Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is incredibly un-fun in 2020 and I miss blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…
My Top 5 Old Guy Sports Hot Takes
I used to write tens of thousands of words per week just for fun when I started the Cru Jones Society. Evidently I had a lot to say. Gratefully, I turned that voluminous output into a useful skill and have made writing a large part of my business. I write for clients on a variety of topics and turn around pieces ranging from 150 words to several thousand words very, very quickly.
When you write a lot, you pull inspiration and ideas from a wide variety of sources. A lot of it is grist for the mill and never manifests in anything that’s really visible to anyone but you. Yet all that detritus remains in your brain with nowhere to go. That’s probably the main reason I started this little Top 5 Fun Friday blog project. I hope you enjoy it, but chances are excellent I’ll probably be writing these things anyway even if you don’t.
So, with that in mind, here are 5 (controversial?) takes I have about sports that otherwise have no place to go. I’m a middle-aged white guy, so of course I have hot takes about sports. I don’t yet have a collection of books about the Civil War, but I assume those arrive when I turn 50. In the meantime, here are some thoughts to chew on.
The National League is better without the Designated Hitter
Let’s start with the most obvious one. Because I mean, duh, right? The DH in the NL is like picturing Johnny Weir dressing like Phil Mickelson. It just doesn’t look right.
I grew up a Cub fan, so my heart will always be with the National League. I love the Cubs. I love the Rockies. I despise the Cardinals and Giants with the power of a thousand burning suns. I can’t gin up much feeling one way or the other for any team in the American League. I like the Indians because of Major League (“Shut up, Dorn.”) and Major League 2 (“My mama always told me it was better to eat shit than not eat at all.”). And I have some fondness for the A’s because my buddy Jason likes them and I dig the movie Moneyball. That’s about the extent of my feelings on teams in the American League excluding the requisite living in flyover country and being generally exhausted by sports media’s fixation on the Yankees and Red Sox.
The DH is an American League thing, which therefore makes it the lesser league. Some of this grows out of purist impulses. 9 players on the field = 9 players who step up to the plate. Not 9 players plus some toadstool who gets sit on his duff during defense and collects a paycheck for hitting 4 or 5 times a game.
But let’s factor in entertainment and time management. In my view, the game is about 25% less interesting with the DH. I like playing along at home and considering how a manager is going to use his bench and his bullpen, especially relative to the later innings when where in the lineup we are impacts decisions even more profoundly. In the AL, this is less complex, articulated beautifully in the movie Little Big League when 12 year-old Billy Heywood assumes control of the Twins. One of his friends says, “It’s the American League. You’ve got the DH. How hard could it be?”
Additionally, every AL game feels like it takes four and a half fucking hours. No efficiency gained via pinch hitters and pitcher swaps between innings, no sir. No, we get to stop everything to change pitchers in the middle of an inning virtually every single time. Yeehaw. I know baseball is run by a man who seems to hate the sport he’s ostensibly in charge of, and I further know he’s trying to speed up the game. But adding the DH to the National League is not the way to do it.
Drafts are anti-capitalist
OK, so I posed this to some older colleagues of mine a couple of years ago and was shot down pretty thoroughly. But I’m not ready to give this one up yet. Think about when you emerged from college, with whatever degree and associated accolades you earned during your time there. Now imagine having virtually no say whatsoever in where you ended up employed. You don’t get to pick the company, you don’t get to pick the city in which you’ll live, you don’t even get to field any competing offers. Seems like a raw deal, doesn’t it?
The counterargument for which I was ill-equipped to refute at the time was that in all likelihood the rich would get richer. First, welcome to capitalism! Second, this assertion has some pretty hard limits on it. Let’s say as of right now the draft is abolished, and when it’s time that teams can sign players out of college, everyone is a free agent, and everyone is fair game.
The Kansas City Chiefs just won the Super Bowl, and with Patrick Mahomes as its QB, seem poised to win more in the coming years. Attractive place to play if you like winning, yes? Probably not if you’re a quarterback. Patrick Mahomes is 25 years old and not likely to go anywhere for a very long time. If you’re, I dunno, Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson, that’s not going to be an ideal spot for you, is it? Perhaps a place with a dumpster fire of a QB like Jacksonville means big $$$$ and opportunity. Perhaps you’d like to apprentice for a couple of seasons under Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers who have more road behind them than in front of them.
The point is that teams AND players can assess their needs, best fits, personality and philosophical matches, and then make decisions based on those factors and external market conditions kind of like when you interview for any job. Gee whiz, it almost sounds like supply and demand in a market not tilted exclusively toward teams. Will this ever happen? Of course not. The NFL makes too much money from the draft, and no one seems to give a shit about the ideal working conditions of its players writ large. But it’s an interesting thought exercise nevertheless.
E-Sports are not real sports
Nothing turns me into a grumpy old, establishment geezer faster than people trying to claim e-sports as real sports. It’s a video game. You’re playing video games. You’re not an athlete. Does becoming good at video games involve lots of skill? Absolutely! Is there lots of practice and sacrifice involved in reaching the highest levels of this pursuit? 100%! Is it fun to watch as a spectator? Personally, no. But if the emerging and seemingly unstoppable popularity of Twitch, which seems to be built almost entirely on this premise, is to be believed, then yes, lots of people seem to think so.
And look, I know the definition of a sport is often completely arbitrary. There’s an argument that anything that’s judged – think figure skating, halfpipe snowboarding, cheerleading or gymnastics – doesn’t qualify as a sport because the outcome ultimately doesn’t rest in the actions of its participants the same way a foot race or a basketball game does. I don’t buy this argument, but it exists. And many new sports are just made the fuck up, anyway. When ESPN did its whole day of “The Ocho” I watched something called Dodge Juggling which, just like it sounds, combined dodgeball and juggling. NBC is getting ready to debut Chase Tag, in which a bunch of parkour nerds chase each other around a course playing a version of playground tag. It has rules and structure, but someone had to conjure those.
During college I spent a metric shit ton of time in our basement both playing video games and watching my roommates play video games. We all did. It was fun. But at no point when I watched one of my roommates puzzle his way through Metroid Prime on Gamecube did I look over at him and think, “What an ATHLETE!” Give elite video gamers their due because they’ve worked hard to rise above everyone else. But an athlete? Give me break. And now get off my lawn!
Steroid users should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame
I used to have an office next to a guy who was big into weightlifting. Every day he’d go to the gym and GET SWOLE. He told me about a guy he used to lift with who took steroids just for the pure vanity of it. This (obviously) led to some problems for the guy, notably when he’d cycle off and have to take Clomid for a couple of weeks to balance out his hormones. If you’ve ever gone through infertility, you know what Clomid does to a woman’s psyche, and it’s not fun.
Anyway, he said the following to me about steroids: “If you’re just an average dipshit looking to gain muscle mass, steroids are idiotic. But if you’re someone in the top 1% of your profession, and even the slightest edge can mean the difference between earning, say, $1 million per year, or $20 million per year, then I get it. Everyone decides their own path.”
In the context of this entry, I agree with this because a) I don’t use professional athletes as my moral compass, and b) We’re talking about Major League Baseball here. Babe Ruth didn’t play against any black people (not his fault, but still relevant to contextualizing his accomplishments). Ty Cobb was one of the worst people probably to ever walk the earth. And in the words of former Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs, with regard to the Hall of Fame, “We’re talking about a hugely self-important institution populated by drunks and bigots and flakes and syphilitic halfwits that regularly goes through a massive, public spasm of pretending it’s a priesthood.”
The Baseball Hall of Fame is no more an arbiter of morality than the SPAM Museum in Austin, MN is a solemn meditation on healthy eating. Let Roger Clemens in. Let Barry Bonds in. Let the rest of ‘em in, and put them in an exhibit that also moralizes about the dangers of using performance enhancing drugs, if you must. A Hall of Fame should provide context and illustration of the game, good, bad, and indifferent. Anything less is misplaced, milquetoast sermonizing and bullshit posturing.
Football is the nerdiest sport
I remember a New Yorker article from 2011 about Jon Gruden that other people likely remember more for indirectly resulting in Ron Jaworski getting fired from Monday Night Football for being a salesy, tone deaf dumbass. Here are two illustrative passages from that piece about the obsession Jon Gruden has with consuming tape of football games:
“Gruden, who is now forty-eight, remained in Tampa, with his wife and three sons. He rented an office in a local strip mall, where he began presiding over irregular gatherings of a group that he calls the Fired Football Coaches Association. (He keeps boxes of F.F.C.A. visors and T-shirts in the bathroom, stacked in the shower stall.) Gruden’s office contains one of the country’s greatest collections of football videotapes, sorted according to a complicated taxonomy of his own devising. He says, ‘You want to talk about two-minute offense? Ball security? Nickel jam? Red-zone touchdown passes? Quarterback fundamentals? Read options? Three-down nickel blitzes? Checkdowns? Wildcats? I got it all down here.’”
“Gruden wakes up early, at three-seventeen (an arbitrary alarm-clock setting that stuck), and on a recent Thursday morning he arrived at the F.F.C.A. at around three-forty-five, pulling his white Mercedes into the empty lot. He wanted to learn everything he could about the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, who were playing in the following Monday’s game. Gruden spent the morning examining “melts,” video compilations that allow him to view every play from just about every angle.”
Coaches are lionized for their sociopathic commitment to their jobs. The Gruden piece is but one of a zillion pieces like it. Here’s one on Nick Saban from 2013 where he laments losing recruiting time because he was busy WINNING THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. Here’s a story about Adam Gase (who, it bears mention, is a shitty football coach) leaving his wife in the hospital after the birth of their son to attend a meeting with Peyton Manning with a curt “You good?” The woman was still laying on the table, and they hadn’t yet put her organs back in. Professional football breeds a level of obsession usually reserved for the likes hardcore Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts, LARPers, and followers of the band Phish.
In many ways, football is perfect for this kind of obsession. It’s a turn-based strategy game. It has 22 players on the field on every single play, all of them with a different, and very specific job, that’s at least a little bit different on every single down. A season lasts somewhere between 10 and 20 games depending on college vs professional, and success in the playoffs, which creates a manageable data set to analyze, especially compared to something like baseball, or even basketball.
And then there are the fans who live to play along with this. Fantasy football is adorably dorky. First of all, it’s called FANTASY football, which means I think every league should have a unicorn or a warlock or an orc or some shit in its logo. My favorite is when a group of dudes get together, cosplay as their favorite players, and then draft their own personal little team to manage through the year. A draft, in this case, makes perfect sense for this purpose. It’s all so charmingly nerdy, and it feels like almost no one recognizes this.
And before anyone gets butthurt that I’m shitting on their fun or trying to put myself above any of this, just stop. I posted three pictures on Facebook of myself as an adult dressed like professional wrestlers. There’s a fourth one that exists, and here it is.
I may not be Super Football Fan #1 over here, but I have my own dorky pursuits, too. That’s why I bristle when angry nerds like Chris Hardwick start in on their “sportsball” horseshit. I know jocks used to run everything and made a pastime out of picking on subculture dweebs, but that died like 25 years ago. Nerd culture won. There is nearly no mainstream anymore, just a collection of subcultures largely co-existing peacefully. Football might be one of the biggest, and possibly its most obsessed.
Football is therefore paradoxically the nerdiest.