Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I think my gut check is affecting my game face.

In recent days comes still more evidence of how selective and silly we are in using the so-called Truths of Sportsthink to explain whatever happens on a ballfield, court, gridiron, etc.

It started last week, after St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in a car accident. The Cards canceled their game that night, then played the next day, April 30, as scheduled. Now, ever since Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne's immortal "win one for the Gipper!" speech*, we've been conditioned to think that when teams go out after a tragedy and win the next game, they're doing it "in tribute" to the person at the heart of the tragedy. So, had the Cards won the game, I'm sure we would've seen stories about how their fallen comrade's spirit "lived on inside them, driving them to victory." Except, the Cards didn't "win one for the Josher." They got their butts handed to them by the Milwaukee Brewers. Needless to say, there was a ready-made Sportsthink story line for that, too: They were "too distracted" to play, and just "couldn't stay focused on the game." (Question: How come opposing pitcher Jeff Suppan, who played for the Cards last year and was friendly with Hancock, wasn't "too distracted" to beat his former team?) In fact, the Cards haven't won a game since, and media reports keep talking about how "flat" the team is on the heels of Hancock's death. I'm sure beyond a doubt that when St. Louis finally wins again, the revised theme will be that they're "coming to terms" with the tragedy and are now "energized" to "find inspiration in this terrible loss." Until their next losing streak.

On the other hand we have the New York Yankees. The Yanks went out last night and, according to the popular story line this morning, "responded" to owner George Steinbrenner's latest public tirade about the team's "unacceptable" play, pounding the Texas Rangers 10-1. (I guess that means they'll never lose again. Or maybe Rangers owner Tom Hicks needs to throw a tantrum of his own to balance the scales.) Last Friday, the rumor was that if the Yanks got swept by the Red Sox in this past weekend's three-game series at the Stadium, manager Joe Torre would be fired on Monday. After the Yanks pulled out one of three, a commentator actually opined that the team "knew they had to step up in order to save their manager." Huh? If they had the power to pretty much win at will, why didn't they sweep the series? Or was this commentator actually implying that the Yankees' response to the rumor was to play just well enough, by design, to save Torre's job? Besides, the team already knows full well how tyrannical and publicly belligerent Steinbrenner can be. Why would they need to see and hear the latest installment of "As George Burns" in order to feel motivated?

As I said in SHAM, nobody just wins and loses anymore....

The whole thing is asinine—arguably the most asisine element in the entire SHAMscape. Especially when we broaden the focus and try to apply Sportsthink to life as a whole.

* Not surprisingly, there is some controversy about whether this original event even occurred as depicted. Notre Dame itself admits as much.


Cal said...


I meant to ask you this before. I was watching a baseball game involving the A's and the announcers mentioned that GM Billy Beane doesn't make a whole lot of money compared to other GMs. But he can make some of it up with the speeches he gives to companies because evidently he can charge a lot. Of course, this is because of Michael Lewis' portrayal of him in Moneyball. Why can't these companies just buy some of the myriad books about Warren Buffett and investing? Beane professes to adapt Buffett's investment style (i.e, finding underpriced assets that have a potential major upside) to running a baseball organization. My suggestion would be a lot more relevant (in my opinion) and much more cheaper.

Steve Salerno said...

That's a very good point, Cal--thinking rationally. But who said corporate event planners think rationally? To them, the personal appearance by a guy like Beane (or Lasorda or Riley or Pitino or, increasingly of late, Charles Barkley) IS "the thing." Just ordering and handing out a bunch of books doesn't get it done, in their view (even though, in reality, handing out a bunch of books--that employees could actually spend time with, and think about, and absorb--would be far more likely to get it done, i.e. have a measurable payback). It's all part of the craziness.

Anonymous said...

Has it ever occurred to you that it's more exciting to listen to these people in person than just to sit down with a book?

Steve Salerno said...

Of course...but has it ever occurred to YOU that there's no proof that excitement = results? We live in an era when corporations force their employees to justify even the smallest expenses. How can they, therefore, justify spending $100,000 on a half-hour talk without knowing that it provides any useful and/or lasting dividends?? Or even knowing whether or not it's counterproductive?

Trish Ryan said...

This is why it's so great to be a Red Sox fan - it keeps you humble, and somewhat immune to all that sportsthink. There's nothing like consistent, spectacular failure on the eve of (or the day after) every big win to keep the SHAM-ers from drawing those sweeping conclusions. The most popular book to come out of the Sox's World Series win essentially said, "Holy $%#*! It's a Miracle!"

Steve Salerno said...

Trish! Long time no hear.

Well, the way things are going so far this year, looks like you may have a bit more to cheer about. Did I ever tell you that I started out as a Red Sox fan? That was because of my father's admiration for Ted Williams. Fact, I actually spent a summer in Lakeville, at Ted's camp. Clearly you're too young to remember the days I'm talking about, and I don't know how strong you are in Sox heritage, but Teddy Ballgame used to umpire our games at camp. One day he called me out on strikes--and I actually had the cojones to argue the call! Yep. I told ol' Ted, "You wouldn't know a strike if it jumped up and bit you!"

Like I say, if you don't know all that much about Williams, that little vignette won't mean a whole lot to you. In which case, run it by someone who's a true baseball historian, and watch the person convulse in laughter.