by Jason Wojciechowski
Photo by Jeffrey Beall
Ray Ratto is not the most rigorous of thinkers you'll encounter in your everyday baseball-fan life, but I was still a little surprised to see this headline on a piece yesterday morning: "Is Cespedes Oakland's Lin?"
First thought: "Oh, this is exciting. It'll be a one-word column ('No') and we can get on with our lives!"
Second thought: "First thought was delusional."
You can guess, without even clicking the link, who was right.
Ratto's argument, in bullets:
Baseball needs a Tebow/Lin.1
The A's are the most likely team to have baseball's Tebow/Lin. (TeLin? Linbow? Linbow!)
Like Linbow, Yoenis Cespedes toiled far away from his sport's mainstream. (Lin had to ball at Harvard, Tebow went to some unknown school in Florida.)
Like Linbow, Cespedes put up big numbers that may or may not translate to the major leagues. (Fair point as to Tebow, but Lin put up 16/4.5/4 in the Ivy League, which isn't exactly the stuff dreams are made of, basketball-wise.)
Like Linbow, Cespedes had a crazy workout tape. (Again, fair as to Tebow, if you substitute "absurd combine performance," but what's Lin's workout tape?)
Like Linbow, Cespedes fell to a team that doesn't typically spend big despite being coveted by the financial bullies. (Twenty-four teams decided not to pick Tebow, and Jeremy Lin was cut by those big-market bad-boys the Golden State Warriors before joining the rag-tag small-town Knicks.)
I kind of lost the thread at this point. I think the next seven paragraphs basically repeat bullet #1, about how since football and basketball both have these Phenomenon Players (which are quite different from phenomenal players, though Lin might be both), and football and basketball are making money hand over fist and don't even need Phenomenon Players, thus baseball should go get itself a Phenomenon Player. Or something? Like I said, either Ray went off the rails or I did or both.
The best thing about bullets three through six, by the way, is that Ratto even admits that his comparison is absurd: "Maybe you have to squint to [compare them]," the writes, and yeah, that kind of understates things a bit. It's less squinting than it is a massive pair of beer goggles in a dark alley on the set of Angel. (I don't have to tell you which of the three players in question is a vampire, do I?)
If baseball so badly needed a Phenomenon Player, did we really have to wait for Cespedes? What about Josh Hamilton? I'm pretty sure that being a heroin addict is more "out of the way" than Harvard as far as likelihood of future success in professional athletics. Or didn't we already have Sam Fuld, who has his own Ivy League pedigree?
I don't want to go too far down this road, though, because my larger point isn't that Ratto could have found a better comparison -- it's that these comparisons are ridiculous. Andy Hutchins, talking about Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow, wrote:
My point is that the powers that be are flattening and sanding off a lot of their differences so they have more easily digested narratives.— Andy Hutchins (@AndyHutchins) February 16, 2012
That's the crux of why comparisons in general are silly. In the realm of hard analysis, you can make this point about comparing prospects: Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus is sort of Internet-famous for disliking comparisons, and my sense of his reason is that (minus the "narrative" issue) it's exactly what Hutchins wrote -- comparisons mask as much information as they provide. But the issue arises in this sort of "soft" analysis or cultural commentary or narrative-building, too. "Hey, everyone's heard of that one famous guy, so let's compare this new famous guy to him!" is the kind of pandering I can do without. I have a hard enough time hearing over and over again how weird it is that Lin went to Harvard without needing some other athlete from a sport I don't care about shoved down my throat as having a comparable story. To the extent Tebow's experience can tell us anything about what Jeremy Lin or Yoenis Cespedes might accomplish moving forward, that's great -- pull out those threads of their stories and tell us why they're relevant. I have yet to see this accomplished, or even really attempted. Instead, it's all linkbait: "If I put the word 'Lin' in my headline, a bunch of people who hate baseball will click the article before they even realize what they're doing." I know it's never going to stop, because it's the nature of providing writing for free on the internet -- you've got to get people to click any damn way you can -- but I reserve my right to complain anyway.
Note that Ratto does not make explicit how exactly Tebow and Lin are supposed to be comparable, but whatever, let's run with it. ↩