Monday, March 1, 2010

Baseball Prospectus and the Importance of Fanship

Maybe the best thing about the internet is that it allows people with shared interests to converse. I'll touch on why this makes Twitter so damn cool in a post later this week at PMI, but it's not just Twitter. The homepage of Meetup at this moment features such clubs and groups as the Baby Boomers Social Club, the Raleigh Horse Riders, and The Greater Boston Asian Professionals Meetup Group. Being a fan of something has never been easier and it's never been more important. Here's Matt Bucher, from a paper originally delivered at last year's Footnotes Conference:

This small group of dedicated fans is also a key resource for translators of Wallace’s writing. Members of the list have answered questions and helped with translating challenging passages for Italian, Dutch, Spanish, and German editions of Wallace’s fiction and non-fiction. This is a practice that seems commonplace on the list now, but would be inconceivable in the world of contemporary fiction even forty years ago. For example, were fans of John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse consulted on its Russian or Japanese translations? Before the Internet age, this would be almost impossible to do, but it is also unlikely that a translator would know of a group of John Barth fans and trust their understanding of his use of the language. If anything, the translator might discuss a tricky issue or two with a fellow translator or a Barth scholar at a conference. In terms of how Wallace is perceived around the world, this use of the hive-mind cannot be underestimated. It not only attracts an international population to the list, but furthers the understanding of the most idiomatic and idiosyncratic parts of Wallace’s writing.

However, this gets us closer to the question of what kind of people join the list, and it brings up larger issues about communities and intellectual discourse and group psychology. The list includes English professors, writers, musicians, mathematicians, artists, lawyers, bloggers, women who have deep and abiding crushes on Wallace, and every stripe of over-educated young man dying to talk about “important” literature. 

I'm still amazed at how The Grammys enabled music fans to become collaborators in a very real way with the musicians they emulate.

And so we come to my second annual trip out to a Baseball Prospectus book reading.

You know how Intel has rock stars unlike the public's rock stars? It's just as true with a Baseball Prospectus reading. These folks are the nerdiest baseball nerds who ever nerded. And that's why they're great.

Aside from learning that Stephen Strasburg is the highest rated pitching prospect in history--higher than Mark Prior, higher than Kerry Wood, higher than Brien Taylor, higher than anyone--I got to participate in one of the world's great niche language communities. At one point, an audience member mentioned that one of the problems with watching a baseball game on TV was that the camera angles don't allow the viewer to see the route an outfielder takes to the ball, missing completely an essential aspect of the defensive game. Judging just from the information available on TV, we have no idea how circuitous a route he may have taken. At this point, one of the panelists agreed and then mentioned the name Terrence Long. Without elaboration. Everyone chuckled. Here's why this is great: Terrence Long is a fairly obscure outfielder who last played in 2006. He most recently accrued 500 at-bats in 2003. He hasn't been a regular in a long while, and he wasn't all that notable even when he was earning a Major League paycheck. But the audience recognized both who, exactly, Terrence Long is and that his defensive reputation is, let's say, less than stellar. We were having a conversation through references, via a shared body of knowledge. And while Baseball Prospectus can still be depressing as hell, it's totally worth it for the language games I got to play.


mattbucher said...

Thanks for the mention! I totally agree with your premise. Personally, I feel like I have been able to indulge every interest of my own and know that I can turn around and find a large group of people online with the exact same interest (more overhyped than Brien Taylor?? Unpossible!). This is one of the worst parts of living in a small town (which I no longer do)--trying to find people of a like mind who do not think you are weird.

Avi said...


Hi Matt, thanks for stopping by. And thanks for posting your article; it was one of Footnotes' highlights for me.

I think your point about small towns is an excellent one. It's weird to think about, but in some ways the internet is performing many of the same functions that were formerly the domain of cities. Are online communities taming the importance of living in a city for exactly the reason you mentioned? Is the desire to live in a city, where you can go for days interacting only with strangers somehow mitigated by internet anonymity?

I don't think the Baseball Prospectus guys are planning an Austin reading, but it's worth going to one just to hear Kevin Goldstein gush about Strasburg.