Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: Skitch vs. The Fact Zealots

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry: How Winning Lots of Football Games Made Them Good Human Beings. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

blyleven.jpgEver since I published my Hall of Fame column last week, I’ve been getting tons of email, and I’m heartened to know that many of you support my decision to keep the likes of Jeff Bagwell and Bert Blyleven out of Coopersville. However, many more of you disagree. About seven times as many, according to my math. Granted, math was never my strong suit in school. Same goes for science. And English. And shop class. And homeroom.

First of all, I want to apologize if I’ve been slow to respond to your letters. Back in 2005, while checking my work email, I clicked something bad or pressed the wrong key, and it caused a server meltdown at my newspaper. And when I say “meltdown,” I mean that the paper’s servers literally liquified themselves. The IT guys said they’d never seen anything like it. Several of them wept openly.

After that, my boss has tasked one intern with printing out all of my email and reading it out loud to me. I tried to convince my editor that I could read a printout all by myself, but he didn’t want to take any chances. I also told him that doing this every day would leave me a lot less time to write, and he said he was perfectly fine with this.

For the last few days, I’ve had to sit in my office while a 19-year-old college student recites extremely insulting emails. Needless to say, this made me very uncomfortable. Not so much for myself, but for the delicate sensibilities of the young man doing the recitation. Some of the language you people used was so vile, it almost caused him to retch. At first I thought he might be covering up laughter, but the intern assured me he was merely trying to contain his nausea.

I don’t mind criticism, as long as it’s constructive and couched in some gentle language and possibly ends with me getting a lollipop. But some of the words you people used were beyond the pale. I haven’t heard such talk since I was in the Navy. Technically, I never actually served in the armed forces, but I did visit a troop ship once and the sailors voted me Honorary Cabin Boy. If that doesn’t qualify as actual service, I think it’s very close, and I’m sure the brave men and women of the USS Mo Udall would agree with me.

So I feel it behooves me to respond to these foul-mouthed zealots who made my intern guffaw in disgust. Because that’s exactly what they are: zealots. I know because I looked up the word “zealot” to make sure it meant what I thought it meant, and it turned out I was nearly right the first time.

These pro-Blyleven and -Bagwell zealots are the worst kind of zealots. Everyone’s a zealot for something, and I think it’s okay when people are zealots for matters of taste. I like to think of myself as a Mallomar zealot! Although my doctor says I’m more of a Clogged Artery Zealot. And I also think it’s okay to be a zealot in matters of faith, because Americans have freedom of religion and can believe in things that nobody in their right mind would consider.

But the guys who sent me these horrible letters and threatened to boycott my column and probably egged my Kia (can’t prove it, but I have my suspicions) are not normal zealots. They are Fact Zealots.

Fact Zealots think we should try reason our way to conclusions about things that are best left to the province of faith. They believe we should only trust numbers and never observe that most important statistic of all: Value Over Replacement Heart. I have tried time and time again to get Commissioner Selig to adopt this as an official MLB statistic, but he won’t do it just because it’s “not measurable in any real way.” Sadly, the Fact Zealots have gotten to him, too.

Perhaps you think “zealot” is too strong a word for these people. If so, you haven’t seen these emails, packed with the same irrationally rational statistics over and over again, trying to “prove” that Bagwell and Blyleven are Hall of Famers, and saying it’s “impossible” to “prove a negative.” As a sports writer, I don’t want to “prove” anything. I want to believe!

If we’re looking at pure facts, of course Bagwell and Blyleven are deserving of Hall of Fame consideration. The BBWAA put them on the ballot–isn’t that enough? But if you were around to see them play in their primes, you’d know neither player was truly a Hall of Famer. They did not possess any of the following essential Hall of Fame Qualities:

  • Aura
  • Swagger
  • Something
  • Grission
  • Never-day-die-ness
  • Not steroids

Please understand, I don’t mean you had to cover either player as a beat writer or even see them play more than a handful of times, because I certainly didn’t. I simply mean in order to truly judge Bagwell and/or Blyleven, you had to exist at the same time as them and absorb the baseball air around you. Then you’d know that neither man is a Hall of Famer, simply by osmosis.

Why? Because neither man was considered a future Hall of Famer in his respective heyday. And there’s no way the entire corps of baseball writers could have possibly been wrong about such a thing.

Fact zealots are also quick to point out that Bagwell has never failed a drug test of any kind or been seriously accused of steroid use, as if this fact absolved him of wrong-doing. Even if Bagwell never used a steroid, he remains guilty of not speaking out against those who did. Just like the Stanford football team was guilty for not letting the officials know their band was going to walk onto the field early. I still say that sax player deserved to get leveled.

I realize this would disqualify almost 20 years’ worth of players from the Hall of Fame. Since we don’t want to completely shut out an entire generation, I say we decide on a case-by-case basis if a player’s accomplishments outweigh his unwillingness to snitch. For instance:


Derek Jeter, David Eckstein, Jeff Francoeur, Scott Brosius


Jeff Bagwell, everyone who ever played for the A’s

I think we can all agree this makes sense, as long as you’re not still married to the tyranny of facts. If you disagree, well, you must be one of those people who’d rather know they’re correct than feel they’re right. I don’t envy you, sir–except in your ability to read and send your own email.