Guest article by Colby Wilson (@CWilson225 on the Twitters)
Howdy. I’m new here, so you’d probably like my bona fides. So here goes: Bobby Cox is probably the closest thing to an Old Testament deity as has wandered this earth in my lifetime and I pray for his continued good health. I hope this will suffice.
Anyway, I love baseball. While I have acquired loves that I cherish more than I love baseball now (my wife, my son, bourbon), there is nothing (outside of, I guess, my parents?) that I’ve loved longer than baseball. Pretty much all of my earliest memories involve baseball, whether playing it or watching it or talking about it. At some point, my interest in it went beyond politely enjoying watching grown men playing a child’s game. At some point, it started approaching something resembling religion. I don’t advocate behaving this way, but I can’t deny it, and the truth is I’m much more likely to disavow organized religion than I am baseball, regardless of what warts that the game continues to invite upon itself.
I won’t deny that my enjoyment of baseball has gone beyond visceral appeal. At the age of 31, it’s hard—impossible—to approach baseball with the same wide-eyed appreciation of, “Ken Griffey Jr. is cool as hell and I’ll defend him until my dying breath,” like I was able to do 20 years ago. Defending love as it pertains to baseball has acquired layers over the last decade or so, as analytics have given rise to a new breed of fandom and a new way to enjoy baseball, and I have learned to love those parts as vital to my enjoyment of the game itself. I’m the guy who the analytics-only broadcast was designed for. Give me this over the same folksy colloquialism I’ve already heard 100 times.
This seems to have divided fandom into camps, old-school lovers of theatre and new-school academics of numbers. The game now finds itself often caught between two generations: those who love it for what they see and those who love it for the knowledge they can acquire through it.
And it’s just stupid as hell that these two factions seem constantly at war with each other.
Because Twitter is a cesspool, you can find all the worst people hanging around there if you hang around long enough. What it’s much easier to find—and for someone who loves baseball, much more revolting—are the people who look down their noses at folks who enjoy the game for the sake of the game. This is not a way to “well-actually” people into loving baseball in a way that is unnatural for them, either—I was raised to believe in the bunt, to understand it as an allegory for sacrificing oneself for a greater good in the world writ large. I’ve asked to be buried with the Ken Burns Baseball box set; I inherited the history and pageantry from the people who taught me baseball and had to learn the other stuff. Doing so made me appreciate that there’s more than one way to baseball, not just to play it or coach it but to enjoy it as well.
But this cuts both ways. There are people who think it’s dumb for the Rays to employ the opener because the concept of the opener is something inherently dumb to what they know as baseball, so they dismiss it without a second thought. WAR is an abstract idea, when you get down to it. You can’t identify a singular Win Above Replacement. You can understand that it might be the best way to categorize which baseball players are better than others, and that Mike Trout continually rates on the high end of that stat certainly helps that argument. But you can’t watch a baseball play and intuitively explain to those around you, “What Christian Yelich just did is worth 0.07 WAR.”
Many people like their baseball to be tangible. The abstract numbers are not what baseball was printing in newspaper box scores for 100 years; there was no column for Win Probability Added, and people got on just fine. At the end of the day, WAR doesn’t actually win any games. Not to trash Trout (mostly because Rob Manfred bizarrely elects to do that himself) but it’s not like his astronomical WAR has done anything for his team.
And yet it’s also clear that baseball is a better product with these advances, that people knowing more about why teams do what they do fosters accountability and calls into question the bullshit, “Well that’s how we’ve always done it,” arguments. Once upon a time, Billy Hamilton was a leadoff hitter because he was the fast guy; now he’s not, because he can’t get on base. It’s more valuable for a team to put some plodding dude who can work counts and get on base at the top of the lineup than it would be to put Vince Coleman up there in 2019. In 2019, it’s kind of difficult to see what kind of bonus a one-dimensional guy like Vince Coleman would bring to a lineup. Teams can now tinker when things are wrong with a player because there’s data available to help right the ship, and number-crunchers interpreting that data have helped prolong careers, jump-start careers and overall make the product better.
I could do this all day. There are weapons both sides employ in the never-ending argument that appears to be, “Who loves baseball better?” between the old-school fans and new-wave analytics fans. You can chase yourself down rabbit holes for hours and have no resolution in your own head aside from the preconceived notion you likely had before you even started thinking about the subject. Nobody is right. Nobody is wrong. This subject merely exists, and it’s not going away.
And so I close with a very simple plea: live and let live. Let people who like baseball because it’s the game they grew up with and has remained largely unchanged in its base elements for 100 years enjoy baseball their way, and let the people who like baseball because it’s the ultimate thinking man’s game and the rise of analytics have basically served to jailbreak that process enjoy the game their way.
Love what you love the way you love it; leave others out of it, dadgummit. There’s enough crap in this world that requires you to take a side, and baseball just doesn’t have to be one of those things.
Colby Wilson is a guest writer for Knockahoma Nation. He has previously written for Tomahawk Take and Baseball Prospectus, and is a self defined “curmudgeon”. If you enjoyed this article (or hated it) argue with him on the twitters @CWilson225. A special thanks to Colby from Knockahoma Nation for bringing some reason and common sense to us unreasonable knuckleheads.