Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Baseball Preview: Season to Go Off More or Less as Scheduled

Because, you know, the weather can be very chancy in early April. Aside from that, I refuse to make any forecasts whatsoever. We have too many of those already.

Every March, baseball fans, not to mention sportswriters, are confronted with the following paradox. Baseball is an endlessly fascinating game, but previews of baseball seasons to come are about the banal form of sport journalism extant.

The Globe, to its credit, knows this. Its baseball preview special section always contains a bunch of articles on some general baseball theme. This year, it's injuries and sports medicine. The preview stuff is hidden the back, where we find, surprise!, that everybody on the staff thinks the Sox will win the AL East this year. Everybody on every staff thinks the Red Sox will win the AL East, and over 90 percent pick them to win the World Series. In my day job, I have read a great many baseball previews lately, including the one from that august journal Sports Illustrated for Kids, and IT picked the Sox to win it all, in an article that had to have been written around Groundhog Day.

Two season ago, I wrote a post on how baseball previews were written. Since that time, the process has gotten even simpler. Now, the forecaster simply looks at whether the Yankees or Red Sox signed the most new big names in the offseason and picks accordingly. Had Mrs. Cliff Lee not decided she liked living in Philadelphia better than in New York, the Yanks would have been the choice of at least 50 percent of all baseball previewers.

Conventional wisdom earns its name by compiling better than a .500 record on a consistent basis. The Sox will win many more than they lose this year or some impossible to predict stuff will have happened. The Mets will lead the majors in billable hours by outside attorneys and nothing else. But why would people in the sports information business, even here at the absolute bottom of its barrel, assume customers do not live in the same Information Age as everybody else? Fans know all this stuff already. Previews work on the assumption the audience HASN'T heard about the Lindbergh baby.

The one and only time I ever told my audience something they really needed to know in a baseball preview happened long before I was a sportswriter, and I literally told them, as it was in conversation.

In March 1971, I had the pleasure of telling a lifelong Dodger fan that his team had acquired Dick Allen in the offseason, a fact of which said fan was completely unaware. Of course said fan was also a Cooperstown-level stoner even by the demanding standards of that time.


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