Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Playing Down To Your Audience

Illustration for article titled Playing Down To Your Audience

Hey, kids — Mitch Albom has some advice for you! And here it is!

"If you're a journalist, go ahead and make shit up — it won't stop you from winning prestigious journalism awards!"


Hang on — sorry. That wasn't his advice. (Though it is most certainly true.). His advice is: stop and smell the roses. Put down your electronic devices. Celebrate life, and...

Take in a Real Game

by Mitch Albom

I know this article was dissected and hacked apart and made plenty-of-fun of. But are you seriously asking a guy whose main hobby is mocking bad sports journalism to just ignore the opportunity to write about Mitch Albom's anti-computer rant in Parade magazine? Of course you aren't doing that, because that would be so cruel of you.

Also, is there any more perfect pairing than Mitch Albom and Parade magazine? Peas in a pod. Pablum disguised as populism. Boring recognize boring, yo.

Spring is here, and throughout the land, baseball fans don their caps and root, root, root in the glowing warmth of...


...their computers?

The person who wrote that lede won the Red Smith Award. I just want everyone to realize that.


How many terrible things are there about that opening? (1) It's so cliché it literally starts with "Spring is here..." (2) Nobody "dons a cap" except for imaginary people in terrible articles written for old people. (3) At the end, after the ol' "ellipsis-new-paragraph-shocking-twist" gambit, we come to realize that he is writing an article in Parade magazine, in 2010, about the shocking existence of Fantasy Baseball. Nobody doesn't know about fantasy baseball. Fantasy baseball is everywhere. Kim Jong-Il is in a NL-only keeper league. (Team name: License to Il.)

All in all, a terrible opening. In fact, real quick, I'm going to ask Marilyn Vos Savant if there has ever been a worse opening paragraph in journalism history.



There you go. She has the world's highest IQ, you know.

It's true. Baseball's magic has been hijacked.

"Baseball's magic has been hijacked," wrote the 2010 Red Smith Award winner, ignoring the fact that "magic" cannot be "hijacked," even in the most tortured metaphorical construct, and thus figuratively pissing on Red Smith's typewriter.


On any given day, far more people now check their fantasy-league statistics, perhaps as many as 15 million, than sit in the stands watching Major League action. Fantasy folks have their own teams and their own standings—all based on real players' statistics—in a shadow world of make-believe games often played on a computer, games that never see a ball or hear a cheer.

The biggest problem I have with Mitch Albom as a writer is that I often don't think he even believes what he is writing. I get this feeling like he's literally just trying to please as many people as he can, ultimately to make as much money as he can, and he doesn't care how he does it. He's the opposite of David Lynch.


Take the previous paragraph for example. If you're like me, and you have a functioning brain, you read this and you say, "Well, of course more people play fantasy baseball than actually attend games. There are only 15 games a day, at most, and most cities don't have teams, and it costs like $3,200 to buy a stadium hot dog. Plus, if MLB had only the number of fans who attend actual games, it would be in big trouble, since most of its revenue comes from TV." Then you would think: "Hey, shouldn't the fact that 15 million people are actively following the results of MLB games be seen as a good thing?"

And look how sinister Albom makes fantasy baseball seem — a "shadow world," "make-believe," "never hear a cheer..." It's like he's describing the faerie kingdom of Lost-Hope in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.


The point is, I don't really think Mitch Albom gives a shit how many people are playing fantasy baseball. I think he's writing a faux-populist rant aimed at curmudgeonly 72-year-old people who read Parade magazine and think computers are evil machines that are trying to steal their medicine, because he, Albom, thinks there might be some grandpas out there who have not yet read Five People You Meet in Heaven (there are not) and wants them to put down their Parade magazines and pick up their day-by-day vitamin trays and say, "You know sum'im? That boy understands American values!"

It's as if you took the best lines from Shakespeare and formed your own play. Or took rock's best guitar solos and strung them into "your" song. Fantasy baseball uses the talents but loses the stage. And in so doing, it loses much more.


Fantasy baseball is a game that people play for fun. The people who play it also watch real baseball games. Fantasy baseball has no impact, positively or negatively, on how much baseball is enjoyed by people who do not play fantasy baseball. There is no point to this article.

Now, don't misunderstand. Fans have a right to their fun.

Dude, don't hedge your bets. The only thing you have going for you in this piece is that you are taking a weird position on a benign topic in order to capture the hearts and minds of the specific demographic who reads this magazine. Don't back off now. At least have the courage of your cynically generated convictions.


Some collect trading cards. Some record every at-bat with a colored pencil. Heck, as a kid, I sold programs for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Now he's just sucking up. He's totally "aww shucksing" it and sucking up to Parade magazine readers. No one writes things like "Heck, as a kid..." unless they are sucking up to 90-year-olds in Clearfield, Pa., who read Parade magazine and might just have an orange-lipstick-stained tenspot they're willing to part with in order to read about the heartwarming tales of a large-chinned sweetheart who Understands American Values and once hung out with an old man a lot before brutally murdering him in an attempt to commit the "perfect crime." (That's what Tuesdays with Morrie is about, right? I've never read it.)


I trudged up and down the stadium steps, a bag over my shoulder, reminding the crowd, "You can't tell the players without a scorecard!"

Picture this scene in your head. What year is it taking place? Like 1932, right? Mitch Albom is 52 years old. This probably happened in the mid 1970s. He is trying to fool the old people.


But those fans had come to see the game. To cheer a dramatic home run or an inning-ending strikeout. They wanted their team to win. And if it lost, the fact that one player had three hits was of no consolation.

Those fans were Americans! They came to [cliché] or to [cliché]! Thank you, 2010 Red Smith Award Winner, for painting such a crystal clear and electrifying picture of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


Also, for the record, I have never played Fantasy Baseball, but in 1985 the pain of a Red Sox loss was quite often mitigated by a 3-for-4 Boggs night.

In fantasy baseball, it's the opposite. The real outcome doesn't matter. Every other player in the lineup can whiff, as long as the one guy on your fantasy team has a good day.


That's true...for fantasy purposes. Believe it or not, people can have certain feelings about their fantasy teams and other, perhaps different feelings about their favorite actual teams. But I know you know this, you disingenuous little minx.

And this is where sports dies and statistics take over. In the real game, a player may bunt the ball to help his team win. He's a hero. But in the fantasy world, he's a zero.


First of all, any player who bunts for any reason is a zero. But more importantly, I'm going to gently suggest to the 2010 Red Smith Award winner that claiming that anything about fantasy baseball can cause "sports" to "die" is a wee bit hysterical. I will also suggest to that same 2010 Red Smith Award Winner that the ol' hero/zero construct should probably stay in 1973 where it belongs.

Which may be why most big-league players I know aren't wild about fantasy leagues. And why most managers roll their eyes at the trend.


I feel like I've read about a lot of NFL and NBA guys playing fantasy sports. But maybe you're right, and MLBers are the exception. Let's see which young, hip, finger-on-the-pulse MLB personality you chose to illustrate your thesis.

"I never pay attention to it," says the Detroit Tigers' Jim Leyland,

Well, if you want a one-person sample to represent all of MLB, you should definitely choose a 215-year-old cigarette-smoking slab of craggy granite. If Jim Leyland were a game, he would not be fantasy baseball. He would be cribbage. And if Jim Leyland were a magazine, he would be a copy of Parade from 1988 that's all warped and sun-faded and moldy.


who's been managing the real thing for more than 20 years. "It's amazing when you hear fans say, 'Hey, I had your guy on my fantasy team.' That doesn't mean anything to us.

"Maybe people do it to feel like they're in charge of a real team. But it's nothing like a real team, believe me.


...Who the fuck said it was like a real team? Oh — I know. Mitch Albom said it, to Jim Leyland, in order to provoke the exact answer he got.

A real team has personal problems, injuries, the long grind of the season. You plug in fantasy players, it's like robots. You're missing the human pulse."


Real quick, though, Jimmy (and Mitch) — if you play fantasy baseball, you can also watch and enjoy regular baseball. The two are not mutually exclusive — indeed, I'd suggest they are symbiotic; playing fantasy would probably make one more inclined to watch real baseball, and vice versa. Your comments seem to be directed at hypothetical people who have the skills and wherewithal to play professional baseball, but decline to do so, in favor of only playing fantasy baseball. The Germans call such people Stöllingkindervheimerschloess, which translates to "people who don't fucking exist."

The human pulse. Exactly. If you program a computer correctly, it can play an entire fantasy season without you. Try winning a real game without a human being on the mound.


FANTASY BASEBALL AND ACTUAL BASEBALL ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. This is argumentum ad stupidem. It's like saying, "Ham sandwiches? Who needs 'em? When it comes to launching the space shuttle, I'll stick with rocket fuel, thank you."

Fantasy leagues—which first surged in the 1980s—are big in football and basketball, too. They're part of an enhanced sports experience that includes video games which let you run, move, and even celebrate as real players—so you can feel like the star. It's as if we want more and more to "own" the sports thing, even if we're not a bit athletic. If that Avatar movie ever becomes reality, kids will slip into NBA bodies rather than blue skin.


Mitch, don't frighten the old people who are reading this Parade magazine by referencing that scary movie with the big blue monsters. That's just mean. And by the way, slipping into the body of an NBA player Avatar-style would be fucking awesome, and if you had the ability to do that and refused, you would be dumber than I thought.

I worry for this growing fantasy-sports world,

Do you, you disingenuous, condescending ass? You "worry"?

not for what its followers are experiencing, but for what they're not. If you're so busy computing stats, you miss the real-life drama,


No you don't. You are also watching the real games.

you miss the physical artistry,

Nope. You're watching it.

you miss the electricity of a stadium

No. You go to games, if you can. Promise.

and the unity of your neighbors cheering alongside you.

The drama, the artistry, the electricity, the unity. Is it possible Mitch Albom wrote this entire article about fantasy ballet, and someone accidentally filed it under "baseball?"


Remember, no one does the wave alone in his basement.

Kudos, you unmitigated hack, on sneaking in a "[mom's] basement" reference. Super topical and funny and great writing. You're great. You're super great at writing. You won the Red Smith Award! That's awesome for you. You are great at what you do. You are a great writer. I love your writing and so does everyone else. It's great. Your writing is great. You are fresh and original and great at writing, because you are great and a great writer and great.


The human pulse. A base runner's straining face as he chugs from third to home. A pitcher's glare on a full count. The thud of a strike hitting a catcher's mitt. The smacking sound of a sure home run.

Hey, Ghost of Red Smith — in order to honor you properly, the 2010 You Award Winner has created a tremendous shit sandwich of a paragraph.


Here: let's read it again, but this time, we'll turn on the ClichéTron 4000:

The [cliché]. A base runner's [cliché] as he [cliché]. A pitcher's [cliché]. The [cliché] of a [cliché] [cliché]ing a [cliché.] The [cliché] of a [cliché].


Sorry for ruining everything you ever stood for, Red Smith!


The morons who gave Mitch Albom the Red Smith Award.

Baseball minus such things is just math. And let's be honest. Wasn't math class when we snuck the earphone from the transistor radio and enjoyed our original fantasies about the game?


This final, faux-poetic, condescending, shitty Proustian knock-off shitstain rhetoric is literally not worth the free Parade magazine it's printed in.

See you at the 2011 Red Smith Award Dinner, when your winner will be: Mitch Albom, again, probably.