Last week, during the increasingly gruesome Tigers-Yankees ALCS, TBS analyst John Smoltz got a burr in his bonnet. I’m not sure precisely what was going on in the game, but something came up that got Smoltz thinking about sabermetrics. At least I think it was sabermetrics; he could barely stand to even mouth the word.
It went something like: “So … [audible snort] … there’s all these people with their … [choked-off inhale, as if he had entered the Cardinals clubhouse bathroom right after Lance Lynn had left it] … mathematics, trying to understand … [grasping of the microphone as if it is the neck of Bill James] … the game. It’s … it’s just …” I don’t have the exact quote right, mostly because it was hard to hear Smoltz through the blood vessels bursting and his teeth grinding. As the immortal Twitter account @oldhossradbourn succinctly summarized, “‘Sabermetrics? What’s next? Marrying an animal?’ - J. Smoltz.”
... And look: This is not simply just some nerd complaining that the people on the TV aren’t using his nerd states. (It is that; it’s just not simply that.) This is how baseball is being played and discussed and assessed in the year 2012. By the front offices, by the arbitrators, by the people making all the decisions … heck, increasingly, by the players themselves. This is simply television doing a poor job of describing what we are watching. It’s the trading of reality for John Kruk and Mitch Williams to hang out with their friends and be paid for it.
This is going to take time. Four years ago, you’d never see a player’s slash-line and a starter’s pitch count shown on broadcasts; they’re regular features now. Pitch-f/x data and Hit-f/x data are too impressive technological breakthroughs not to be used on broadcasts. Many younger broadcasters are embracing the data as a way of breaking through to an audience that’s hungry for something more than the old broadcasting tropes.
But we’re not there yet.
Maybe someday we’ll have a broadcaster describe the way baseball is being played, managed and evaluated without, you know, spitting the words at us as if they were venom. A fan can dream.