Curiosity in humans is a funny thing. Without it, we’d have never evolved into what we are, but with it, we’ve created strange beliefs that have held our collective progress back. It seems that as a whole we’re curious enough to ask the right questions, but not curious enough to seek out answers beyond the most readily available. In general, we’re surface scratchers and not excavators.
Part of this trait is our insistence on attaching a narrative to events that don’t require such shaping. We see this a lot in sports writing, and while the motivation to “connect the dots” as Richard Whittall put it on this very blog, is understandable for sports writers serving an audience that is best described as casual, and not really caring – after all, it is sports that we’re talking about – it doesn’t make things any less frustrating for critical thinking sports fans being spoon fed constant bowls of foul tasting and malnourishing pablum.
We’ve seen egregious displays of this phenomenon before, most notably with the Manti T’eo reporting debacle, in which reporters shaped a narrative that an athlete was far too willing to participate in, creating and contributing to large scale deception. While the trickery of this story took place on multiple levels, a more recent example of enhanced narration at the cost of realistic perception has occurred in a more straight forward manner with coverage of the World Baseball Classic, an international baseball tournament that occurs every four years.
While the timing of international sporting events that occur every four years are bound to act as a catalyst for comparisons to the World Cup or even the Olympic Games, baseball’s multi-national competition is not only in its infancy, lacking the rich tradition of such comparables, but it also occurs during a period in time in which the best players on the planet are preparing for the season to come.
This means that many of the sport’s finest performers aren’t willing to participate due to injury risks and in some cases, competition for roles on Major League rosters. That’s not to say that participants don’t put forth their best effort. They certainly do. It’s just that such efforts are limited, through timing, roster construction and protective rules that create a general lack of importance in comparison to other international sporting events. In addition to all of this, baseball isn’t quite like other sports in that it takes a longer schedule to determine the true talent level of competitors. There’s so much randomness involved in baseball that single games among similarly talented rosters can seem like coin flips.
Despite these drawbacks, the tournament has evolved into a fun demonstration that entertains baseball fans, giving us something more to root for than the even more meaningless Spring Training games that occur simultaneously. It’s also created an opportunity for baseball writers to hold their readers in contempt as they search for an opportunity to justify their duties covering the event by creating narratives that simply aren’t realistic.
Jon Morosi of FOX Sports has been the most outlandish when it comes to the “godding up” of the tournament. Throughout the World Baseball Classic, Morosi’s prose has read like a news release for the event, promoting it with a false sense of importance.
No more excuses. No more rationalizations. If the United States still wants to consider itself the preeminent baseball country on the globe, then Team USA will win the World Baseball Classic.
I’m sure that American baseball, no matter the results, can take solace in the fact that 78% of the players in the most highly regarded baseball league in the world are from the United States of America. Morosi, or at least the version of himself he’s adopted for the sake of narration, doesn’t buy it.
Cubans can’t play in Major League Baseball unless they defect. South Koreans tend to stay at home because their country’s compulsory military service can complicate life for those who leave. Japan’s posting system keeps talented players from crossing the Pacific until late in their careers. Such market inefficiencies prop up the percentage of Americans in the major leagues.
I’m not sure exactly how Morosi would define “market inefficiency,” but such ideas of talent equality among baseball playing nations completely ignores the reality of a multi-billion dollar industry that depends on individual franchises constructing the most talented rosters possible. By implying that Americans wouldn’t still dominate rosters at the Major League level in a completely free market, Morosi forgets that, given the most recent collective bargaining agreement, international talent is actually considerably cheaper than American.
This is a necessary, albeit disingenuous step for Morosi to make in order to prove that the World Baseball Classic is somehow deciding of something more than it’s actually set up to do. Such narrative building not only fails to take into account the heavy amount of randomization that’s involved in deciding the outcomes of baseball games, but it also attempts to manipulate his readers and the World Baseball Classic’s audience into placing a false sense of importance on the games being played.
It’s all very unnecessary because, as we witnessed this past weekend, the tournament is entertaining enough without imagining it to be something more than it truly is. The conflict between Morosi’s scribbling and reality became even more evident with Monday’s column in which the writer accused Team USA manager Joe Torre of serving two masters.
Joe Torre must do what is best for Major League Baseball. As the executive vice president of baseball operations for MLB, he’s contractually obligated to do so. So, even while taking leave of his day-to-day duties in order to manage Team USA at the World Baseball Classic, Torre remains mindful of those 30 franchises. When he invited players to represent their country, he did so while promising their employers they would get enough innings and at-bats to prepare for the regular season.
This isn’t the fault of Torre, as Morosi would suppose. The manager’s actions are instead telling of the actual importance, or rather lack thereof, that’s placed on the tournament itself which happens to directly contradict what the writer has been attempting to promote for the last week. Morosi is being proven here to be willfully ignorant at best, or lacking self-awareness at worst with his complaints of Torre’s obligations.
Filling in the dots of a narrative for the purpose of informing or confirming the opinion of casual sports fans is one thing, creating a narrative, and then scrambling to combat all of the evidence that arises against it, is quite another. Morosi is offering a disservice to his readers and the tournament itself by attempting to make it out to be more than it is. One day, the World Baseball Classic might attain the level of relevance that Morosi supposes, but such progress certainly isn’t helped along by the false promotion of writers justifying their own coverage and attempting to transform the merely entertaining into something epic.