difference between the team losing 90 or 100 games.  I want to see them build a champion, not a 75-win team.  Management’s job is to build a winner, not a team that is “enjoyable to watch.”

    *The Pirates rarely traded for prospects before the new management team arrived two years ago.  They traded mediocre 29-year-olds for mediocre 26-year-old “major league ready” players.  That’s why it never worked.

    *Who says the Pirates are the only team that wants Milledge? (Milledge, by the way, has been pretty good for the Pirates.)  And the fact that the Nats don’t want him convinces me of nothing.  They aren’t exactly known for making great decisions.

    *Pat means that Wilson and Sanchez were highly valued as trade bait (although I’m not sure I totally agree with that), not that they were valuable players.  They are mediocre veterans. 

    *The Pirates did not pretend to sign Wilson and Sanchez.  Both players approached management, saying that they wanted to remain teammates in Pittsburgh and wanted extensions.  Management said, “Okay, here’s what we’re willing to pay you.”  Freddy and Jack said never mind, and they were traded.

    *Last quality player the team gave some real money? Probably Pedro Alvarez.  They also threw money at several other talented draftees in the past two years.  They are not wasting $10 million per year on some mediocre free agent, if that’s what you mean.  That would be stupid for a rebuilding organization.

    *Yes, the Pirates are heading in the right direction.  I cite improved scouting, drafting , strategy, etc.  The farm system is worlds better than it was a couple years ago.  It’s pretty remarkable.  The past 17 years have nothing to do with the future.  The organization was a mess from top to bottom in 2007.  New management arrived at the end of that season and began rebuilding the whole franchise.  That does not happen overnight, and yes, the major league team is still terrible.  In a couple years, it could be a completely different story.

    Calling Pat a “jackass” doesn’t make you any less wrong.

  7. Pat Andriola said...

    DJC, I’d reply to you, but I think Mr.Bandi did an exceptional job doing so already.You didn’t get the article properly, I’m sorry.

  8. DJC said...

    Mr. Bandi,

    Per your original post I think if you go back and re-read Chass’ column you’ll see that addresses your point.  Yes, the Pirates STARTED the season with a $40 million payroll.  But after the trades the will END the season with a payroll of only $27 million.

    And I’m not sure what “reports” you refer to regarding the revenue sharing figures but I would trust Chass on this point.  Ask anyone in baseball, he pioneered coverage of salary and collective bargaining figures. No MLB official, team executive or player has ever suggested he had his numbers wrong.

    To be fair, there are plenty of reasons to be critical of Chass.  He’s too hard on his distaste for sabermatic-created statistics.  While I can’t speak for him I think his issue is more with the people who want to run teams PURELY based on statistics.  I’ll be if someone asked him he would acknowledge that there is value to all sorts of stats, but he wouldn’t be willing to completely ignore the scouts ability to recognize talent … but again, that’s just my opinion.

    As for your response to what I wrote, I can accept some of your points and disagree with others.  My point at writing on and on was to be critical of the original post taking shots at a Hall of Fame writer.  One can disagree with someone’s perception of how good or bad an organization is but it doesn’t have to go to the point where we’re ridiculously (and incorrectly) attacking the writer’s grammar, for instance.  The original post by Pat is what drives me and others crazy about so many (but not all) blogs.  Endless blathering on with no foundation.  I cite your comments as an example.  You have a point of view, you back up your opinion with facts that support your position, and the you move on without personal attacks on the writer.  For what it is worth, I forwarded your comments to Chass to see if he wants to respond to it.  I wouldn’t waste my time doing so with the original post.

  9. Matt Bandi said...

    That is a total misrepresentation of the salary numbers, though.  There is only one relevant number: total salary paid during the year.  The $20 million figure ignores the fact that the Pirates paid each of the traded players up until the time they were dealt.  In addition, the Pirates are paying the full salary for Jack Wilson and Ian Snell, and half of Eric Hinske’s post-trade salary.  The Nyjer Morgan trade that Chass hated so much was essentially a wash salary-wise.  $31 million worth of salary was not “traded” away, because the Pirates have already paid about $23 million of that total. 

    The $27 million worth of revenue sharing was reported by Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in July.  (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09200/984970-63.stm)  I’m hesitant to give Chass the benefit of the doubt on his reporting of this number, particularly after seeing him manipulate the team payroll figures. 

    I appreciate the rest of your comments.

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