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July 24, 2012
Fear And Loathing (And Acceptance) in Nerdery
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Tim Baffoe is a teacher, pizza delivery driver extraordinaire, columnist for 670TheScore.com in Chicago, a Ginger, and not nearly as cool as he pretends to be. He’s @Ten_Foot_Midget on Twitter if you’re nasty, where he is followed by the likes of BP’s Kevin Goldstein and Chuck D (who isn’t BP’s). You’re welcome to tell him he sucks or ask him a question for his weekly mailbag about sports or life at email@example.com.
You people frighten me.
Yeah, I used “you people.” Take offense, I don’t care.
Excuse me, I should clarify. I am a dork. See, I’m an English major and teach high school literature courses aside from doing this writing thing (I also deliver pizza, but that doesn’t apply to the narrative). My abnormal appreciation for Shakespeare and Twain and Vonnegut and other dead dudes whose words I manipulate into applying to today’s world of iPods and social media and The Jersey Shore—and getting kids to do the same because I’m damn awesome—makes me an English dork.
That which didn’t involve self expression and the beauty of language didn’t interest me in high school. Sr. Helen Jeanne Hurley, a tiny but lethal nun, could probably tell you I absorbed more of the awful orange air freshener she’d spray on me after farting out the cafeteria chili in her AP Calculus class than any functions or integrals. I found that and physics and chemistry and geometry to be a finite series of infinitely mind-numbing “What the hell is this crap for?”
You, on the other hand, are nerds. Nerds dig math and science and why imaginary numbers frolic together in nerdville building quadrilateral sandcastles in the sky and X and Y coordinating your Happy Meals. Sure, you’ve made invaluable contributions to society that have saved lives, taken man into outer space, and walked down stairs, alone or in pairs, and made a slinkety sound. But as Robin Williams’ John Keating said in the film that every English teacher is required to watch at least once a month lest our membership cards be revoked, Dead Poets Society, “And medicine, law, business, engineering—these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love—these are what we stay alive for.”
I mean, just look at your nerd heroes. Those stiffs couldn’t turn on a chick’s Kindle, let alone her naughty bits. Euclid sounds like something you get checked out at the free clinic.
But we dorks have idols like Hemingway and Byron, who just absolutely crushed it when it came to the ladies. Hell, even Arthur Miller, a guy who looked like a manager at H&R Block, got Marilyn Monroe.
The written word causes women to swoon. Numbers cause heartburn. Our work has caused more wars than any other factor in history and has killed thousands of men not once but for eternity. Yours has merely figured out how to turn a profit from blood, sweat, and tears.
We dorks are better than you because we’re expressive and, well, social. You nerds hate us for that; thus, we are mortal enemies, even if we’ve been able to coexist since Ancient Greece.
Strangely enough we both have found common bonds throughout history, usually with my people waxing on the beauty and greater significance of things, and you buzzkilling that by demanding to know how the toaster works instead of the taste of the sandwich.
And now we meet again at a crossroads. And this time it’s baseball.
The game was doing just fine. Over a hundred years it existed fairly unmolested by nerdery. The game was the most beautiful ever created, perfectly imperfect. As spoken of in Ken Burns’ epic documentary, “…A pastoral game, born in crowded cities; an exhilarating democratic sport that tolerates cheating and has excluded as many as it has included; a profoundly conservative game that sometimes manages to be years ahead of its time. It is an American odyssey that links sons and daughters to father and grandfathers. And it reflects a host of age-old American tensions: between workers and owners, scandal and reform, the individual and t he collective. It is a haunted game, where each player is measured by the ghosts of those who have gone before. Most of all, it is about time and timelessness, speed and grace, failure and loss, imperishable hope, and coming home.”
Baseball was art, not long division. It was “Casey at the Bat” and Walt Whitman and Norman Rockwell. It was Bernard Malamud’s beautifully tragic novel and the pretty good cinematic bastardization.
And then you nerds screwed it all up.
You had astronomy, medicine, economics, and architecture. Why’d you have to have baseball, too? Why did the game have to be so perfectly quantifiable, rigid, friggin’ mathematical for you?
At first it didn’t bother me. It’s sports—a fabulous opiate. If you poindexters wanted to know the hows and whys of a piece of entertainment, fine. Go dry hump your calculators during a Royals/Mariners game to your heart’s content… excuse me, your brain’s content—you nerds have no heart. That’s your problem.
But I was a writer, albeit an amateur one. And when you love writing, you write about what you love (note: love is that infinite, often indescribable and unquantifiable emotional attachment to something one finds beautiful, and it asks not how nor why. Sort of like the feeling you get inside when NOVA is on TV). I love sports, so it was only natural that there would be a marriage between them and my creative process.
No big deal, though, as far as your bogarting the joy and art from the game. I didn’t have to conform to your nerddom because I was in what is historically always the majority—the stubborn and the poor. I began to hear and read people I respect in the sports analysis biz start to gravitate toward the Jamesian way of the game. Repetitive were stupid Trekkie character names like BABIP and VORP and xFIP and WAR.
Ha, I thought. What is it good for? (I… I apologize. That was awful.)
All the “math” I needed was on the back of baseball cards and underneath the players’ names on TV when they came to bat. If you wanted to go all Dungeons and Dragons on the sport, that was cute. My eyes were all I needed to deviate good from bad.
Then I won a contest.
There was this open tryout thing for a blogging job for 670 The Score—Chicago’s #1 Sports Station. I decided I’d give it a whirl, and lo and behold, I won. Now I was a professional sports writer (sort of, if you’ve ever seen a CBS paycheck). That meant I could no longer be ignorant of a trend that good writers I admired were embracing.
You damn, dirty nerds.
It didn’t help that I’ve lived my entire life in Chicago, and my beloved Cubs went and lured Theo Epstein, one of your gods, away from Boston to finally unidiot the most futile franchise in sports.
Now I was forced to embrace… or at least reluctantly shake hands with sabermetrics. Hell, it took me over a thousands words here before I even used that word. If not, I risked being seen as obtuse and Whitlockian.
If there’s one thing we dorks and nerds can absolutely agree on, it’s that we dread being seen as ignorant, especially willfully ignorant. So I had to pull—this is hard for me to say… deep breaths… okay—a Bill Simmons.
I had to become a nerd. Or so I assumed.
I fear change like any man does. I also fear having to use the part of my brain that worked well enough to pull a D- in AP Physics my senior year of high school. I fear you freaks, you robots incapable of accepting anything that can’t be concluded by a formula.
Becoming one of you is what I fear most of all.
But I’ve found my long day’s journey into algorithms to be less rocky than expected. For one thing, you nerds actually aren’t all that awful of a group of subhumans and have been pretty welcoming of me (just please keep a 12-inch gap between us during conversations, weirdos). Also, you suckers do all the heavy lifting.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not a sabermetrician. Not by a long shot. I have a thoroughly tin ear for the stuff, but I’m trying and learning. Trying to convince one of my fantasy leagues to shift ever so slightly from the antiquated and heavily flawed traditional 5x5 stats, but I’ve been largely met as a heretic. Odd that I’m now being criticized for that of which I used to be critical.
And another thing I’ve learned because of you all is that being at least slightly up to snuff on this stuff really makes for a logical baseball argument, and I am a fan of logic. I teach a course on rhetoric—it’s very much my favorite class every year—and logos is the argumentative appeal to logic, the strongest rhetorical appeal there is. I’d be a hypocrite to not practice what I preach to teenagers… in that sense, at least. What I do on the weekends, not so much.
Ironically, my favorite class contains a main component in logic that also happens to be a major mathematical field. I begrudgingly accepted that a while ago. Seems a refined, cosmopolitan like me who prefers to wield a pen—bold, permanent, unforgiving—sort of owes a lot to starchy, wire-frames who cower behind an eraser.
So I should be content in our symbiotic relationship. I’m a little less fearful, too, and I guess you freaks ain’t all bad.
Now I’m off to a bar to talk to some women.