Thursday, February 11, 2016

"A Historically Underestimated Secret Weapon"

Through the entire length of the 2015 baseball season, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Zack Greinke was statistically the best pitcher in the National League.  For the last four and especially the last two months of the baseball season, the best pitcher in the National League was the Chicago Cubs’ Jake Arrieta.

The 2015 Cy Young Award for “Best Pitcher in the National League” was awarded to Jake Arrieta.


Because, despite Greinke’s narrow though indisputable edge in season-long statistics, the Cy Young Award voters liked Jake Arrieta better.

“Likability” – he argues today – is the “Secret Weapon” in the ultimate decision-making process.  When things are close, “likability” puts you victoriously over the top.

Supporting evidence?  Try this on your harmonica.

In 2006, while pitching for the Kansas City Royals, Zack Greinke took an indeterminate “Leave of Absence” from the game, Greinke suffering from depression and “Social Anxiety Disorder”, involving, among other symptoms, his feeling inordinately stressed pitching in front of a crowd, a distinct liability, since in professional baseball, a crowd is who you are inevitably required to pitch in front of.

After returning to the game, Greinke remained distinctly uncomfortable during interviews, offering abbreviated and somewhat prickly responses to the writers’ questions.  (Significant Side Note:  It is the “Writers Association” that votes for the Cy Young Award.)

I know nothing personally about Jake Arrieta, except that he is not afflicted with “Social Anxiety Disorder” and that he made a remarkable comeback after pitching with minimal distinction for the Baltimore Orioles.

Zack Greinke deserved the Cy Young Award.  But they liked Jake Arrieta better.

And that’s why he won it.

You may respond in rebuttal that “All voting is subjective”, and I would generally agree with you.  The Writers Guild magazine recently listed the results of the membership’s voting for the “Hundred Greatest Movie Comedies Of
All Time.”  The voters excluded the sophisticated Ninotchka and the magnificently silly The Court Jester. 

Were the voters subjective?  Of course.  (As am I.) 

But they were also mistaken.  (And I’m right.)   

Acknowledging subjectivity as an inextricable element of all voting, I return to – and argue the point of – the equally inextricably…


In the Election Year of 2000, the (conservative majority) Supreme Court handed the presidency of the United States to (conservative) George W. Bush, ordering that the recount be terminated in Florida.  There was a modicum of protest concerning that arguably “stolen election”, but few people, if anyone, took to the streets, demanding justice for Al Gore.


Because – it says here – the voters did not sufficiently like Al Gore.  (Preferring sharing a beer with George W.)

The element of “likability” arose literally in the 2008 Democratic Primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  (By the way, don’t try to convince me – or Hillary for that matter – that a presidential election is not a popularity contest, comparable to electing a Prom King, or today, a unisex Prom King.)

You know what I’m talking about.  (I was going to check it out on YouTube but decided it was too painful to look at.)  Responding to a “personality deficit” question during a Democratic Primary debate, Hillary conceded that her opponent was “very likable”.  To which candidate Obama gracelessly chimed in,

You’re likable enough, Hillary.”

The message being – and the majority knew it – she wasn’t. 

(And may not be today.)

The biggest loser in the “Likability Contest” was, ironically, a political winner, who again arguably – wound up losing worse than anyone in American history.  Get ready to hold your nose and spit angrily on the floor, members of the “Unforgiving Contingency”, ‘cause here it comes:

Richard Nixon.

Forget the name for a moment.  (You can go back to hating him later.)  Consider only the resume, admittedly hardly comprehensive, but whose biography is unilaterally unblemished?

Richard Nixon:

Born dirt poor.

A socially ostracized outsider.

A Quaker, he could have avoided military service in World War II, but he didn’t.

A “Beyond the Establishment” neophyte Congressional candidate, and underdog winner.

Ended the military draft.

Opened diplomatic relations with Communist China.

Initiated détente with the Soviet Union.

Established the Environmental Protection Agency.

Supported “The Clean Air Act” and the “National Safety and Health Administration.”

Implemented the first significant federal Affirmative Action program.

Indisputably, there were the odiferous campaign tactics, the “‘Red baiting’”, the “Southern Strategy” and ultimately, the “Obstruction of Justice” that forced him to resign from the Presidency.  (Did the latter offense swing the ’72 election?  Arguably – for the third time, or maybe the fourth, I’ve lost count – it did not.  The man won one of the greatest landslides of all time.)

Like pitcher Zack Grienke, Nixon was inordinately uncomfortable in crowds, a disability that, like Grienke, he fought fiercely to overcome.  Compassionate observers commonly view triumph over psychological adversity as commendable.

But not if they don’t like you.

In voting, or any similar decision-making, all other things being equal, or relatively close to equal, “likability” is the “Determining Factor.”

I do not believe it should be that important.

The preceding was written by a person who never once won a “Likability Contest".

So there’s that.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I always found it difficult that so many people in Britain repeatedly told me that "Nixon was the best foreign affairs president you ever had". Saying "But he was a crook" didn't get me anywhere; they would simply respond, "They're all crooks."

MAD MEN in season 1 made the point about Nixon's background and the reasons to see him as "one of us" rather than the more favorably born JFK. And yet, as you say: likeability won. I had occasion a few weeks ago to re-skim Joe McGinnis's THE SELLING OF THE PRESIDENT 1968, and it does make clear that Nixon was the first to really figure out how to use TV to turn a pig into an elegant handbag. One of the key figures in that transformation was Roger Ailes, then 27. He is now CEO of Fox News.


Skip said...

Maybe you read it and that's what prompted today's blog post, or at least the baseball segment...Probably in Sept., Sports Illustrated published a terrific article in which the author (I'm guessing it was Verducci) pondered who would win: Kershaw, Greinke or Jake. He took into consideration every possible criteria and concluded - well, to be honest, I'm not positive but I think he picked Jake. I'll admit, I am a Cubs fan, have been most of my life (and I'm just a few years your junior). However, due to familial ties to KC, I'm also a Greinke fan, and the fact that he overcame his anxiety and went on to pitch on the really big stage in LA, and pitch very well, I'm a fan of his too. But not of the Dodgers. Kershaw, he's friggin brilliant right thru the end of the regular season. I probably would have been surprised if he won the CY, but as I recall, he too had great stats. The author of said article, took into consideration what kind of park the nominee pitched in, and that gave a slight edge to Jake I think, what with Wrigley Field being much friendlier to hitters than Chavez Ravine. Jake also had 3 or 4 starts in which he took a no hitter at least into the 7th inning. Then he did throw that no-no vs. the Dodgers, at LA, and I think Zack was pitching for the home team that night. Great game. There were other factors of course, but I won't bore you with them. Incidentally, I was a bit surprised to see Zack sign with AZ instead of staying in LA. Wonder if that speaks to greed, or his disappointment with the Dodgers? In conclusion, none of the criteria mentioned in the article eliminates likeability. It will always be a part of such votes. I'm almost packed for spring training, going in 33 days!

As for Nixon, I imagine he learned a few things during the 1960 election when JFK was the cool guy and Nixon looked like the distracted Dick that he was.