When the news about Jesus Montero broke on Thursday night, it upset me. Part of the reason was because I had a giant article queued up for nine the next morning, and I knew I’d have to push it back beyond Labor Day Weekend. We were all going to spend the day talking about ice cream. But the real reason it upset me is because I knew what the reaction would be: #6org.
(For the three repatriated or perhaps newborn readers unaware of the hashtag: #6org was born out of a dangerous and consequentially unwise projection on the part of the folks at FanGraphs and its fearless leader, Dave Cameron. Each season the site ranks the 30 organizations based on their present and future. Riding the crest of the first wave of Zduriencik-inspired optimism, they ranked the Mariners sixth overall. Four and a half years later, the legacy lives on.)
It wasn’t long before Twitter turned its attention to the subject. One nameless and edgy baseball writer tweeted that there had never been a more #6org story in history. One might quibble with his memory, but not his fervor. The episode was treated as emblematic for the organization: the emperor castigated for failing to control his subjects, the baseball equivalent of the tired "Thanks Obama" meme. Both jokes aren’t even jokes anymore; they’re references to jokes, a dismissive shrug and an unspoken hypertext link.
It’s been a bumpy news cycle for the Mariners these past four days. So as Felix faltered last night, I turned off the radio and finished off my book, aptly titled "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea." In it, a rich widow falls in love with a simple, handsome sailor, much to the consternation of her lone teenage son. He and his gang of friends, troubled pre-Columbine loners, meet in abandoned lots to play at existentialism and to reject all beauty and morality, as mid-century conservatives assumed the next generation would inevitably do. I think it was the beat poetry. I was caught by one particular bitter passage, a speech by the leader of the boys:
"Fathers! Just think about it for a minute – they’re enough to make you puke. Fathers are evil itself, laden with everything ugly in man.
There is no such thing as a good father because the role itself is bad. Strict fathers, soft fathers, nice moderate fathers – one’s as bad as another. They stand in the way of our progress while they try to burden us with their inferiority complexes, and their unrealized aspirations, and their resentments, and their ideals, and the weaknesses they’ve never told anyone about, and their sins, and their sweeter-than-honey dreams, and the maxims they’ve never had the courage to live by – they’d like to unload all that silly crap on us, all of it!"
The boy is a pure psychopath (in that way that only literature can bestow, when its authors need a mouthpiece) – he has dehumanized everything, reduced it to an oppressive system meant to grind down those poor freethinking youth. By rendering the adults cogs, he no longer has to worry about these accidentally harmful fathers’ intentions, and thus they are permissible to hate, and to destroy. Children, the author argues, are doomed to despise their fathers as well as need them. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just sum it up: woe be to those who break with Confucianism. Listen to your elders.
As I finished this depressing book to get me away from my depressing baseball team, I found myself returning to #6org, and why it bothers me now, so much later. The snark of the term is a criticism, much like that of the boys in the book, targeted at the "wisdom" of authorities. It’s scorn for experts, those in control of culture.
In the internet age, the concept of expertise is pretty sketchy. In the days of newspapers, expertise was bequeathed by the team onto the local beat writers, through their access to inside information and interviews. Those channels still exist, and people like Divish and Drayer continue to provide valuable information about the state of the clubhouse. But the role of analysis has moved away from those reporters, rightly, to independent analysts, many of them on the web. (Though the two roles aren’t completely exclusive, of course; Eno Sarris, for example, combines his interviews with his own research to great effect.)
On this democratic bastion that is the Internet, baseball experience can be derived from statistical or historical knowledge, on access, or the ability to synthesize information. But more often than not, expertise is sophistry: it’s the ability to persuade other people that one is an expert. (Careers in fantasy sports are often built on this.) I am by no means an expert; I know a lot about baseball, but probably no more than you or your friend’s dad. The only reason my name shows up on the masthead is a stack of SAT vocabulary flash cards. There is legitimate expertise about baseball on the internet, but it’s often tenuous, lacking in the rigor and reputation of its dying print uncle.
As access to players, agents, and teams has broadened over the years, media has had to fight harder and harder to maintain its expertise. The networks do this through the cult of personality: they build up the talking heads to be as important as the game, the suspense no longer what happened but what Skip Bayless is going to say about it. Everyone has to make money, and authority becomes something to market, not just at ESPN, but at ABC News and the Daily Beast. This reliance on authority, the constant message that the news has the ability to process and divest the information you aren’t capable of, is exactly what our evil little boy is railing against in his speech. Fathers are forever imprinting their own failures on their children, trying to live through them and inflict wisdom on them. So are the pundits.
The problem is that as false as expertise feels at times, we as fans consume it like gluttons. We live for the power ranking, even if all but four of the teams are ranked in order of their record. We constantly seek validation for our optimism and comfort for our defeats. Baseball is, fortunately, somewhat less involved with the postmodern obsession with respect than football, where the media confers upon the passive viewer the idea of which teams are over or underrepresented by the media. There are too many games, fortunately, to give us too long a look at each other’s navels.
But it’s not simply a symptom of the advance of media. It also demonstrates a fixed alteration in how we perceive baseball, one in which everything – even the past – is used to prognosticate. Each independent event takes on a weary significance for what it might mean tomorrow, rather than just appreciated for what it meant today. I am no less prone to this than anyone, I confess, as I wait for Chris Young to topple. But analysis has swallowed reporting, and #6org is a symbol of disdain not for analysis – everyone does it – but for one particular philosophy and method. The Mariner Way, to corrupt another jingoism.
Ultimately #6org becomes less of an attack on the experts themselves, who are as ceaseless as the tide, or the team, which is deaf to the tiny howls of Twitter. It’s a taunt of the people who choose to consume that particular media, the ones who might, even for a moment, think that Brad Miller might be the best shortstop in the AL on March 31. It implies that our team and its gang of incompetents is in some way a reflection on us for caring about them. This seems specious to me: caring about baseball is pointless, regardless of how that caring takes place; baseball is designed to be pointless. That’s what makes it great.
So why am I bothered now? Maybe I’m bothered because I’m bothered. I don’t care about Jesus Montero, who I dismissed as a prospect before the season and as a person probably before that. I don’t care about Jack Zduriencik, who is probably trying very hard and is not making the choices I would make and with whom I would probably not enjoy sharing an apartment. Ordinarily I don’t even care about losing, much as last night stings: Thirty-six years of relative failure have taught me to love my baseball team unconditionally, because they sure as hell weren’t going to love me back.
The problem is winning. Winning is like heroin: no matter how long you’ve been away from it, the craving hits immediately. And suddenly everything is serious, and all that detached irony we use to get by disappears. But this is no triumphant 2001, or even Seahawks 2013. The process may be all wrong, this may all be aberration, just like it was in that dusty mirage of 2007. We knew at the time how fake that season was, how potentially damaging, but it still pissed us off to be instructed not to enjoy it. No one likes being told what everything means.
So it is with the experts, and so it is with #6org, which in its nihilism is just substituting its own authority for the dominant one. Experts, pundits and parents all have their own agenda, but the answer isn't to worship or banish any of them. We still want wisdom, and we should want wisdom, especially now when the stakes are so high. It's just a matter of piecing our own out of the authority and the skepticism, of assembling your own sense of fandom out of whatever pieces of baseball and Mariners and bat flips and hydroplane races you prefer. As it turns out, you're fully capable of doing it on your own, with and without anyone.