Dear Professional Baseball Players (and professional athletes in all sports, really),
As the holiday season has once again washed over us I'm again reminded--frequently in the form of luxury vehicle commercials featuring giant bows and obscenely wealthy pretentious folk--that this is a time for giving and reflecting on those we care about. Rampant consumerism polished with a veneer of altruism still counts as giving, right? Sure. On with the giving and the caring. So, what can I, a fella who writes (far too few, sorry Liz) articles on a Phillies blog under a stupid nom de guerre (Hi, I'm Ryan, by the way) possibly give to professional athletes?
My holiday season gift to you, athletes, is simply the truth: You are all unbelievably talented humans, possessing extraordinary physical abilities, and we fans all know this.
That's right, every single one of us knows, at least on some level, that by any objective measure you are the very best in the world at what you do. Ignore all the bilious invective we hurl, all the drunken, loathsome jeers, the insinuations you partake in inappropriate relations with your mothers. Ignore all that and more and know, instead, that only the most detached, delusional, idiotic fans actually believe that you are legitimately bad at playing baseball (or whatever your particular sport is).
Now, it might seem intuitive that something like this doesn't need to be said. That players like you don't give a fig about what we say here, but it that's just not the case. As Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy points out, players read blogs for very good reasons:
@Phylan because even though 98% of it is unfiltered garbage- there is some really good stuff in there. You can learn about yourself actually— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) December 3, 2013
He's correct. There are some smart, perspicacious things that are written on sites like ours, and those things can be valuable, interesting, and insightful. Unfortunately, contained therein is also a lot of vitriol, hyperbole, and reactionary analysis.
Players, the problem stems from our tendency to compare you to the other best people in the world at what you do. Sometimes we do it because we're trying to be humorous at your expense, and other times it's because we're exasperated with a loss, or play we think could be better, or any number of other stupid reasons, and we wish there were some change our team could make to improve--even if that change required substituting the 100th best person in the world at that particular job with the 10th best person in the world at that particular job, no matter how ridiculous it sounds when put that way.
The truth of the matter, however, is that there's no shame in being something like the 150th best infielder in all of organized baseball. None at all. Imagine the pride you'd feel if you were the 150th best surgeon, investment banker, politician, or car salesman in the world. Okay, maybe not investment banker. But imagine if, for example, you're the 150th best politician, you're probably the President or Prime Minister of some major country in the world. If you're the 150th best surgeon people seek you out, traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to come to you in the hopes that you'll save their lives or fix what ails them. You are the sporting equivalent of that.
The list of people on this planet who can do what you do is incredibly small. Miniscule. Infinitesimal. If you can beat 6 billion people at chess but lose to the handful of top grandmasters, Gary Kasparov, and Deep Blue, nobody's sitting in the gallery yelling, "You suck, Poindexter!" They're saying, "Holy crap, this person is amazing and would have me defeated before I even moved two pawns." Actually, I'm not sure anyone would be sitting in the gallery at all, as we're talking about a chess match, but that's neither here nor there.
All of this is blindingly obvious if one thinks about the topic for more than a second. But, although it's self-evident, in the heat of a game, series, or season it's easy to revert to that base, "WHY AREN'T YOU IN THE TOP 10 INSTEAD OF THE TOP 50 IN THE WORLD AT THAT?!" emotion. That reaction is wrongheaded, but we're stuck with our awful lizard brains, so try to ignore it as best you can, or perhaps cut us some slack when that happens.
I'm not talking in the abstract; I'll admit, I do it too. As recently as a couple weeks ago I may have referred to a certain mermaid-loving utility OF as "hot garbage:"
@bxe1234 @Ut26 @Hegelbon @Matt_Winkelman He's OPSed under .700 the last two years (800+ PA) with a SLG under .400. He's hot garbage.— Chuck D[odgson] (@Eric_Lindros) December 18, 2013
Left unsaid was, "...when compared to the best 70 or so outfielders on the entire planet." Which is, perhaps, a meaningful distinction. I blame Twitter's 140 character limit. Likewise, if a review or two isn't completely flattering, please, try not to take offense. I know that's difficult. To wit:
@TheGoodPhight what do u think about the signing? I'm sure ur blog is going to be just wonderful to read! Thanks for the rating...#Dmyass— Kevin Frandsen (@KevinFrandsen) December 2, 2013
It might feel like a shot, and I'd imagine it's not easy to see things like D grades when you're succeeding at the very highest levels of your profession, but again, try to remember that grade is based upon a comparison to the very best handful of players on the planet. Is that unfair? Probably. Are people like us compared to the best 50 writers on the internet? Oh jeez, I hope not. We'd compare awfully. F-minuses for sure. Are rhetorical questions like this annoying as hell? Yes. I'll stop.
To reiterate, your skills at your given sport are awe-inspiring, and we all know it. Please remember this. Compared to the average person off the street your grade is an A with approximately seventy-nine pluses following it. You're the kid in high-school calculus who walks out of the test complaining about how awful you did yet got a 99.8% on it. You're 3+ standard deviations above the mean. You are off-the-charts good at baseball. Yes, even players who are the target of the most negative, disheartening comments and posts you'll come across, you are phenomenally skilled athletes, and don't let us idiots who have access to a keyboard and an internet site tell you otherwise.
As this year draws to a close and we celebrate the memories and athletic accomplishments of the year past, I hope you take my holiday message to you to heart. You've all had a good year, you princes of baseball, you kings of sport. You've played at the very highest levels of your profession. You've provided us with hours of entertainment, and are incredible, awesomely gifted individuals. Thank you for all you do for us--including providing us with fodder for our various platforms--each and every year.