As someone who spent a decade working in sports talk, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of how the medium works. At its core, the structure is based on finding things to argue about, picking a side, and then telling everybody why the other side of the argument is dumb and/or wrong. Now that I think about it, that’s kind of how every realm of media works nowadays. But at least when we’re discussing say, politics, we’re usually talking about issues that have some kind of impact on our lives or society at large. The struggle that sports conversations have at times is that we tend to grab at straws for things to yell about. The result is that we often find ourselves getting all kinds of worked up about things that frankly just don’t matter. Like at all.
There were a couple of examples of this that popped up recently that I think call for some of us to check the temperature of our jets and cool them significantly. Let me start with the underpants-twisting that occurred as a product of what went down in the Red Sox-Rangers game in Arlington on Thursday.
Mike Minor was the starting pitcher for Texas, and he had a significant personal milestone within reach. Nine strikeouts on the day would give him 200 for the season, and that would be the first time in his eight-year career he would have reached that mark. Seeing as how the Rangers and Red Sox had both been eliminated from playoff contention, the outcome of the game didn’t matter for any other reason other than pride. So Texas manager Chris Woodward allowed Minor to keep pitching until he got that 200th K…except that would prove to be easier said than done.
That was in large part because the Red Sox decided that they were as determined to not allow Minor to reach that milestone as Minor was to make it happen. That was made obvious when in the 8th inning, with Minor sitting one strikeout away from reaching the plateau, three consecutive Boston hitters feebly hacked at the first pitch purely with the intention of putting the ball into play. It was at this point that all pretense of this being a battle between two teams trying to win a baseball game was dropped.
So out came Minor to pitch the ninth, despite having already thrown a now almost unheard of 120 pitches. And that’s when things really got absurd. After a Sandy Leon fly-out to start the inning, Chris Owings popped up a 1-1 pitch into foul territory about 30 feet down the first-base line. As first baseman Ronald Guzman converged on the ball, Minor shouted at him to let it drop, which Guzman alertly did. That ran the count to 1-2, following which Minor got an extremely generous strike three call on a pitch that was clearly high and tight. One can only assume that home plate umpire CB Bucknor had seen enough of these teams trying to out-petty each other. But hey, Minor had his 200th strikeout and everyone could go home happy, right?
But that’s not where the story ends, because of course it isn’t. First, the two managers involved in this farce both took swipes at the other in their postgame comments in an effort to paint the other as the REAL bad guy in this situation. Alex Cora lauded his Red Sox for “playing the game the right way,” which is a weird way of describing a team that literally stopped even attempting to put together good at-bats in a game they were losing in the late innings. Woodward accurately mentioned in his presser that the Red Sox “kind of set the tone” by deciding to “not try to win the game.”
Lo and behold there were members of the media who couldn’t let this affront on the game of baseball stand without putting in their two grumpy cents. The Boston Globe‘s Pete Abraham huff-tweeted about how Minor’s 200 K’s “should have a big asterisk” because of how “unprofessional” his pursuit of that milestone was. I was delighted to see Minor himself respond to that tweet like this:
Why do I love this response so much? Because he’s exactly right. NO ONE SHOULD CARE THAT MUCH ABOUT THIS. If you can’t just be happy for a guy who has endured lost seasons due to injury for reaching a significant individual milestone, honestly, why do you even watch sports? Do you need something to be angry about that bad? The 200K storyline was literally the only significance to that game even being played at all. I say good for Mike Minor.
Yet that episode pales in comparison to the energy I’ve seen people waste getting all crabbed up over champagne celebrations for teams that clinch wild card berths. It seems that in the eyes of many a sports fan, despite these teams working since February towards the goal of putting themselves in a position to make the playoffs, that accomplishment warrants nothing more than a firm handshake.
Seriously, just type “wild card champagne” into the search box on Twitter and observe how many of us are all bent out of shape that baseball players have the nerve to experience joy for a feat that two-thirds of the league only hoped to accomplish. Who are you people? Imagine if I suggested that someone who finally gets that new job they’ve been working toward for months shouldn’t celebrate that achievement because hey, IT’S NOT LIKE YOU’RE THE CEO YET. Do we realize how absurd that sounds? I’ve really had just about enough of this never-ending soul-sucking effort on the part of fans and media alike to attempt to remove any trace of fun from sports. IT’S SPORTS! This is supposed to be fun and entertaining. Why do we insist on making every single thing so businesslike and boring. It never ceases to blow my mind.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. One of the most vomit-inducing aspects of sports is when athletes have fun or showcase their personality only for some wet log to say “But, but what about the integrity of the game?” Fucking spare me with that shit. Sports leagues have been riddled with scandal since the goddamn Black Sox were throwing games in the 1910’s, and yet we treat the Brewers popping bubbly as if they’re some kind of scourge that makes us yearn for the good ol’ days when soulless robots celebrated championships with a quiet “Huzzah” mumbled under their breath.
Don’t get me wrong. The point I want you to take from this is not that there’s NEVER anything to get upset about when it comes to sports. There are plenty of things that I feel strongly about that I think are worthy of anger. For example, I think it’s outrageous that Colin Kaepernick has been shunned from the NFL simply for having the balls to say out loud that maybe something ought to be done about bad cops killing black people with impunity. I think Major League Baseball did a terrible job not allowing the Mets to wear hats that paid tribute to first responders on 9/11. The NHL can’t seem to go more than ten years at a time without a work stoppage under Gary Bettman’s watch. These are things to be justifiably upset about. But when we’re talking about a meaningless September baseball game getting sidetracked for one player’s quest for 200 strikeouts, or a team popping bottles after working their asses off for a playoff spot, count me among those that just don’t see what the problem is.
We’re all so on edge all the time nowadays, and one of the byproducts of that seems to be that we reach for things to be pissed about. I understand that any topic that can be spun into a two-sided debate is the kind of content that keeps people tuned in to sports talk shows and the like. But for Christ’s sake, let’s try to be a little bit more selective about the things we allow to grind our gears. I promise we’ll all be much better off for it in the long run.