Tag Archives: sportswriters

The bluntness barrier: watching language in the news

Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez

I was reading an average baseball article from the Miami Herald today–about how Hanley Ramirez thinks his pitcher should’ve plunked the other guy after he got plunked himself–when the article took a little turn to the left, a small unexpected dog leg through the brambles. I’ll quote part of it below. Keep in mind that I’m focusing not on the content of the debate, but on the writerly discourse going on (the italics are mine):

”Everybody knows it,” Ramirez said in a calm voice while dressing in front of his locker after the game. “I think Fredi knows it. J.J. knows it. He was throwing strikes.”

Ramirez, speaking in Spanish, was more blunt with a South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter, saying the Marlins had an ”obligation” to retaliate.

”You know, incredible,” the newspaper quoted Ramirez as saying. “There’s going to come a point where I’m not going to feel protected. I’m going to be scared to hit a home run because I know I’m going to get hit.”

Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald does the right thing, acknowledges his lack of Spanish

Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald does the right thing, acknowledges his lack of Spanish

There’s a lot of layers to this little happening. First we have a player talking to a reporter in English, providing a pretty basic run-down of a pretty emotionally charged event. I don’t know what Hanley’s language proficiency is, nor do I particularly care. In fact, I didn’t think twice about the nature of the conversation, as a newspaper account can strip any conversation clean of character and style. So it’s hard to say what the nature of the discourse is, but point is it was pretty low key.

We start to see a little frustration from the reporter–Clark Spencer–who makes a bold decision: he lifts the journalistic curtain and reveals what must be a common problem/circumstance in today’s pro baseball media. Spencer turns the attention away from the content of the story towards the nature in which the content was delivered to representatives of the media. Ramirez, speaking in Spanish, was more blunt with a South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter. That’s got to sting a little, to not only know but to report that there’s a guy standing right next to you getting the really good quotations because he speaks Spanish. But rather than treat Hanley’s words as those he gathered himself–he was probably standing right there after all–Spencer does the admirable thing, indirectly admitting that he doesn’t know Spanish, and giving the nod to the publication that does by citing their particular quotation.

Not only is there the language barrier, then. There’s the emotion barrier, and Spencer admits this too, acknowledging that Hanley was “more blunt” when conversing in Spanish. This is probably not the most acute choice of words on Spencer’s part, as Hanley is probably better able to express complex thoughts in Spanish if that’s his native tongue, rather than being more or less blunt in one language over another. But for Spencer to cite that increased intimacy between Hanley and the Spanish-speaking reporter struck me as a tender moment–a peaceful eddy of humanity in the raging rivers of up-to-the-minute sporting news.

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bigPumaLinks: The good king Kaufman edition

bigPumaLinks

bigPumaLinks

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Reading into the micro-narrative: The hot stove league then and trade rumors now

ru-mor

-noun
1. a story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts.
2. gossip; hearsay.
3. Archaic. a continuous, confused noise; clamor; din.
-verb
4. to circulate, report, or assert by a rumor.

Lee Allen, HOF historian

Lee Allen, HOF historian

According to baseball historian Lee Allen in The Hot Stove League, “No one knows when baseball followers first began to gather in winter around the hot stove of a barber shop or country store.” Also, “the phrase, ‘hot stove league,’ is of uncertain origin.” The 1955 doesn’t linger long on the etymological details. Instead he revels in the odd stories of baseball, and wacky player names of which my favorite is Wedo Southern Martini. Allen, however, does spend a few sentences to describe the nature of the hot stove leagues around mid-century: “If winter, for the baseball fan, is a time to look ahead and visualize successes for his favorite team, it is also a time to look back at the bittersweet patch, to review the triumphs and the heartbreak of the past,” what he calls “a lull in the action that permits the fan to take pause and consider what he has seen and read about.” The writer sounds like a peaceful guy who likes a nice quiet time pondering people like Wedo Martini, and as a historian for the Hall of Fame he found the right occupation.

Vinegar Bend Mizell

Vinegar Bend Mizell

In reading one account of the hot stove league from another era, I think it bears considering what today’s winter reverie is like. Allen’s view of what is currently this time of year is a pensive one, full of not just future-hopin’, but past ponderin’ too. It is a literary time when fans would not only argue vigorously over the politico-strategic details of next year’s team, but also share the calm moments talking about old times, conjure their best yarn. The hot stove as the gathering place could not be a more bucolic, romantic symbol. It is warming, soothing. Outside it’s cold as nuts, but around the piping stove it’s possible to imagine that summer ever existed and will exist again. Shivering at a train stop, for example, doesn’t spur the desire to ramble on about HOF second basemen William Jennings Bryan Herman or Vinegar Bend Mizell.

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Knowledge-able in an infinite world: the navigation of the decentralization of baseball stats

//tinyurl.com/7ngt7u

The Baseball Encyclopedia, 1969. fr http://tinyurl.com/7ngt7u

The Baseball Encyclopedia, published first in 1969, blew peoples’ minds. The baseball public had never before seen every baseball stat gathered in one place with such authority and finality. Players from the old days that had been entirely forgotten were suddenly right there, on paper, in this impressive fat book that staked an unprecedented claim to truth and accuracy. Statistical books around for a while by that point, but they were limited to recent seasons and oriented around trivia and barroom argument-settling. Scraping up the name, age and number of every Johnny to put on a uniform seemed as reasonable as counting blades of grass on the lawn.

Fortunately a group of lunatics with a publisher ventured to solve this information problem. Instead of using the highly limited old books of statistics, a guy named David Neft hired a team of college interns to scour old box scores and newspaper accounts across the country and record their findings. Using computers for the first significant time to gather data in a baseball manner, Neft and his crew–the team of college kids always makes me think about it of the hapless interns from the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou–reenacted the whole history of major league baseball. At bat to at bat, they tabulated and cross-referenced each tiny step towards the complete numerical narrative of the game. They depended on the original unsung heroes of baseball statistical analysis who had kept box scores and newspaper clippings and hand-assembled statistics long before anyone cared to see them (baseball’s early stat history consists entirely of these uheralded, isolated mavericks and mad men, as chronicled in the fantastic book The Numbers Game by Alan Schwartz). Continue reading

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A Record Should be Simple: context and narrative in baseball media, and silly stats, too

Frank DeFord, who I actually find delightful

Eminent sports opinionist and general Andy Rooney-school curmudgeon Frank DeFord recently posted a column about annoying statistical observations, “The Stupidest Statistics In The Modern Era”, like for example his example: “He’s the first teenager in the last 33 years with three triples and two intentional walks in one season.” Now in fairness he goes on to discuss the concept of “records,” but he starts the column with the tired claim that “we are inundated with sports statistics. Baseball is the worst, of course — but it’s getting harder for the statistics freaks in all sports to dream up anything original.”

DeFord’s opening statement is silly. Nobody is “inundated” with statistics who does not seek them out. We are far more inundated with SPAM email than with VORP email. But to the second point, the esoteric comparisons that finagle with the “sort” function of unimaginable databases somewhere to create the algebraic combinations of circumstance: DeFord is right. Those observations, in a certain abundance, can seem obnoxious, overbearing, needy. Continue reading

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An introduction, mission statement

The baseball iteration that is rich in characters has been gauzed over with discussions of chemical abuses and home runs and stats. The characters remain, though, and continue to wield a mesmerizing unbelieving, the eternal mythmaking process, that such specialists can sustain the common trappings of a quirky personality. We expect, after all, a bomb defuser or a hostage negotiator to be more than a man or a woman, but an amalgam of traits suited perfectly for the job. Spies don’t joke around much and neither should closers, but they both do (I’m guessing, I’ve never met a spy–that I know of).

But there are characters, they are real humans there, though they may be wrapped in the cloth of mythology. Characters perhaps might be the wrong word. Ballplayers are already characters. Humans is the right word.

Blogs and blogs post and repost the repast of the day’s daily journalism, because we are enamored not only by the players, but by the scruffy ruffians who get to be near the players, and to–gasp of all gasps–talk to them. We talk a lot about the death of the newspaper, but then we post and repost everything that any journalist even whispers on his own blog, in italics not meant to be taken for the gospel that they are taken as.

There is an elemental distance between us and what we admire. The money, as exaggerated and impossible as it seems, is only an extension of that distance. We’ll never see that much money in our lives, and we’ll never be able to drive an inside fastball over the left or right field wall. Money is the least abstract manner by which we determine ourselves inferior from the glads. You’ve got a buck in your pocket, and so do I. Put it in a Calvin&Hobbesian transmogrifier and multiply times 150 million, wallpaper your house with it, paper mache it into a fort, no matter what you do it won’t make sense. The game is the money, the money is the game.

Baseball is a medium, as opined by Marshall McLuhan. MM, on what a medium is: “All media are active metaphors in their power to translate experience into new forms.” There are all kinds of ins and outs, only a few of which I understand and which I hope to explore further. But the most important fact to come out of that quotation is that baseball is a medium. The form of the game, the boundaries, the rules, they all transmit information about us humans in a new way, all the while passing through the other media, the media everywhere, the everywhere media.

An electrical charge vibrates in that space between the baseball game and the fan, between the player and the game, between the player and the fan. All of it hums, as all media hums with the constant work of translation, reconfiguration, recalibration, and self-realization.

I would like this to be a project that explores that distance, and attempts to translate and to place myself–myself representing I think the Common Fan–in the endless spectral rainbow of media and baseball and life and computers, &tc.

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