To Talk Inside Baseball, You Have To Be Inside Baseball

Before Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four, he was a major league pitcher. He wrote about “inside baseball” because he had been inside baseball. He had the goods.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tried to do the same thing with criminal defense lawyers. But he was never a major league pitcher.  He’s been ripped to shreds already for some of the ignorance he’s spread, in excruciating detail, so no need to go over that turf again. Rather, he raises the concern about another incredibly important television personality telling the masses “the truth” as if he knew it.

In one sense, O’Donnell isn’t to blame for what he did. He didn’t claim to be a criminal defense lawyer, knowledgeable in the ways we think, act and work.  He is what he purports to be, a talking head on a third-rate cable channel watched by insomniacs and people wearing elaborate hats made of tin foil. But then, these tend to be the types of folks who are most easily misled, most impressionable, as they lack the radar that enables them to distinguish reality from the O’Donnells of the tube.  These are the people seeking confirmation bias, validation of their wildest imaginings, and if some guy on TV says so, then so it must be. Proof that they were right all along!

Let’s get the obvious point out of the way. Does Lawrence O’Donnell have a First Amendment right to take to the airwaves and spew nonsense? Yes. Yes, he does. No question about it, he has the right to express his opinions, no matter how wrong they may be.

But in another sense, the sheer irresponsibility of presenting an outsider’s view as if it contained some insider’s truth is fundamentally wrong.  If O’Donnell wants to tell people that this is what he thinks, fine. Then he’s just another clueless person expressing a clueless opinion. Fair enough.

He does something different here, something false. He tells the story as if he is an insider, entitled to the opinion he expresses. It’s not that he should be imprisoned for his crime against intelligence and honesty, but he deserves to be skewered for his deception.

A recurring argument in the comments here is whether the old adage, every person is entitled to an opinion, holds true. It doesn’t. While they may be allowed to have one, simply because no one can stop them, they aren’t entitled unless there exists a basis for the opinion. One can’t make up facts, or ignore facts, to justify one’s views and then demand the rest of the world respect one’s opinion.

O’Donnell violated this basic concept, but holding himself out as a person with inside baseball knowledge that, well, he just doesn’t possess. Maybe he has a buddy who is, or was, a criminal defense lawyer. Maybe he knows a prosecutor or two who, in O’Donnell’s mind, are close enough to baseball to explain what the other team has in its head. Maybe.

As O’Donnell’s tripe doesn’t comport with what I think, what two PDs think, what any criminal defense lawyer I’ve ever spoken with thinks, I’m calling him on his claim. It’s not that one person didn’t say it, as there can always be a self-loathing outlier somewhere who talks smack about his own kind, but this doesn’t reflect the views of criminal defense lawyers.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a criminal defense lawyer anywhere who would explain that the only reason a defendant doesn’t testify is because he’s guilty. That’s just crazy. I mean, totally batshit nuts. It’s simply not true.

And yet anyone watching O’Donnell will leave the couch thinking they now know the magic secret of the inside world of criminal defense, and carry that stupidity with them as they speak with friends, teach their children and, pathetically, sit on a jury.

It would be one thing for O’Donnell to hold a foolish opinion if it was just something he trotted out at the occasional cocktail party, but when a guy has a television soapbox, with its inherent credibility as an entertainer paid to fill in the voids between commercials, he can do some serious damage.  And no doubt he did.


15 thoughts on “To Talk Inside Baseball, You Have To Be Inside Baseball

  1. C. N. Nevets

    The real problem is that people know enough about baseball to call out posers, but they have no clue about legal stuff and so just gobble it up with the best of intentions.

    1. Marilou Auer

      Sometimes it isn’t even with the best of intentions; I believe it’s often with the intent simply to create hate and discontent. Even when they know better, some people spread misinformation to create a flurry of comments online or a frenzy of activity on the streets. smh

  2. Bruce Coulson

    Is the problem the commentator; or the audience? It is possible to educate ones-self to a limited degree in a field without formal training; at least enough to know how to replace a carburator (yes, I know they don’t exist anymore), hang a door on a garage, or even understand that there are a LOT of reasons why a defendant wouldn’t testify, not the least of which is complete inexperience with being on a witness stand and being cross-examined by an expert.

    But it takes some effort to do so, and the willingness to acknowledge that you’re (hopefully) starting at zero. (Maybe minuses, if you have a lot of pre-conceptions). And a country that discourages critical thinking (“higher-order thinking skills’, to quote the Texas Republican party platform) is unlikely to produce a lot of adults willing to take even the minimal effort required.

    So, the groundwork for O’Donnell’s damage had been laid long before he started talking. He didn’t have to take advantage of the set-up; but if the field didn’t exist, his words would have had much less effect.

    1. SHG Post author

      No, the problem is with the pundit. One can’t control who the audience will be, and an audience receptive to drivel has always existed. It’s the nature of humanity, that some will think critically while some just get a headache from trying.

      The pundit is always responsible for what comes out of his mouth. He gets no pass because his audience is dumb enough to listen to him.

  3. Eric L. Mayer

    There’s nothing more exciting for an audience than when a batter hits a touchdown out of the park.

  4. BobN

    As I watched the O’Donnell piece yesterday, my jaw dropped further and further to the floor. It doesn’t take a lawyer, let alone a defense lawyer, to understand that he was absolutely full of it. Both he and MSNBC should be embarrassed beyond belief but I am sure they are not because it was all just a way of saying Zimmerman had to be Guilty, Guilty, Guilty because he didn’t testify.

  5. R.P.

    Are you defense types sure you want to burn the bridge with O’Donnell and MSNBC? After all, his rants against lawyers are simply a means to the political point he wants to make against the Zimmerman verdict, on behalf of black Americans and other “oppressed” people for whom O’Donnell is the annointed protector. Typically, O’Donnell/MSNBC would be squarely on the side of criminal defendants and sympathetic to their counsel, and I’m sure they will return there (e.g. in upcoming pieces on Snowden, the Boston Bomber, Gitmo detainees, etc. etc.) The concept of criminal defense is a basic tenet of liberalism, except where the defendant is a white male and the victim is a member of a protected category (black, gay, female, etc.). So, do you really want to trash ol’ Lawrence this bad? Where you gonna go – Fox News?! P.S. nice looking blog.

  6. robert wunder

    you are so far out there. such a stupid lack of the most basic understanding that you should be made to repeat your words over and over.

        1. SHG Post author

          Try the “reply” button so your comment nests below his and it makes sense. The way it is now, nobody knows who you’re talking about.

  7. G3Ken762mm

    It is ignorant, insulting and most of all irresponsible for O’Donnell to suggest that an individual’s refusal to testify is even remotely suggestive of a defendants guilt. I find it even worse….I find it a real danger to anyone on trial facing a significant penalty of any sort.

    I was thrilled to hear a close relative, who was selected as a juror in a serious criminal matter, was questioned as to whether they would view a defendant’s refusal to testify as evidence of guilt. I am we’ll-aware of the risks involved, but was pleased to see that potential imbeciles can and are weeded out. The ignorance of the average person can be staggering. As the late George Carlin, ever the cynic stated, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize that half of them are stupider than that”. Sad but true. O’Donnell proves the point and he is held out as one of the smart ones.

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