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.