October 28, 2013
Let me start with this: I don't mean to offend anyone in writing this article. (This is a response to the title article: "Ballhawk of the Year: Part II.") Would I have rather not written this article/entry at all and never have to address such a divisive topic being brought up in an even more polarizing fashion? Absolutely. I tried to stay out of this completely as long as I could, but it has become apparent that while her jar has not yet been opened, the ballhawk's Pandora has been created. In other words, I would have rather this not come up, but maybe we can actually get something positive out of this whole spectacle.
I will also say this: I am probably less infallible than anyone reading this. Why do I say this? I encourage you to challenge what I say, whether you are reading this on my blog or on mygameballs.com, in the respective comments section below. The only stipulation that make for leaving comments on my blog--since I don't control the mygameballs comments--is you be respectful to one another. You can bash me all you want, but please debate each others' points respectfully or...well, you'll see what happens. Also on the note of commenting, since both articles are so long, I decided to organize my points in a way that wouldn't going to completely bore everyone reading this while simultaneously making it easier to comment on specific points. How it goes is I will post Rocco's point followed by my reaction to said point and rationale fro taking that stance right afterwards in a numbered fashion. So if you are commenting on a point I or Rocco made, just be sure to let the rest of us know which one it is so it's much easier to find what exactly you're referring to. This has and will continue to get messy in terms of people citing information and things of that nature, so I just wanted to organize it a bit.(You don't have to read this next paragraph if your first name isn't Rocco and are more than welcome to skip it and dive straight into the response itself.)
Finally, before I get to my actual response to the two articles in question, I would like to say something to the architect of this whole kerfuffle, Rocco Sinisi: Rocco, I have heard many tales of your kindness and hospitality when it comes to travelers visiting GABP. I still do very much look forward to meeting you when our paths cross somewhere along the line. I also know you didn't mean to incite what you did--or at least I don't think you did. All of this adds up to say: Don't think that I am being critical in any way of you as a person in my response to your articles below. Any criticism I express is simply of the ideas you have made public the past 1.5 months or so/how you have compiled your various arguments. All of that out of the way, let's get to the response itself, shall we?
1. Point: Zack is a professional ballhawk, and so he's at an unfair advantage to us people who have to pay for our games.
Response: Eh. Yes but no. While I definitely see where you're coming from, I would agree more if we were talking about a different ballhawk being the "professional" in question, but Zack went to 80 games last year to this year's 92, and 131 the year before that without being sponsored. It would be one thing if he were reinvesting the money saved through being sponsored into a ton more games, but that doesn't appear to be the case. It seems as though there is a money-independent threshold of games that he is willing to go to in a year. And I have a good guess as to why that is: blog entries. Most ballhawks would in fact reinvest the money into a ton more games, but having to write 2,000 words for every game makes you...surprise! Much less willing to go to 160 games a year; despite affordability.
2. Point: What is Ballhawk of the Year?
Response: I do agree with you here. It has always been the case that there is a question of what the award actually means. However, I would also say that as long as MLB doesn't have a standardized way of choosing a Cy Young or MVP, I don't think there should be a standardized way to choose Ballhawk (and Junior Ballhawk) of the Year.
Is it a flawed system? Of course. But so would be any standardized way of choosing Ballhawk of the Year. Therefore, I say we just go with our own little way of imperfect perfection and have what Ballhawk of the Year (and the junior derivation thereof) means be up to the discretion of each voter. For me it means the best overall ballhawk; but if someone thinks the awards are whoever snags the most baseballs or game home runs, they should be allowed to do it. Not to mention, any standardization of the awards renders the voting useless. And while that is a possible route to take, I like the fact that these awards are determined by peer-vote.On a personal level, because of my way of voting when considering all of the statistical categories available on mygameballs.com--as well as calculating a few of my own--Zack has come out on top two out of the three years I have voted on the Ballhawk of the Year award. I can't speak for others, but that's the way I have voted for the award, which has nothing to do with personal affiliations.
3. Point: Disqualifications for Ballhawk of the Year
Response: This is gimmicky, but does bring up a good point. For the sake of time, I'm going to agree with you and say that ballhawking is a sport. Well ballhawking is unique from most other sports in that the person decides when they retire, and so it is just as likely for a ballhawk to "retire" at 18 as it is for a ballhawk to retire at 50. And it is not infrequent to see a ballhawk take a multiyear-long hiatus and then come back to ballhawking. What that means is I do like "inducting" ballhawks into a Hall of Fame while still ballhawking, if we ever choose to have something like a Hall of Fame. I think here is also the best time to point out that we have a very small sample size of Ballhawks of the Year. There have been only four years in which Ballhawk of the Year has been voted on. Sure Zack has won 75% of them, but Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, and Greg Maddux won their respective awards 100% of the time over a four-year period. I don't think anyone was calling for a restructuring of their awards because of them. While I do agree that with the insulation of this "sport" we have the beginning of a problem, trying to implement a solution to the *beginning* of such a problem is a bit preemptive. I say we give it at least a couple more years to give other people a shot at having a breakout year and winning it with statistics alone instead of a "booster seat" win.
4. Point: We need age categories in order to give people with different abilities an even shot
Response: Good reasoning...but no. I like the idea; I really do. A ten-year-old doesn't have the same snagging ability a thirty-year-old has, who doesn't have the same snagging ability a seventy-year old has. That said, the categories you've made are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too specific. Alex Kopp, Garrett Meyer, and myself were discussing mygameballs statistics one night, and Alex didn't even think that there was a female ballhawk who had recorded 25 baseballs on the site ever. Determined to find one, I looked through the *whole* career leaderboard for people with at least 25 baseballs. And I did prove him wrong by finding one...but that was it; just one. Granted, this ballhawk had recorded all 37 of her baseballs--at the time--this year, but I think you see the problem in beginning a competition between one person.
I haven't yet ravaged the 60+ demographic yet, but I assume I'd find almost just as bad a scarcity problem. If we add a Female Ballhawk of the Year, Senior Ballhawk of the Year, or two additional slots for Junior Ballhawk of the Year as you've suggested, we're simply creating an even worse monopolized awards problem. Junior Ballhawk of the Year would be the smaller of monopoly problems since candidates are always losing eligibility, but that's exactly the reason expanding to three is a bad idea. In two of the three years I've voted I've had a hard time putting together a list of three worthy candidates for ONE spot, forget about finding nine worthy candidates for three spots.
I think the problem with the other two awards is pretty self-explanatory, but just in case it isn't: With so little competition, the same person would win the award every year. And if the thought behind creating the awards is it will get more people to join the site from these respective demographics, I don't see that happening. People join the site to document their baseball collections because they heard about it somewhere; it is not until a person is in the community that they learn about the award. If there aren't a bunch of female and senior ballhawks on the site, that's because the message isn't getting out to them fast enough, not because there is a lack of fitting awards.
5. Point: "Cult of Zack Hample"
Response: Maybe if this was 2009, but in going to stadiums and running into a large majority of the prominent ballhawks who have ever run into Zack, I can say that people no longer agree with Zack simply because he is Zack. It used to be that Zack's blog was one of the very few peepholes into the ballhawking world, but as mygameballs has become more prominent in these recent years, people can take a look at other ballhawks by themselves, and as a result of that, come up with information that isn't filtered by Zack. This has lead to people not going with Zack because he is the "king of the ballhawks" as some have labeled him. What that means, is if there are people defending him, it's because they are actually against the points brought against him. There is a clear confusion here between your so-called dogmatic "crucifixion" by the church of Zack Hample and people actually disagreeing with the points you've brought forth. Could some people have phrased it a little more professionally? Yes; but comments sections on the internet aren't exactly renown for their civility.
6. Point: Give other ballhawks some more recognition.
Response: You underestimate how much people browse the site. People know all of the names you have thrown out there. That said, I do agree that the articles during the season were a great resource in discovering more about these lesser-known ballhawks that no longer stands as prominent on the site as it once did. And as such, like yourself, I volunteer to write a percentage of these articles since I'll be taking a reduced ballhawking role this upcoming season.
7. Point: Ballhawking is a sport.
Response: I agree with you but I don't at the same time. In regards to this, I have seen people take to both sides, but I'd say I'm right in the middle. Being a sports management, I know that the actual, metaphysical definition of "sport" is a competition between two or more parties. So yes, even chess is a sport by technicality. That said, the modern-day, practical definition is it is an athletic competition. With all that said, I think it is both sport an hobby; it depends wholly on how you view it. So with you, Rocco, ballhawking is a sport, since it seems you are actively competing with the rest of us ballhawks out there. But with someone who is doing it just because collecting baseballs is a fun thing, it is a hobby. There is no reason for ballhawking to have an exclusive category since the duality of its nature reflects the duality of the people who partake in it.
8. Point: "Everybody's thinking the same way."
Response: Alan put up an column RIGHT before this one that shows we aren't all thinking the same way. The column, for those reading this who didn't read it, was the Top-15 Recent Improvements to MyGameBalls.com. While I only pitched three of the improvements listed on the site last offseason, I had a bunch of ballhawks tell me there should be something similar to the idea I had pitched just that past offseason, It would not surprise me to know that over half of the improvements listed came from member suggestions. This shows that ballhawks are in fact thinking outside of the mold that we have set for us. And I do acknowledge you as one of those ballhawks thinking outside of the box, but by the response you have generated, it appears as though the majority of the community does not agree with the changes you have set forth in suggesting.
Mateo Fischer is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.