Cardinals

WHEELER: Why Do Irrational Thoughts Dominate Sports Discussions?

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Say what you want about my opinions, I don’t mind. People disagree all the time and I would never expect everyone to think the same way I do across the board. Disagreement is fun and natural.

But irrationality will never sit well with me. People who react without thinking, who lapse into groupthink and the mob mentality, absolutely drive me crazy. We see this in sports all the time – and that’s what I’ll be writing about – but we see it in politics as well where the person you didn’t vote for is an idiot and the person you did vote for deserves the benefit of the doubt. Yeah right.

Emotion gets in the way of logic. Check that, emotion shoves logic out the door of a moving car…

Here are the subjects that pushed me to write this blog post…

The Cardinals

They’re 74-53, 1-game out of 1st place in the NL Central entering tonight’s Game 2 against the Braves. That puts the Cardinals 4.5 games ahead of their pace on August 23, 2012. It also puts them 8 games ahead of where they were on August 23, 2011.

Last year they wound up reaching Game 7 of the NLCS.

In 2011 they won the World Series.

Despite that knowledge there is endless hand wringing, head bashing and general complaining every time the Cardinals go through a rough stretch. Every time a starter fails to go 6-7 innings, there is angst. When a hitter fails in a key spot, the tension ratchets up a notch or two.

Why is it so difficult to let things play out? This team is fine. They have their flaws but so do the Reds and Pirates. So do the Braves and Dodgers for that matter.

Speaking of the Dodgers, they’re 1-game better than the Cardinals in the standings. Based on how people perceive each team you’d think the Dodgers were a world beater and the Cardinals were in danger of falling to their doom.

The truth is this: one team was hot early, the other is hot now. And neither of those things matter. All that matters is what happens between now and the end of the World Series.

That’s when we can judge the season.

Yasiel Puig

Over the last several days there have been stories in the baseball world about the Dodgers’ frustrations regarding Puig’s lack of regard for the fundamentals of the game. Hitting the cut off man rather than sailing a throw 25 feet in the air, better base running decisions, etc.

Strangely there are people who don’t think those things matter. As long as Puig is producing, they argue, leave him alone.

To that I ask this: If you had a 22 year-old son who was getting straight A’s in college and on the verge of graduating at the top of his class, would you just “leave him alone” if he was coming home dead drunk 3-4 times a week?

“Getting the job done” is not an excuse to ignore bad behavior. You can encourage the good while trying to improve the bad.

Puig is an amazing player and he is also, somehow, a fire brand. Everything about him evokes exaggeration, both good and bad. People wanted to make him an All-Star after spending just a month in the Majors. Some are arguing for him as MVP even though he’s only played in just over half (55%) of his team’s games.

Does the fact that someone in sports is new and exciting mean you suspend all rational thought? Elevate him to the top! Don’t correct his flaws, leave him alone!

It’s insane.

The Dodgers are taking the right approach, thankfully. Encouraging Puig while also doing everything in their power to ensure that he learns how to play the game in a way that he doesn’t hurt the team in a key spot down the road.

Yet anyone who critiques Puig’s flaws is viewed as a “hater,” or something along those lines. It’s unreal.

By the way, let’s compare Puig to a guy who had people hyperventilating last season:

Puig: .346, 12 HR, 29 RBI, 7 SB, 6 CS and a .963 OPS.

Player X: .333, 21 HR, 78 RBI, 28 SB, 4 CS, 1.004 OPS

“Player X” is Mike Trout. With the same number of games played as Trout, Puig would have 21 HR, 51 RBI, 12 SB, 10 CS and an OPS 41 points lower than Trout’s.

Puig and Trout are the same age, by the way.

So why is Trout, undoubtedly the better player, getting less attention than Puig? Two reasons: one, the Dodgers are surging and will be a playoff team; two, Puig is a shiny new object and too many baseball observers are easily distracted by shiny new objects.

Ichiro

Another insanity. Over the last couple of days I’ve had to read headlines about Ichiro getting his “4,000th hit at the highest levels of professional baseball.”

Really? 4,000 hits? We’re counting stats from Japan now?

Funny, I don’t see Saduharu Oh’s 868 career home runs on his plaque in Cooperstown. What? He doesn’t have a plaque? But we’re counting stats from Japan, right?

Tuffy Rhodes (remember him?) hit 474 HR in Japan but couldn’t stick in the Majors, even as a reserve.

Heck, Alex Cabrera has 361 home runs – the same as Joe DiMaggio! – if you count his numbers from Japan. Just because 356 of those came in Japan and only 5 came in the Majors doesn’t matter, it’s still an “amazing achievement!”

Anyone know who Wladimir Balentien is? He was a power hitting prospect in the Seattle organization who spent a little time in the Majors with the Mariners and with the Reds. In his Major League career (2007-2009) he hit .221 with 15 HR and and 149 K in 511 AB.

Right now in the Japanese Central league he’s hitting .337 with 46 home runs and 99 RBI. In 94 games! That’s a 79 HR and 171 RBI pace over 162 games.

For a guy that couldn’t hack it in the Majors. That should tell you a bit about where the overall level of Japanese professional baseball is. It’s somewhere between Double-A and Triple-A and, much like the minors here, there are some mega talents who stand out and eventually come to the Majors.

Japanese professional baseball is good baseball. But it’s nowhere near Major League caliber and therefore should not even been considered when talking about a Major League player’s career.

Ichiro is an outstanding player. He’s almost certainly going to reach 3,000 hits in the Majors and that will be after getting a late start. He’s got a case for the Hall of Fame. Isn’t that enough? Why do we have to lose touch with being rational, sentient beings in an attempt to over-praise an outstanding player?

It just doesn’t make sense.

My final plea in this space today is for everyone reading to spread the word: think with your brain, not your heart, when it comes to sports. It always works out better. I’m as die-hard as a sports fan can get but I’ve found that using logic and reason to evaluate a situation is much less stressful and brings much greater levels of enjoyment.

I worry less, stress out less and still enjoy the successes every bit as much as anyone else does. Try it. You’ll like it.

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