Is This Plagiarism? REVEALED
Last week I asked readers to weigh in on a matter of plagiarism.
This was the original sentence, written by Michael Lewis for his book, “Moneyball.” During the 2001-02 off-season, the New York Yankees, the Goliath of Major League Baseball, had signed Jason Giambi, the All-Star first baseman with Oakland A’s, the David of Major League Baseball. Lewis writes:
Goliath, dissatisfied with his size advantage, has bought David’s sling.
And here is the passage of concern by another writer. In his book, Lewis revealed the small-market “moneyball” strategies of A’s GM Billy Beane that had allowed him to compete with big-market teams like the Yankees. When the book was released, the Yankees began using those strategies:
[Lewis’] best-seller stabilized the market inefficiencies Billy Beane had been exploiting. It was as if Lewis had shown David's playbook to Goliath. When the two returned to the field, Goliath had a slingshot of his own.
I said I came across this passage recently in a 10th-anniversary review of the book. That was a lie. I wrote it myself in Sept. 2011 for a post entitled “Moneyball Revisited.”
Back then, a friend had quoted my passage and added in the comments field, “Damn fine sportswriting there.” Earlier this month, someone named Jason agreed. “Damn fine, indeed,” he wrote, then added the Lewis quote above, with page number.
After a beat, I thought: Is he accusing me of plagiarism?
After another beat: Is it plagiarism?
Some part of me didn’t think so. The David-and-Goliath metaphor is the most obvious metaphor when talking money matters in MLB. And if Goliath takes something of David’s? A strategy, for example? A way of waging war? How else do you extend the metaphor?
On the other hand, I had read the book, twice, and while I didn’t remember Lewis’ line above it could have lodged in my unconscious and come out when I was writing about it later.
So I went back to check my copy of the book. I’m an underliner of books. I read with pencil in hand. And in Lewis’ “Moneyball,” yes, I’d underlined a line on pg. 143, but not that one. I'd liked this one: “There was something indecent about hurling abuse at Oakland A’s fielders.” I’d also underlined sentences on pages 142 and 147, but the above line hadn’t impressed me enough to underline it.
But that was me. I knew me. How might others feel? Particularly others who didn’t know me?
That’s why I wrote the post, “Is This Plagiarism?,” without indicating it was my words that might be plagiaristic. I was curious what others thought. Was this plagiarism?
A friend on Facebook: “No. Biblical references, like Shakespeare, are fair game and cannot be ‘exclusive’ to anyone's writing.”
A longtime reader: “I am someone who takes plagiarism seriously and who has sent his share of students to the Dean because of it, but this isn't plagiarism.”
As I suspected.
Then he added, “It’s just lazy and bad writing.”
Win some, lose some.
“It's a metaphor.”
“I know it's a metaphor.”