Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: Fall Back to Spring Forward

Today, Scratchbomb takes a break from YouTube-Phoria to welcome back sports columnist Skitch Hanson. You may know him as the author of the highly popular syndicated sports column “Up The Middle,” the six-time winner of the Mike Lupica Award for Most One-Sentence Paragraphs Written In A Year. You may have read his best-selling books “You Don’t Have To Understand Something To Hate It” and “Why Everything Good In The World Happened 30 Years Ago”. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show YELLING. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

Spring Fever is in the air. And it’s not the Spring Fever I caught at a Bennigan’s in Gainesville last March that actually turned out to be Hepatitis A.

No, this Spring Fever is Spring Training, a virulent pandemic causing inflammations of Excitement throughout the nation, bursting pustules of Anticipation, and scratchy red patches of Hope. This Spring is a highly contagious affliction for which there is no cure. And unlike my Spring Fever, this one won’t cause liver failure.

Baseball is more than America’s Pasttime. It’s a metaphor for the changing of the seasons, the ebb and flow of time. We suffer through a hard winter, with snow and sleet and seasonal effective disorder. Then suddenly baseball reemerges to give us a reason to live once again, right when we’re at the end of our collective rope–I mean, when we’re literally
ready to throw a noose over a beam in our collective basement.

It’s uncanny how baseball always returns when we need it the most. Right when your 12-year-old Honda Accord won’t start in the morning, and your wife is on your back to shovel the driveway again, and the kids are bugging you for more dough to fund their pseudo-bohemian lifestyle in some shabby loft in Williamsburgh. Right now, I need to spend three weeks in Florida, watching grown men in polyester stretch and jog.

Pick up a baseball, if you have one, and hold it up to your ear. You can almost hear the crack of a million bats, the chewing of a million hot dogs, the yelling of a million taunts referencing a player’s personal life and/or ethnic background.

Days like this take me back to my youth, playing catch with my father, on those rare afternoons when he came right home from the office and didn’t hit McMenahan’s Pub before hopping on the 9:47 train. I still treasure those days when my father would burst into my room, sweaty and wide eyed, his shirt half undone, and yank me away from my desk. He’d throw a glove at my chest as hard as he could and yell, “Get outside and throw a ball around before all that god damn writing turns you queer!”

I have my father to thank for my love of sports, but I can’t forget my mother. She ignored my pleas for help as my father dragged me out to the yard, her eyes glued to “General Hospital,” praying that my father’s mad quest would give her just a few moments of peace.

So here’s to you, mom and dad. I promise that this month’s check to the nursing home will clear.

* * *

Hope “springs” eternal during in training camp, of course. But each team has its own questions “springing” close to the surface, threatening to “spring” up when you least expect them to “spring”. Some of my Most Burningest Questions For Spring Training 2007 are:

* The A-Rod/Jeter Feud: Last year, it was the subject of 11 of my columns. Can I possibly match that total this season?

* Roger Clemens’ return to the mound: A triumph of the human spirit, or merely the greatest sports story of the year?

* Barry Bonds has disgraced the sport and will undoubtedly go down as one of history’s greatest demons. Why won’t he return my calls?

* We all know Billy Beane’s “moneyballing” approach to the game continues to fail because he loves computers and numbers. But this season, will it fail grotesquely, or just spectacularly?

* Of all the moral issues facing the game, which one can be used to write a diatribe with the most one-sentence paragraphs?

These are all important questions, but without a doubt, the biggest question facing baseball this year is: Will Bud Selig finally put his foot down and punish the people who want to ruin Major League Baseball? Will he finally face up to the people who threaten to question the integrity of the game itself?

Of course, I’m talking about the statheads, the so-called “sabermestitians”. I don’t know what “sabermunitian” means, and I won’t bother to look it up. But if you ask me, it means “guy who loves computers more than players”. And when you rely on computers, you get nothing but trouble.

Perfect example: My wife tried to email me some “digital pictures” at my work computer (which I never use, of course). Our intern tried to show me how to view the stupid thing. Well, a few “mouse clicks” and before I know it, I got seven IT guys screaming at me because somehow I’d downloaded some “virus” and destroyed the network server. All because my wife couldn’t go down to the Walgreen’s and get prints of a picture of her cat with a plastic St. Patrick’s Day derby on his head.

Apparently, batting average and hits aren’t enough for these “sabermagicians”, so they make up crazy statistics that involve a lot of complicated math they didn’t teach at my community college. They have all these wacky acronyms like VORP and BORT and VIGODA, which can’t be worthwhile because they don’t sound nearly as nice as RBI and ERA.

And no matter what they say on their “blogs” and “web sites” and “chatting rooms”, make no mistake: their purpose in making these new statistics is to destroy the reputation of the game’s greatest players. They’re the kind of people who see someone rise to a great height, and they just have tear that person down. Just like those lousy neighbor kids had to knock over the giant snow globe on my lawn last Christmas. Those punks stole the air compressor, too.

These statheads also want to steal an air compressor. But this one pumps up our collective soul.

When it comes to a player’s worth, I use two very complicated pieces of equipment: my eyes (as well as a similarly complicated and very expensive pair of bifocals). They tell me that Derek Jeter bats 1.000 in Intangibles. They tell me that David Eckstein goes 4-for-5 in Grit every day he takes the field, with at least 2 stolen bases of Heart. They tell me that Roger Clemens’ ERA for Competitiveness is a miniscule 0.58.

The “sabermudicans” want to turn the game into a spreadsheet. I’m not entirely sure what a spreadsheet is, but I think it’s computery and nerdy and dumb. So Bud Selig, stand up to these nerds. Ban all statistics except for the ones that can fit into a newspaper box score. If you don’t turn back the tide of statistics now, our children will never forgive us.

My children already won’t forgive me, but I figure it’s best not to add to the pile.