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December 9, 2011

Winter Meetings Update

Collection of Cool

by Jason Parks

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The Winter Meetings are a yearly gathering where the baseball industry makes every attempt to recreate the adolescent experience, from the pangs of isolation and insecurity to the power of popular cliques to the masquerade of playing dress-up. The emotional current can be extreme and confusing. The cool kids in the clique are either legitimately cool people or people who have been in the scene long enough to assemble a substantial posse, and as a result appear legitimately cool because they never ride alone. Within the cool clique are several grades of coolness, be it individual or the coolness of the group itself; rarely does a pack of legitimately cool people end up in the same posse for any duration, as the dynamics suggests too many legitimately cool people in the same clique will create a power struggle for the position of the Alpha Cool, a coveted position in any social group. To achieve premium coolness and coolness sustainability, cliques should hold the following dynamic:

The Alpha Cool: This is the coolest member of each social group, a person who can attract other people with coolness into his or her atmosphere. Alpha Cools can be the designated Alpha Cools for several cliques at the same time, holding elite status despite the established dynamic of a particular group. Alpha Cools are usually public figures in their professional life, men or women with a particular shine or exceptional quality. They have large personalities and encourage people to be in the audience of that personality, either because of the personality itself, the platform that personality functions in, the always desirable ability to offer verbose yet compelling fantastical tales while under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances, or superficial qualities that naturally draw people in, like proper dress, unique or well-presented groom, or innate physical beauty. Alpha Cools burn bright and can quickly burn out, depending on the specific nature of their profession or platform, personality, or in the event of diminished capacity to story-tell or hold liquor in full function.

Second in Command: These are cool people with the potential to operate as an Alpha Cool in smaller, less cool groups. They play an important role ancillary to the actual Alpha Cool of a legitimately cool clique, often as a riffing partner, set-up man/woman, or temporary two-headed monster for those situations that require two Alpha Cools to overwhelm the clique with twice the coolness. When tasked with or if operated beyond their coolness skill set, the SiC can be exposed as a slightly less-than-cool individual, resulting in public awareness of this reality, embarrassment, or downgraded coolness status within a specific clique. SICs are often humorous without being too pungent with their silly; call it a controlled approach to humor and laughter indoctrination. Like a quality number-three starter, SiCs have tremendous value, especially when the price is reasonable and the relationship to the Alpha Cool functional. When the price becomes expensive and the self-evaluation suggests a frontline Alpha Cool status rather than a quality number three, the structure breaks down and the perceived worth or value hinders the performance going forward.

The Innocuous Floater: This is someone with the skills necessary to exist in various groups, free from power grabs or attention demands. These people lack plus qualities but offer enough to stick around; they’re free from intense poison or intense passion. Innocuous floaters rarely attach to one particular clique—hence the floater distinction. Oddly enough, Innocuous Floaters can be offensive, as their mere presence can be annoying when you find them participating (sort of) in various cliques throughout an evening. Innocuous Floaters rarely have names that people remember, forcing a badge peek (assuming they are credentialed for the event), or vague pronoun assignments, possibly even a “man” or a “dude.” Floaters are almost always male, and they are almost always white guys with boring faces. Floaters have value in their volume; most cool cliques run at least five deep, with floaters inflating the posse and enhancing the overall appeal of a group, especially to those with uncool qualities or to other “cool” groups that don’t feature a deep posse.

The Loudmouth/motor-mouth: This is a complicated classification, as a loudmouth/motor-mouth can often take on a more distinguished role within the clique, possibly achieving Alpha Cool status if the loudmouth/motor-mouth happens to have top-quality material to vocalize at loud volumes or high frequency. The obvious downside is annoyance or ridiculousness or an unappealing combo of annoyance and ridiculousness, putting the other members of the clique on the defensive when the unappealing qualities of the loudmouth/motor-mouth overwhelm the established dynamic of the group. L/M-M fill an important role, often acting in a catalytic capacity, pushing the group to a higher intensity and drawing attention to the group. Attention can be positive; attention has a relationship with coolness, so the more intense the discussion and discourse, the cooler the group will appear to those participating in groups that are operating at a lower intensity level [read: a group that isn’t as cool]. L/M-M never last long in any one social group, showing adaptive nomadic behavior, setting up a temporary residence, burning down the house, then moving down the line to build again with another group.

The Incendiary: Often misclassified as L/M-M, the Incendiaries don’t require uncomfortable volume or a loquacious approach to trigger action within a group. Combative types, usually with a passion for alcohol and antagonism, Incendiaries often operate with a skillful grace that the L/M-M lacks, even with the aforementioned passion for drink. A quality Incendiary can assist the Alpha Cools and SiCs by guiding the cool in a positive direction, usually through controlled social antagonism, which in turn gives the leadership of the group material to either develop or refine. It’s not uncommon to find incendiary qualities in the higher-ups on the coolness ladders, but true Incendiaries stay true to the specified role, focusing all attention on timed antagonism and passionate (yet controlled) alcohol consumption.

The Uncool: Every clique needs an uncool member to elevate and accentuate the cooler qualities of the other members of the group. While not technically classified as a “loser,” the Uncool is simply not very cool, lacking the necessary attributes of coolness while possessing the negative attributes that define the Uncool. Rarely do the Uncool actively participate in the discussion, and they never control the pace or direction of a cool group. The Uncool usually have boring faces, and when they do enter into the conversation, they say boring things that make the subsequent conversation more exciting and cool by default. The Uncool shouldn’t be confused with the Innocuous Floater, as the Uncool often attach to an Alpha Cool or a SiC, either as a human laugh track, a fluffer, or a target for abuse to enhance the amusement of the leadership. Uncool people with the most value are the ones who realize and accept their level of cool, taking pride in the role that suits their skill set and extracting enough enjoyment from the overall perception of the group than from his specific role as an uncool fluffer.

 While it’s certainly true that cool cliques can exist in opposition to this dynamic, they rarely offer sustainability; when the roles blur and the coolness is challenged, the coolness suffers. This was a focus on the cool cliques, representing a small percentage of the overall social scene, and not a focus on uncool cliques, which are very common and very unattractive and not worth dissecting because most of them are a mess to begin with. Most of us find ourselves floating in a world where our coolness roles are not defined, and even when they are, our insecurity over the perception of our role is very present in our experience. This is high school with more awareness, which isn’t always a good thing. As I drift through this strange industry gathering, I’ve yet to find the ideal cool clique, coming close on a few occasions, but falling short with each attempt. But if I find one, I guarantee you that I won’t be an active member; well, perhaps if I am the L/M-M or Incendiary, but that’s only if I’m not the Uncool or the Innocuous Floater. Sometimes its better not to know, right? Industry sources suggest I spend too much time thinking about this.   

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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