(Edited March 25, 12:05 p.m.: SI link given, minor fixes made; 1:22 p.m.: link to previous sports post given)
Spring having sprung, I’ve been looking for a way to write about baseball again. Thanks to Shashi Tharoor, and the New York Times Letter Editor, I now have an excuse.
Tharoor is a departing UN under-secretary, and he decided to advance his mission of international goodwill by publishing an Op-Ed in the New York Times that essentially calls Americans stupid suburban drones because we don’t enjoy cricket. Here are some salient highlights:
“Ever since the development of baseball, the ubiquitous and simplified version of the sport, Americans have been lost to the more demanding challenges — and pleasures — of cricket. Because baseball is to cricket as simple addition is to calculus — the basic moves may be similar, but the former is easier, quicker, more straightforward than the latter, and requires a much shorter attention span. And so baseball has captured the American imagination in a way that leaves no room for its adult cousin.”
“…nothing about cricket seems suited to the American national character: its rich complexity, the infinite possibilities that could occur with each delivery of the ball, the dozen different ways of getting out, are all patterned for a society of endless forms and varieties, not of a homogenized McWorld.”
“Cricket is better suited to a country like India, where a majority of the population still consults astrologers and believes in the capricious influence of the planets — so they can well appreciate a sport in which, even more than in baseball, an ill-timed cloudburst, a badly prepared pitch, a lost toss of the coin at the start of a match or the sun in the eyes of a fielder can transform the outcome of a game.”
And finally, his even-handed, diplomatic conclusion:
“So here’s the message, America: don’t pay any attention to us, and we won’t pay any to you. If you wonder, over the coming weeks, why your Indian co-worker is stealing distracted glances at his computer screen every few minutes or why the South African in the next cubicle is taking frequent and furtive bathroom breaks during the working day, don’t even try to understand. You probably wouldn’t get it. You may as well learn to accept that there are some things too special for the rest of us to want to waste them on you.”
First of all, even if I accept at face value the claim that a sport that doesn’t feature the split-fingered fastball, the squeeze play, and double play depth is more complex than the one that does, WHO CARES? This cult of complexity drives me crazy–Hold ‘Em is a better poker game than Stud, because more complex; postmodern writing is smarter than New Critical writing, because more difficult, etc. Obviously as an academic I understand the value of complexity as a means to an end, but the valorization of complexity for its own sake is, ironically enough, simplistic. The sort of complexity that requires a match to go on for 30 hours before a winner is chosen does not necessarily serve the goal of a sport, which is to entertain and excite. Why not 130 hours?
Second, there are certain phrases that I usually hate, but which sometimes are the only way to refer to something. “Politically correct” is one example. “America-bashing” is another, and this piece is the poster child for America-bashing. Tharoor does not give any evidence that he knows anything about baseball (hey, Tharoor, NAME FIVE BASEBALL TEAMS), let alone enough to compare its merits with those of his favorite sport. Instead, he just figures that it’s American, ergo stupid; cricket is not American, ergo smart. Does it occur to him that baseball has been popular here for almost 150 years? Were we a “homogenized McWorld” before McDonalds existed?
That’s but an excerpt of my full rant. But when writing to the New York Times, one has to be pithier:
To the Editor:
If, as it seems, Shashi Tharoor’s goal was to make me feel stupid for preferring baseball to cricket, he would have been better served had he not included the following: “Cricket is better suited to a country like India, where a majority of the population still consults astrologers.”
(As some of you may know, this is the second letter I’ve had published in the New York Times. The first one is located here. A comment calling that letter “simplistic in the extreme” and “BS” is here.)
With two published opinions about sports (remember this?), I believe I am officially a sports pundit (does sports have pundits?), and so here’s another opinion. Fire Joe Morgan has already noted Ozzie Guillen’s descent into small-ball madness, but this item from Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview cries out for further mockery:
Forget that only two teams in the majors outscored the White Sox last season. Or that no club was more productive than Chicago with runners in scoring position. … Manager Ozzie Guillen arrived at training camp still peeved over his team’s offensive performance last season. “We were s—, pathetic,” Guillen growled early in spring training. “We hit too many home runs. Our situational hitting was horrible. This year we’re going back to small ball.”
If you spit out your coffee at the sentence “We hit too many home runs,” give yourself ten points! Hitting home runs is the best thing one can ever do offensively. There is no better offensive result to an at-bat than a home run. “We hit too many home runs” can never, ever, make literal sense. Now, I understand what Guillen is trying to say – as when he says “our situational hitting was horrible,” he means that the team didn’t get enough hits with runners in scoring position. However, as the reporter instructs us (probably ironically) to “forget,” the White Sox were the most productive team with RISP last season. In other words, what the hell are you talking about, Ozzie Guillen?
Also, in the same SI issue, the following praise for Royals 3B prospect Alex Gordon:
“He’s a total stud, a five-tool guy,” says one AL West scout. “And he’s a gamer. I saw him last year, and he dived headfirst into first base to try to beat the throw. In Double A ball!”
Well, diving into first, as opposed to just running through the bag, 1) slows you down, making it harder to beat the throw, and 2) exposes you to injury. So what this scout is saying is, “He already has a bad habit, and I want to encourage him in it.” How long will players keep doing this thing that everyone knows is a bad idea? Probably at least as long as they keep getting meaningless compliments for it.