Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Baseball's relentless pursuit of...

...numbers.

Perhaps tonight but certainly soon, New York Yankees' superstar (and less than admirable) third baseman Alex Rodriguez will hit his 600th career home run. The national sports media are anticipating this feat with their usual over-the-top reminders of the symbolic demonstration of baseball immortality. And numbers.

Let's make no mistake, 600 home runs is stunning, and Rodriguez deserves to be recognized for the accomplishment. But the media's incessant interest in waiting for "the moment" serves in my opinion to lessen it.

Baseball is defined by numbers more so than any other sport. Perhaps it is the length of the season with games happening almost daily from late March through late October. Perhaps it is the country's fascination with using easy-to-understand numbers to help explain otherwise complex situations. Or perhaps it's because it's just fun. Whatever the reason, a batter's AVG-HR-RBI statistics are as important to a baseball fan as a pitcher's W-L-ERA.

Now with 24-hour cable sports networks, 24-hour sports talk radio, the Internet, chat rooms and a host of old and new media, baseball fans are drowning in numbers. As a result, the quantity of sources has created a lower quality of conversation about numbers and how they define my favorite sport. In an environment in which seemingly everyone can have an opinion, the opportunity to reflect on what is taking place in the game is lost.

No, I'm not arguing for a return to the 1980s (which some of us consider to be the good ol' days) when there was a real "Baseball Game of the Week" and when studying the box scores in the morning paper brought tremendous satisfaction and relaxation. But I am saying that in a situation in which so many sources are available, the numbers associated with baseball are used more often (and too often not wisely) by people who think they have something important to say.

Right now, the non-stop conversation is about Rodriguez, known as A-Rod throughout the sports world. But once his 600th home run is hit, the lust for discussing numbers connected to another player or another team will begin. And I'm not convinced I really want to pay attention to much of those conversations.

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