Don't get caught up in this bias and that bias

While Fenway Park is a far better ballpark than Yankee Stadium, if you don't agree don't get hysterical about it.

Originally Published: July 29, 2003
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

*WARNING* Today's column is aimed only at those baseball fans who repeatedly display a gross lack of imagination. All others may skip today's column, but please come back tomorrow for the customary baseball "analysis."

I recently wrote a column contrasting Fenway Park with Yankee Stadium, and I concluded that Fenway Park is one of the two greatest ballparks in the world and Yankee Stadium isn't.

Predictably, the responses to that column included a great number of messages from wild-eyed Yankees fans accusing me of bias against their beloved Bombers.

Fenway Park
Fenway Park has a terrific fan-friendly atmosphere, unlike Yankee Stadium.

Maybe. But it seems to me that if you're going to accuse somebody of bias, the burden of proof rests with you rather than me. And that's a burden of proof that you're going to have problems meeting.

You can think that I'm biased against the Yankees, and for the Red Sox ... but then, how do you explain the fact that I've argued -- or rather, I've agreed with Bill James's argument -- that Roy White was just as good as Jim Rice?

    Your piece about how much better Fenway Park is than Yankee Stadium truly exposes you for the moron that you are. However it is no surprise to see the (self proclaimed) worldwide leader in sports put down the Yankees while throwing all of its praise at Boston.

You can think I'm biased against the Yankees because I've argued that Derek Jeter is a poor defensive shortstop ... but then, how do you explain the fact that I was saying, for at least a year before it was fashionable, that Jorge Posada (and not Jason Varitek) was the second-best catcher in the American League (after Pudge Rodriguez).

    Your bias when reporting about seeing a game at Fenway Park versus Yankee Stadium is so evident that it makes me nauseous. I live in Maine (Red Sox territory) and have been to Fenway numerous times. It is the most uncomfortable stadium in the universe. Not only from a sitting standpoint, but having to deal with the lunatic fringe that attend the games. I have had the pleasure of visiting several other ballparks, including Yankee Stadium and every one of them puts Fenway to shame. Didn't you write a book about Fenway? You reek of bias.

You can think I'm biased against the Yankees because I've questioned the Hall of Fame credentials of both Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly ... but then, how do you explain the fact that I've argued that Goose Gossage and Billy Martin do belong in the Hall of Fame? And that maybe Graig Nettles and Ron Guidry do, too?

    How in the world can you say that Fenway is better than Yankee Stadium? I have been to both and there is no comparison. I got chills when I first walked into Yankee Stadium. I thought I was in heaven! Fenway was nice, but it wasn't Yankee Stadium. Three of my friends are diehard Dodgers fans and they said Yankee Stadium was baseball heaven when they first walked into it. Why don't you just say that you dislike the Yankees and this is your way of getting back at them? I was actually embarrassed for you. Are you sure you went to Yankee Stadium? You know, the Stadium with all that history. The Stadium which bleeds the ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and all those wonderful moments that just make you say "WOW"! Fenway, better? I think you had one beer to many Rob!

You can think I'm biased against the Yankees, because I was less than impressed by the 2000 team that did win the World Series, but won only 87 games during the regular season ... but then, how do you explain the fact that when I wrote (with Eddie Epstein) a book on baseball's greatest dynasties, five of the 15 dynasties considered were Yankee dynasties? And when Eddie and I ranked those 15 dynasties, one of those five Yankees squads came out on top?

You see, this is what's called evidence. Not evidence that I like the Yankees (I don't), but evidence that I generally don't let my subjective feelings about the Yankees get in the way of my supposed-to-be-objective evaluations of the Yankees.

Who cares?

You can think I'm biased against the Yankees because I've argued that Derek Jeter is a poor defensive shortstop ... but then, how do you explain the fact that I was saying, for at least a year before it was fashionable, that Jorge Posada (and not Jason Varitek) was the second-best catcher in the American League (after Pudge Rodriguez).

I'm glad you asked, because all of this actually does have some usefulness, above and beyond making me feel better about myself. The knee-jerk assumption of bias is one of the biggest barriers between a baseball fan and a deeper understanding of the game. When I write that Derek Jeter isn't a good fielder, you can do one of three (or more) things. You can 1) assume that Neyer's biased, and dismiss his argument (and maybe send him a profanity-laced e-mail message), or 2) assume that Neyer's right, because Jiminy Christmas he's always right, or 3) assume nothing, and try to figure out what might be right or wrong with his analysis.

I recommend the last of those options.

Is there bias in the media? Sure there is. Everybody's got their biases, and I'm no exception. When somebody actually tells you they're not biased -- yes, I'm thinking of a particular TV network -- that usually means they're particularly biased. But it's one thing to be biased, and another to let that bias dictate what you write.

In sports media, bias shows up when it comes to which teams get covered (Yankees, Red Sox) and which teams don't (Royals, Twins), but of course the networks and magazines have more viewers and readers in New York and Boston than in Kansas City and the Twin Cities. Bias also shows up when, for example, a columnist writes about a player, manager, or executive against whom he harbors a personal grudge.

These things are all regrettable, but if you're careful you can tell when it's happening.

Me? I've been accused of being biased against the Yankees and the Red Sox, and I've also been accused of being biased against everybody but the Yankees and the Red Sox (i.e. the dreaded "East Coast Bias"). When I write anything remotely negative about the Royals (my favorite team for nearly 30 years), I'm accused of bias against small-market teams. Fans in Cleveland and Atlanta, for some reason, are particularly quick to accuse me of being biased against their favorite teams. When I had the temerity to suggest, a couple of years ago, that just maybe David Bell shouldn't be starting an All-Star Game, the good fans of Seattle told me that I'd know better if only I didn't live in New York (at the time, I'd been living in Seattle for five years).

But this column's not about me. It's about you. The next time you disagree with something you read, fight your impulse to assume that of course the writer must be letting his biases get the better of him. Instead, at least consider the possibility that instead the writer is simply expressing an honestly-held opinion.

Consider, too, the possibility that he's not only biased, but that his bias is what's behind his opinion. But consider that possibility last, instead of first. And more often than not, you won't even need to bother.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.

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