Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What was I writing about again? Big data? Sabermetrics? Irony?

I've been trying to listen to the Reds games at work since they began, but I'm finding them tough to follow. I usually have three or four Word docs open, an Excel sheet, Outlook, Photoshop, and ten to fifteen browser tabs. My attention span is shot. I can barely listen to Marty call a strike before my mind wanders to something else. I tune back in and realize I've missed whole innings.

I have always been prone to a meandering mind, even before the internet went public and invaded our lives. I'm probably the last person who should be working in social media, but that's what I'm doing for a living these days. I started this blog before Facebook was invented; as more and more social media conquered the web, it became difficult to focus on one page long enough to write an entire post. Then the plebes joined the net and civility took a nosedive. Seriously. The truth is that it took awhile for the masses to realize there was more to the internet than email and when enough people realized how cool it was, things took a turn for the worst.

Of course that would be considered elitist by some. But it used to be you could have discussions - real discussions - on things called "forums." You had to put in a lot of effort to converse with people and build communities, and this required writing at length and reading what other people wrote, no matter how long. Next people started their own blogs where they actually wrote well-constructed (and not so well-constructed) posts about the various aspects of life and actively read the blogs of others. You wrote a one or two page document. Now everything is in 140 characters, video clips, memes, or tl;dr. Good writing got lost in the gaggle of it all. So did our minds! There is too much out there! Now our attention spans - not just mine, but enough people for tl;dr to become a thing. Now we're left with a bunch of SCREAMERS WHO HAVE AN OPINION BUT CAN'T BE BOTHERED TO READ SOMETHING LONG ENOUGH TO INFORM THEMSELVES!!!!111!!!1

Easier access without any need to put any thought into anything you posted on the web resulted in civility's free fall. Mean-spirited demons armed with no tact or analytical capacity made comment monitoring a necessity. In baseball, these loud teeth gnashers are often the same people who still think a pitcher's win total matters. What's happening today is that one segment of our society is getting more scientific in its discourse while another segment, one that doesn't have the interest or capability to understand advanced data, continues to cling to guns and religion RBI and ERA.

I work for a political research firm these days. They're numbers people. It has given me the opportunity to revisit an idea I had a few years ago - the idea that sabermetrics changed my life. Sounds stupid, doesn't it? Well, I grew up reading the backs of baseball cards, and in the eighties, batting average and wins mattered. I should add that I grew up in Ohio, near Dayton, not exactly a thriving metropolis, not exactly a hotbed for academic research and analysis. We built automobiles and cash registers and notebook paper. We didn't crunch numbers unless they involved dollars. Nothing wrong with that, just saying I wasn't exposed to the idea that there were intellectual endeavors beyond getting good grades. I didn't even know what I was going to do when I went to college. I just went because it's what I was supposed to do. I graduated before I had ever heard the term sabermetrics.

But then the internet taught me it made more sense that higher on base percentages were more valuable to offense and that pitchers could have great years on shitty teams and only win twelve games. I looked around at all I knew - not only in baseball but in life - and realized that what I knew I only knew because that's what I had been taught. That didn't mean it was true or correct; it's just how things were. I started learning after college. I sought friends from whom I could learn. I bought books I would have never read. I started reading about other cultures and religions and histories to which I had never been exposed (and why had I NOT been?) All because of BABIP, WAR, OPS, and ERA+.

My work with social media forces me to be exposed to uninformed opinions on all kinds of issues. It's maddening at times and shocking that so many people are oblivious to reality. I mean REALITY, like the sky-is-blue kind of reality which so many people seem to deny. I wish more people would realize that they know what they think they know because that's all they've been exposed to. It could be wrong. There's more to life, more to reality. I mean, SERIOUSLY, people, ADAM DUNN WOULD HAVE BEEN A HALL OF FAMER HAD HE PLAYED ON BETTER REDS TEAMS!!!!!!!!!!!!111!!1!11

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thinking Outside the WBC Batter's Box

It's that time again. Spring Training, you say? No, time for people to hate the World Baseball Classic.

Soccer. Celsius. Coke made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Passports. Stubbornly dumb is what we are sometimes, opting out of global harmony because we know nothing of history and think we are somehow unique in the world. We're so unique that no one knows how many measuring units are in a bigger measuring unit because we refuse to adopt a rational system based on tens.

Our isolationist past has stuck with us despite our invention of the airplane and the internet, our military conquests, and the Made in China stamp on half the stuff we buy. This isolationism has had negative consequences on something so inherently a part of America as apple pie itself: baseball.

The hatred for the World Baseball Classic is virulent for some and ambivalent for others. But it's not a popular tournament. We should be rejoicing that we have the opportunity to share the game we love with people across the world, but people across the world are second class human beings to a lot of Americans. We're a country in which less than a quarter of citizens hold a passport, a country that always needs a foreign enemy, a country with virtually zero exposure to things outside our borders. It's no wonder something like baseball, a game that is woven into the fabric of our being, isn't doing so well on the international level. Heck, it's not even an Olympic sport anymore.

Every WBC it’s the same thing. Pitchers might get hurt.  The argument is tiresome. There is little more than anecdotal evidence that pitching in the WBC wears out the arm. The pitchers who happened to get hurt in the same year may have been hurt no matter what – there’s no way of knowing. Pointing to pitchers like Edinson Volquez getting hurt in the same year as “evidence” is like pointing to snow and using it as “evidence” that global warming is some global conspiracy to…whatever the conspiracy nutjobs think is the reason scientists study climate change. Even though I don't think Dusty Baker is responsible for Volquez's arm troubles, at least that's a more plausible theory than the World Baseball Classic hurts pitchers. What about the overwhelming number of pitchers who DON'T get hurt during the Classic? And what of those who get hurt during Spring Training? Ryan Madson didn’t pitch in the WBC and we paid him a lot of money to not throw one pitch all season.

I think what this perpetual argument is really about is the unconscious hatred for all things international that far too many Americans hold, as well as the American tendency to find controversy in everything. I also hold sports journalists responsible. Isn't there anything else to write about rather than drudging up the same old made up controversies?

What we really should be discussing is the length of the regular season and how pitching has evolved faster than the human body has been able to adapt. We can’t strengthen and condition tendons and ligaments like we can muscles. Pitchers start to throw in February and some don’t stop until November. We should be talking about the need for 150 game season, which would eliminate 2-3 starts for a team’s top starters. The problem is that the Yankees, Red Sox, and teams of that ilk won’t study the long-term costs of playing those six home games that would be eliminated in a shorter season. When you’re dishing out $15 million a year to one of your top pitchers and suddenly he can’t pitch any more, that adds up, especially if you gave him a long-term contract and he never fully recovers.

Promoting the sport internationally is brilliant for baseball. It creates baseball breeding grounds and gives us a greater potential to expand the quality of players that are available. Remember after the Rockies and Marlins were added how it was said that pitching was watered down because there simply weren’t enough good arms to go to every team? (That was near the beginning of the expansion of scouting in the Latin countries, back when baseball academies weren’t a regular part of a team’s scouting.) I always thought that was a strange idea, that there were so many people in the world but the next Babe Ruth would never fulfill his potential because he was born in India or China or Nowhereistan. Pouring money and attention into the World Baseball Classic gives us a greater opportunity to find Babu Ruth.

I wish we could all be excited about it. I know I am.

(If this sounds familiar, part of this post was a comment I made on another blog.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


It’s cold today. I mean that kind of damp cold that takes a while to shake from your bones. We’re past the midway point in February; we’re in that part of winter that drags on and on and your patience has already run out but there is nothing you can do about it. It’s maddening. I just want to crawl under the covers and wake up when it’s spring.

At least there’s Spring Training, though most of it is conducted in winter. In three days we’ll be able to hear the Reds on the radio again. These are the first signs of life, the first indication that our cold, cold world is about to wake up and give us all the warmth and light that spring and summer bring.

Baseball has gotten a little less fun over the years for me, possibly due to the internet, whose infinity of know-it-alls and mouthbreathers has ruined a lot of the enthusiasm I used to have at this time of year. Writing about baseball every day got to be too hard under the weight of all those egotistical statheads who know nothing about joy because it can’t be calculated. Those of us who preach the poetry or magic of baseball are derided as out-of-touch or ridiculous because our society has discarded the craft of language and the art of reading, replacing them with 30 second soundbites and 140 character phrases.

The other day I saw a comment on Facebook from a guy who is a frothing ideologue. A friend had posted a long article from the New Yorker on victims of gun violence. The comment said the article was too long to read, but the guy went ahead and gave his opinion anyway, oblivious to the fact that he had just said he didn’t have the patience to be informed. It perfectly summed up the age of the internet. ADD. ICYMI, those of us who write long-form prose are SOL.

Baseball is a game of which nostalgia is an essential part. The trend is to view the concept of nostalgia as something only backwards people ascribe to, people who are unwilling to embrace that we have moved into a new era where the latest technological advances are worshiped as if we’ve reached the end of history. But all eras end, bringing about the beginning of new eras. That doesn’t mean we have to discard everything from the past. Part of what makes baseball different from other sports is that it is intertwined with American history. Take away the history and you have just a game with bats and balls and overpaid prima donnas who think they are entitled to the world.

I’m an amateur dabbler in metaphysical psychology. I don’t know if that’s even a real term, but that sums it up pretty well. Comparative religion is far too restrictive a term, for the realm of the spirit is not confined to deities and scriptures. Metaphysical psychology concerns the energy of the universe, our collective unconscious, the communion of souls. Nostalgia is a spiritual experience. It’s only when our consciences get in the way that nostalgia becomes something like poison, when we begin to speak about the “good old days” or cling to outdated notions of life and society. That’s when nostalgia becomes dangerous; it becomes a weapon for the powerful to prey on the weak. But feeling nostalgia for a game, letting ourselves succumb to the memories of childhood, letting ourselves feel connected to ancestors we never met, letting ourselves embrace a history of a team and a city…that is healthy. It is a part of our identities. And I’m not going to apologize for it.

With that, I announce the intention to start writing for this blog again. I think I may have announced this in previous years, but this year, the circumstances of my life are different, and I think I have the motivation and the time to do it. So go Reds!