Ratto: When there is no now, we eat the past and make up the future

The new sports economy — imagining what’s next and reconsidering what was

Ray Ratto
March 19, 2020 - 12:55 pm
Ratto on the new sports economy

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

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It is no surprise that everyone with a math or computer science degree has already come up with a fictional NCAA Tournament bracket and attached daffy explanations of what happens in the alternate universe. Most of them tell us that a one-seed wins the tournament, although ESPN created a tournament result through BPI in which Yale won two rounds and the Final Four included two four-seeds and two six-seeds, with Wisconsin beating BYU for the championship..

Now there's some wacky, off-the-peg conjuring.

But now we are turning back toward the past for amusing new developments in the actual record books. Baseball.reference.com, one of the sport's leading databases, has found new information on past games going back more than a century, and among its findings is that Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi had far worse statistics than we thought, and Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan had far better numbers (courtesy Jay Jaffe of Fangraphs).

So this is the new sports economy — not only imagining the future but reconsidering the things we already saw.

Now rethinking Ernie Lombardi was hardly high on anyone's to-do list (Jaffe is a glorious weirdo that way), but without new numbers and videos to swamp us, we will have to make do with the metric tons we have already created, and the old ones we can now unearth (part of Jaffe's story explains how new information from box scores and play-by-play list from games in the first half of the last century and even new definitions of metrics from the past few seasons. For instance, we now know (or pretend to know) than Josh Donaldson and Scooter Gennett aren't as good as we thought and Carlos Correa and Jonathan Schoop are significantly improved.

I suppose this is valuable stuff for people who ingest their sports one printout at a time, but it's the idea that we are already working through the stuff we've already thought we knew that makes sports the bizarro world it is. No sport navel-gazes its past quite like baseball, but one can only imagine what the NFL or NBA will do with the urge to do the same. We might actually gain a greater appreciation for the past, or dismiss it all the more cruelly with the withering phrase, "that I've ever seen." As though your experience is somehow a new valuable metric rather than the twisted memories of your addled mind.

This will raise new arguments about which old player is better than which other old player, with the one depressing realization that in the shelter in place world in which we now live, there's nobody around to argue with, about Ernie Lombardi or anyone else.

And that comes with the frightful realization that the fan experience in sports is ultimately about arguing, without end or resolution. "Scoreboard" only goes so far when all the games are fictional (St. Mary's beats Baylor? Hofstra over Baylor?), and our endless search for legacy information suddenly ends when there is no new fuel to change the dynamic. Hell, we're grading NFL free agency largely to keep away the frightening thought that they might not start play on schedule. Everything is a fantasy league, and if we can't make the future dance to our imaginary tunes, we'll start working over the past and let our imaginations and desire to change the furniture of our lives be our guides.

Starting with this: Toronto is killing sports.

The St. Patricks won the 1918 Stanley Cup, and then the Spanish influenza epidemic (which actually had nothing to do with Spain) canceled the next season. The 1993 Blue Jays won the World Series and then the '94 World Series was canceled. And now the 2019 Raptors won the NBA championship.

Hey, if we're making it up as we go along, let's go all out.

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