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An Appeal to John Hodgman, On Sport and Nerdom

Posted By Carson Cistulli On January 19, 2011 @ 2:16 pm In Open Letter | 14 Comments

Mr. John Hodgman,

I hope this letter finds you enjoying life, preferably in some manner of overstuffed chair, drinking one of the more expensive fermented beverages available legally (or not so much) in this country.

Even if this is not the case, it’s how I plan on imagining you for the duration of this electronic message.

You don’t know me, sir, but — with the exception of some enormous differences in fame and riches and access to world leaders — we have a great deal in common. For one, we’re both native sons of New England. While I, for my part, am from the mostly unkempt part known as New Hampshire, I at least had the decency to attend boarding school as soon as I’d realized the setbacks my youth had leveled against me.

Additionally, we both have a strong affinity for Western Massachusetts, where I pursued my graduate studies and where you, the internet tells me, currently reside.

Finally — and most relevant to this dispatch, sir — we are both nerds.

It’s this last point that I’ll care to address here.

You were, as you’re almost definitely aware, sir, the featured speaker at the 2009 Radio and TV Correspondents’ Dinner. This event, which has featured other important comics of our time, presented you with the opportunity to make certain claims about — and, sometimes, talk directly to — the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

It was during this event that you submitted an important thesis — namely that Barack Obama, noted in so many ways for being a picture of cool, is, in fact, the “First Nerd President of the modern era.” You cited Obama’s childhood interest in comic books, his facilty with Star Trek references, his use of phones, smart and otherwise.

But you, by your own admission, were (and perhaps still are) nervous, too — “more than usual,” as you note. You were nervous because, as you say, “The president is known to dabble in sports…” This was, in the parlance of no one I personally know, a “dealbreaker.”

Nor does this represent the first time you’ve chosen to marginalize the relevance of sport to the nerd. For it’s in your very important book The Areas of My Expertise that you provide “A Note on Sports,” as follows:

Please note that there are only two references to sports in this book. They are on pages 71 and 95, and both are appropriately dismissive. If you wish for sports information, might I kindly refer you to every other aspect of our culture?

Allow me to state posthaste that I understand how one — and how you, in particular — might’ve made these decisions about the separation of sport and nerd. I’m sure that, for someone like you, with such a round face and weak chin, growing up among the very healthy boys and girls of Brookline, Massachusetts — children who attend schools like Fenn and Fessenden and other schools with other F-names — I’m sure it seemed as though sport offered nothing for someone like you. That’s fine.

However, allow me to lobby on behalf of a Type that seems to’ve eluded — and certainly problematizes — your taxonomy: the baseball nerd.

If this text has made its way to the screen either of your stylish laptop or impossibly modern smart phone, then you’re almost definitely reading it at a site called FanGraphs. This, I can tell you, is more or less the clearinghouse for sporting nerdom on the internet. Do take a moment to look around. When you do, here are some things you’ll definitely find: frequent use of the words “sample size,” entire articles written only with acronyms, conversations about microeconimcs, and something called a “heat map” (I, myself, have really no idea what this is).

These, you’ll have to admit, are not the calling cards of jockdom. And yet, these are all tools we at FanGraphs use to the end of better understanding baseball.

And herein lies the plight of the baseball nerd, Mr. Hodgman: too sporty for those, like you, who consider sport entirely outside the province of the nerd, and, yet, too nerdy for that group you’ve denoted as jocks. Like nerds, though, we are question-askers, we speak only in terms of probabilities (as opposed to certainties), we wring our hands constantly and for no particular reason.

However, I’m concerned that, so long as you — a nerd of some repute — so long as you continue to neglect entirely the potential for sport to offer nerdly pleasures, that we baseball nerds will remain on the fringes of nerdom.

Your blessing is of some consequence, is what I mean to say.

If none of this has convinced you yet — if you still think we might be exceedingly sporty for your tastes — please allow me to draw your attention to the photo I’ve embedded just slightly above these words. You might look at that photo and think to yourself, “Surely, this is some sort of professional World-of-Warcraft competitor or Bell Labs researcher or some equally nerdly endeavorer.” Surprisingly, you’re right on zero accounts. Rather, that is Dave Cameron, editor of this site and, more or less, king of baseballing nerds. Look at him, Mr. Hodgman: the awkwardly large collar, the asymmetrical face, that hair. And this is the photo that Mr. Cameron has voluntary appended to his Twitter account.

This is what we’re up against, Mr. Hodgman. Please, let us in.

Sincerely,
Carson Cistulli
Baseball Nerd


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