Saturday I woke up with two overriding concerns: sports and the weather. Would the Jets beat the Colts, and was it gonna snow? Only the Jets and the Colts could determine the outcome of that AFC Wild Card game. Nobody could do a damn thing about the weather.
That always amazes me. We have all this sophisticated technology to tell us if a blizzard is bearing down on us yet we can’t do a thing to stop it. The best we can get from those who are telling us what we’re in for is “stay off the roads” or maybe “wear a hat.” It was true two weeks ago when New York was pounded by the most recent Storm of the Century (seems we get one every couple of years) and it was true in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed New Orleans.
Katrina is when this line of thinking first occurred to me. They said something was coming, it came, and there was no stopping it. Then, after the storm itself had moved on, the aftereffects devastated a city. Later, somebody said by way of criticizing official reaction to what Katrina wrought that all it did was rain and a city nearly drowned. That might have been an intentional oversimplification of what happened in New Orleans, but yeah — weather happened, and it couldn’t be stopped, even if everything that unraveled after the rain was a different story.
I thought about that on Saturday, after seeing it wasn’t snowing and before the Jets and Colts kicked off, in light of two things transpiring on TV. One was the NFC Wild Card game between the Seahawks and Saints. Seattle won, which meant New Orleans was dethroned as Super Bowl champs. The big story there was the Seahawks, possessors of a fluky 7-9 division championship, shockingly moving on to the next round. The Saints, meanwhile, had become certifiably last year’s news.
But what news they had been.
Even if you weren’t a dyed-in-the-wool Who Dat? asker, you had to admire what the Saints meant to New Orleans  as it began to rebuild from Katrina. A football team could only do so much, but you couldn’t have done better for the lifting of spirits or the symbolism of resolve. It was professional sports at its best.
All things being equal, you’d rather have rooted for the Saints last Super Bowl for mundane reasons like they hadn’t won one before; or the cut of Drew Brees’s jib appealed to you; or you found the colors of the New Orleans uniforms aesthetically pleasing (or you lived there for a little while a long time ago and your affection for the town  never wavered). You’d rather there not have been a tragedy — you would have done fine deciding the Saints were worth your time on football terms alone. Somehow, though, that extra layer of temporary allegiance many of us felt for the Saints all traced back to the weather, and how the weather is one of those things you know is coming but can’t do anything about.
It was the other thing that was transpiring on TV on Saturday that made me think about such storms in this context. A gunman opened fire in a crowd that had gathered to meet Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords outside a Safeway in Tucson. Giffords and thirteen others were seriously wounded, six were killed. One of the deceased is a nine-year-old girl who, it turns out, was the granddaughter of former Mets manager Dallas Green .
This wasn’t the weather. This wasn’t “Mother Nature” of “an act of God” or something that forms in an ocean and appears on Doppler radar, and whose impact you can brace for but can’t hope to halt. This was the act of a person…a horrifyingly disturbed person whose precise motives are being sorted out  as we speak.
Was the gunman stirred by hateful political rhetoric toward the congresswoman and those causes she has supported? One can draw his or her own conclusions. Based on preliminary evidence, it doesn’t seem to require a great leap to make those connections. It might not have been a given politician’s or movement’s explicit agenda that sent the 22-year-old suspect over the edge, but I believe it’s fair to infer an atmosphere in which those who stand on the other side of a debate are routinely “targeted” and angrily “put in the crosshairs” — even if the imagery is all metaphorical — is not the healthiest of environments for anybody.
I don’t think that kind of ramping up of grievance in any discourse is an encouraging development for society, and that includes when it happens in sports.
One of my favorite things in the world is expressing my opinions on the Mets and baseball in this space and then reading the feedback. I appreciate that there’s feedback at all. I prefer, quite frankly, when it’s positive feedback — when somebody agrees with my points — but I respect the negative feedback, too, provided it’s offered civilly. It usually is at Faith and Fear.
I read a lot of sports blogs and sports sites, those that are so-called mainstream (those produced by large media concerns) and those that are so-called independent (like us) and those that lie somewhere in between, and I can tell you without any intention of flattering you that you’re one of the finest audiences that exists in this realm. No kidding. You might not love everything we write or every stance we take, and you might not agree with each other on a given subject, but you’re almost always classy about it. You’re consistently respectful of what other people have to say. Hell, even our most frequent visiting “troll,” representing another fan base no less, makes a point of identifying himself as “well meaning”. This is rare, and we appreciate it.
A few months ago, one of my posts was linked to by a much larger baseball site outside the immediate Mets universe. I welcomed it because it meant more traffic for us — nice for the ego, a chance for exposure to readers who didn’t know we existed — but I also dreaded it because it brought with it a stream of comments that felt as if they’d landed from another planet. In that post, I had referred, as I do routinely, to the Mets as “we,” which didn’t go over big with this particular non-Mets audience…which is OK, except one of the commenters saw fit to punctuate his remark toward me with “you silly retard.”
As I edited out that little button from this one-time-only visitor, I thought, “Why would somebody feel the need to write that?” Even if you were intellectually offended by the idea that a fan considers himself one with his team, why toss that in there? I see that sort of language all the time on other sites. It’s such a routine part of what’s become acceptable online sports dialogue, yet I just don’t get it. Why the automatic vitriol? Why the resorting to name-calling? It’s not enough to make a cogent argument and let your logic speak for itself?
I mentioned the other day my disappointment with the progressive deterioration of the Hall of Fame debate . I first noticed it a few years ago on a board I frequent. I dipped my toe into the discussion by promoting the cause of Dave Concepcion. Somebody disagreed with me. His reasoning? “Dave Concepcion sucked.” I didn’t respond because it was absurd. It wasn’t “Dave Concepcion’s numbers aren’t quite Hall of Fame caliber” or “the metrics you’re using aren’t a true reflection of Dave Concepcion’s career which, on balance, isn’t Cooperstown-worthy.” It was Dave Concepcion sucked and perhaps I did, too.
That’s Algonquin Round Table material compared to the current state of Hall of Fame give-and-take. Even as the cases for or against a particular player’s induction seem more sophisticated, the vitriol attached to them grows more acrid and more personal every December and January, as if the essential message of every counterthrust is, “I’ve gone to the trouble of figuring this out for you, you must be stupid if you can’t see it my way.”
Last week ESPN printed the ballots of its voting writers. One of them was revealed to be, by most measures, a little on the dubious side — specifically, it included a check mark for B.J. Surhoff. Not surprisingly, given the tenor of conversation these days, it wasn’t taken as curious or quirky or a severe outlier, but as a crime against baseball. What the hell is wrong with this clown? and words to that effect streamed out of every Internet baseball pore because one writer in 581 announced he’d thrown one vote to one player who was eligible to be voted for.
The writer eventually explained his thought process via ESPN chat. He covered Surhoff in high school and told him not only would he make the majors but that “someday, I’d be voting for him for the Hall of Fame.” Someday came, and he followed through.
I think it’s instructive to add the writer’s addendum:
The reaction to that astounds me. I expected people who didn’t know the story to question that vote. But the sheer level of nastiness, the anger, amazes me. I really didn’t think BJ would get elected. I’d be surprised if he got another vote besides mine. And I’m fine with that. BJ was a very good player and a good guy (check out the work he’s done for autism, sparked by his autistic son). He earned the fulfillment of that 35-year-old promise. And who, exactly did that hurt? If voting for BJ cost someone who deserved entry, I wouldn’t have done it. And if the rules said that everybody who got one vote got in, then I definitely wouldn’t have done it. But it didn’t.
One stray vote for B.J. Surhoff doesn’t bother me. What gets me is the idea that people attacked this guy so virulently for voting for B.J. Surhoff as if the writer didn’t understand exactly what was going on, as if it hadn’t occurred to him that there are 581 voters and one of his check marks wasn’t going to tumble the apple cart of immortality. The two consensus favorites going into the announcement of the election, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, got in with that guy’s ballot supporting Surhoff (and not supporting either of them, which is his right). Others who didn’t get elected this time around weren’t deprived of induction because of his isolated vote for Surhoff.
You can say the writer brings a values system to bear that doesn’t jibe with yours and politely offer an alternative. You can question the screening process that puts a B.J. Surhoff or a Lenny Harris or other players who aren’t ever going to be elected to the Hall of Fame into play. You can suggest a new composition for the electorate, one that isn’t limited to ten-year members of the BBWAA. But do you really have to pile on the “this guy is an idiot” train?
Sports isn’t supposed to be politics/government. It’s supposed to be unalloyed fun. Yet we know it’s not. Nothing you care about as much as you care about your team is quite so simple that you take it with a proverbial grain of salt when things don’t go your way. In our more sober moments we wouldn’t demand somebody “kill” somebody for the crime of inserting the wrong pitcher or throwing the wrong pitch or writing years later that that pitcher should be in the Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, we get caught up in it and hopefully have the perspective to know we’re ramping up where we don’t need to.
But it gets harder to tell that we do know that. It becomes very difficult when the prevailing tone in so many places makes people being harshly dismissed as “morons” utterly unsurprising. It seems it should be easy enough to decelerate such diatribing. It seems people’s passions can be calibrated to a setting where one can take on the gist of an argument without reflexively belittling and/or demonizing the person proffering the opposing viewpoint.
It is, I admit, a bit of a stretch to go from a tragic shooting that may (may) have been stirred by a drumbeat of overheated rhetoric to wondering why people can’t be nicer to each other when disagreeing over how good a ballplayer was. Yet as I turned my Saturday attention to the Jets beating the Colts , I couldn’t help but think that unlike the weather, it’s the sort of thing we can do something about.