• The Truth Factory

    by Tyler Dellow • September 21, 2011 • Hockey • 16 Comments

    So…Chris Jones wrote about hockey. For those of you who haven’t heard of the guy, Jones is a pretty famous magazine writer. He’s won a couple of National Magazine Awards which, according to Wikipedia, are like the Pulitzers for magazine writers. He’s not some guy pounding out copy at the Sun.

    I’ve read a bit of Jones’ stuff before, although it isn’t really my style. He’s a compelling storyteller and a wonderful writer. He’s brilliant at conveying small moments, at describing them vividly. I’ve also had the odd exchange with him on Twitter. Prior to a few days ago, my most recent exchange was when he rather cryptically tweeted that he and Jonah Keri would be posting an exchange to Grantland shortly; I (correctly) guessed that it was about a piece that he wrote about Barry Zito.

    I’d read the Zito piece and kind of rolled my eyes as I did because his premise: Barry Zito was awesome and then had his confidence destroyed by the fact that Scott Boras assembled a binder of full of selective data to prove this to the Giants. The Giants then gave him seven years and $126MM. I read Jones’ piece, and I read the Baseball Think Factory discussion of the article and I decided that I agreed with King Kaufman:

    If some geriatric newspaper hack wrote a column saying that Zito was doomed by his big contract, which made him lose focus and confidence, everyone here would roast him. This is that article, just written more stylishly.

    “MADDUXESQUE STUD TURNS INTO BUM” is a much more interesting story than “AVERAGEISH PITCHER TURNS INTO BUM.” It cries out more desperately for some explanation. Jones failed to acknowledge that there was significant evidence that the latter was the headline; instead, he focused on the Boras binder; a document prepared for a negotiation that was larded with statistical bullshit. It’s a better narrative – his story isn’t nearly as compelling if it comes with a caveat that Zito might simply not have been that good when he signed his deal with the Giants and maybe a crisis of confidence caused none of his problems; maybe the crisis of confidence simply came when he realized that he couldn’t get people out at at a sufficiently high rate anymore.

    I debated writing something at the time but Jonah Keri said everything I would have said in his exchange with Jones.

    * * *

    It was against that backdrop (as well as in the context of my own thoughts about the difference between being a great writer and having great insights and the two not necessarily overlapping in any given person) that I read Jones’ piece about Stu Grimson. As I read through it, there was a section that I found jarring.

    “Man for man, the guys I fought were bright, outgoing, good people,” Grimson says. “A lot of them also happened to be from Western Canada.”

    There, the three lost fighters can be more truly linked. They shared the same geography. Boogaard and Belak were from Saskatoon, with its wide streets and bronze statue of Gordie Howe, his elbows up. Rypien was born and died in tiny Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. (Grimson is from British Columbia, played his junior hockey in Regina, and began his education at the University of Manitoba.) They were all Big Sky kids.

    As sentimental as it might sound, Westerners really are shaped by their landscape. The expanses of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and eastern Alberta, giving way first to folds, then hills, then mountains …

    “Living there makes you humble,” Grimson says. “You spend every day of your life humbled by nature.”

    That’s why Western Canada is an enforcer factory, why it continues to produce these men so well versed in the lost farm-boy arts. Being a hockey fighter requires bravery and balance and fast hands and a strong chin. But perhaps more than anything else, it requires humility. It requires reconciliation, an understanding of the limits placed on every one of us.

    Western Canada is an enforcer factory? This seemed odd to me so I took a look at some data while sitting on the subway – fighting majors in 2010-11 – and it didn’t seem to support the claim. I tweeted the following:

    It is obvious that @MySecondEmpire is a gifted writer. He writes beautiful prose. He lets the prose get in the way of truth though. In his Grimson piece, he turns a comment from Stu about the Prairies humbling you into elegant paragraph about West being enforcer factory. Gorgeous stuff. Gorgeous. So I went and did a two minute accuracy check. 4 of top 20 fighters in NHL last year from West. That doesn’t strike me as unusual. 50 percent of league is CDN and Euros don’t fight, basically…

    (For those unfamiliar with Twitter, that’s actually a series of tweets. I’m combining it into a paragraph to enhance readability. I do the same with Jones below.)

    Unsurprisingly, this drew a response from Jones:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa, dude. That’s a terrible charge to level at a journalist. What are you talking about? Oh, Christ. All four guys in the piece are Westerners. You can throw out “Europeans don’t fight,” though? What if Belak, Rypien, and Boogaard were still playing, or had played full seasons last year? There’s 7 of 20. Is that enough? You take one season and turn that into “rigorous analysis.” False math to the extreme. But it was enough to accuse me of not telling the truth, the worst thing you can say about a journalist. Good to know. I’ve written 100s of stories over the last 13 years. No one—not once—has come back at me. I’ll take those numbers.

    Let’s pause for a second. I said up front what I was basing my comment on; if you read this site, you probably have some idea of my process when I take a stab at doing something in a rigorous fashion. The four in twenty thing was a smell test and the smell was not good. Note as well his comment that “All four guys in the piece are Westerners.” That’s the first attempt to justify the claim. It’s nonsense – it’s like writing a story about four guys from anywhere who pursue a common career and declaring that place a mechanic factory or whatever; without further context, the claim can’t be evaluated.

    The bit about nobody having come back at him in the last thirteen years is laughable too. I am, at best, vaguely aware of Jones – he’s written about five pieces that I recall having read, other than some entries on his blog. (I don’t say this as a slur on him; he’s clearly a very good writer just not really my style as he tends to write more long form narrative stuff.) One of them was the Zito piece, which was (politely and correctly) dumped on by Keri, on the basis that the narrative didn’t mesh with the facts, which was precisely my point with respect to this.

    I asked Jones for whatever research he did in support of the piece. Zero response. I raised the point repeatedly in the ensuing exchange and never got an answer to it.

    * * *

    I think it’s worth actually trying to answer the question in a more substantive fashion than just looking at it from one angle. Is Western Canada an enforcer factory? There are a couple of different ways to look at the question.

    One way is to look at players from which region are most likely to fight. Over the past ten years, players from Western Canada have fought once every 22.15 games. Players from Ontario are almost as likely to fight – once every 23.74 games. Americans have fought once every 37.6 games. Players from Quebec are slightly less likely than that to fight; they drop the gloves just once every 42.3 games. Unsurprisingly to anyone who follows hockey, players from Europe (“Europe” being defined as anything not in the Americas; the Regehrs are treated as European) rarely fight – on average, they’ve fought once every 141.7 games over the past ten years. The real fighters though, are the guys from the Maritimes. They’ve fought once every 17.7 games over the past ten years. Perhaps the lost farm-boy arts have been rediscovered by a generation of Maritimers, transmitted by oral legend from family members returning from the oil fields of Alberta.

    That doesn’t really go to what Jones is talking about though – he’s talking about enforcers, not regional differences in how hockey is played. If the top twenty fighters in the NHL were all from Europe, I’d be fine with calling Europe an enforcer factory, even if the rest of the players it produced didn’t fight anyone. The data referred to above could easily represent those differences. If, for example, every player from the Maritimes fought four times per 82 games or, in a few cases, five, you’d end up with a number similar to 17.7 games but those wouldn’t be players who anyone would characterize as enforcers.

    What about guys who’ve finished in the top twenty (including ties; golf rules apply) in fighting majors in the past ten years? This provides a pool of 228 seasons of guys who fight a lot. Of those, 76 are by players from Western Canada, 78 from Ontario, 21 from Quebec, 7 from the Maritimes, 36 from the United States and 10 from Europe.

    You need to allow for context though. The proper context into which to put this stuff is games played by players from those regions. If every player in the NHL was from Alberta except for nine guys from BC, and Alberta had eleven players in the top twenty in fighting majors, no sane person would call Alberta an enforcer factory because it led the NHL in players who accrue fighting majors. You’d call Alberta a hockey player factory and BC an enforcer factory.

    When you allow for context, you find that one out of every 15.8 seasons played by a Westerner involved a player who finished in the top twenty in fighting majors. This is fewer than Ontario (15.4) and almost the same as the Maritimes (15.9). I note that if I had included the Northwest Territories as Western Canada, rather than excluding it, there would have been a tie between the West and the Maritimes. Curiously, Quebec is next, at one out of every 22.6 seasons, followed by the Americans at one out of every 27.9 seasons and, bringing up the rear, the Europeans, at one out of every 172.4 seasons.

    There’s nothing magical about ten years or top twenty so I ran the analysis for top five, ten, etc. all the way to fifty and did it again for the most recent five seasons. The results that this produced are as follows:

    fight1

    Just as interpretive aid: in the last ten years, players born in Western Canada have played 98247 games. This is 1200.329 82 game seasons (a player season). They have produced 14 seasons in which a Westerner finished in the top five in fighting majors. 1200.329/14 = 85.7. It has taken Western Canada 85.7 player seasons to produce a single top five finish in fighting majors over the past ten years.

    Looking at this data, I don’t see how you can say that the NHL has been filled with enforcers from the factories of Western Canada in the past ten years. When you factor in the data from the past five years, if anything, Ontario seems to be establishing a clear lead in terms of producing enforcers, with the Maritimes producing more than its share of punchers as well.

    I’m still not entirely satisfied with that way of doing it though. When I went through the names on that list, I came up with a lot of guys missing who I think of as being enforcers, simply because they don’t play enough games to rack up enough fights. Seven fights in 34 games, like Steve MacIntyre had last year, is different than seven fights in 80 games, like Nathan Horton had. I decided to run the analysis again, this time creating top five, ten etc. lists by number of fights per game, with a minimum of twenty games played, to avoid having a list populated with guys who came up from the minors for a few games and wanted to make an impression.

    Again: context matters. We don’t just want to measure which region produces a lot of hockey players – we want to measure which region produces a lot of enforcers. There’s nothing notable about producing an average number of enforcers and a ton of hockey players. The appropriate denominator, in my view, is the number of players produced by a given region that played at least twenty games in the period in question. I ran precisely the same analysis as with the raw fighting major data and came up with the following:

    fight2

    In this case, it looks like the West and Ontario are roughly equivalent over the ten year period, although it’s an equivalence that puts them in a clear second place to the Maritimes – guys like Doug Doull, Gordie Dwyer, Dennis Bonvie and Eric Boulton brawled their way through the early aughties in numbers that are disproportionate to the number of hockey players that the Maritimes produced over the last ten decades. Over the past five years, the Maritimes hasn’t been much of a source of guys who fight at a high rate relative to the number of games they play. Ontario has produced a whack of those guys though and the West is clearly second to Ontario. As far as top fifteen finishes go, the Americans are in the discussion as well.

    Colby Cosh took a look at the most recent NHL season and he can’t find anything to support the proposition that Western Canada was an enforcer factory.

    Taken as a whole, the evidence of the past ten years doesn’t support the claim that the West is an enforcer factory (assuming a sensible meaning of the phrase – see below). All of Anglo Canada looks to have been where NHL enforcers come from over that period, with the Maritimes and Ontario each having periods in which they were the dominant source of enforcers relative to the number of players that they were producing. The USA, Quebec and Europe were left far behind, although the Americans have acquired a bit of a taste for blood over the past five years.

    The best argument that I saw in support of Jones’ claim came from Sean Boulton and Aaron Wherry, who appeared to have arrived at it independently. They both noted that the top fifty of the career PIM leader list seems to be disproportionately dominated by Western Canadians. In Boulton’s case, he went a step further and classified players into goons and hockey players – Brendan Shanahan is in the top fifty, but he’s a hockey player. The disproportionate representation of the West is even more pronounced then. His criteria were subjective but seemed sensible to me.

    I took a look at the list and noted that it contains relatively few players whose careers stretched into the last ten years, particularly with respect to the enforcers. In my view, the strongest thing you can say from this is that the West was once a meathead hotbed; on the basis of the evidence laid out above, I think anyone would have a hard time saying that it’s currently more of an enforcer factory than the rest of Anglo Canada; if anything, the trend seems to be away from Western Canada being a source of enforcers.

    * * *

    After spending a few hours rolling through some numbers, I tweeted a few things, some preliminary data, that involved looking at the question from a number of different angles, as I have above. Jones proceeded to seize on one of the points in respect to fighting rates in 2010-11, while at the same time ignoring the point that went along with it to the effect that when you considered the number of games played by Americans, Westerners and Ontarians, it didn’t look like Western Canada was an enforcer factory. He also, for whatever reason, chose not address the points that cast his case in a less favourable light.

    I should say – I don’t think that the guy has any obligation to respond to anything I might have to say. He’s not my answer monkey. With that said, when you choose to ignore points that people make which cast doubt on your assertions, while taking a single point out of context to argue that it does, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to draw some adverse inferences about the strength of your argument. This was, in effect, the second argument that he came up with: that he was right and the data proved it. For the reasons set out above, as well as the fact that he was taking the point out of context, I don’t think that the data supports his case.

    At this point, it started to get really bizarre, as he came up with two additional arguments to support his point. The first was this: “Grimson floated the humbled thesis, which I reported. The story was about his insights into this summer. He’s from the West, he’s played there. I haven’t. That’s why reporters talk to other people, to learn from them.”

    Maybe Grimson floated the thesis but that’s not what the quotes say. Grimson says a) that he fought a lot of Westerners and b) that living in the West makes you humble. If he linked the two, Jones didn’t quote him as saying it. The statements about the West being an enforcer factory due to the humility that Westerners have by virtue of where they live is in Jones’ voice, not Grimson’s. At the very least, taking Jones at his word that this thesis belongs to Grimson, Jones appears to endorse it, writing it in his own voice, not that of Grimson. The word thesis is also curiously absent – it’s presented as truth. I also note, without comment, that this point was raised more than a day after I initially stated that I thought the point about the west being an enforcer factory was bogus.

    The final point that Jones raised in defence of his point was this “Is a place where cars are made called a car factory? Or only biggest place cars are made?” This is a more subtle defence (again, without comment, also one raised more than a day after the initial complaint) but I don’t think it flies. If Jones intended to convey that Western Canada is no different than Anglo Canada as a whole, the language that he’s selected is awfully odd.

    The explanation, founded on the humility of Westerners, seems pointless – there’s presumably something in Ontario and the Maritimes that drive those boys to fight then, something other than “This is the only shot I have at ever making $500K in a year.” If he intended to convey Western Canada as being not particularly unusual, the point seems meaningless: the West produces enforcers, charitably, at something approaching the rate of Anglo Canada as a whole? Because of humility? What evidence, other than a single quote from Grimson warrants such a strong statement about why the West is an “enforcer factory,” even by the apparently twisted definition that Jones claimed to have been using or that this is because of the humility instilled by the landscape? It’s a bizarre statement if that’s what he meant and one I wouldn’t expect from a writer of his calibre.

    * * *

    The word “truth” in my first comment seems to have been one that set Jones off. He subsequently suggested that I was calling him a liar and that I backtracked from that. I thought my position was pretty clear – the “truth” to which I was referring was the “truth” of the statement about Western Canada being an enforcer factory and this being somehow related to a landscape induced humility. One other person, who I perceive as being more reasonable than him, have suggested that there’s something to his perception that I said he was lying. I don’t see it – I was clear from the start.

    “Truth” in journalism, it seems to me, has at least two meanings, only one of which calls the integrity of the author into question. The first meaning is accurately reporting what one is told and what one observes in the course of researching a piece. If you get this wrong in service of a narrative, you’ve got some serious problems. I have no complaints with him here.

    For guys like Jones, the first set of truths with which he’s dealing are his interactions with Grimson. There’s no reason that he can’t also be dealing with a set of objective truths about where hockey fighters come from, although it appears that he chose not to do so in this case. For guys like me, the first kind of truths with which I’m dealing tend to be exclusively things like stats, the historical record of the game.

    The second kind of truth is different. These are truths about the way in which the world functions or hockey functions or whatever. Things that are objectively true, rather than the perception of a given individual. To my mind, they’re a lot more important. In and of itself, “Stu Grimson says X” isn’t all that interesting to me. I’m interested in truths about sport and whatever Grimson’s personal perceptions may be, they’re never going to be enough to found a belief about anything more than what Stu Grimson believes. People have terribly flawed perception and are generally awful at assessing things.

    These truths are a lot harder to discern. It’s easy to figure out Grimson’s perception of something. You ask him, he tells you and you write it down. It’s easy to figure out what percentage of fights involved fighters from place X. You check the historical record. It’s a hell of a lot more difficult to figure out what that tells you about the world or about hockey or about why fighters come from where they come. That’s the kind of truth that I think Jones blew in this piece. It’s the kind of truth that he blew in the Zito piece.

    Like I say, it’s not easy stuff and it’s not easy stuff to have any degree of certainty about (well, it is easy to figure out if it’s sensible to call Western Canada an “enforcer factory”; not so much to explain why it is, in the event that happened to be true.) It doesn’t always make for an easy or compelling narrative. Sometimes, most of the time, the answer to these sorts of questions is “Well some years, more guys from Ontario fight and some years more guys from the Maritimes fight and the West produces more than some other places but not as many as Ontario and the Maritimes despite the landscape in the West always instilling humility in those who grow up there.”

    Ironically, you probably have to be humble to admit that there’s a lot of stuff that is very difficult to figure out and that you, no matter how smart you might be, probably can’t figure it out on the basis of a couple of anecdotes. Finding truths, real truths, requires some humility about the limits of what you can ascertain with the tools available to you. It doesn’t always let you write with certainty. If you’re into crafting brilliant stories, finding larger truths may not be the thing for you.

    When guys like Jones – and lord knows he’s not alone, he’s just one of the best at doing it – write this stuff as if it is certain and these truths are evident, they’re not telling truths. They’re accurately recounting the information that they have, so they aren’t lying, but they aren’t telling truths in terms of helping the reader understand the world any better. At best, if the set of affairs they’ve assumed to be true on the basis of the anecdote (“Western Canada is an enforcer factory”) actually is objectively true, they’re offering a guess as to why it me. A guess presented as a certainty.

    As a piece of journalism, I think that this fails because it presents one man’s perception as truth and, despite that point being debatable, proceeds to offer an explanation as to why. (Incidentally, if anyone knows what “…more than anything else, it requires humility. It requires reconciliation, an understanding of the limits placed on every one of us” means, feel free to share. I find it incomprehensible. When I’m looking for a guy who can be a successful fighter, I’ll take a large man with hands of stone who can take a punch over a guy who has achieved perfect enlightenment any day.) If journalism is supposed to tell us truths, and there’s a chunk of something that isn’t truth dropped into the middle of the piece, to me, it’s a failure.

    About Tyler Dellow

    16 Responses to The Truth Factory

    1. September 21, 2011 at

      Purely in terms of writing ability, Chris Jones is probably the best the sports world gets. I seldom agree with his conclusions, but man, do I love watching him get to them. Each piece usually has one or two moments where I have to pause for a moment to wrap my head around how amazing I thought a particular sentence was. I was following the Twitter back-and-forth as a fly on the wall, and being such a big fan made it really difficult to watch his reaction to having a claim challenged unfold.

      I can see where his initial reading of your comment as calling him a liar comes from (though I do think it’s an oddly sensitive reading), but you went out of your way to clarify you weren’t accusing him of falsifying anything, and he still kept complaining that you’d accused him of exactly that, refusing to meaningfully engage your argument. It was a sadly humanizing moment for a writer I admire maybe too much.

      I have to wonder if this is going to make him harder to read now — if every time I find myself disagreeing with something he wrote, I’ll be stuck imagining him replying “oh yeah, well fuck you” to my objections, instead of defending his argument.

    2. September 21, 2011 at

      It seems clear enough that he believed in the essential truth of what he was arguing, without having thought about it too carefully because it sounded beautiful. (I’m a proud Westerner, but Nature, such as it is, isn’t exactly unique to the area. Or to put it another way, I wouldn’t be comfortable describing the West as a nature factory. I digress.) I’d think more of him if he simply said that he got a bit carried away.

      Because he unquestionably intended for the reader to believe what he was writing was true. When that is your intent as a writer, to go back afterwards and imply or insist otherwise is to announce that you’re the White House Press Secretary with an Esquire column.

    3. Hugh
      September 22, 2011 at

      I’m not at all disagreeing with your assessment of the article and Jones’ error on the West as Fight Factory. Like Matt, it seems clear to me that he just got carried away by a nice trope.

      But I did want to highlight a few of your comments because they, to a large extent, are perfect distillations of the difference between “stats guys” and “non stats guys”, and why there is, on occasion, some animosity.

      “It’s easy to figure out Grimson’s perception of something. You ask him, he tells you and you write it down.”

      This is clearly said by a guy who has not done much in the way of ethnographic interviews or qualitative data analysis . . . Establishing what someone believes based on what they tell you is a whole lot messier than simply writing down what they say. People lie. People are shy. People often don’t really know the answer, or they don’t have the vocabulary to express their beliefs.

      “The second kind of truth is different. These are truths about the way in which the world functions or hockey functions or whatever. Things that are objectively true, rather than the perception of a given individual. To my mind, they’re a lot more important. In and of itself, “Stu Grimson says X” isn’t all that interesting to me. I’m interested in truths about sport and whatever Grimson’s personal perceptions may be, they’re never going to be enough to found a belief about anything more than what Stu Grimson believes. People have terribly flawed perception and are generally awful at assessing things.

      You’re right that people are generally poor at explaining why they do the things they do — The number #1 response to the interview question “Why do you do that?” is “Because that is the way it is done”.

      But that’s what makes it so damn interesting. My interests are in asking why people do the things that they do rather than simply tallying up what they in fact, did do. In this respect, my interests are exactly opposite of yours — I’m much less interested in establishing the ‘objective truths’ about hockey fights (for example) such as how long they last, how many result in serious injury, how many involve Europeans, etc., than I am in hearing what Stu Grimson (and others like him) believe about hockey fights. After all, he’s the poor bastard that has taken all those brutal beatings his whole life, and I’m fascinated by his own assessment & perception of why in the world he did that and how it made him feel.

      To say that Stu Grimson’s perception of hockey fights is “never going to be enough to found a belief about anything more than what Stu Grimson believes” is awfully short-sighted. And to imply that Stu Grimson’s assessment about hockey fights is somehow less informative about “the way in which . . . hockey functions” is patently absurd. His actions, and by extension the beliefs and perceptions that enable/guide/cause/justify those actions ARE part and parcel of the reality of how hockey functions.

      I’m all for ‘objective truths’ as established through quantitative analysis, and you are most certainly correct that it often reveals disconnects between what people say and what people do. But I’m not at all convinced that this means that one side of the coin is less important than the other.

      Finally, to claim that writers who are interested in “crafting brilliant stories” are somehow less interested in “finding larger truths” is a bit much to stomach. Anna Karenina didn’t teach me much of value about the ‘truths’ of 19th century Russia, but it sure did teach me a lot of value about the ‘larger truths’ of my own experiences with family, fidelity, the meaning of progress, etc. I’ve yet to read any ‘objective truths’ about those themes that have been nearly as useful.

    4. September 22, 2011 at

      Does the answer change at all if you remove BC? The picture that Jones paints is really Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Perhaps that one out of every 15.8 season drops to something that stands out a bit.

      My opinion is that the Maritimes stats don’t necessarily preclude Jones statement from passing whatever test is deemed appropriate. There can be more than one factory producing fighters.

      Thanks for doing this research though, it was interesting to read about Ontario.

    5. Lee
      September 22, 2011 at

      Tyler, it’s unclear to me why you’ve chosen the path of self appointed sports media watchdog as your primary raison d’être or why you labor under the mistaken belief that sports human interest pieces are subject to the same fact checking rigor that the NY Times applies to hard news? The veiled inferences along the way seems to convey the impression that you believe the sports journalists that actually do this work for a living (yes, that’s an insination that you’re a dilettante) should be held to a higher standard than that being applied by the editors charged with this duty. It’s interesting to note that you feel the same way about Oiler management (i.e. that Katz’ evaluation of his GM’s performance isn’t sufficiently rigorous in your opinion). It’s a very utopian view of the world and one that seems more than a little unrealistic.

      Thanks to your blog, I’ve read Chris Jones’ piece. It is wonderfully thought provoking piece that reminded me of some of my favourite sports writers, men like Frank Deford and Mitch Albom. The line in question is, for me, a non-issue. As Jones rightly defended, the ‘factory’ mention in the piece conveys the impression that Western Canada produces enforcers in significant numbers. It doesn’t make the claim that Western Canada is the current title holder in this regard.

      I know you’ve made a name for yourself fact checking minutiae that the mainstream media doesn’t have the time (or possibly the inclination) to delve into. That kind of investigative curiosity is admiral. Where it seems less so is on occasions like this where you are essentially trying to turn a lyrically poetic piece of prose into a platform to besmirch a talented and well respected writer. The whole exercise is an interesting insight into the flawed machinery of human perception. For some, I’m sure the perception has been furthered that the mainstream media is no match for those independent bloggers who wait ready, with spreadsheet in hand, to expose the gross ineptitude of the mainstream media. From my perspective however, it comes across as little more than pedantic grandstanding.

      I guess one could imagine a world where Chris Jones spends less of his time writing and more time running excel formulas to ensure every phrase and metaphor meets with the approval of the internet thought police. Personally, I think his time is far better spent applying his more obvious gifts. Talented writers after all are a truly rare breed, whereas the Internet churns out fact checkers like a veritable ‘factory.’

      • September 22, 2011 at

        The veiled inferences along the way seems to convey the impression that you believe the sports journalists that actually do this work for a living (yes, that’s an insination that you’re a dilettante) should be held to a higher standard than that being applied by the editors charged with this duty. It’s interesting to note that you feel the same way about Oiler management (i.e. that Katz’ evaluation of his GM’s performance isn’t sufficiently rigorous in your opinion). It’s a very utopian view of the world and one that seems more than a little unrealistic.

        One of the long-view themes around here (and in many other areas of the non-professional blogosphere) is that the actual professional media loves to bang on their drums about how non-professional journalists live in their mother’s basements, spout fiction as truth, spread baseless rumors, can say what they like without having to uphold a reputation, and just cannot be trusted in general. However, professional journalists love to shout from the top of their ivory towers about how their integrity is impeachable, that they can be trusted not to lie, not to omit, and to provide truth to their readership, that their motives are pure as the winter’s first snow fall, their reputations are beyond question, and that the very tag “professional journalist” should imply a level of knowledge greater than any unwashed peasant amateur blogger, in addition to placing the things they’ve written above reproach, and indeed, that such things should be accepted as fact.

        Except, you know, that’s fucking bullshit, and Tyler has no problem pointing it out, and neither should any other member of the much-maligned blogging community. If professional journalists want to be seen as being somehow better than the unwashed peasants and liars bloggers and talk about how they meet a higher standard, they’ve damn sure got to meet that standard. If they’re not meeting that standard, they’re just as bad as the people they love to talk shit about.

        Thanks to your blog, I’ve read Chris Jones’ piece. It is wonderfully thought provoking piece that reminded me of some of my favourite sports writers, men like Frank Deford and Mitch Albom.

        Never mind. Clearly, you’re not worth talking to. Mitch Albom has sucked for well over a decade now, and he’s a pretty big culprit of the “bloggers suck, professional journalists like myself have unimpeachable credibility, oh and by the way I don’t make up ENTIRE STORIES”. Like this: http://www.usatoday.com/life/columnist/mediamix/2005-04-13-media-mix_x.htm

    6. Conrad
      September 22, 2011 at

      I appreciate both narrative journalism and quantitative analyses, just so long as they both exist in relatively equal measure to generate a dialogue. And hockey writing has more than enough qualitative musing. So thanks for providing balance, Tyler. Fascinating read.

    7. FastOil
      September 22, 2011 at

      Jones got some glimpse of an idea, and ran with it, coming up with this pretty sounding piece romanticizing the West. Maybe Stu really had an impact on him. He probably likes westerns.

      Unlucky for him, it is bunk, and more so, you came across it with the all that background micro analyzing hockey in a rigorous community.

      Some people have a lot of trouble admitting mistakes, and will fight endlessly to avoid that conclusion. You’d think he would have learned his lesson about being sloppy with the baseball story. I wonder if he’s hesitant now when he’s formulating a piece?

    8. Mr DeBakey
      September 22, 2011 at

      Two new Narrative posts up today, here and Copper N Blue.
      Stats Guys vs MSMers. One wants to tell you what happened, the other’s job is to tell you a story about what happened.

      Heart, zonestart, grit, leadership, clutch – one doesn’t belong with the others.

      I was so relieved when the Canucks beat Chicago in Round 1 this past spring. I don’t cheer for the Canucks, but didn’t think I could stand the non-stop analysis of Luongo’s chokiness, the Sedins’ refusal to suck it up in the Tough Areas, Kesler’s heart-size and so on.
      And on.

      On Oiler’s Nooner the day following the 7th game, the first words out of Stauffer’s mouth were “Jonathan Toews, heart of a Winner!” I’m thinking “hand-eye coordination?” If Toews had missed would he have the Heart of an Artichoke?

      This past week Spec told Gregor’s audience that one of the reasons Gilbert is a disappointing defenseman is that he doesn’t fight. Pussy.

      The problem with the story-telling is that, for many, it becomes the reality.

      • Roke
        September 22, 2011 at

        It’s far too easy to project attributes onto a player because that’s what you think the player is rather than what the player actually is (like Gilbert not being effective he lacks toughness)

        An anecdote if you’ll allow me.

        Last night I sat down to watch the Habs-Sabres pre-season game. Buffalo was fielding a very strong lineup so I thought it was a good opportunity to get a look at the some Montreal prospect, particularly Alexander Avtsin. Avtsin played in the AHL as a 19 year-old last year and didn’t light the world on fire. He’s apparently your prototypical toolsy Russian forward.

        It took me half the first period to figure out who Avtsin was on the ice and there were multiple questions on a message-board at around the 5-minute mark asking what number he was wearing. In the first half of the period I thought Avtsin was:

        1) Andreas Engqvist- a defensive centre many Habs fans want to start the year on the 4th line. He had a cup of coffee with the team last year
        2) Gabriel Dumont – A gritty, hard-working Quebec-born centre with heart and limited offensive upside.
        3) Hunter Bishop – A college free-agent I knew nothing about
        4) Avtsin himself.

        The first time I recognized Avtsin on my own he was going to the Sabres net, widening his stance while a team-mate was retrieving the puck in the corner.

        I stopped watching after the first period (maybe his play dropped off a cliff), but the common reaction to Avtsin’s play in the game was that he lacked grit or heart and he wasn’t impressive. I’m terrible when it comes to evaluating hockey players with my eyes but I can’t help but wonder if most people (random fans, a few Montreal media members pumping up Quebec-born palyers) are projecting Avtsin’s Russian-ness onto him rather than attempting to evaluate him as a player.

        I figure the projection thing happens an awful lot. Stauffer on Toews, Spec on Gilbert, everyone in Montreal on Andrei Kostitsyn, Damien Cox on Martin Brodeur. Leading with your gut or perceptions is going to lead to preconceptions playing a big role in what you think about things.

      • Hugh
        September 22, 2011 at

        There is a difference between judging a narrative as ‘a bad narrative’ and judging the entire enterprise of narrative writing (or qualitative analysis in general) as inherently useless storytelling or anecdote collection.

        Do we really want to get into an extended discussion of who is worse at using their tools – story tellers or reporters armed with ‘statistics’? Colby Cosh has spent a career using statistics to skewer the atrocious manufacturing of artificial narratives while simultaneously skewering the atrocious use of statistics in every field imaginable.

        Suffice it to say that there are as many atrocious misuses of statistics as there are examples of atrocious story telling. And by all means, we should all be pleased as hell to have people help us recognize these examples. But I think it is a bit extreme to decide that either of these forms of analysis should be dispensed with, which seems to be the thrust of many with a statistical bent. I love stats — I use them every single day. But they can replace interviews or qualitative analysis, because they are designed for a different purpose.

    9. dave
      September 22, 2011 at

      I have to admit I like Tylers stuff – I’m a stats guy also – I will follow an article and notice the comments that are unstubstantiated – and in the original piece a feeling has been picked up on and formed into a theory that may be incorrect.
      Of course Chris Jones hasnt delved into the facts but could there have been a better way of telling him that – I suspect that we are all more sensitive than we like to admit (totally my own theory – no facts to support it)
      sorry folks – no great insight and no great writing either

      • dave
        September 22, 2011 at

        thats no insight/writing from me by the way …

    10. September 22, 2011 at

      He’s a compelling storyteller and a wonderful writer. He’s brilliant at conveying small moments, at describing them vividly.

      Purely in terms of writing ability, Chris Jones is probably the best the sports world gets. I seldom agree with his conclusions, but man, do I love watching him get to them. Each piece usually has one or two moments where I have to pause for a moment to wrap my head around how amazing I thought a particular sentence was.

      I had never heard of Chris Jones before this li’l kerfuffle, and I’ve only read the Zito and Grimson pieces, but what are some examples of his supposed beautiful and compelling writer? I honestly didn’t see anything that I thought was particularly moving or interesting or impressive. Bronze statutes, elbows up, Big Sky kids, folds, then hills, them mountains don’t exactly make me forget Foster Wallace or Hemingway.

      And obviously the point about the West and the prairies is nonsense as a correlative or causal argument, but after reading the enforcer piece just once, and not particularly attentively, I actually didn’t get the feeling that Jones was making the argument that Tyler alleges him to be making, “enforcer factory” language notwithstanding. It just seemed like some anecdotal bullshit that stupid people say.

    11. September 23, 2011 at

      I don’t know if I’m more impressed or horrified that Dellow wrote this on vacation.

    12. August 8, 2012 at

      Hey there this is somewhat of off topic but I was
      wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with
      HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding experience so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

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