Fighting the losing battle against anger
By Jon Weisman
I’ll begin, inappropriately for a day that woke up to the news from Orlando, on a hopeful note.
Once upon a recent time, there was a war in baseball. It’s irresponsible to call it a war, but within the boundaries of the sport, that’s what it felt like.
The battleground was player evaluation, and the war pitted those who favored the eye test, long honed by baseball scouts, against those who relied on statistical analysis to guide their decisions.
The war of Scouts vs. Stats ignited. It exploded, it festered, and then, ever so calmly, it ended.
Scouts vs. Stats is over, of course. The two are wonderfully integrated. Every front office in baseball uses both. Stats are now properly considered another form of scouting, a set of numerical eyes to accompany the men and women pounding the diamonds across the country and around the world. Scouting reports provide another form of data to enter into the UNIVAC in the hopes of coming up with the best answers to baseball’s biggest questions.
Sure, people will always debate how to prioritize different elements, and there will be hesitancy, even antipathy, toward old ways or new formulas, but no reasonable person today dismisses one or the other. Scouts and stats coexist, and we’re all the better for it.
It wasn’t easy getting to this point, but we got here. And when the world seems hopeless to me, as it does today, I’ll think about scouts vs. stats, and how its resolution might provide a roadmap for the much bigger problem that plagues us, not only in baseball, but with the entire world we live in.
It’s about anger.
* * *
When I began blogging about the Dodgers, nearly 14 years ago, it was because as a fan, I had things to say that no one else was saying. And it was also because I had a way I wanted to say them.
In 2002, not only did social media not exist, but the ability to comment on a website was haphazard at best. There was almost no online conversation to speak of. (Kids, just think about that.) If you yourself didn’t work for a mainstream media outlet, your only way into the dialogue was through such fleeting opportunities as a letter the editor or a phone call to a radio show.
I felt — and no, this isn’t going to sound humble, except for the fact my utter lack of readership limited my ambition — that I could elevate the conversation.
It’s funny that the very first verb I used on Dodger Thoughts was “vent.” It’s honest in terms of how I felt, after years and years of my beliefs finding no voice outside whoever might be in the room with me. And yes, once in a while, I could get worked up. Once in a while, that even felt good.
But really, I wasn’t writing to blow off steam. I was writing to chill the steam, to reach all the people who vent, vented like it was breathing, and to offer the good news that no, things are not as hopeless as you think.
Listening to those sportstalk shows when there was no other option, I was ceaselessly stunned by how angry people would get, about the inability to find the least bit of perspective. A player goes 0 for 4, and he sucks. He gives up a home run, and he’s a bum, even if he succeeded 10 times before.
Life, and baseball, are not that simple. Life, and baseball, are actually much more interesting than that.
Life, and baseball, are human.
* * *
So in my writing, I’d try to be reasonable, and I’d try to be light, and I’d try to poetic, and people would take it or leave it. And that was fine. I wasn’t really expecting to change the world. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been hoping the world would change.
After all, time was passing. The Internet was evolving. Information was flowing — exponentially more accessible than it had ever been before. You didn’t have to guess at the facts, or trudge to the library to unearth them — you could actually find them so quickly, that all you needed was a platform to disseminate them with equal speed.
And then came Facebook and Twitter.
This should have been a good thing. Have a new idea that will enlighten the world? Here it is — just share it. Someone says something that’s inaccurate? Voilà — here’s a correction.
Unfortunately, all the enlightenment and innovation and opportunity that the digital world offers has been no match for how determined people are to go to the mattresses with their rage.
* * *
An event happens. It’s Yasiel Puig staring at a fly ball from the batter’s box. It’s a massacre in Paris. It’s Kenley Jansen blowing a save. It’s an annihilation in Florida.
The significance of the event could be microscopic, or it could be cosmic. It’s not that the events are close to being equal. It’s that the response is so predictable.
People will pick up their weapons of words, look for their favorite villains and attack.
I’m not immune. I have a perspective on life that has been decades in the making, some very deep beliefs about right and wrong, an extremely high sensitivity for injustice and an extremely low tolerance for blind arrogance and demagoguery. My world view does have moral absolutes. And clearly, other people have their own moral absolutes, and inevitably, they clash.
So what do we do?
Step one: When a moral absolute is not in play, when it’s not life or death, we must find perspective.
In writing about baseball, this is what I’ve always tried to do. A fan (myself included) feels disappointment intensely, and the reflex is to think things are worse than they are. So I’ve tried to be the counterpoint. When someone says a situation is hopeless, I’ll point out the reasons why it’s not. That’s all.
It doesn’t mean I’m guaranteeing success. Honestly, I’ve never guaranteed success. I’ve never had that kind of confidence. Outside the organization or in its employ, I’ve never been as positive about the Dodgers as other people have been negative.
But I do find myself fighting the binary construct some people have: “If it’s not perfect, it stinks. If it doesn’t make sense, then it must be wrong. If there’s a valid explanation that doesn’t fit with the conventional wisdom, then it wasn’t a valid explanation, was it?”
My response: When the data doesn’t match the belief, don’t shut the data out to preserve the belief. Learn the lesson of Scouts vs. Stats. Let the data in.
Being open-minded is a good thing. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. Blind anger is not a synonym for caring.
* * *
As for the absolutes …
I have raged in words for human rights, and I don’t apologize for it. I have pleaded. At times, it really does seem hopeless. But you look at certain human-rights issues, and for all the work that remains, there has been progress. So it’s been worth the rage.
This morning, seeing the news of the dead and wounded from Florida as the first notification on my phone, first 20, then 50, the number expanding like blood, I found myself at a loss for speech and action. I felt hopeless. Then I saw that others weren’t. Others were speaking. Others were marching. And I remembered that you can’t give up.
So I’m not suggesting anyone should just accept the unacceptable status quo. I’m not suggesting that anger doesn’t have its place. But too often, anger isn’t the means to point out injustice. It’s the means to perpetuate injustice.
In recognition of the fact that someone else’s absolutes will clash with your own, we cannot let anger become the end instead of the means.
We need to raise the conversation.
We need to let facts guide our actions.
We need to speak to engage, not to enrage.
We need to emphasize that whatever our differences, we are all part of a single community, on a baseball field, in a country or on this planet.
And for all that we love, for all that we believe, we will be lost if we don’t stop letting one person’s anger take away another person’s humanity.