July 08, 2021

Article at Steven on Authory

Why I Left BJOL

"I had hoped to leave BJOL later this summer under more congenial circumstances, but...." of course I preferred my own schedule, my own terms, and to leave with Bill thinking kindly of me, all of which got ruined by my impetuous use of the word “hypocrite” to refer to Bill.

 I just happened upon an e-mail I wrote sometime in late 2020, in fact, about my plans to quit BJOL:

I’m risking losing my (small) freelance income this week by continuing to call those who use the race-baiting slogan “All Lives Matter” racists. Seems the owner of the website that publishes me (a very smart oddball who’s been kind to me in the past) hates anyone calling anyone else “racists” for some oddball reason of his own, and since my instinctive response is “As long as they practice racism, I’m calling them what they are” he may well decide to cut me off, which would be a shame, literally, but a shame I’m willing to bear. It’s not the money (negligible) that I’ll miss but the platform to publish my stuff on that reaches a few hundred readers, maybe a few thousand. But life goes on…..

I’d forgotten the incident alluded to above, but I do recall that some jerk (forget who—doesn’t matter) on “Reader Posts” used “All Lives Matter” as his sig line, and I got into a quarrel with him, lasting several exchanges over the course of many days, at the end of which Rylan, out of kindness, informed me that Bill disapproved of anyone applying the term “racist” to anyone else, and if I know what’s good for me, I will cease and desist.

It was disappointing, but not altogether surprising, to learn last year that Bill felt that my use of the term “racist” was offensive in a categorical and profound way that someone else using “All Lives Matter” as his sig line was not. Rather than fight that battle, I decided that I would at least postpone the battle until such time as I was ready to have Bill eject me from the site. I would (I thought) use up most of my remaining articles-in-progress, and maybe towards the end post some of the more controversial ones, on my way out the door. If I somehow managed to last through the end of August 2021, my six-year anniversary of posting the column, I would have used up my back-stock of articles, and could then leave the site graciously.

That wasn’t the first time I had pushed the envelope-- in the past, I had posted articles that disagreed, sometimes diametrically, with Bill’s stated positions, although I usually put them in the context of the great respect and gratitude towards Bill that I still feel.

One of my regular antagonists on the website, in fact, used to comment routinely on my articles’ slavish admiration for Bill James personally, which admiration I apparently expressed a tad too frequently for this antagonist’s taste: “ass-kisser,” I believe, was one of the terms he used to comment on my habit of praising Bill’s wisdom, especially in threads where I was differing from his views. (BTW, I highly recommend my method of dealing with this particular antagonist: instead of responding to his provocative posts, as many posters do, or putting him on “ignore,”, I just treated his posts as if they didn’t exist, even after he adopted the gambit of suddenly praising my work effusively, as if I wouldn’t see that for the tactic it was. I would thank everyone in the “comments” section by name, and respond to each one individually, except for him. Drove him nuts, depriving him as it did of the thing he sought above all else on BJOL: attention for his idiotic opinions.)  It got him so frustrated that he actually earned himself a temporary suspension from the site, although he’s recently returned in a new improved 2.0 edition.

There have been very few bannings from BJOL, incidentally. In the decade or so I’ve been there, I think only GLKanter actually got himself thrown off the site, though a few (Mr. 2.0, the Riceman) have earned temporary suspensions, and a few others have flamed out (quit in a tantrum) voluntarily. Aside from Mr. Kanter, I seem to be the only one who’s been banned permanently from the site, which is a little weird since up to the day Bill fired me, I was one of the few who Bill was paying to be on the site. But Bill has instructed John Dewan and Rylan Edwards to see to it that, in addition to my paycheck being stopped (even for work I’d done before Bill’s fatwa) and my column being discontinued, I was not to be allowed to continue even as a subscriber, no matter how piteously I begged them for that privilege. From this, I deduce that Bill felt that the term “hypocrite” had struck him in a very sensitive spot. I mean, you can call me a hypocrite all you like, and I’ll fess up cheerfully. I might ask you where you think it applies particularly to me and I’ll try to explain my seeming hypocrisy to you as best I can, but it’s only when there is some overwhelming truth to the charge that I might lose my temper at you for daring to point it out.

It’s actually kind of miraculous that I lasted as long as I did, given how long and how fundamentally I’ve disagreed with Bill on a select number of topics, and how little restrained I feel in addressing those topics. I’ve often written that a primary characteristic of writers is perversity: that is, writers will often draw inspiration from being told “Don’t go there.” Most people’s reaction to getting warned against doing something, especially by authorities, is to comply with the warning, but writers tend to respond on a different plain. Writers take being warned as a sign that something is worth further exploration.

Bill is an excellent example of this perverse tendency: his response to being told in the 1970s, for example, that no one will ever understand how to quantify baseball stats in a meaningful way spurred his entire career. The more he was warned that he was heading down a foolish path, or a destructive path, or a dead-end, the more he was determined to prove the warners wrong. The more insistently you warn a writer against going somewhere, the more fervently writers will head in that direction.

I will soon touch on specifics of the several controversial topics that I did not go into on BJOL, but there were also some practical issues that made me feel the need to dispute Bill. Writing the column was taking a lot of my time, and I’d lost most of my motivation. As you probably don’t know or care, my pay was nominal, or minuscule, or laughable, and certainly was the least part of my motivation for accepting the job in the first place.

Actually, my decision to accept the gig was based almost entirely on my tenured job as a professor, at which I faced the publish-or-perish problem. I wasn’t in any danger of perishing, actually, but the things I wanted to publish, long books taking years to write, were an obstacle to my academic career. Most years, I would be hard at work writing or researching some book, but I often didn’t have anything tangible to show my chair or dean, and BJOL provided a perfect solution:

 In the years I published nothing, which was most years,  I was forced to make my case that I was hard at work writing a book, which I was. And even with a track record of publishing books every few years, it was always an uncomfortable argument to make, especially in the years when I had an unsympathetic chair or dean looking to discourage lazy faculty falsely claiming they were engaged in multi-year projects showing no tangible results. (There are always a few such lazy bums in academe.)  The chief reward for faculty engaged in research is a course reduction: my contract called for teaching four courses per semester, but I always got at least one course reduced for ongoing research, and sometimes two courses, if I could mount a successful argument that I was writing something for publication,

Normally, writing a column for a baseball website would be viewed by a chair or dean as more of a hobby than an area of academic study, but here’s where I was fortunate: I had been hired, ages ago, to teach courses in journalism, and I was able to argue successfully that writing a column on baseball was a sort of journalism. Once I could show them over twenty-five published pieces of journalism each year, I never had to argue for another course reduction, sparing me a lengthy and anxious conversation every spring that could have added an extra course or two to my teaching duties.

This was a fine arrangement, until I retired from academe, which occurred a few years into my gig at BJOL. At that point, the only material benefit I got from the gig was a paycheck, which was, as I say, so minute you could fold it six ways, stick it under your eyelid, and never blink. So I was working, and pretty hard, for the love of the work, which only goes so far.

And I did love writing the BJOL columns, don’t mistake me, please. I’d get all sorts of ideas, spend a few hours, ten or twelve, writing each of them, editing them, revising them, and I’d enjoy seeing them published and discussing them in the “Comments” section of the website. But it so happened, and especially in 2020 and 2021, that I’ve been working on a book, a big novel that actually stands a more than decent chance of publication (and would be a culmination of my life’s work if it were to be published) that the BJOL stuff became mostly a time-consuming hobby, a reason to procrastinate work on this novel.

But at the outset, Bill had advised me to keep a few extra columns in reserve those on hand, for times that I couldn’t devote to BJOL—and I still have them, with no viable venue to publish them in, other than here on Authory. So I plan to publish them, when I’ve finished this short series of articles discussing my experience writing for BJOL, and my abrupt departure from it.

The many positions I disagreed violently with Bill about included Pete Rose’s gambling, Harry Truman’s leadership, Paul Simon’s lyrics, Will Shakespeare’s authorship, Hillary Clinton’s honesty, the validity of expertise, and the validity of copyediting, among many others more closely related to baseball itself. You probably disagree with Bill about some of these yourself; you might not remember all the other contrarian positions Bill took, and I may remind you of some of these arguments in future columns here. In all of them, I believe, he was not only contrarian but dead-wrong, and as Roy Campanella once told Jackie Robinson in some clubhouse dispute, he was not only wrong but LOUD wrong. He would adopt positions that were contrary to the conventional wisdom, an honorable practice among writers and one I  try to honor in theory and in practice, but he would often back them up with an assertive belligerence that really didn’t allow for open discussion. As I keep saying, “his website, his privilege,” but by the end I’d pretty much withdrawn from engaging him in discussion, since they all seemed to end the same way, with Bill asserting that he was sick and tired from hearing from yahoos opining their stupid opinions and the subject was now closed.

The adage about the foolishness of engaging in discussion with anyone who owned the printing press and the ink must be updated to include anyone who owns the electrons and the website, and it took me several years to train myself against engaging Bill in a substantial dialogue on the controversial subjects he provoked—it was a mug’s game, arguing with Bill, especially because he could (and did) edit your “Hey Bill” questions to maximize your idiocy, or refuse to understand the question you were asking, and there wasn’t a damned thing you could say about it.

I’d cut back severely on the questions I submitted to “Hey Bill” for this reason, but I still found the way he dealt with others (even others I disliked personally) on that part of the website to be objectionable. I found the tone he took often abusive, in both senses of the word: needlessly unkind to someone innocently asking a question, perhaps phrased poorly, and abusive of his position as the website’s owner, by which I mean: Bill holds all the power, and with power comes the responsibility to use it judiciously, a word Bill seems not to have understood as I understand it. 

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