Tone Deaf: Arguing About Baseball

I was a white boy in Jamaica first, and then a Jamaican in Germany. Then I was a Euro in the south.

Even as a nerd in prep school, I was out of place. I flew to Boston with a Colorado Rockies starter jacket for some reason, and very little experience with snow. That jacket, cinched tightly to reveal one eye most days that first winter, was often the object of scorn. Labelled a Jamaican on some paperwork somewhere, I again found myself as a white person at social events full of minorities.

And I was bad at sports. I arrived at Milton Academy a full five-foot-three, 100 pounds. I grew three inches every summer, but left school six-foot-two, hitting a buck fifty soaking wet. My motor cortex thought my limbs were shorter than they were, and so I was uncoordinated and small most years. That resulted in some ridicule, but it also created a problem for me, since I somehow had to satisfy the sports requirement every season. I resisted the wrestling team’s advances to be their super lightweight. Then a couple small bones broke and made me seem brittle. So I turned to other sports. Intramural (hack) skiing. Hack ultimate. Hack squash. I coached the field hockey team. I tried soccer until my ankles begged for mercy.

The only sport I kept trying all four years was baseball.

Baseball had aided me along the way, even if the starter jacket was a bad idea. I traded baseball cards with people all over America when I moved to this country. The sport afforded me easy conversation with my step family at first, with new classmates at countless new schools, and helped me pass the time later as an only child at home alone as my mother made ends meet. I wasn’t going to give up on baseball.

I never suited up for varsity. I got a cup of coffee my junior year and got a hit off a pitcher from my dorm in an intramural game and broke my metatarsal arch on the way to first somehow. That year, in junior varsity, I got ten plate appearances in our ten or so games. I went three for ten with three drag bunts. I spent the rest of my time scoring games and hitting on the equipment manager, a very nice girl who rebuffed every one of my advances. It’s no wonder that Carson Cistulli, also on that team, was unaware of my presence on the team.

Playing the sport was never my thing. But from that first day that I realized that I could argue about the sport with others, I was hooked anyway. Look at all those numbers on the back of the cards. Look at all the numbers that don’t make it on the back of those cards. Look at career arcs. Look at that flash in the pan. Look at that struggling star. Look at that bad idea by the manager. Look what happens when we sacrifice bunt. Let’s look at those things and not worry so much about where I’m from and where my accent comes from and how bad I am at actually playing the sport.

Personally, there were two competing benefits to any argument about baseball while I was growing up. I wanted to belong, and I wanted to outshine my shortcomings. Since both things were true at the same time, I was forced to rein in some of my ‘big brains on Brad’ moments. If the other side wasn’t going to cave — and I ran into this often, even with well-reasoned arguments that I was sure were right — I was confident enough in my intellect (and insecure enough about my belongingness) to find a way to finish the discussion in a decent manner, and maybe try to learn more about their opinion on the subject. I’m sure I browbeat a few people at some point, maybe when I didn’t care so much about their opinion of me, or when I was feeling particularly correct, but for the most part I wanted them to think I was decent, and smart. Not a dick. I mean, I had to go on another weekend trip with those scouts again the next month, you know?

This doesn’t all fit in a perfect analogy to the present day. The arguments I find myself embroiled in these days are with people I can’t see, and in groups that would have a tough time expelling me if they wanted to. I’m not as worried about fitting in any more at 33. There might be fewer reasons to be decent now.

I’m sure that there are plenty of people that are smarter than me, on the other hand. A graduation speaker at that prep school once said something that’s stuck with me to this day. “There’s always going to be someone out there that does something better than you can,” that person said. And the brilliance of the statement is that you don’t necessarily know who the someone is, or what the something is.

If there is a lesson to be learned somewhere in this rambling account, it is that we are actually an online baseball community, and so the lessons of ‘real-life’ etiquette and inclusion should still apply. Reasoned discussion of baseball is something we have in common, and should be a fun enterprise. Beating someone down out of hand can seem like intellectual bullying, analogous to singling someone out for having different threads, or a different accent, or being bad at sports. You may be sure of your viewpoint, but there’s a great chance that the other side has a well-reasoned argument that they believe in.

I believe Mike Trout should have won the American League MVP. I’ve got plenty of reasons to believe so. I don’t necessarily think the reasons on the other side are that legit. But I’m willing to debate it with anyone, and I promise I’ll try not to be rude or snarky. Because I’ve been beaten down by those that were sure of themselves in other arenas, and I remember how that didn’t feel very good.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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King Kaufman
Guest

Interesting piece. I too believe Mike Trout should have won the MVP. I have heard the arguments in favor of Cabrera, I understand them, and I think they’re nonsense. After spending years engaging in similar debates, I’ve come to the conclusion that they don’t benefit me in the least.

It’s one thing to debate someone who disagrees with you and is able to make coherent points. I’m certainly not saying that anyone who disagrees with me about anything is wrong, I am always right, or there is no value or fun in debating.

But I’m significantly older than you are. Maybe it’s because I can see the horizon a little bit and hear the clock ticking, but I don’t care how civil anybody is: I just don’t have time to argue with people who are just plain wrong.

Mike G.
Guest

I would agree. It doesn’t really do any good to name call or simply dismiss someone’s opinion as worthless. You’re not going to open anyone’s mind that way.

I always start by playing devil’s advocate and trying to make the best possible argument I can make for the opposite case and the worst possible argument I can for the case I favor. In Cabrera’s case, I believe that there was a narrow argument in favor of his winning the MVP award. In the end, though, that argument was too narrow for me to justify making the case against Trout. Playing devil’s advocate does two things: it allows me to try and see the other side of the argument, but it also allows gives me a more thoughtful basis on which to refute the other side. I think there is a knee-jerk nature to these sorts of debates where we wind up simply dismissing someone else’s opinion based on our own deeply ingrained beliefs. We might be “right”, but we’re not going to convince anyone by shouting them down. Good post Eno.

McAnderson
Guest
McAnderson

It is just so frustrating when it shouldn’t even be a debate and then 79% go the other direction. It is sad that when we can actually determine who the most valuable player is, when even considering the limitations of the statistics and the margins for error that they posses they still point definitively in one direction, and somehow the overwhelming majority of voters ignore the facts and give the award to the wrong player. I should stay civil, and as a 24 year old maybe civility will come with age, but in this case at this time it is really, really hard.

Steve
Guest
Steve

In reading this, I first thought it was an excerpt from Eno’s new autobiography. I’d buy that.

Justaname
Guest
Justaname

The two biggest teaching points in my son’s kindergarten class were “respect others” and “life’s not fair”. The idea of true meritocracy is a myth, so its better that we all just get along.

DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy
Guest
DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy

Screw them! Delete everyone from your facebook!

Mat
Guest
Mat

I am a German born American. Always played soccer growing up. When I attempted to play baseball (and even basketball) in the States, I was often told to go back to being a “foot fairy”.

Loved the game of baseball, especially scouring the minor leagues to give me an advantage (which it has…I’ve had to step it up with sites like this)

Trout should have ran away with the MVP voting. A lot of pundits simply ignored WAR and voted for Miggy because he was the first Triple Crown winner since Yaz. Miggy is the best power hitter, Trout was the all around best player…that is what the MVP award is all about.

El Vigilante
Guest
El Vigilante

Being named after Brian Eno didn’t lead to immediate acceptance? Boston sounds terrible.

Matt Hunter
Guest

Fantastic piece, Eno. Completely agree. Would love to see more personal stuff like this from other FG writers as well.

Jason
Guest
Jason

“…and I remember how that didn’t feel very good.”

That comment made me laugh. A great line to end the article with. And something we should all remember.

Diamondhacks
Guest
Diamondhacks

I was a white boy in Jamaica first, and then a Jamaican in Germany. Then I was a Euro in the south.

This concise opening establishes your theme as an outsider, but is also a clever metaphor for argumentation and the narrow, self-centered way we often approach and assimilate info.

An engaging, instructive essay.

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