Does anyone actually enjoy sports anymore?
With Twitter, Facebook and message boards, it seems we have more outlets than ever to discuss and learn about sports. Add MLB.tv, NFL Sunday Ticket, ESPN3.com and other technological advances in streaming video, we’re always informed and entertained. So we can bitch. And bitch. And bitch.
And then bitch some more.
Recently, I actually saw someone complaining about the pace of the Reds’ game because the team had scored eight runs in its first two innings. I’m pretty sure this same person would have been complaining had the team not scored runs — it doesn’t matter what happens, there’s always something to complain about.
The Internet — and I say this as someone trained in newspapers, but made what little name I have for myself on the Internet and was once mocked by the old-school newspaper guys as “blog boy” — doesn’t seem to be making anyone happy. Instead, it’s a place where we can forget players’ humanity and rail against those that appear only as pixels on a screen or dollars in a payroll spreadsheet.
Baseball has benefitted, perhaps, as much as any sport by technology. I can watch nearly every game played no matter where I am. Last year I watched the Reds and Cardinals play from a hotel in Amsterdam on my phone. Just last week I watched the A’s and Royals on my Apple TV in my bedroom and then saw Johan Santana’s no-hitter as I rocked my daughter to sleep in her nursery, thanks to an iPad. And that’s just the benefit of watching games.
Meanwhile, baseball knowledge and thinking has been advanced by the likes of not just Bill James, but also the likes of Voros McCracken, Nate Silver, Tom Tango and Dave Studeman. Although some will tell you advanced metrics such as xFIP, WAR, RZR and OPS+ are the devil’s work, they are at the very least, attempts at finding truth in studying actual results over the hyperbole of observation.
And that’s where the microscope of the Internet and its 10-second news cycle is dangerous with baseball. Baseball has 162 games, meaning one game is not particularly important or telling, much less one at-bat or one pitch. I used to say baseball writing was the toughest of covering sports — the 11 games of a college football season meant life or death with each game, and perspective was easy because it’s large. Each game is a little less important in the 16-game schedule of an NFL season, but the result of each game is a little easier to place in the larger narrative of a season. But in baseball, a game — or even a week of games — rarely tells you anything more than a snapshot in time, instead of a real, solid understanding of a player’s potential or value. Yet with Twitter, it’s not just a game that has fans upset, but a single pitch — be it taken by the batter, swung at or hit. The immediate reaction seems to be that of outrage.
In the end, there will always be failure — especially in baseball, a game of failure. I saw it noted in a broadcast recently that Joey Votto leads the majors with a .385 average with runners in scoring position, and then there was a note of disappointment when he didn’t get a hit, even though based on his outstanding average in that situation, he’d still failed to get a hit more often than not. So why the surprise and disappointment when he didn’t get a hit? Votto didn’t get a hit not because he didn’t want to, wasn’t skillful enough or was out to get your fantasy team: He did it because baseball is hard — really, really hard. It’s not because he’s a choker or my new favorite term, “garbage.” Every time a player fails or the team loses, Twitter fills up with more vitriol.
In the end, isn’t following sports supposed to be fun? Isn’t it supposed to add to our enjoyment of life? Can we only be truly fulfilled if our adopted team wins a championship and anything less is failure? If so, there’s much more disappointment in your future than joy, and that’s sad.
CONTACT C. TRENT ROSECRANS:[email protected] , [email protected] or on Twitter @ctrent