Friday, November 14, 2008

Ode to the Lovely Ladies of Bleacher Report

As a newly anointed community co-leader for the San Francisco Giants and with the start of the free agency season upon us, the idea of writing a wish-list for the club has been floated. It's a good idea, but - for SF - it's a short article.

Either you believe the Giants should use their cash for a major overhaul, in which case they need everything except pitching and catching. Or you believe (as I do) they should be patient with their young guys, in which case they could upgrade third and/or first to be more competitive.

Of course, Mark Teixeira is youngish, fills a need at first base, has good leather and ash (or maple), and seems like a good clubhouse guy. Depending on his price tag, that might be an interesting idea.

But a better one occurred to me.

There's been some talk on B/R surrounding certain female writers. I'm not going to mention names because you probably know who I'm talking about and, if you don't, well now you have to go digging through articles to find out.

Look at that, my promotion's already paying off in extra traffic.

Anyway, the controversy is that these ladies, who are easy on the eyes, allegedly get extra attention and praise for their articles from misguided male readers. Readers who think that somehow the online flattery will translate into a real-world relationship. The bottom-line being that these ladies' writings receive accolades as proxies for their looks.

And if you read some of the comments compared to the writing, you have to admit the idea has some merit. There is certainly a cadre of men lavishing good yet flawed articles with such adjectives as "masterpiece," "perfect," and other transparent superlatives.

That said, I won't pretend to know these gentlemen's motives except that, as a man myself, I can't say the accusation is unreasonable.

Nor is the idea.

I mean, who says it won't work? Tell me you don't know a couple with a crazier hook-up story than that. And if it doesn't, what have they lost except a little respect from a bunch of strangers.

It's not something I would advise or try myself. As has been pointed out, you could find yourself meeting up with some dude at a coffee house after months of online courtship. Additionally, these girls are scattered across the world so it's just an irrational proposition. Most importantly, some of them are young; too young considering I just turned 30.

Picking women up online is already a little creepy and sniffs of desperation. Doing it as a 30-year-old targeting girls who could still be in college makes it more than a little perverse.

But I digress.

Much of the consternation stems from several of these ladies routinely winning the coveted Pick of the Day slot on the front page or placing highly on the writer rankings. The Opposition feels there are better pieces on those days and better writers on this site. Writers who are being ignored in favor of sexual allure rather than superior craft.

I can't say I blame the Opposition. This is a sports journalism site and it's only fair that the best writers get rewarded.

But there are several problems with the criticism:

1. There are no explicit parameters for Pick of the Day or the writer rankings.

To my knowledge, both systems reward writers who are popular with readers. And writers can be popular with readers for many reasons. Who's to say which are the "right" ones? Sure, it would be nice if popularity were driven by writing excellence alone since that is the goal. But I don't think you can ever say someone's preconditions are wrong for something as ephemeral as popularity.

2. Even if there are explicit criteria, impotence of order is the natural and predictable state of the Web.

Few consequences mean few rules. It is beautiful anarchy; the Wild West of our generation (how pathetic is that?). Anything goes because it's too hard to control the freedom that comes with anonymity.

Some people might vote based on looks, others might just throw a pick at everything they read, and others might be impossibly stingy. For instance, I've probably given out four or five picks during the entire two months I've been on here. People might say that's as ridiculous as voting based on looks.

You might not like it, but such anarchy is the necessary prerequisite for and limitation on the Internet's brilliance.

3. Physical attraction is just another advantage, an asset to be utilized like any other.

Men have the distinct advantage of playing incarnations of these sports that are closer to the professional levels. Women can play a sport that shares the name, but their version is not the same.

I don't mean to disparage women athletes here. My little sister played soccer for Berkeley so I've seen more women's soccer than men's and I almost prefer watching it. Almost. Furthermore, lots of elite female athletes could wipe their chosen playing surfaces with whatever part of me they chose.

However, the fact is that male athletes just move faster, jump higher, have better quicks, and bring more strength to bear than their female counterparts i.e. a high school male compared to a female or two college athletes or two professional athletes and so on.

Women tend to play a purer version of the sport, but it doesn't possess the same physical dynamic.

However, the great equalizer (as always) is the fact that men are controlled to a terrifying degree by our genitals.

You might say that physical attraction is not the same as the male advantage i.e. it doesn't give you a better insight into sports. I beg to differ - men just aren't that bright, especially when it comes to being manipulated by the prospect of sex.

Our advantage may give us more insight into how the game is played via experience, but women may be able to leverage their physical attraction to extract better insight from the actual pros (through beauty, flirtation, or whatever - I'm not suggesting by actually engaging in a sexual tit-for-tat). If it's reasonable to accuse men on B/R of gushing out of misguided hope for a date, the same can absolutely be said about professional athletes.

Infinitely more so because the pay-off is far more realistic plus pro athletes are notorious for a slavish and improbable devotion to their libidos.

You're telling me post-pubescent males are going to be as eager to disclose sensitive information to some Ken Rosenthal wannabe as they are to Erin Andrews?

4. Most importantly, these ladies are very good at what they do.

C'mon. If these articles were bad or even average, the website would go apesh*t. It would be painfully obvious that something was rotten in Denmark and people would FREAK OUT.

That simply isn't the case here.

Maybe you or I don't feel that the writing in question was the best that day or doesn't deserve to be as highly ranked, but to say such a thing is no great condemnation. Especially when there are as many competitors for the honor as there are on B/R.

The fact is the writing must be very good just to get in the discussion, just to create the controversy.

So what if these ladies' looks put them over the top? First, it's unprovable even if the circumstances indicate it. Second, such a phenomenon would be consistent with the spirit of sport.

Ultimately, sports aren't really about loving the best. They're about loving your favorite and our favorites are not always the best.

Our favorites are usually very good, but what puts them over the top is something that we find personally attractive.

I adore guys like Will Clark, Matt Williams, Omar Vizquel, Royce Clayton, Andy Van Slyke, Willie McGee, Robby Thompson, etc. because they were good to great players with little ego and an old-school approach.

Barry Lamar Bonds is the best and most valuable player I have ever seen. By a very wide margin. But I would never say I adore him because his personality and approach were distasteful.

My favorite shortstop of all-time is Ozzie Smith. Today's average power hitter launches more taters a year than the Wizard of Oz did his whole career (28). So what, I still say he's the best and I'll take him to war.

You can have your Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Junior, or Ernie Banks (OK, I might take Mr. Cub).

And that's the point.

Once the competitors surpass a certain level, we're dissecting shades of excellence. Some will choose a writer they know, others will choose a writer they find attractive, and others will choose based on the subject of the writing. And that's just fine.

Because there has to be a winner, there has to be losers, and there has to be a way to differentiate between them. When the competition is so close, the difference rarely seems fair to the losers.

That is the beauty and tragedy of the sports world.

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