Oh Shut Up

published November 8, 2010

In recognition of the wisdom reflected in Ring Lardner’s immortal phrase, “Shut up, he explained,” I present my annual rundown of topics in sports we’re all tired of hearing about.

The BCS. It’s a short season, a broad universe of teams, and the system’s only purpose is to match number one against number two after all the games are played.  So what if the results look silly in week six?  Do you judge the result of a baseball game in the fourth inning?  By the end, it works pretty much as well as any such system could.  And it’s better than the old bowl system with conference tie-ins that made it almost impossible to put the top two teams on the same field.

I hope the Senate investigates the supposed unfairness of the BCS to its fullest.  I look forward to the demands for mathematical precision from a legislative body where 41% of the votes can prevent a bill or nomination from coming to the floor.

Disrespect. You’re a professional athlete.  Other professional athletes are going to try to beat you.  That’s their job.  Any disrespect that follows from that is just the nature of competitive sports.  As for the rest of us, if we don’t think you can win a championship and we say so, that isn’t disrespect; it’s an intellectual judgment about a physical endeavor we wish we were good enough to do.  We talk and watch; you get paid as a result.  Sounds like a win-win.  And no matter what we say, you’re going to play the game, and we’ll see the result at the end.  Nothing else matters.

Act Like You’ve Been There Before. We’re thirty years into the era of touchdown celebrations and sack dances.  I know Jim Brown just handed the ball to the referee and went back to the bench after he scored.  Jim Brown is 74.  The referees to whom he handed the ball are all dead.  So is the gesture.

Will Brett Favre Play? Or pretty much anything including the words “B—t F—e.”  He’s such a stale topic that it’s more than a year since Sears – not noted for its cutting edge humor – did a commercial making fun of him.  Until he’s hopping around on one leg with no arms like the Monty Python knight, he’ll find a way to start, for somebody.

Derek Jeter’s Contract. He’s going to sign with the Yankees.  He doesn’t want to play anywhere else, and they don’t want him to.  Whether they give him three years, or four, or five, what difference does it make?  It’s not like a commitment will keep them from pursuing other players.  They’re not going to raise ticket prices because of his contract; they’ll raise them if they think they can get away with it.  Regardless of what the outcome is, he and Minka will be able to afford good child care.

Your Fantasy Team. I’ve been in a fantasy baseball league for twenty-eight years.  Want to hear about the best trade I ever made?  Didn’t think so.  And I don’t want to hear about yours, or about the horrible loss your fantasy football team took when the Monday Night game went into overtime.  There has never been an actual conversation about fantasy sports; what appears to be a conversation is actually one person talking, and the other person mentally tapping his foot and awaiting his turn to speak.

Student-Athletes. Please.  They exist, but mostly in sports we don’t watch.  It’s been this way since Pudge Heffelfinger.  If Cam Newton really is getting $175,000 from Auburn, good for him; Gene Chizik is making more than ten times as much to recruit and coach him, so why shouldn’t the guy risking his body reap some rewards too?

Steroids and the Hall of Fame. The same people who went into paroxysms of joy over the McGwire-Sosa home-run race in 1998 are lining up ten years later to shun them from baseball’s holy of holies.  Here’s a bulletin: the word ”enshrine” is a metaphor, and none of the previous inductees were saints, either.  Steroids weren’t an issue for prior generations, because they didn’t believe weight training would help in baseball.  But greenies (amphetamines) definitely were an issue, and every player who took ‘em thought they would enhance his performance.

The record book doesn’t judge; it records.  Every record is the product of a particular set of conditions.  The steroids era raised the statistical bar on some measures of greatness, and so did changes in the liveliness of the ball, the size of the parks, the lighting conditions, and a host of other factors, environmental and strategic.  Separating the significant from the merely inflated requires judgment, but that’s what the vote is all about.  Ignoring the whole era is a sanctimonious copout.

The Umpires/Referees/Officials. Yes, they screw up.  A lot.  Sometimes inexplicably so.  It’s always been so; extensive film study has shown that Bill Klem’s strike zone ran from the inside corner to a foot outside, particularly when Herb Pennock was pitching.  OK, I made that up, but the fact is we have access to views and angles no one’s ever had before.  They’re not incompetent, they’re imperfect.  And if there are 176 games in a weekend, odds are pretty good SportsCenter will be able to find some calls that were badly blown in a few of them.  The games are played by people, and should be called by people – at least until we perfect the electronic home plate, sew sensors into the uniforms, and put chips on the points of the football.

Tiger Woods. Until he at least contends in a tournament.  Or I’m running low on column ideas.

And Let’s Not Forget: Rick Pitino’s suits, Jim Boeheim’s whining, Joe Paterno’s hair color, Troy Polamalu’s hair, Dick Vitale’s voice, Peyton Manning’s body language, Cliff Lee’s agent, Notre Dame football, Big Ten basketball, the Little League World Series, and any new commercials from Nike or ESPN.

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