When driving home from work today, I threw on the radio as I usually do (damn you, lost iPod!) while driving and tuned into WFAN and Joe Beningo. The first bit I heard was the tail end of some discussion he was having with himself (I assume) about Carlos Beltran which then flowed into a Joe saying the Mets need more “winning players” on the team if they are to go anywhere.
Fast forward to a few minutes later. After a some FM channel surfing (the only thing worse than AM radio is FM radio), I came back to WFAN and Beningo was talking to Ed Coleman about Mike Pelfrey and his recent struggles. In a flurry of an exchange, they talked about whether it could be something physical or mental that was causing the Mets’ big righty to struggle.
That, coupled with the “winning player” talk before got me thinking about narratives in baseball. And it’s a question that Moshe tweeted earlier about the D-Backs lighting up Pelfrey behind IPK last night: why does there always have to be a narrative? Why can’t it just be that Pelfrey is pitching poorly and is regressing a bit? Did we all really think a guy who’s got a career H/9 of 10.0 and a WHIP of 1.492 was going to pitch to a sub three ERA all season?
This goes for the whole “winning player” bit as well. Joe said that teams need “winning players” and not just superstars. Well what the hell is a winning player? In my mind, it’s the superstars who are the winning players. After all, chances are that the better numbers a player puts up, the better his team is going to be. I don’t want to get too much into that because I’ve already delved into it with my HR hitting post, but I’d like to keep exploring this narrative thing.
I was an English major in college with an almost-minor in film (damn you, adviser!) so I love a story just as much as the next guy. But, sometimes, they’re just contrived. If A-Rod has a long HR-drought, the story will be that he’s feeling the pressure of getting to 600 homers (I’m writing this in the six o’clock hour of Tuesday night so the game hasn’t started and I predicted that A-Rod will reach 600 in this game…let’s hope he proves me right and saves us the headache). When Dave Eiland was gone and A.J. Burnett was pitching like a drunk chimp throwing with the wrong hand, we heard that he needed Eiland. When Javy Vazquez struggled early in the year, we heard he couldn’t handle the pressure of New York and/or couldn’t handle pitching in the A.L.
Maybe it’s our burning need to explain everything that makes us unable to accept the fact that sometimes guys struggle at baseball. News flash: it’s a tough game to play.
Then we have the king of all narratives: Joba Chamberlain. He’s immature. He’s got a “bull in a china-shop” mentality. He’s not smart enough to be a starter; leave him in the bullpen so he doesn’t have to think. This guy stinks! He’s been coddled and entitled! The “Joba Rules” ruined him! It has to be those things because a guy who’s under 25 and pitched fewer than 90 innings in the relatively stress free minors could never struggle, right? What annoys me is that narratives often cloud the simple fact that no one baseball player is going to go through a season scuffle free.
I’m not saying that narratives don’t have a place; if that were true, most sports writers would be out of a job. A good deal of their job is the human interest side of sports and narratives fuel that side. However, I get very annoyed when the writers get lazy and try to use narrative as a substitute for analysis. Perhaps, then, I don’t have a problem with narratives themselves, but the implementation thereof.
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