The slightly powerless slugger Bobby Abreu has been a joy to watch since the Yankees practically stole him from the Phillies on the last day of July, in exchange for some mild prospects that included an Oklahoman and a Jesus. His approach at the plate is relaxed—a lefty slump with lazy eyes, the bat not a menacing Sheffield waggle but instead inspiring calm and patience. In right field, he seems to loaf a little, but always glides over to the ball before it drops. If I close my eyes, I can see his unmistakable form sliding into second base, having driven in the go-ahead run in the final game of the Yankees recent sweep of the Red Sox. Indelible, his noble Venezuelan profile.
Of course, I didn’t see that game. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve actually seen more than two Abreu at-bats. I’m a sincerely rabid Yankee fan, but I don’t have a TV that’s good for anything more than Netflix. So I follow the team on the internet, watching their every move through the refracted medium of fan web sites.
I could listen to their games on the radio, but I find the voices of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, the Yankee radio announcers, insufferable. Sterling plays lead, a pompous twit with a misused stentorian vocabulary, while Waldman is featured in the role of sycophant, echoing Sterling and attributing moral virtue to every Yankee. I’ll bear them if I’m in the car, but I prefer not to. Instead, I’ll wait until morning when I can re-live the Yankees game with thousands of more engaging fans.
My day usually goes like this. I try to get to work a little early every morning, to free up a little time for my habit. I get some coffee, settle into my un-ergonomic chair, and make my usual stops: e-mail, Romenesko, Pitchfork—then it’s on to the fields of play. Appropriately, since I’m sitting in front of a computer, most of the blogs I visit are ardently sabermetric, that is, they discuss baseball in terms of advanced statistics, mixing fanboy exhortations with minute dissections of VORP and WARP, two of the many metrics that purport to define a player’s worth better than batting average or RBIs.
I start with the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog. Replacement Level refers to a sabermetric concept—a replacement level player is your typical AAA player, a fungible commodity. Larry Mahnken, the proprietor of the RLYW, is thus a self-deprecating guy. What you’ll get on the RLYW is a recap of last night’s game, much like the Times’, but with more emotion and statistics. Maybe there was an opportunity for Joe Torre to leverage a statistical advantage—according to Mahnken, Torre typically has not done so. The site is crudely designed, but the comments are where the action is (Not a lotta ladies here, or elsewhere in the online baseball world. Those that there are tend to go by names like Baseball Chick, and are the objects of a fair amount of modem-mediated drooling). Back and forth rage the arguments, but mostly people say the same thing endlessly. That doesn’t mean I won’t have to check back during the day to see if they’ve said it again.
Then it’s on to the website of the Yankees TV network, yesnetwork.com, where I’ll see if Stephen Goldman has written another installment of the Pinstriped Bible, a weekly feature, or, more frequently, the Pinstriped Blog. Goldman’s a genuinely elegant writer, with wide-ranging interests and avocations. There are usually some literary descriptors, a historical reference or two, and maybe a totally overblown rhetorical figure mixed in with the baseball analysis. Take, for instance, his discussion of the dugout floor in Yankee Stadium, where “the collected expectoration of players going back to Babe Ruth is running like a foul river just under your feet.” He’s a good man, Goldman.
I’ll then take a quick look at Bronx Banter, the blog of Cliff Corcoran and Alex Belth, a sort of highbrow alternative to the RLYW. They mix in a little baseball history and a more elegant web interface, but it’s mostly the same game recap and desperate rhetoric. The commentors really do seem to have an almost Rockwellian belief in the Yankees—and baseball in general—as a better place, an uncynical wonderland. Poster Simone, after the Yankees clinched the A.L. East by the disappointing method of having the Red Sox mirror a Yankee loss, writes, “Congrats to the Yankees! I am still walking on air. I am thrilled for the guys and for us fans who get to enjoy the playoffs and hopefully, a World Series championship. I am very happy for journey men like Guiel and youngster like Melky experiencing the playoffs for the first time. Heady stuff.”
The most interactive of all the sites, and my typical final stop of the morning, is baseballthinkfactory.org, where links to articles are posted, and then in the discussions people go crazy. A link to an article about whether Derek Jeter or Jose Reyes is the better shortstop will generate hundreds of comments, with repeat posters—whose handles often refer to some previous argument on the site—going back and forth with ever more heated accusations and arguments, usually statistical in nature. (Here you’ll find Mankhen again, now in more confident voice).
The great thing about baseball statistics is that there are so many of them, and if you want to prove that player A is better than player B, you can usually find a stat to back it up. It’s objective! I guess that’s the same with all branches of statistics—that’s why there are so many famous quotes to that effect. Anyway, that’s the principle that most internet discussion works on.
None of this is particularly fun. Playing baseball is fun, and watching it is usually fun, too, at least if your team is winning. But following it on the internet is a compulsion, not a leisure activity, and after every season I breathe a little easier, and try to ease back on the internet, hoping my obsession will peter out before next season. It hasn’t worked yet, and I doubt it will. But I sure know a lot about baseball, even if I haven’t seen much of it.