clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Luhnow clarifies "drunk sailors" comment

At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference yesterday, new Astros g.m. Jeff Luhnow made a comment about the Rangers spending like "drunken sailors" in Latin America, a comment that created a certain amount of coverage in a slow time and resulted in the media eliciting comments from Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan, who basically blew the comments off.

Today, Gerry Fraley, who wrote about the issue yesterday, follows up with a blog post saying that Luhnow has texted the Houston Chronicle with a clarification. The Houston Chronicle piece is here, and includes this specific quote:

Luhnow later said he shouldn’t have used the expression and clarified the statement via a text message, saying the point "was more about the magnitude of their investment prior to future limitations. Not saying it’s a bad strategy but one that many teams can’t afford."

I thought at the time that was the point he was making, didn't really think much of it at the time, and was a little surprised it got the run it did.

That being also sort of epitomizes the still existent tension between ways of looking at baseball, as one word in Fraley's blog post highlights:

Jeff Luhnow, Houston's highbrow rookie general manager, tried to distance himself on Saturday from negative comments about the Texas Rangers.

"Highbrow" seems like a strange adjective to use there, but then, there's a history here.

Luhnow, for those not aware, was at the center of a controversy between "new school" and "old school" types after Walt Jocketty departed as the Cardinals' g.m. after the 2007 season, largely because of conflicts working with Luhnow, who owner Bill DeWitt had brought in in 2003. Luhnow was viewed as one of those nefarious "Moneyball" types who was messing up the game with their computers and spreadsheets, costing a great baseball man and g.m. in Jocketty his job because of a silly owner jumping on the "Moneyball" fad.

The perfect example of that is from this piece from Tracy Ringolsby, another writer who, like Fraley, has been among the most critical of the "Moneyball" influence in the game:

Owner Bill DeWitt said there was a split developing in the front office, which is ironic in light of the fact that DeWitt vigorously denied during the past two years that there were any problems between Jocketty and Jeff Luhnow, the statistical whiz whom DeWitt brought in from the business world four years ago. DeWitt initially put Luhnow in charge of scouting, and last year added the responsibility of running the farm department.

DeWitt said Luhnow, whom he described as a "problem solver," is not a candidate to replace Jocketty, but then, why would he want to be? Luhnow has his own island of existence, free from having to interact with others in the Cardinals front office because he deals directly with DeWitt.

Luhnow's presence will be a hindrance to bringing in a quality general manager. What GM would take responsibility for an organization without having control over the key areas for long-term success -- scouting and player development? In the aftermath of Jocketty's departure, it would seem likely that manager Tony La Russa will walk away, although the Cardinals have offered him a multiyear extension.

I'm not sure if "statistical whiz" is, like "highbrow," intended to be an insult, but it certainly reads that way. Maybe Fraley and Ringolsby can throw in a description of Luhnow as "arugula-eating" as well.

In any case, we've got one of the "bad guys" of the statistical revolution, who didn't just thrive after the 2007 mess, but whose hiring by the Astros as general manager was generally praised around baseball circles, who is speaking at a "Sports Analytics Conference" (whatever the hell that is), which is taking place at MIT, of all places.

Any "real" baseball general manager, I guess, would be at spring training, watching players on the back fields, not worried about any "analytics" other than what their stopwatch would pick up, rather than playing with his 96-function calculator at some nerdfest at MIT ("MIT? Get a rope!").

But thinking about the background and circumstances helps to make sense of why someone of the Blogger Chass set would get so riled up about this.