Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ballard Calls B.S. on Red Sox Nation and Moneyballers

Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard uses the magazine's latest "Point After" column to call b.s. on the sports world, including Red Sox fans and Moneyballers. Read the piece in context before you form any conclusions.

Ballard's critiques are tough, but fair - and, for me, much appreciated - as they cut through the pretense that so often surrounds the otherwise simple joy - and if you're lucky, shared joys - of watching games being played at their highest levels.

Writes Ballard:
In fact, it's high time to call b.s. on lots of stuff in sports. It's the rare precinct in which we're encouraged to be ourselves, unburdened by the solicitousness and the affectations of polite society. In sports there should be no equivalent of obscure indie rock bands people say they love but never listen to, or Stephen Hawking books that are displayed yet never opened. No, this world is about winning and losing and loving and hating. This is no place for pretense.

So for starters, I call b.s. on Red Sox Nation. You are not a "nation." Your fandom and your suffering is no more or less important than anyone else's. To insinuate so is to insult all of us who passionately follow our teams. No, at best you are a province. Please stop migrating.
I know and like Boston fans who when it comes down to it are just good baseball fans. They enjoy talking about your team as well as their own. They respect the game and its history. They're easy to root for.

But then there are the others - the bandwagon jumpers, the BIRGers and CORFers, the never-lived-in-or-near-Boston-nor-knew-anyone-who-did-but-still-manage-to-live-and-die-by-the-Sox types - who give the "Nation" its numbers and its obnoxious qualities.

So Ballard is tough on Red Sox nation. But fair.

Key line: "Your fandom and your suffering is no more or less important than anyone else's." Fans who realize that fact - and they are out there - show a glimmer of the Red Sox mythology that at one time was actually endearing.

More from Ballard:
Moneyballers, come on down, because I'm calling b.s. Not on the stats revolution (valid) or Billy Beane (ahead of his time) or even the measures themselves (OPS is pretty damn useful). No, I'm talking about the holier-than-thous who profess to prefer a game predicated on driving in runs with walks, never stealing bases and acquiring a fleet of Scott Hattebergs. The ideas may have been enlightening, but we all know that when it's late at night and no one's around, you revel in watching Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval bushwhack his way on base and Rays outfielder Carl Crawford swipe second and third. You know why? Because sports aren't homework; they're entertainment.
After some initial skepticism, I've come to appreciate the value of the stats revolution in baseball. Heath at Dempsey's Army has helped me with that journey as he often provides valuable context to O's fans by playing the numbers game.

However, as Ballard points out, let's not allow slavish devotion to formulas to keep us from enjoying the bushwhacking and swiping of bases. After all, we're still fans, not GMs.

Key line: "Because sports aren't homework; they're entertainment."

In the end, I think that's the primary point underlying Ballard's entire column: sports are entertainment. So allow yourself to be entertained.

-30-

3 comments:

Heath said...

The column by Ballard is fine but he repeats the same old misconception about Moneyball and sabermetrics in general.

The book was NOT about walks and aversion to stealing bases. The book was about exploiting market inefficiencies and how one team in particular survived by doing so. At the time, OBP was an undervalued commodity. It no longer is and now you see teams finding value through defense (see Seattle). There's no one philosophy here.

Meanwhile, he points out Pablo Sandoval who gets onbase at a .387 clip and Carl Crawford who steals bases but at an excellent 82% for his career. There's not a stat guy in the nation who would have a problem with that level of success or enjoy seeing him steal any less.

He also supposes that it's impossible to enjoy baseball from the left and right sides of the brain simultaneously. He is wrong! I'd imagine that Ballard didn't like school much...but it is possible to study something and enjoy it all at the same time.

Just because I worry about how productive Garret Atkins may be doesn't mean I won't be rooting for him hard to hit 25 homers in 2010 and jsut because I wonder if Mike Gonzalez is worth $6 mil a year doesn't mean I'll enjoy watching him rock on the mound any less.

Matthew Taylor said...

Interesting. Thanks for the perspective, Heath. It probably is a bit of a narrow view. And a poor choice of examples with Sandoval and Crawford.

To be fair, though, there are plenty of wannabe Sabermetricians out there who aren't as reasonable about this stuff as you are. The holier-than-though types do exist.

I'm all for stats supplementing the essential baseball experience, not replacing it.

Heath said...

True, the holier-than-thou types do exist. They exist in any enthusiast community (even beer, for Christ's sake) and that's one reason I tend to spend my time blogging and reading other blogs instead of message boards. But if you focus on the vocal obnoxious and stereotypes, you miss the larger picture. I think grounding yourself in numbers and facts every now and then helps alleviate the other ugly side of fandom, the emotional impatience that screams for the Oriole to trade for Adrian Gonzalez..."NOW! Whatever the cost!" You have to think these things through a bit.

But...

"I'm all for stats supplementing the essential baseball experience, not replacing it."

...I totally agree with that statement.