By In Stuff

Hop On Pop

Narrator: And then there were my father and mother … two people who could find an argument on any subject.

Father: Wait a minute, are you telling me you think the Atlantic is a greater ocean than the Pacific?

Mother: No, have it your way. The Pacific is greater.

— Woody Allen’s “Radio Days”

* * *

Wow, do we love to argue in sports. I mean, sure, I like a good argument now and then too. Gets the blood pumping. I say Trout, you say Cabrera, you say the Gobi and I say Sahara, Cabrera, Sahara, Mascara, Rivera, let’s call the whole thing off. But I have to admit, I just don’t know where people get the energy to be angry about sports all the time, on every subject, at every given opportunity. I don’t know where they find the strength to turn on the fury machine anytime something even remotely disputable comes along.

On Thursday, an instant sports controversy bubbled up over Gregg Popovich. Fortunately, over on Sports on Earth the estimable Shaun Powell takes on Pop-o-Shots. Personally … I don’t know, is there a way in today’s culture to just say: “I can see both sides there?” Is there a way that you can find yourself just saying: “Yeah, you know, you are both kind of right?” Is there a way you can just say: “I’m not sure this is really worth arguing about?”

Yeah, I know. I’ve always known that I would be the single worst panelist ever on “Around the Horn.” Most of the people who appear on Around The Horn are friends of mine, I like them, I enjoy their company, I find them amusing. But I can’t watch. I don’t get the screaming. I don’t get the anger. Do they really care that much about whether Kobe or Dwight is the actual leader of the Lakers? Do they find themselves at home actually seething over the Nationals’ decision to shut down Strasburg? Do they scream at total strangers who are unaware that it’s wrong to compare Drew Brees to John Unitas?
I don’t know if these are actual topics on the show — like I say, I don’t watch it. I can’t watch it. I just don’t have it in me. I realize that it’s just showbiz, and for showbiz you need drama and passion and sparks, that the show would be beyond dreadful if people like me were on it. I’d spend the time going — “Yeah, I can see your point there,” and “Why are you screaming, I’m standing right here?” and “Fine, you win, Alex Smith is the right choice, whatever, can we go get a sandwich or something?” It wouldn’t exactly be riveting television. It was the same problem I had on radio.

It’s not that I find sports arguments silly or too insignificant to bicker about — far from it. Heck, I’ll spend 100,000 words at least writing about the Hall of Fame — we’re talking about something as insignificant as a HALL OF FAME — so I clearly have no problem at all digging so deep into the minutiae of things that people around me start running away. That’s one of my favorite parts of being a fan. It’s just that I don’t get the rage. I don’t get the intensity. I don’t get the ferocity or personal stake. It’s certainly no secret that I believe Jack Morris falls below what I think is the Hall of Fame line. I’ve written that a few hundred times. I’ve studied his career intensely, compared it with pitchers in the Hall, compared it with pitchers who are not in the Hall, and in my opinion he falls short of that extraordinary Hall of Fame standard. I think two fistfuls of pitchers — from Kevin Brown to to David Cone to Tommy John to Dave Stieb to Rick Reuschel to Luis Tiant — had demonstrably better careers, and they received little to no Hall of Fame consideration.

But I also think Jack Morris WILL go into the Hall of Fame, perhaps this year, and when he does I’ll be happy for him. I don’t want him to NOT be in the Hall of Fame. He was a terrific pitcher. He seems a good guy. I have strong memories of watching him pitch. His mustache is one of the best in baseball history. And it’s just baseball. I enjoy arguing about Morris because it touches on topics like pitcher wins and pitching to the score and stuff the I enjoy arguing about. But it isn’t personal. It isn’t anything close to personal. To the contrary: Though my opinion about Morris’ Hall of Fame candidacy remains the same, I hope he gets in this year because (1) He’s going to get in at some point, why wait? and (2) I don’t like seeing him or anyone else dragged through this dance of hope and disappointment every year.*

*I have my own opinion about how they should change the Hall of Fame voting so it doesn’t do that to players … I’ll write about that soon.

The outrage and faux outrage, the ability for people to jump from being incensed about one person’s view of tattoos immediately to how people won’t respect the Atlanta Falcons to a reservoir of indignation over Gregg Popovich and/or David Stern — it really does baffle me. Maybe it’s just a missing gene. Maybe it’s a serious flaw in my sports-fan DNA. Take the Popovich thing: Pop sent home his three best and most famous players — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli — even though his Spurs were playing Miami in a nationally televised game.

Now, on the one hand: I can see why people were disappointed and even peeved about it. The Spurs-Heat looked like a great and fun matchup. The NBA regular season is irrelevant enough without messing up the few semi-interesting games because a coach just decides to send his best players home. Plus, you could see some kind of irritating gamesmanship here — Pop not wanting to give Miami the satisfaction of seeing his best team.

On the other hand, I totally see Pop’s point. Duncan and Ginobli are now each 184 years old. The NBA schedule has had them on the road for a long while for reasons nobody can really explain too well. This Spurs were the best team in the NBA pretty much all of last season (a shortened season, no less), and, yes, when they played in the Western Conference Championship against Oklahoma City they looked entirely spent (as it will be when two of your best players are each 183 years old).

Both sides have points. And yet, the argument raged on like neither side could even SEE the other point. David Stern had a conniption and basically promised to have Pop jailed for an extended period of time. Many people lost their mind over Stern’s fury and screamed that the guy is an embarrassment to society. Twitter blew up. The Internet blew up. The talk shows blew up. And why? How can the pro-Pop people not see that it stinks to watch the Spurs play the Heat without their best players? How can the anti-Pop people not see that the NBA regular season is a stone’s throw from meaningless and that if the goal really is to win a championship, you should probably rest Duncan and Ginobli 50 or 60 games a year, maybe more — you should probably keep those guys in boxes filled with styrofoam packaging peanuts.

I just don’t see why some people get so angry about stuff like that. Well, maybe I do see. We tend to get angry about everything. Maybe that is what marks our time. Maybe a day with a good Popovich argument is a little bit more fun than a day without one. A friend of mine tells me all the time that I should get angrier more often, that it’s fun, it’s liberating, it reminds us that we’re alive. I told him to $^#&$^$ #&&$^#&. I did feel a little bit better.

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30 Responses to Hop On Pop

  1. Bryan says:

    I agree and feel the same way (and that’s why I read your site and avoid the mile-wide-inch-deep mass sports media). Two questions:

    1) Isn’t there a TV show format that would showcase your style of communication? Why can’t there be a “visual podcast” type show? You’re Oprah, and Mike Schur comes on and the two of you sit and have a conversation for 22m, broken up by commercials. I’d watch! (And you’d finally have an audio engineer …)

    2) Aren’t these people angry about other things in their lives, and sports is the proverbial dog?

  2. I agree. There is entirely too much rage in our society, particularly among those who participate in and watch sports. I have a hard time watching college football any more for fear that Will Muschamp or some other coach will actually snap and assault one of his own players on national TV. Passion is good. Maybe even intensity. But nonstop, unfettered rage is not, in any way, good.

    This reminds me of a line from Yeats’ “Second Coming,” “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Not that coaches or sports fans are the worst, but they can sure act like it sometimes.

  3. Yeager says:

    The Misconception: Venting your anger is an effective way to reduce stress and prevent lashing out at friends and family.

    The Truth: Venting increases aggressive behavior over time.

  4. Unknown says:

    I forgot the Nats shutdown Strasburg for the playoffs. I’m incensed all over again.

  5. Unknown says:

    You getting mad reminds me of this classic Seinfeld episode:

  6. Josh says:

    “His mustache is one of the best in baseball history.”

    Yet another reason to believe Dwight Evans was unfairly snubbed.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I know. I watched a lot of Dwight Evans and knew he was a good player. But he was never the best player on the team, and it didn’t seem like he was even the second or third best player. But his numbers don’t lie. How a player can be understated in Boston, I don’t know. But he definitely was.

    • Scott says:

      Dwight Evans was ahead of his time. His ability to get on base and produce runs wasn’t fully appreciated in his day.

      I grew up in Boston and I can tell you this: I never met a Red Sox fan who didn’t adore Dewey. You could find someone, the lone wolf here and there, to badmouth anyone else, even the stars. But I never heard a bad word on Evans, honest.

  7. Rob Smith says:

    Joe: aren’t you the one that invented the term Clemenate? That is the term for sports hate (for others that don’t know that). Didn’t you write an entire blog about clemenating LeBron James? Why do we do it? Because it’s fun and not terribly serious. It’s the same thing with sports arguments. There is (almost) nothing better than a good heated sports argument. In the end, nobody but a total idiot is going to come to blows, or anything, but an in person or blog comment argument, especially a heated one is great fun. In fact, I was looking forward to your annual steroid user apologist HOF blog for just this reason…. and I piled on as best as I could. So, come on Joe, you have a sports blog that allows comments. What’s the purpose of the comments section? To tell you how great you are all the time & agree with everything you say? Well, some of that is fine, but the main reason is to stir it up a little bit and have a spirited discussion. Am I wrong? I don’t understand your not understanding what heated sports discussions are all about. You’re kind of like the guy that throws a rock during a demonstration, then steps back and wonders aloud why there is suddenly a riot.

  8. Nick says:

    Agreed, but that awful racist article on Kaepernick’s tattoos really WAS worth getting mad over.

  9. Curtis Ruder says:

    Here is the thing that is mind-boggling to me: Pop has been doing this for almost a generation, and nobody has ever cared. I have lived in the SA area since 1986, and I remember one year when they put Duncan on the injured reserve list for the last couple of games of the season because they had already clinched their play-off spot, and if I remember right, they had it listed as patellar tendinitis. Reporters asked him if his knee would be ready for the play-offs, and Duncan asked them which knee was supposed to be hurt anyway?

    Last year on the road against Denver in the middle of the season, Pop sat Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili, and nobody batted an eye. And late in the season, the NBA vice president said that deciding who to play and for how long was at the discretion of the team.

    The Spurs under Popovich are probably the best managed team in all of American professional sports. Lots of their best people are now running the shows across the league, and lots of their best ideas have been copied throughout the league, too.

    In a league where it seems half the teams are positioning themselves for the draft lottery by Christmas time, Stern has much bigger problems for putting a good product out on the floor than Popovich’s player rotations.

    • Clashfan says:

      I was at a Blazers game last year, and the Spurs had Parker, Duncan, and I think Ginobili. They were in street clothes. The Blazers, terrible as they were, rolled in that game. But who cared?

      I think Stern is upset because this was a big game, two strong teams that should have made for a good matchup, national TV–and Pops didn’t play the game.

    • The Hammer says:

      Vegas cared. They got rolled to. Sharps found out before they could move the line.

    • The home team (Miami), which had to be the favorite going in, no matter who San Antonio played, won by 5 and trailed with a half-minute to go. What’s there for Vegas to complain about?

  10. Yeah, catharsis is one of the worst ideas of pseudo-psychology that people have caught on to and treated like truth. The trusth is that venting anger through rage begets more rage; venting sexual frustration through porn or strip clubs or something begets more sexual frustration, etc.

    It really is bad for us as a country. You see it in sports, but politics is worse, of course: I’m absolutely right and you are trying to destroy/block everything that is right and decent. My motives are pure and you have the worst possible motives imaginable.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Incorrect. Sports is different. I have heated sports arguments with friends all the time and it’s great fun. Why? Nobody really, really takes it seriously. It’s just having fun. Now politics is totally different. You can’t bring up anything political without some wacko going nuts and repeating Rush Limbaugh’s latest comments. Also, the porn/strip club analogy is pretty poor. Those having nothing to do with arguing about whether Barry Bonds should get into the HOF. There is nothing unhealthy about that. Porn and strip clubs are very unhealthy & like I said, way off base in this blog.

  11. Scott says:

    I don’t know Jack Morris, but based on that sleazy thing he said to that Detroit-area female journalist, I wonder if he’s a good guy. See what Jennifer Frey thinks.

  12. matt david says:

    I watch Around the Horn sometimes. I don’t think anyone gets angry at all. It seems like they all are having fun. Joe, maybe you should check it out again.

  13. matt david says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Michael says:

    I don’t understand why everybody got so mad about the Spurs or LeBron James. But I certainly understand why people get mad about baseball. It’s the only sport that matters.

    I’d like to remind you all that one time, a Brooklyn Dodger fan shot and killed a New York Giant fan in the 1930s. Others have taken this stuff far more seriously.

  15. While I agree wholeheartedly with this essay, I still must confess a certain degree of unhealthy rage at the fact that Dan Quisenberry will probably not get into the HoF. I guess we all have a limit to our capacity for rational tolerance of contrary opinions, even in sports.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Dan Quisenberry? Look him up. He had five good years as a reliever. Lee Smith had 15 good seasons and he’s not getting in. I think Lee Smith’s fans have a far better case.

    • Sorry, never meant to imply that Lee Smith does not belong in the HoF, or even that DQ belongs in there more. Just a statement that even while I recognize the wisdom of the original post, even I find myself straying at some point.

  16. Liked the column, like the comments. Bring back the fairness doctrine to the public airwaves so there’s conversation to listen to (about politics) that isn’t just angrily-delivered propaganda.

  17. Vidor says:

    It seems like basically throwing a game is something worth getting angry over.

  18. Costas had a good thing going tonight about needing tragedy to give us perspective all the time………until he decided to go on with his anti-gun speech

  19. J.R. Granger says:

    I was shocked that Stephen A. Smith basically said “I can see both sides on this issue.” He is one of the guys that seems to yell about everything, seeing him have a reasonable take on the Pop/Stern thing was refreshing.

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