Examining My Issue with Sports Narratives

One of my biggest pet peeves when consuming sports (watching/reading/listening) is the tendency to insert seemingly meaningless statistics to create some sort of narrative.

The Record Narrative

The most annoying offender of the sports narrative for me is The Record.  You know what I mean – “This team is 2 and 25 when playing on a Wednesday night in a non-leap year.”  I exaggerate, but I feel it’s necessary to establish that these are the kind of records that annoy me.

I find it particularly meaningless to learn that my favourite sports team has a losing record in a particular building.  When announcers pull up these statistics, they are pulling statistics for the team ALL-TIME.   Since the players on any given team tend to fluctuate a lot year-to-year, knowing the all-time organization record makes no difference.

A record I just heard today (I’m typing this a week early) on the Senators pre-game show was that all-time, no Senators team has won a playoff series after losing 2 games in a row in the series.  Remember this statistic – they are 0-15.  It’ll be relevant later.  But this is the kind of statistic I find irrelevant; the 2017 Senators team – other than a few key players – have virtually nothing connecting them to those past playoff teams.  So why bother bringing it up?

Individual Performance – Hockey vs Baseball

One area I will be OK with lifetime statistics is baseball.  Specifically, individual records from players.  In baseball, it is actually statistically relevant that a specific player has success (or lack thereof) in a stadium.  This is because baseball stadiums tend to have individual characteristics of their own that can influence game outcomes (if you don’t believe me, I’d start with looking up home run totals in American League East ballparks compared to the rest of the league).

But this comes up from time to time in hockey.  Statistically I feel like it’s not relevant.  A goalie’s life-time record in a particular arena doesn’t seem like it matters.  Hockey arenas, while different in terms of their outside looks and seating layout, all have the same dimensions on the ice.  Unlike in baseball, where outfield fences and field configurations are different from park to park.

You could argue that sometimes the building environment (i.e. the fans) have influence on a player’s mental composure, but I don’t think that effect is as big as people make it out to be.

The Counter-Argument

Remember that 0-15 record I mentioned earlier?  Along with that statistic, I heard a good counter-argument for providing this kind of information.  The radio host mentioned that he mentions these things for context.  The argument is that if the team were to lose 2 in a row, and still win the series, then it becomes a significant milestone in the organization’s history.

It isn’t being brought up to be statistically relevant – the host acknowledges that a previous team record where very few – if any – players were actually present for the established record.

I only partially buy into this argument.  What is the importance of this context?  Is it to temper expectations from fans listening to sports radio?  Is it really important to say that it’s a big deal that this team is defying past history?  I’m not sure.  But I can appreciate acknowledging that a current team is doing something that previous iterations were unable to do before.

The Utterly Pointless Narratives

Overall, I could probably get behind all of the above.  But one thing is for sure – I have no time for the time-filling statistics like the exaggeration I mentioned to start the article.  Thankfully, most of the good commentators I pay attention to don’t either (albeit in an ironic and non-serious context it’s perfectly acceptable).

What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to sports commentating?

Top Baseball Movies

The World Baseball Classic has officially started, and Spring Training has been underway for weeks now.  I can’t think of a better time to talk about my personal top baseball movies.

Other than being about baseball, there’s no real criteria for how I’ve ranked these.  They range from comedy to drama, and the genre doesn’t really affect how much I like the film.

Moneyball

I read the book well before the movie was announced; I think I wasn’t the only one just a little bit skeptical of whether or not an adaptation would be successful.  A lot of liberties were taken to be sure, but the movie works.  The characters are great and visually, it looks gorgeous.  You can’t help but be romantic about baseball.

Major League I & II

I watched these out of order, first seeing Major League II with my brother in a hotel room when it came on TV.  I understood none of the jokes that weren’t obvious, but years later I re-watch both of these films often.

Field of Dreams

You could probably group this one thematically with Moneyball if you were planning a baseball movie marathon.  Everyone remembers “If you build it, they will come” and it’s pretty much a movie being entirely romantic about baseball.

A League of Their Own

“There’s no crying in baseball!”  Another one I watched as a kid, and another one where some of the jokes went over my head.  A fantastic telling of the women that played baseball during the war.  Did not realize until much later in life that Bill Pullman (aka Lone Star) was in this film.

Angels in the Outfield

I’ve watched this movie countless times, and even today it holds up.  I recently discovered that there was actually an earlier black & white film of the same name that centered around the Pittsburgh Pirates.  I have yet to track it down, but would love to watch it.

42

I’ve got a few issues with this movie, but overall I think it’s great.  The actors buy in 100%, except for Harrison Ford, who buys in 120%.

Trouble With the Curve

This isn’t the greatest movie on the list, but has its charm.  Clint Eastwood plays an aging baseball scout going on One Last Road Trip with his daughter.  Justin Timberlake is also in this for some reason?  The funny thing about this movie is that it feels like a direct response from the baseball scouting world against Moneyball, where the villains of the movie rely solely on computer data and analysis instead of the good old eye test.

Mr. Baseball

I watched this one recently – I’d never seen it, even though we had it recorded on VHS.  I thought it was a really great “clash of cultures” film that happened to be about baseball.

Bull Durham

I think I’ve only watched this once, but it’s definitely a good film.  I need to mark this one down for a re-watch.

Rookie of the Year

The prevailing memory of this baseball movie for me is renting it (on VHS, remember, I’m 33) for a sleepover party when I was 9 or 10.  Daniel Stern gets his shot at putting in 120% in this one.  Hot ice!

Basketball

Not technically a baseball movie in the literal sense, it is however a spiritual baseball movie.  From the creators of South Park, this is a great one to watch that picks on some of the weirder aspects of sports.

Bad News Bears(remake)

This remake wasn’t all that great – it was basically Billy Bob Thornton picking up his Bad Santa role and plopping it into the timeless kids movie classic.  But for what it is, it’s not bad.  It earns a spot on my list, if only because I watched it.

 

What’s your favourite baseball movie?  Or sports movie in general?