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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.