Metro, Column

Knocking It out of the Park: A Sacrilegious Critical Analysis of Baseball

I’ve been living in Boston for long enough now to know that sports are a religion in these parts. The home-field choruses of diehard fans establish sporting events as both a sacred as well as a secular experience. It’s a way of life that has served to mold social norms and create a collective culture that is imbued with the spirit of fandom.

For instance, I’ve come to understand that a sure-fire way to receive verbal and non-verbal signals of disapproval is to wear a Yankees jersey on Red Sox game days in full public view. Far more egregious is the execution of this act while fully cognizant of the history of the rivalry, driven by superstition, as in the case of the Curse of the Bambino, as well as the larger struggle for a foothold in American athletic tradition. Yet, for all the ways that Boston has knit its “title town” narrative into the fabric of the city, there’s still one Boston sports team that has never tickled my interest despite standing as perennial top-performers: the good ol’ Red Sox.

Now perhaps I should begin by defending myself a bit. My aversion to the Red Sox actually has nothing to do with the team itself and everything to do with the sport of baseball. Don’t get me wrong, there is something truly special about sitting in the stands at Fenway Park on a cool summer night and becoming part of the acoustic cacophony that emerges from the crowd—a family in the balcony seating above can be heard singing “Sweet Caroline” prematurely before the 7th inning, while a vendor negotiates the price of a pack of cracker jacks with a gentleman wearing a Red Sox jersey over his work attire. Particularly for people who have grown up in families that have almost religious ties to the Red Sox, carrying on the tradition is a natural process in becoming a true Bostonian.

Here’s the thing though: I grew up in a family that couldn’t care less about baseball, and I’m not a true Bostonian. So you might be wondering what my deal is after all, why I can’t just loosen up and try to find something enjoyable in baseball. I have tried, but after a handful of nights and God knows how many hours spent waiting patiently in cramped seats for something moderately stimulating to happen, I have also given up.

Listen here, I’m not discounting the fact that there are some genuinely gifted athletes that bless the baseball diamond, such as Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Yasiel Puig—notice how the extent of my baseball knowledge prohibits me from revealing much more about these players. At the same time, however, there are other “athletes” that are not so gifted, in that they are clearly on the team for the sole purpose of crushing the baseball into the stands and trotting around the bases at a leisurely pace. To this point, the designated hitter position is a subtle hint that certain players are, on the average, quite one-dimensional in their skillset.

But who am I to judge? My little league debut was also my farewell game after I clumsily hit my shin during an errant swing of the bat and conceded that I would only injure myself more if I were to continue. The fact is that I struck out and didn’t go on to make oodles of money playing in front of packed stadiums.

On top of this confusing mix of athleticism and one-dimensionality, there is the dizzying flurry of different performance statistics painstakingly analyzed by fantasy baseball aficionados and coaches alike. For batters, there’s the GPA (Gross Production Average) and GBFR (Ground ball fly ratio) while a pitcher’s performance is picked apart based on WHIP (Walks and hits per inning pitched).

I get it, baseball is a complicated sport with lots going on, even though it looks like nothing is happening all the time. Perhaps Billy Beane and his moneyball tactic might disagree with me, but a simpler set of performance metrics might actually be to the sport’s advantage and turn baseball critics like me into diehard fans. It just might.

Even with the Red Sox vying for the World Series title in Sunday night’s deciding game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, I can barely name a player on either team. Believe me, I’m aware of this sacrilegious behavior. But in all honesty, I’ll probably just catch a few at-bats on TV and let my roommates handle the emotions for me.

Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor

October 28, 2018