You can’t win baseball arguments with friends, but still you try

31 10 2015

Good-natured arguments are a treasured experience of friendship. Whether we’re bantering about sports, food or politics, our friends will forgive us for insulting them. Occasionally they will set us straight bluntly, and everyone needs that now and then.

And, when you’re sparring over the World Series, with strong, opposing loyalties, trash talking with a friend is just plain fun.

Jim Brady, a Mets fan and friend, started an argument after the Royals’ Game Two win Wednesday night:

Not argumentative, you say? But he said the ’86 Red Sox were a “better team” than the 2015 Royals (my second-favorite team). And my favorite team is the Yankees, which ramps up any argument with a Mets fan. Especially if you bring the Red Sox into the spat. The last two Octobers, I’ve been a passionate Royals fan.

Many times when a friend tweets something that just isn’t true, you don’t actually have to argue. You just point out the error briefly and politely, and the friend agrees and thanks you. But not when baseball loyalties are involved.

So I went into a bit more detail in a blog post yesterday, providing a detailed comparison of two teams that both took 2-0 World Series leads on the New York Mets. Disclosure: detailed is a nuanced synonym for l0oooong; my brother Dan, who got a mention in the post and a plug for his latest book, said it was more long-winded than one of his sermons.

You never start or join a sports argument thinking you’re going to win. All the facts that I cited yesterday will never prevail over loyalty, emotion and memory in a sports argument, and Jim has those abundantly. 1986 was a great World Series with a good Boston team, and Jim has savored this achievement for 29 years. In his heart, that had to be a great team his Mets beat, even if that was the only World Series the Red Sox made in a stretch of, well, 29 years. I am similarly respectful of the 1985 Cardinals, which the Royals beat in seven games the year before (also after a Game Six meltdown by the other team that focused on a memorable play at first base).

So I wasn’t surprised that all the facts, history and logic that I marshaled in the post didn’t change Jim’s mind.

I never expected Jim to say, “Yeah, you’re right, Buttry.” That never happens in a baseball argument. I was not expecting to hit a grand-slam homer here. But I do consider this tweet to be an admission that I drove a triple into the gap:

This tweet illustrates a fundamental point about why sports arguments are so fun:

Here’s a common experience in arguments about sports, politics, movies, food, anything friends argue about: We each think something different when we read or write “better.”

I juggled the writing of this post with a simlutaneous argument on Facebook with Robyn Tomlin, a friend and former colleague of Jim and me. Robyn and I debated barbecue loyalties. As with baseball, this argument is rooted in loyalty, emotion, memories of dinners past. Like baseball, where the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the ballpark are part of the experience, senses override reason in any argument about food.

In both arguments, my Kansas City loyalties and memories hold as firmly as Jim’s New York roots and Robyn’s fondness for North Carolina barbecue.

Robyn loves the vinegar taste of North Carolina barbecue, topped with vinegar slaw. I crave the smoky taste of Kansas City barbecue.

Just as I have dual loyalties in baseball, I have dual loyalties in barbecue. For ribs or brisket, I don’t think you can top Angelo’s in Fort Worth, Texas (my college town, so the barbecue intertwines in my memory with young love, independence and so many other college experiences). When we lived in Kansas City, that young love and I were in middle age, raising three sons. Many stops at barbecue joints before or after baseball or football games became fond family or father-son memories.

The oldest of those sons, Mike, took in Game Two in Kansas City, eating barbecue in the parking lot first. Youngest son, Tom, is watching Game Four tonight at Citifield in New York. Somehow he found a Kansas City barbecue joint in New York, where he watched Game Three last night with other Royals fans.

In any argument, whether it’s over food, baseball or something less important, one person often hears something different than what the other person said (or wrote, in this case), even though the words are clear.

Getting back to Jim’s and my argument, I analyzed “far better” lots of different ways: hitting, defense, starting pitching, relief pitching, managing, speed and more. Jim readily conceded some of those points (you concede points in these food/baseball arguments, just not principles):

Read yesterday’s post if you care about the actual arguments. To illustrate my point about arguing, I’ll focus on how Jim and I view time differently in judging who’s better. I measured players’ performance three ways (let’s call my perspective smoke):

  1. The players’ careers. In my position-by-position analysis of the ’86 Red Sox and ’15 Royals, I gave Wade Boggs the advantage at third base, based in large part on his Hall of Fame career.
  2. The full season. At catcher, Kansas City’s Salvador Pérez was far better in 2015 than Boston catcher Rich Gedman was in 1986, so I gave Pérez the advantage.
  3. The post-season. The very context of Jim’s original tweet was the quality of the team the Mets would face in up to five games in October after falling behind 2-0. So I placed high importance on post-season play leading up to and in the World Series. I gave Royal Alex Gordon, who tied Game One with a ninth-inning homer, the edge over Red Sox Hall of Famer Jim Rice, a cleanup hitter who didn’t drive in a single World Series run for Boston.

Jim’s argument, which I’ll call vinegar, was summed up in the tweet that I repeat here:

How many arguments have you had (about sports or food or whatever) where the fundamental difference wasn’t over the facts but different views about which facts mattered or how to view the facts. And “far better” is all about which facts matter and how to view the facts.

While I’ve so far avoided the baseball minutiae of yesterday’s post, I will indulge in some for a while here. I’ll explain why I think post-season performance is as valuable a gauge of “far better” as regular-season performance, maybe better. I don’t do this to win the argument with Jim (we know that’s not happening), but to illustrate my point about how viewpoints shape arguments.

I’ll start by reminding you that regular-season performance was second of my criteria. I didn’t just apply post-season play in favor of the Royals. At second base, the Royals’ Ben Zobrist had a comparable season this year to Boston’s Marty Barrett in ’86. And Zobrist has had a better career. But Barrett was on a hot streak in the ’86 World Series. So I gave him a clear advantage over Zobrist.

Here’s why I think it’s as important to look at post-season play as regular-season play: Jim’s “April to October” teams, in ’86 as well as ’15, wasn’t the team the Mets had to overcome to win the World Series.

Critical October players for the Red Sox (Dave Henderson and Spike Owen) and Royals (Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist) weren’t even with their teams until the trading deadline approached. Omar Infante, the Royals’ second baseman for 124 games this year, isn’t on the post-season roster. Neither is Jeremy Guthrie, who started 24 games. Greg Holland, who saved 32 games, is injured and is out for the next year after Tommy John surgery. Brandon Finnegan, a significant contributor in the 2014 post-season, won three games in relief (losing none) this season, but went to the Reds in the Cueto trade.

The April 1986 Red Sox were different from the October team, too. Tony Armas, the starting center fielder most of the year, lost his job to Henderson and pinch-hit just once in the World Series. The World Series starting shortstop for all seven games was neither opening-day starter (Glenn Hoffman) nor the two who played the most games for Boston at shortstop during the season (Ed Romero and Rey Quinones).

Jim’s criteria for “far better” are valid, but certainly not the only way to measure. But when people view things differently, arguments ensue. Fun arguments in baseball, but serious and sometimes ugly disagreements on other topics.

We had a similar argument over the relative importance of talent and execution, both important.

Sports arguments among friends occasionally have a BOOM! moment, sometimes identifiable my one guy actually shouting “BOOM!” Or maybe the other guy stammers — hummina-hummina-hummina, like Commander Quinton McHale trying to explain something to Leadbottom. (Jim’s not old enough to understand that reference unless he wasted some of his life watching “McHale’s Navy.”). Here it comes:

Well, I didn’t cherry pick in yesterday’s blog post. I doubt anyone read the whole thing, not even Jim. Because it had too many damn stats. But look who does cherry pick:

That tweet Jim liked: cherry-picked stats:

BOOM! Of course, Jim was right. I did cherry pick in the tweet (hey, you get only 140 characters), even if not in the post. But cherry-picking stats is the essence of many sports arguments. So is accusing your friend of something, then doing the same thing yourself.

By the way, that cherry-picked number about Hall of Famers? I may address that in a later post.

I won’t go through all the exchanges Jim and I had in this argument. But this one illustrates more points about arguments among friends. Jim started it in the morning:

I acknowledged in Friday’s post that Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans was a much better player than Alex Ríos, the Royals’ right fielder. Because of some bad self-editing, I called the advantage “slight” in one place and “clear” in another. My point was that Evans’ disappointing ’86 post-season performance and Ríos’ strong October this year (up to that point) narrowed what Jim probably thought was a blowout.

In the second inning last night, Ríos drove in the tying run, then scored the winning run. I was feeling that this Series might become a sweep, and so was Jim:

I was watching the game, rather than reading Jim’s tweets from the first two innings. He was whining about the umpires (something I’ve already done tonight) and obviously in some fan distress (I’m not there yet, but less cocky than when last night’s game started. The line between fun trash-talk and being a jerk is a fine line. The same loyalties that drive the passion and fun of the arguments sometimes result in sensitive spots and moments. When you’re trash-talking in a ballpark, bar or living room as you watch the game together, you can tell from the face, body language or tone of voice that it’s time to lighten things up or just back off a bit. Friendly arguments shouldn’t become unfriendly.

But when you’re watching on TV and trash-talking through intermittent tweets, you don’t necessarily read your friend as well. I had not seen either the tweet above or a couple more whining about bad calls. If I had, I might have resisted the urge to note that Ríos was continuing his post-season run:

Jim has a thick skin and dishes the trash talk enthusiastically himself. But I don’t like to rub it in. It was time to lighten things up, but I didn’t realize that immediately. My next response defended my point in the original Ríos argument.

(By the way, @mattderienzo is one of two mutual friends and Red Sox fans who joined the banter. I included their tweets in the initial draft of this post, but deleted them because this got just too damn long.)

Thinking about Jim’s “rubbing it in” tweet, I wondered if I’d poked Jim at the wrong time. Before the Series we bet a beer on the outcome of the Series. I was wondering if I should send him a direct message, raising the stakes on my end and offering to buy a second round if the Mets came back. But I waited. We’ve been bantering sports for six years now, and I wasn’t worried.

But, like in baseball games, momentum swings quickly in friendly arguments. The Mets took a 5-3 lead, and I didn’t have much to say for a while. When Ríos came up with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning, my excitement surged, both for my faith in the Royals. I was envisioning a grand slam and felt like I was rounding third and heading home myself. Well, if I was, Dwight Evans was firing a strike to the plate and I got nailed. Ríos grounded out, which I acknowledged right away:

Then in the bottom of the sixth, the Mets’ Juan Lagares actually was rounding third, trying to score on a single to short right field. Ríos’ throw didn’t come close to catching him. BOOM! When the other guy gets his BOOM! moment, you gotta give it to him:

So the tone was lightened. And we engaged in some good-natured cherry-picking:

As arguments tend to go, the Ríos banter has broken both directions tonight. A nice sliding catch drew this tweet from me:

But then Ríos lost track of how many outs they had, costing the Royals a run:

As the Mets moved further ahead, 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth, I had no argument, just admiration for Jim’s guy:

And, just before I published this post, the Royals scored a run to make the game 3-2. I might update, but I’m ready to post. The argument never ends.

Continuing the argument

I learned more than 44 years ago, as a teen-aged sports writer, to get the score into the lead of a game story. But this isn’t a game story, so I’ll bury the score here: The Mets kicked some Royal ass last night, 9-3. Last night was a good night for Jim on the friendly argument front. I’m hoping for a better night tonight, but based on the Royals’ record of coming back in the post-season, including the first two games of this season.

I hope to be celebrating a Royals victory with my sons, but if not, I’ll gracefully, if painfully, celebrate Jim’s joy for a Mets win.

Whoever wins tonight and in the Series, Jim and I will continue the trash talk over a beer (on Jim’s dime, I’m hoping) next time our paths cross, hopefully in a barbecue joint. That would be a better setting than Twitter for arguing about smoke and vinegar. But for now, Twitter works. And this blog.

Hat tip to Doug Worgul

At Game Two of last year's World Series, cousin Doug Worgul shot this photo of my sons and me: Joe at left, Tom behind and Mike at right.

At Game Two of last year’s World Series, cousin Doug Worgul shot this photo of my sons and me: Joe at left, Tom behind and Mike at right. We had barbecue before the game, smoky, not vinegary.

When I first started working the barbecue discussion with Robyn Tomlin into this post, I thought I was being really clever and original. But before I finished the first draft of that section, I realized that I wasn’t even the first person in my family to write about barbecue, baseball, friendship and Kansas City.

If I wasn’t inspired by my cousin Doug Worgul’s novel Thin Blue Smoke in writing the initial draft, it certainly was on my mind as I edited. It captures the essence of barbecue, baseball, frienship and KC as well as themes of faith, love, jazz and redemption. I couldn’t recommend it more highly, especially because if you’ve made it this far, I know you care about baseball, barbecue, friendship and Kansas City.

Doug and I overlapped in Kansas City only by a year or two, but we enjoyed some pleasant evenings at the ballpark, sharing aspirations to write novels someday. I’m glad his novel dream came true and I hope our shared dream of a Royals’ championship comes true soon.

My Amazon review of Thin Blue Smoke:

A literature student would be hard-pressed to analyze Doug Worgul’s Thin Blue Smoke. The setting is the central character. The novel has multiple themes. The plot is exquisitely crafted but the narrative arc defies charting. At times the book feels as though it is a collection of short stories involving the same characters. You could read most of the chapters in any order, each standing on its own with its own story arc and its own powerful closing. Each of those closings foreshadows the brilliant ending that brings together the various threads into a moving story of faith, barbecue, baseball, blues and relationships.

The characters draw you in and keep you going: You feel redemption in the maturity and triumph of the purported main character LaVerne Williams, a blunt ballplayer-turned-convict-turned-smokemeister. You root for Ferguson Glen, the philosophical Episcopal priest, as he woos and challenges comfortable restaurateur Periwinkle Brown. You are charmed by the vulnerable A.B. Clayton and his much-slower-developing romance with musician Jen Richards. Even the seemingly minor characters are intricate and intriguing: blues singer Mother Mary Weaver, mental patient Warren Dunleavy, construction CEO Bob Dunleavy, gambling addict Rudy Turpin, the stern Rev. Dr. Clarence E. Newton, tattooed parolee Sammy Merzeti and LaVerne’s uncle, son and wife, Delbert, Raymond and Angela.

But the real central character of the novel is LaVerne’s Kansas City barbecue joint, Smoke Meat, which profoundly influences each of the characters and weaves their stories together.

Worgul’s symbolism is powerful throughout the book. Everything takes on thoughtful meaning as the story unfolds – smoke, water, salt, vinegar, turtles, a silver Celtic cross, a Rocky Colavito model K55 35-inch Hillerich and Bradsby Louisville Slugger.

This book will make you hungry – hungry for some ribs from Smoke Meat and hungry to meet these characters in real life someday.

 

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5 responses

31 10 2015
Were the 1986 Red Sox better than the 2015 Royals? | Hated Yankees

[…] I won’t bother with comparing the 1986 and 2015 Mets, but I welcome Jim to do that in a guest post, if he’d like. I doubt the comparison would boost his confidence. I don’t expect Jim to do a guest post (he’s a busy man and not using my drugs), so I’ll entertain offers from other Mets fans, baseball-research geeks or insomniacs who would like to do a guest post comparing the two Met teams. Update: Jim did respond on Twitter to this post. I shared some of those tweets in a follow-up post on friendly baseball arguments. […]

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1 11 2015
Same drugs, new earworms | The Buttry Diary

[…] posts published Saturday, on Pete Rose and A-Rod in the Fox Sports Image Rehab Clinic and on friendly arguments about baseball and barbecue. I liked them both, but this remains my favorite writing of the week. From the poll results and […]

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1 11 2015
2015 World Series echoes Mets’ and Royals’ mid-’80s classics | Hated Yankees

[…] over Steve Balboni (KC). Both were 29-year-old power-hitting first-basemen. I loved Bonesy, but last night’s post about friendly baseball arguments defended the high value I placed on post-season play in my earlier analysis, as well as some […]

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11 11 2015
doug worgul

Thank you, Cuz.

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10 01 2016
Yankees have more borderline Hall of Fame contenders than any other team | Hated Yankees

[…] Red Sox fans contend that Dwight Evans should be in the Hall of Fame (a point I discussed last year with Jim Brady), and I really liked Evans. But there are several Yankees (and players from other teams) with […]

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