Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Baseball Brainwashing Gone Wrong

My son and I love both love baseball, but unfortunately we don't love it in the same way.

And for me that's a cause for real grief.

To understand what I mean, you need to know I am a baseball zealot. And when I had a son, I was determined that he too would share my passion for the greatest of all sports ---whether he liked it or not.

So when he was barely able to walk I jammed a fielder's mitt on his tiny hand; instead of watching cartoons he watched Blue Jay highlight videos and at three-years-old he was using a plastic bat to whack whiffle balls.

I patiently pitched to him hour after hour, and yes, in the process I took a few vicious liners off various parts of my anatomy, but it was worth it:

My son eagerly took to the sport. Indeed, he went on to become a little league all-star.

But for some reason my baseball brainwashing was not a complete success. Yes, he loved the game, but he loved it the wrong way.

The right way to love baseball, of course, is to embrace the game's traditions and myths and legends.

Anyone who has ever seen the baseball movies The Natural or Field of Dreams knows what I am talking about.

Baseball is not about today; it's about yesterday. It's about Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world," or Babe Ruth calling his home run, or George Brett's pine tar bat.

But my son --- now in his early 20s -- cares nothing for the game's history or hallowed traditions. He doesn't care that the Dodgers once played in Brooklyn or that Ted Williams' nickname was the Splendid Splinter.

If anything he is more than ready to dump the game's grand customs in the name of rationality.

He likes the horrendous idea of a "wild card" team making the playoffs. In fact, he wants (horror of horrors) to add more teams to post-season.

He also supports such heresies as interleague play, the designated hitter rule and using video replays to review an umpire's call.

Where, oh where did I go wrong?

The problem is my son understands the game, but not its soul. And this is clearly manifested in his approach to statistics.

To my mind, for a hitter only three stats really matter: batting average, home runs and runs batted in. For a pitcher, it's wins and losses, earned run average and strike outs. That's the way it's been since the days of Abner Doubleday.

But my son talks about statistics you can only understand if you have an advanced degree in physics.

For example, we will be watching a game and I will say something like "John Jones is a great hitter; he has a batting average of .290."

In response my son will roll his eyes and declare, "His 'isolated power' stats are weak, plus his 'super linear weights' and 'wins above replacement' numbers are a joke."

I nod sagely in response, but what I am really thinking is: "Isn't a 'super linear weight' some sort of exercise machine?"

And he talks about other weird-sounding stats such as Batting Runs Above Average, (B.R.A.A.) which is not to be confused with Batting Runs Above Replacement (B.R.A.R.) or Batting Average on Ball In Play (B.A.B.I.P.).

My reaction is always the same: W.H.A.T.?

And he uses phrases like "regression analysis" and "Pythagorean formulas." It's like talking baseball with Mr. Spock.

The sad fact is, for my son baseball isn't a grand romantic narrative, it's a cold, sterile mathematical equation.

And so we love the same sport, but not the same game.

By the way, I named my son Nolan, after Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan who holds the record for most career strike outs.

You would think that would make him happy?

But it doesn’t.

As he recently put it, "Why didn't you name me after a pitcher with a better walks to strike out ratio?


Gordie Canuk said...

I'm with you, I don't even understand slugging % yet...but I love the game, and Field of Dreams is one of the greatest movies ever made...although I thought Burt Lancaster was a bit of a ham.

Go Jays go...

Mike said...

Having coached your son on that winning team I can only confirm one thing, talent truly skips a generation. I often wondered where your son's talent originated from and on one hot August day my question was answered... your father was truly an athlete. Your calling was to be a super fan which was a position you excelled at.Your father I am sure was pleased to see his genes survived.The Coach

Gerry Nicholls said...

Just glad my dad lived long enough to see his genes spring into action. Of course, genes also need a great coach!!