January, 21, 2008
Nevis, nestled in the Caribbean, is a near-perfect place to disappear a month before spring training. The population is the same as it was when Alexander Hamilton was born there in 1755, which is a good thing. There are four times as many monkeys as people, and you don't have to read or hear the same things about Roger Clemens every day, at least until he's bound to the truth. Also good. There's no MSNBC, which means no "Morning Joe," which is not good. It is against the law to curse in public. Very good. There was a guy complaining about not liking Tom Brady, which means misanthropy lives everywhere, but even if there are people who can complain about the best and the brightest, there wasn't a tabloid story on Britney or Lindsay to be found, or a Bob's Discount Furniture commercial. Praise the Lord. Because of the climate, sheep have no wool, so you learn that you can tell a goat from a lamb because goats have their tails up, lambs have their tails down. Hence, it is the perfect place to read David Halberstam's epic "The Coldest Winter," since the Korean War is like a black hole few of us understood until the greatest journalist who ever lived completed his 30-year work. Ronald Brownstein's "The Second Civil War" is a must-read, as is Fay Vincent's wonderful "I Would Have Played For Nothing," child of Lawrence Ritter's "The Glory of Their Times." Near the end of my stay, a gentleman walked by and said, "Do you have to work on vacation?" He was staring at The Hardball Times Annual 2008 as if it were a business textbook. No need to answer. One of the aspects that Brownstein examines in his study is how hyperpartisanism has left government polarized and frozen. While Democrats love to complain about the hyper-right, the liberal blogs like The Daily Kos have effectively shouted down the conciliatory nature of the DLC, which has worked so hard to try to make government work. Internet politics have, in many ways, become more important than the grand traditions of the newsweeklies, face time on MSNBC and Fox News or endorsements from the big daily newspapers. So Internet politics have simply mirrored the world we now know as Internet sports. Sure, some of us old-timers still love a stack of newspapers draped across the front of the StairMaster, or still enjoy sitting at Peet's with a huge cup of coffee and The New York Times, Post and Daily News. But the reality is that while I try not to miss any of those newspapers, they're normally read on the Internet before 7 a.m., and there are sites that I never miss: Buster Olney's blog on ESPN.com; David Pinto's Baseball Musings; Tim Dierkes' MLBTradeRumors.com; Baseball Prospectus (hey, Will Carroll's "Under The Knife" remains the one column that cannot be missed); The Hardball Times; Baseball America; and, because I am from New England and like to be caught up, the Boston Sports Media Watch. I do not want any psychologist to know how many times a day I go to ESPN.com, Baseball Musings or MLBTradeRumors.com to check updates. And, sure, I never miss Curt Schilling. I make no bones about my strong feelings about the human element. Pure numbers cannot do justice to character and drive and energy. They cannot measure the impact Robin Yount had on teamates when he ran down the first-base line at the same breakneck speed (one scout had nearly 90 Yount games in a six- or seven-year period and claimed he never got Yount faster than 3.9 seconds, or slower than 4.0). Mariano Rivera, Josh Beckett and David Wright are what they are because of who they are. Stat lines cannot quantify work habits, the ability to learn, emotional stability, etc., but they are important guidelines by which to remind us that, in the end, performance counts. There are bloggers and sites that savage those in the media who do interact with players and try to spend time understanding their motivations. We don't have to agree. Joe Sheehan wrote a brilliant piece off a discussion we had about Jack Morris, and while I respect his opinion and am still in awe of his research, I still remember what it was like being around those Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays teams when Morris took the ball and the responsibilities, as opposed to the six-inning wonders who looked into their dugouts. I still believe that Morris was the best of his era, that closing two World Series stands for something and that Game 7 in 1991 defined how he transcended the human elements that so alter the sport. That doesn't make Sheehan wrong. Bill James is trying to define clutch, what made George Brett so different, or sets David Ortiz, when healthy, apart in swagger and presence. You can present me with 4,765 pages of anti-Derek Jeter material; it won't work, I watch him too much. But those are parts of a greater landscape of arguments. The fact is that we all know more about baseball because of the proliferation of creative thought. Run through Baseball Think Factory, The Baseball Analysts, Squawking Baseball, Sabernomics, Beyond the Box Score, Dan Agonistes, John Sickels' minorleagueball.com. For everything, Deadspin. Unfortunately, time keeps most of us from getting to those sites specific to teams. It's amazing how many club officials read USS Mariner (Seattle), Fire Brand of the American League (Boston), Ducksnorts (San Diego), Athletics Nation (Oakland), Viva El Birdos (St. Louis), Lone Star Ball (Texas), River Ave. Blues (Yankees), MetsBlog.com, FishStripes (Florida), Dodger Thoughts, Bronx Banter (great writing), The LoHud Yankees Blog, Reds Reporter (Cincinnati), Bleed Cubbie Blue, Brew Crew Ball (Milwaukee) and more. And you need an update on steroids? Try Baseball's Steroid Era (an informative blog). There are probably hundreds of sites I have missed. If so, hopefully, they'll run by my laptop. But as we begin the 2008 season, our information, understanding and thought processes have been dramatically altered from the days when a Sunday newspaper notes column seemed significant. And, as fans, we are so much better off for all the work that is being done. "The Coldest Winter" is not homework. Neither is "The Second Civil War." Or The Hardball Times Annual. It's what we enjoy. Thanks.