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What is a data stream? My response to Phil Sheridan

Our brains are the enemy, and Phil Sheridan wants them stopped.


On my way to a meeting this morning, I spotted an article on I printed it out and brought it along with me in case the meeting was boring (it was) and I needed to be entertained (I did). By the end of the meeting, I had scribbled notes all over the printed pages and I didn't even remember what the actual meeting was about. (I still don't.)

This is the article: "Stop the data stream for once and enjoy the games".

You know what kind of article this is. It's the same one that's been written over and over again, since time began, and will continue to be written until our civilization crumbles to dust and all that's left are the cockroaches and Keith Richards.

So if this is the same article that's been written forever, why am I paying attention to it? Because it breaks the one rule I have about sports -- you don't tell anyone how to be a fan. It's just so stupid to do that. There is no wrong way to enjoy baseball -- or any sport, for that matter. And it's even stupider to try and ascribe all the same attributes to the more "sophisticated" fans because you're too lazy to do more research and because it conveniently fits the narrative you're trying to create.

Instead of scanning the printed pages and making you decipher my nonsensical shorthand and tiny, tiny writing, I'll FJM the piece for you, and maybe you too will experience the rage I have toward this type of writing.

When sports fans started referring to players as "pieces," things were never quite the same.

Wait, is that a thing people do? I run with a relatively stat knowledgeable crowd and I don't think I've ever heard any of them use that kind of language when referring to baseball players. They usually just call them "players". I'm guessing they do that because that's what they're supposed to be called, and calling them "pieces" sounds really stupid.

It has something to do with fans taking a more sophisticated view of the teams they follow. Everyone thinks he or she can do a better job than Ruben Amaro Jr. or Howie Roseman or Paul Holmgren or other general managers. In some cases, everyone may be right. In most cases, probably not.

Ooh, he's using "sophisticated" as a code word for NERDS here. Because wanting to understand more about something you love is geeky and too smart and therefore fundamentally in opposition to the sport of baseball, which takes no brains to play or manage. And correct me if I'm wrong here, but I'm pretty sure that people thinking they can do a better job than the guy in charge isn't a new thing. I believe that particular fan behavior arrived right after teams started having fans. And probably before! Ask the ghost of a New York Knickerbockers fan from back in 1846 and you'll probably find out that he and his friends thought Duncan Curry was doing a shitty job.

Somehow, transactions became more interesting to many fans than the actual games: Draftniks and salary cap aficionados and advanced stat advocates and fantasy gurus have elbowed out the guy who just wants to have a beer and watch a ball game.

Wait, "draftniks" and "fantasy cap gurus" and their ilk are ELBOWING OUT the guy who just wants to have a beer and WATCH the GAME!? I bet those draftniks (whatever the hell those are) all drink fancy sherries and port wine! Drinks with mint in them! They're taking up all the room at the bar with their NERDY DRINKS and there's no room for the guy who just wants to drink his Coors Light and watch guys play baseball with no understanding of what they're doing out there beyond hitting a ball with a wooden stick and catching it with a leather hand covering! Phil, you can't just make up names for people you think are ruining baseball for you. Our own Cormican followed the draft really closely, but if I called him a draftnik he'd probably laugh so hard he'd fall down, because that's a stupid, made up name. Last time I checked, there is room for all sorts of people in baseball fandom. It's not like a party room at a restaurant that has an occupancy limit.

And that's fine, as far as it goes. It can be enjoyable to follow a team by studying how the "pieces" are assembled and made to fit under salary caps and payroll limitations. But there is a risk of losing something, too.

Oh, for the love of God. Why is it impossible for some people to understand that baseball, like anything on planet Earth, can be enjoyed on multiple levels in multiple ways by the same exact person? Hell, they could be enjoying the game in two different ways AT THE SAME TIME! *gasp* *clutches pearls* Well, I never! I wholeheartedly reject and resent the idea that seeking to understand and appreciate baseball beyond the "traditional" way is a joyless academic pursuit. It's baseball. People analyze the draft or research fielding or play fantasy baseball because they enjoy it. Just because they do it that way doesn't mean they don't also watch games and enjoy them on the basic level that Sheridan espouses. And by the way, the MLB Network actually aired the first round of the draft on television, complete with commentary both before and after. I guess they're doing it wrong, too.

This comes up now for a couple of reasons. The Phillies just extended their contract with Chase Utley, one of the heroes of their quickly fading championship era. They also brought back many of the heroes from their 1993 World Series team, one of whom, Darren Daulton, is coping with cancer.

The Eagles, meanwhile, just retired the number worn by Donovan McNabb, the quarterback who led them through the best decade in franchise history.

Ok, I'm not sure what your anger at nerdy nerdy nerds has to do with Chase Utley's extension, Phillies Alumni Weekend, Darren Daulton's extremely terrible and sad cancer diagnosis, or Donovan McNabb. I suspect you'll invent a way to tie them all together that makes no sense at all, though, so please continue.

There has been a lot of looking back, fondly and not so fondly, in Philadelphia. The way these players have been received has been revealing.

Oh no. No, don't do this. I see where you're going and I'm begging you to stop. Don't go this way. The bridge is out! The road is blocked by stampeding cattle! Mary Lou is tied to the tracks and a train is coming so you should turn back now and save her!

Nobody knew or cared what the 1993 Phillies' payroll was. Daulton had a WAR value and an OPS and all that stuff, but nobody knew or cared what they were back then. It was enough that he was a hard-nosed catcher who ran the clubhouse like a boss and delivered the occasional clutch hit.

Fans identified with the '93 Phillies as players who were fun to watch, not pieces with contracts that needed to be off-loaded at the first sign of a slump. That team quickly disintegrated because of big contracts for physically declining players such as Daulton and Lenny Dykstra, and because the big piece that was added, Gregg Jefferies, didn't produce.

Why didn't you listen to me, Phil? Can you categorically say that nobody gave a shit about the 1993 payroll, or about Daulton's OPS? Yes, he had grit and heart and was "a boss", but he was also a baseball player that did baseball things and was evaluated on that scale, probably by fans as well as baseball executives. And also, fans ALWAYS identify with players on teams that are fun to watch. ALWAYS. In 1846, 1993, and today! Fun players are fun to watch, and they're even more fun when the team is winning, like in 1993, but not in 2013. Liking a team and its players doesn't mean you can't also recognize the reality of the situation, though. I'm sure there were fans who recognized the quality of those big contracts even though the team won in 1993. I love many players on the 2013 Phillies, but that doesn't mean I'm going to ignore their bad contracts or their substandard quality of play.

Those deals would have been endlessly scrutinized today just as Utley's new contract has been. It isn't enough that a favorite player will likely finish his career with the home team. The length of Utley's deal, and the conditions under which it can be extended, have to be weighed against the odds that his knees go bad and the other possible ways to allocate payroll.

God forbid Utley's deal be looked at by fans in terms of health, dollars, and ability instead of solely on the merit of him being able to finish his career in Philadelphia. It's really not our business to notice that Utley's knees kept him out of a significant number of games in 2012 and 2011, and even if we did notice, we really shouldn't try to "weigh" whether or not the front office did a good job with that deal. That's not our job as fans! Our job is to just shut up and enjoy the game on only one level, ignoring any and all intellectual curiosity we may have.

That has always been what GMs do, or should do. It is now what even casual fans do.

Man, information and technology ruin EVERYTHING! The wide availability of these giant calculators that some call "computers" and the invention of this pesky thing called "the Internet" has really made it too easy for people to understand the game of baseball, share information, and form communities of like minded people. It should all be stopped. And by the way, I thought you said earlier that casual fans were the ones that just wanted to watch the game and drink a beer. Are they now the enemy too? Have they been seduced by the siren call of fantasy baseball and Do you mean to say that the wide availability of baseball information is poisoning and ruining all fans and the game of baseball itself?

Sheridan then goes into a three paragraph digression about Donovan McNabb's reception and how his stats were presented to make the argument that he should or should not be included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He never once mentions how the Philadelphia fans received McNabb, he just focuses on the one minor thing that supports his narrative. What he fails to understand is that Donovan McNabb's stats are not made up numbers. They weren't pulled out of thin air. They are real numbers that represent the actual things he did during actual real football games. They don't measure that McNabb "played hurt and he played hard", though, so they must be garbage.

There is this phenomenon I first identified when Ray Rhodes was head coach of the Eagles. When he coveted a player - whether it was an opponent or a free agent or a potential draft pick - he saw only the pluses. The minute he actually acquired the player, he started focusing on his negatives.

I realized that was true of a lot of coaches and GMs. And now it seems to be true of many fans, too. Instead of enjoying what McNabb and Ryan Howard and other stars can do, we obsess over what they can't do. Next thing you know, it's time to move everybody at the trade deadline and add new pieces we still see through Rhodes-colored glasses.

Hold on, I'm confused again. Isn't this piece supposed to be about how baseball stats are ruining baseball? Because we're nearing the end of the piece and you've railed at them, but you've also taken the time to call out fans who pay too close attention to the game, fans who think that contracts should make sense, and people who want to use Donovan McNabb's stats to measure his value as a player. And in the paragraphs above, you're spending time criticizing GMs and other coaches for noticing flaws in the players they acquire, and criticizing fans for noticing those same flaws. He makes quite the leap from noticing flaws to "let's sell everyone at the deadline WOO!" I'm pretty sure it was the Phillies' shitty play this season that caused that reaction and not the flaws we notice in Phillies players.

I feel like Sheridan misses the key fact of fandom -- being a fan of a team usually means that you want them to do the best they can. You want them to win. In Sheridan's world, we just watch and take whatever the front office gives us without thinking about it. They put players out there and we watch them. But it's not passive. We watch and if they suck then we want them to do better. That's kind of the whole point.

An exaggeration? Think about how quick fans are to advocate tanking to improve their team's position in the next draft. That may be the ultimate example of transactions trumping game action.

He noticed us! He noticed us! Phil Sheridan thinks we're ruining baseball! We've hit the big time, baby!

Watching McNabb and Daulton and Brad Lidge and others pass by this summer, it really hit home. We should take the time to enjoy what we have a bit more because it's gone before we know it.

Wait, when did Brad Lidge get here!?

I know a fair amount of Phillies fans, and I don't know a single one of them who doesn't enjoy baseball. But I also know that nearly all of them think that the team needs to get better. Because if you haven't noticed, they're fucking terrible right now. If you wanted us to enjoy what we have, you may have wanted to tell us that back in 2011 when things were super duper great. Right now it's hard to watch the team without wanting them to get better, because as I mentioned before, they're unbelievably bad. I went to two games over Alumni Weekend. They lost both. I had a good time and I enjoyed being at a baseball game, but the Phillies played shitty baseball. I noticed that because I have a functioning brain. Making the leap from "hey these guys are bad" to "why are they bad and how could they get better?" apparently means I'm not being a fan correctly.

As it turns out, my biggest problem with this article is that it's an anti-stat article in disguise. Phil Sheridan just wanted to be cranky at people who are spending too much time criticizing sports teams that used to be good but are currently bad. That means we're not enjoying the game, despite the fact that shitty games are hard to enjoy. The only "data stream" (???) Sheridan is mad at is the one inside all of our skulls. Brains are the enemy, people! If we all just turned off our brains and stopped noticing that the Phillies are a shockingly atrocious baseball team, Phil Sheridan would finally be happy. And isn't that what we all want?

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