I used to work in a grocery store when I was sixteen.  After a few weeks bagging groceries, the manager moved me inside where I eventually ended up at the customer service desk answering phones and having customers berate me for six hours a shift complaining about how bad their food tasted or how some cashier didn’t give them correct change.  The customer service desk also sat out in front of the office where the shift managers would congregate in between cigarette breaks.  They were mostly miserable 40 year-old women who were in some sort of broken relationship and hated their lives.  They took this out on me on a daily basis.

Prior to the start of every shift I contemplated quitting.  One day, the general manager pulled me aside and told me he was giving me the Employee of the Month award.  I was pretty happy; this was a large store and was a nice recognition of all the crap I had put up with.  Well, until one of my co-workers came up to me in the break room and told me that he’d heard I only received the award because the GM felt sorry for me.  Happiness: crushed.

I couldn’t help but think of this story when I read the remarks surrounding Tuesday’s Gold Glove announcement.   The announcement marked the start of Major League Baseball’s award season as well as the annual pissing contest among baseball’s more statistically-inclined writers to collectively tear down each and every award winner.  Simultaneously, mutants from all walks of life will crawl out from under their figurative rocks and begin crudely tossing around amorphous qualifications that couldn’t possibly be objectively measured (“intangibles” is the “Get Out of Jail Free” card for every traditionalist’s argument against sabermetric analysis).

When it was announced that Derek Jeter had won his 5th consecutive Gold Glove, Twitter nearly exploded with tired jokes about Jeter’s ineptitude in the field.  Then the unwashed masses of the comment universe erupted.  The whole thing made me feel uncomfortable and angry, for this is what MLB awards season has become: a back-and-forth shouting match between those who know too much and those who know very little at all.

Thousands of keystrokes have been spent defending the offensive prowess of Alexei Ramirez: a guy who struggles to get on base 30% of the time.

I’m not a Jeter apologist: he’s not the same player he was six or seven years ago — there’s no doubt about that.  And it’s within the right of anyone to call that into question (although it’s interesting that there is still a major lack of continuity in measuring fielding statistics — even among the most advanced sabermetricians).  But the annual back and forth between those who critique and the idiotic fans that take their criticisms so personally has ruined award season for me.  Last year, ESPN’s Keith Law presented his Cy Young ballot, adding Javier Vazquez and excluding Chris Carpenter: an unpopular choice among St. Louis’ more vocal fans.  The backlash was over-the-top: Cardinal fans’ disdain for Law is still a running joke in his columns.  In one online chat with readers, he intimated one St. Louis resident had gone as far as trying to locate his home address… in Boston.

Sadly, I no longer anticipate the announcement of the major awards.  In fact, I kind of cringe.  If the player I want to win does and he doesn’t “deserve it,” he’ll be eviscerated by most of the blog-roll commentariat (after reading the articles about Jeter, I kind of wanted to punch him, much less let him hoist a Gold Glove award).   In turn, the deranged fan base will go out of its way to call for the writer’s dismissal (ridiculous), or suggesting he go copulate with himself (classy).  Fun reading.

The proliferation of modern statistics into the daily baseball conversation is incredibly interesting.  Although I wonder how much more I’d appreciate them if they weren’t wielded as weapons against the same folks who still think a pitcher’s win total actually means something.

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