Or: Why NotGraphs is Nerdier than FanGraphs
The idea of the baseball nerd is pretty well ingrained in those who follow the sport: crazy acronyms, unintelligible formulas, and spreadsheets (oh, the spreadsheets!). In that sense, FanGraphs encompasses this entire definition – just read anything by me or the rest of our staff or, in particular, any of our big-time chart-and-graph gurus like Albert Lyu or Dave Allen (NERDS!). The kind of nerditry (similar to punditry) that we see on our parent blog is hardly matched around the internet, at least by this definition.
However, I think solely looking at the analysis blog here and claiming “This is the ultimate in baseball nerd-dom” completely misses the point of what it means to be a nerd. Although the FanGraphs analysis blog (and similar places) embodies perhaps the most mocked part of being a baseball nerd, it misses the true meaning: heart, soul, humor, with, and other characteristics of real-life, actual human beings. Thinking deeply about something and producing well-thought, well-reasoned, and intelligent analysis (whether or not that analysis discusses player performance, the history of the game, or Michael Young slash fanfiction) is what nerds do. It’s not what nerds are; it doesn’t show the human substance that resides within us all.
This past weekend, nearly 20 employees of this fine website descended upon the strip-mall infested wasteland described by maps and road signs as “Arizona.” The nearly immediate synergy between such a large group of people with assumed social ineptness was tangible from the beginning. Perhaps we partially cheated. Some of us knew each other from last year’s event, and some of us hail from the same city, such as Carson and I in Madison, WI and Joe Pawlikowski and Mike Axisa in New York City (although I believe Pawlikowski is in Jersey now, and we all send our condolences). Still, a majority of the connections that resulted from the trip were previously nonexistent outside of a few Twitter clients and a company message board.
However, we all have something in common, and that’s a deep bond with the game of baseball. Our knowledge of the game is similarly deep. That may appear to be a brag, but it’s not. It’s just something that we’ve devoted an insane amount of time to, and as many people acquire hobbies and skills and know them backwards and forwards, we’ve done a similar thing with the game of baseball.
It was a weekend full of laughter and fantastic times. Sure, the events with front office members from Cleveland, Seattle, and Chicago headlined the trip and may have been the “official” reasons we were there. Of course, the events were engaging, thought-provoking, and entertaining, but they merely served as the opening band for the headliner of really getting our nerd on.
Getting our nerd on is seeing 25-year-old AA “prospect” Charlie Blackmon and nearly pissing ourselves. Getting our nerd on is working the phrase “Extra 2%” into conversation at every possible junction (sorry, Jonah). Getting our nerd on is making jokes about career bench players and getting huge laughs from the entire room. Getting our nerd on is a group of 10 people from across the country polishing off a 30-pack of PBR and a 30-pack of Tecate over eight hours of ottoneu fantasy drafting and barely filling out starting lineups, much less finishing the draft. Getting our nerd on is taking pictures of Dayton Moore’s Escalade. And, obviously, getting our nerd on is writing this piece at 6:00 AM Eastern Time (the time zone I’m flying to) entirely for my own enjoyment, with the thoughts and concerns of the reader out of sight and out of mind. Tenuous relationships to actual baseball be damned, this is NotGraphs!
As Carson noted this weekend, even in a large metropolitan era it’s unlikely that “one of us” knows too many colleagues or peers in baseball nerdosity. So, when we meet others with like minds and similar investments in being a baseball nerd, the results can be magical. Magical like an “oh, like Gregor, Henry, and Andres Blanco” joke in reference to a “blanco” dish at a restaurant. Magical like multiple people (not even projection systems!) acknowledging Zelous Wheeler’s existence. Magical like a .gif of Matt Daley’s pre-windup butt wiggle or Aaron Rowand shaking his bat like a certain part of the male anatomy in the batter’s box(anything more than two shakes and you’re just playing with yourself, Aaron). Magical like waving at Dayton Moore as he drives past you in a club car.
None of those things will make any goddamn sense if you don’t have the kind of investment in baseball that we have. Whatever; if you don’t, that doesn’t make you a bad person by any means. In fact, you’ve probably accomplished far more than I while I was busy memorizing the entirety of Cot’s Contracts. But this is where the heart, soul, and humanity of the nerd begins. Naturally, part of it is the pursuit of intellectualism and analysis in sport and the almost inevitable social alienation brought upon us by that process (seriously, try talking about WAR at a sports bar). And we clearly embrace that part of being a nerd and we like to believe that it serves people; that it makes people at least partially as happy as it makes us. But at the same time, this is such a huge part of our lives that it not only manifests itself as analysis but as humor and history and simply as excellent stories free of acronyms and formulae.
And this is where NotGraphs crosses that (somewhat blurred) line between intellectual and truly nerdy. The analysis produced at FanGraphs takes an inner nerd to produce, but what is on the computer screen is not in itself nerdy. Throw 10 jocks in a room and force them to play Dungeons & Dragons and the resulting scene won’t be nerdy. It’s the incredible dedication required to memorize a monster manual and other ridiculous details of the game that create the nerd society of a D&D campaign. That dedication, that memorization and exploration of such minutiae and obscurities is the true essence of nerddom. I hope that, as either fellow nerds or simply one with a curiosity for the most minor of detail, that you continue to join us down our exploration of baseball and our own nerdhood. Such is the true joy of my pouring so much of myself into the sport, and when I’m able to share in this joy with other people, it becomes even sweeter (I mean, seriously, I got a picture of Ned Yost’s parking spot in Surpise, Arizona with another person?! Really?!).
Hopefully, we here at NotGraphs can share even a fraction of the joy we shared with each other through our nerdition over this past weekend. Come, let’s embrace the nerd within, together.