I should care about other things.
Part of what good, sabermetric analysis seeks to do is identify what is really Important, and then quantify those Important Things so that we can say with some assurance who is importantly good and importantly bad. We shouldn’t care about pitcher wins (silly!), or be enchanted by early-season marvels (insufficient sample size!), or get overly concerned about slow starts. We end up being curators of Important Things, encouraging fans to exert their caring toward something meaningful, and eschew that which does not matter. We allow for the silly, but defend the significant.
So you and I and everyone we know will tell you that isolated All-Star selections don’t matter. Baseball has decided the outcome of the game should matter, but the selections themselves are left open to such obvious squirreliness that we aren’t meant to ascribe them meaning. They can be kind of hinky; players who deserve to go spend time with their families and players who don’t spend time with their families in front of the camera. There’s a weird alchemy of fan votes and manager selections and injuries that goes into the selections. They wear funny hats or great hats, but never their own hats. Someone will groove one to David Ortiz (not that he particularly needs it) because that’s happens in an All-Star game. We shouldn’t care about this. I shouldn’t care about this. This does not matter. And yet… I do care. I care a lot. I care more than I should admit in front of people whose opinions matter to me. I cared when the first round of balloting came out and Omar Infante—no home runs Infante, soon to be DFA’ed Infante, Omar Freaking Infante—was ahead of Robinson Cano in the second base race. I care that Francisco Lindor isn’t in the top five at shortstop, or that Corey Seager had to claw his way back in. But he did, and it bugs me. It rankles. And I couldn’t quite figure out why. Some of the choices were obviously silly, but I like silly stuff. After all, I like baseball.
The thing is, we only need things to matter a little bit before they to start to feel like they matter a whole lot. They sneak in as something trifling but insidious, which manages to grow. The game having some real consequence for the postseason opens the door; the collection of individual trophies pries it wide. Missing the All-Star game in any given year isn’t a big deal. Guys get hurt, or have a down season, or play positions where the talent is crowded. But making an All-Star game in some year allows a player to say, “I was an All-Star.” The incremental value of those trinkets might not matter much in the beginning, but it accumulates by a magnitude. Like pitcher wins rolling into Cy Young votes and reputations, they are the remnant of seasons whose details we don’t remember as clearly as time passes. They matter a little bit, until they might end up mattering a lot.
We don't doubt that we know what is Important, but the part of us that knows what is important worries that it won't matter. We are pretty good at recognizing the important in the moment, but we forget or misremember the contours of it pretty quickly. Even though we may know that such-and-such Royal isn't worthy of their All-Star berth, we forget who is. Querying the negative is as hard as proving it, and we forget those guys who should have made it, or had a case. Not right now, of course. But down the road, as we look back and try to sort out the good from the very good.
And that would be fine if we were simply trying to justify buying a hat or a jersey, but we've been told this matters. Not a lot, or more than anything else, but somewhat, and somewhat more than some other things a player might do. It will be part of their baseball bone fides. It's all very silly, but by caring about baseball we have admitted the silly into evidence, and now are left to parse the silly into the truly absurd or the benign or the fun. It's just important enough. And because we prize precision, we've planted a native sense of justice in the midst of all this silliness. We might be able to tolerate a bit of squishiness at the top. After all, our quest for precision is self-aware enough to know that it isn't so precise at all. We leave room for doubt because we have to, but that doubt is born out of wanting to be right about a thing. When we see the obviously ludicrous (Omar Freaking Infante!), it tugs at our sense of fairness. Our intuition tingles that something more is at stake than simply being right about who is good or bad right now. It’s more a defense of merit than it is justice, but it’s proximate to both.
We are curators of Important Things, and we are right to tell ourselves and other fans that this doesn’t matter as much as other things do. I should care about other things more. But I can care about this a little. And maybe amidst all the other silly things we make room for, caring about the little bit that does matter isn’t so crazy. We want to know who is good relative to who is less good, and we want, when the moment comes that we don’t remember the ins and outs of this season, to feel like we remember correctly. Like we aren’t being silly, or at least, aren’t silly in an importantly bad way. Like we’ve defended the significant.
Because we suspect that we only need things to matter a little bit before they to start to feel like they matter a whole lot.
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