(Bumped from FanPosts. -- James)
There has been a flurry of reaction to Mike Francesa's latest piece of self-aggrandizing, manipulative trolling. I like Matthew Callan's description of Francesa as a pioneer of trolling: i.e. someone who deliberately makes provocative remarks (whether he believes them or not is irrelevant) designed to goad people and generate conflict for the sake of conflict, or in Francesa's case, for the sake of ratings. There is however, in my opinion, a deeper dimension to this that should be taken into account.
Mike Francesa is a Sports Journalist. Sports Journalism has always been about the creation of a Sports Mythology, complete with a Pantheon of Sports Gods, Demigods, Fallen Gods, Heroes, and Villains. Derek Jeter, the player, is a very good-hitting third-baseman who was misplayed at shortstop for his entire career, and who has earned his way into the Hall of Fame by a combination of excellent performance, consistency, durability, and longevity. He also was fortunate enough to play on very good, very lucky (c.f. 2001 ALDS) and very well-financed Yankee teams, and consequently got to showcase his talents in October on multiple occasions. Derek Jeter: Captain Clutch is a Sports Journalism Creation. George Herman Ruth was a pioneer power hitter who revolutionized the game of baseball and dominated his era like no player before or since. The Legend of the Bambino is a Sports Journalism Creation. The Fallen Gods of Barry Bonds and Pete Rose are also creations of sports journalism, particularly Pete Rose, since he was written into the Pantheon as "Charlie Hustle" and written out of it as a disgraced figure and cautionary tale. The Minaya Mets were an extensive longitudinal survey of incompetence. LOLMets... you get the idea.
Mike Francesa understands fully well that the Mets are in the midst of a rebuilding phase and that they are putting out a bad baseball team right now that should be expected to lose games and go through brutal stretches such as the ongoing one. However, he chooses instead to ignore this reality and crow that "The Mets Packed...It...In". (The overwrought dramatic silence is a staple of the Sports Talk Industry. Ask Stephen A. Smith for details.) This is an absurdity, as if the Mets really packed it in, they would not have left 10 runners on base, and would have lost by a much more lopsided score than 1-0, unless Mike wants us to believe that the Mets deliberately chose to wait until they had opportunities to score to fail intentionally so as to lose in the most gut-wrenching manner possible. While this is an obvious spat of B.S., is not done by accident, and it was not only done to generate ratings and controversy. "This Team Packed It In" comes from a playbook that has a purpose.
To wit: what if the reason that beatwriters and the sports media harp on discredited concepts like clutchitude, WINZ, RINGZ, and grission is because they believe that the sports industry needs such narratives to exist?
If someone were ever to try and carry out an experiment, I strongly suspect that a pronounced positive correlation would emere between one's belief in grission and the amount of hours spent watching sports verbiage. This should be no great revelation, as the sports media caters to such sensibilities and openly despises those who know better. However, I suspect the link to run deeper. What if obsessive die-hard fandom (the kind required of those who will spend hours watching sports-talk media, but also of those who habitually buy tickets and paraphernalia) almost requires a false faith in grission, clutchitude, and other aspects of what can only be called hero-worship? And what if breaking this illusion not only threatens the ratings of sports-media gasbags, but imperils the entire enterprise? Of course, sites like Amazin' Avenue reveal plenty of enlightened fans who remain die-hards, but those fans are the exception, and I'm not one of them. I don't buy tickets or paraphernalia. I barely watch the Mets on my own television, only with others who are watching them. If fans suddenly all became like me, David Wright would be lucky to be making 1 million per year, as revenues would likely collapse by 90%.
The success of the professional sports entertainment industry rests largely on the shoulders of the die-hard fans, and sportswriters, being the myth-makers they are, cultivate the core fanbase by creating the Sports Mythos. The networks and the franchises, perhaps the players themselves, know this. And more importantly, it is the only method the sportswriters know of to generate amongst adults die-hard interest in a children's game (while at the same time distracting them from their own lives, but I'm not delving into that aspect here. Ask Lebron James for details.) It has been an institutionalized modus operandi since the days of Shoeless Joe Jackson. While there are other angles you can take to generate interest, that would amount to re-inventing the wheel for these guys. That's why they blatantly and ignorantly slander the SABER approach to understanding the game. SABER doesn't generate fanaticism as predictably and easily as Myth-Making does.
The old Mythmaking, the creation of Legends like Joe DiJoe, The Babe, 'Dem Bums, and The Mick, left us with Curt Flood and Ball Four. The New Mythology is far more vulgar and less edifying, without being any more realistic. It is the Myth of Grission, and "Carrying the Team on Your Back" and "Willing your Team to Victory"; while on the flipside you have the "Choke Artist", the "Guy Who Pitched Just Well Enough to Lose", "#BlameBeltran", etc. There is even a place in the New Mythology for the fan-base, with the "True Fan", the "Passionate Sports Fan", who "truly sticks with his team" etc. etc. (We all know people who have left two wives and abandoned multiple children, and yet would not be caught dead being disloyal to his local sports franchise. ) And like the Old Mythology, New York, publicity capital of the world, is its Apex.
The fever-pitch blowhardery of the New Sports Journalism is probably necessary for two reasons. The first is the revolving door of free-agency which makes it difficult for fans to identify with players and to form connections with teams that even take on a semblance of rationality. The second reason is that Sports Media has become a 24-7 affair, with every game being televised and teams having their own channel. Mike Francesa's job, and the job of everyone else with a sports media platform, is to generate enough of a fever of sports fanaticism to keep enterprises like SNY, WFAN, the Yankees, and, for that matter, the New York Mets, profitable.
This does not mean, however, that I will thank him by volunteering to have my intelligence insulted and my psyche manipulated by a publicity agent pretending to be a sports analyst.