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We Can Do Better

This could be a tweet, or this could be a book. I'm going to try to keep it shorter, but we'll see how that goes. I haven't completely thought this through, and I don't have an outline.

This is something that's been on my mind for a little while, now, but what spurred me to actually write up a post was the Mariners' firing of Carmen Fusco, and the ensuing fallout. After the news broke, a number of people jumped on the opportunity to write something critical of the M's upper management. I read a lot of what other people wrote - because I was curious, and because I wanted to see if I could get it straight in my own head. Sometimes people come up with explanations I hadn't considered. Sometimes they find details that I missed. It's important to read, and keep reading.

I read a lot of what other people wrote. What other good, smart people wrote. What a lot of good, smart people wrote was that the M's were being stupid, or hypocritical, or they shamefully scapegoated an innocent man. They wrote strong things. Forceful things. My favorite take, though, was Dave's at USSM. Not just because of the way he laid things out, but because of the way he wrapped it up. Dave's conclusion:

But, at the end of the day, we don’t really know what exactly went on. We weren’t there, and the only thing we have are statements made in self interest. So, we can speculate, but we have to acknowledge that’s all it is. Beware of conclusive statements – there simply isn’t enough in the public arena to build a foundation that would support dogmatic claims. It’s up to you who and what you want to believe. It’s up to you whether you want to root for Josh Lueke, or an organization that employs him. You can make your own choices about who is credible and what statements pass the smell test. I’ve got my theories, but that’s all they are. That’s all any of us have.

Hopefully Dave doesn't mind the extended blockquote. What about that paragraph stands out to you? To me, it's the expressed uncertainty. We don't really know. Beware of conclusive statements. Dave takes care to acknowledge the limitations of what we can know, when compared to what actually took place.

And we don't see enough of that. I'm talking here about the outsiders. New bloggers. Established bloggers. National journalists. I'm talking here about the people who cover baseball with little or limited access to individual teams. Including myself, of course. The people who cover baseball without being clued in on exactly how and why something took place.

There's a thing about the internet. To survive on the internet, you need a lot of readers. And you can get a lot of readers by making bold, critical statements. And so that's what you find. The Mariners are stupid. The Royals are stupid. The Mets are stupid. These aren't the only examples, but they're perhaps the easiest and most obvious ones. It trickles down to a smaller scale, though. This guy is the clear Cy Young. This guy's a terrible choice for MVP. This team's a fluke, this team's for real, this beat writer's a moron, this manager's retarded. So much is so absolute, and so assertive.

Which can be fine, sometimes. Early on, an outsider makes a choice. He can strive to be entertaining, or he can strive to be informative. An entertainer has more leeway. The standards for accuracy aren't as high. In the same way that a lot of the stories comedians tell on stage are made up, the entertainer's goal isn't to enlighten, but to get to the joke. If the joke's a good one, the veracity of the build-up isn't very important.

A lot of people, though, choose to be informative. Entertaining and informative, usually, but informative. And here it's imperative to keep a simple equation in mind:

Information > No information > Misinformation

For the informative writer, there's nothing worse - nothing more antithetic to the goal - than being wrong. I don't mean ending up wrong. We were all wrong about the 2010 Mariners, for example. I mean being wrong at the time. Being wrong immediately. Being wrong about something that just took place.

They say one of the leading indicators of intelligence and maturity is understanding how much you don't know. There are a lot of intelligent, mature outsiders writing on the internet, but in too many cases it seems like the principle hasn't made the transition. There is so much - so much - we don't know about what goes on. When you get your first bit of inside information, you think you've got it all figured out. Instead, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Baseball's a complicated game, and a complicated business. It's a business that often doesn't warrant the conclusive critiques it and its players receive.

Think back to 2007. Think back to all the debates we had over Raul Ibanez and Jose Guillen and Adam Jones and clubhouse chemistry. We were so certain we knew what we were talking about. We were so certain that the M's would be better off playing Jones, and that writers on the inside were making too much of their access in arguing otherwise. We were wrong. We weren't wrong to state the argument. We weren't wrong to support it. We were wrong to declare it. We didn't know what effect our plan would have. We didn't know how other players would respond. Worse, we fought against or ignored the people with access who had a better understanding of the situation. We didn't just argue from a perspective of limited knowledge. We argued against people with more, or at least as much.

We were so damn sure, when we shouldn't have been. That was our particular failing then, and it continues to be the outsider's greatest failing today. Keep Dave's post in mind. For any outsider who seeks to inform, that should be the template. Lay out what you know, lay out what you think makes sense, and acknowledge how much is unclear. Sometimes, you'll know more. Sometimes, you'll know less. In pretty much every instance, you'll know less than the person or team in question.

And it's for that reason that we shouldn't eschew uncertainty, but rather embrace it. Make eyes with it. Buy it a drink, take it home, and make little ambiguous babies with it. I know the great temptation on the internet - especially in the Twitter age - is to get in your virtual soundbite. To write the thing that gets the links, that gets the traffic, and that starts the discussion. And those are fine goals. Again, one needs those things to survive. But in achieving those goals, one shouldn't compromise his intentions. If one's intention is to be informative, he should inform with what he knows, and confess to what he doesn't. To do otherwise does everyone, at best, a disservice.