Thursday, April 07, 2011

Emotional Reactions to First Week in the Age of Social Media

Whether teams realize it or not, team blogs and Facebook groups and Twitter fans need to become a part of every team's marketing plan. The most dynamic and popular of the team sites should be given team credentials. This is a great opportunity for teams to build fan interest that is of itself a dollars and cents issue. But the same social media that has exploded around us also makes things difficult for teams when they don't start well. It used to be that every city had two or three newspaper outlets and a few television stations to worry about. Those outlets couldn't produce opinion until the following day after a game or at best, a short spot on the eleven o'clock news. Now there are thousands of bloggers and tweeters that can drive things into a frenzy in a matter of moments. Every play is scrutinized, every manager decision second-guessed and every writer is looking for angle and another member of the audience. And then it all gets scrutinized on the MLB Network twenty-four hours a day.

That can make it crushing when teams like the Red Sox, the Cardinals, the Bay Rays and other teams that were expected to do well stumble out of the gate. Tony LaRussa blew up at his post game news conference on Wednesday night. There is already a major squawk about New York Yankees' reliever, Rafael Soriano, not being available to answer questions after he blew the Yankees win on Tuesday. Madden already feels the need to protect Manny Ramirez.

While scanning Twitter on Wednesday night, even Jon Heyman, supposedly a respected journalist for Sports Illustrated, gets caught up in the immediacy of social media and says things like the Red Sox pre-season hype went to their heads. The age we live in has brought about such immediacy that every game of a 162 game season becomes a do or die event.

How can people already be writing off the Boston Red Sox? Again, this age we live in allows baseball people the ability to look stuff up immediately such as that no team that has started 0-5 has ever made the playoffs. After five games, is that really a reality just because it's never happened before? It's only five games. Sure, a part of our human nature is to have some glee when a team goes out and tries to buy a pennant only to start on their caboose, but come on! The Red Sox weren't supposed to beat the Yankees in 2004 when they were down three games to zip either. That's why you play the games. It isn't what happens after five games, it's what happens after 162.

After picking up a lot of friends who follow the St. Louis Cardinals, it's wryly amusing to see how flustered they are by the lack of Cardinal offense. Albert Pujols has a ten year history to look at, not just six games. Is he going to be batting under .100 a week from now, never mind a month or two from now? It's just a few games! Of course, Tony LaRussa's reaction was a little over the top. He's got to know the age we live in. Heck, he's on Twitter himself. But the man has a point. How can people be questioning the offensive make up of his team after just six games?

The Giants were in fourth place last year on July 15th. They won the whole kitten caboodle. So why then is there such panic with a 2-4 start? They have some of the best pitching in baseball. Six games tell us nothing, especially in a division where nobody is going to run away and hide.

All of this emotional roller-coasting is one reason why this space has been avoiding stories on players having good starts or bad starts. Those stories would sound blindingly stupid by August when the landscape will be completely different. As a passionate fan, it would be easy to get all excited or worried about players based on their results out of the gate. But history has to temper the immediate reactions. Sure, maybe we can start to look at trends. Sure, we can begin to wonder if the Rangers and Reds are going to be the best teams in their respective leagues. But both teams can just as easily lose five games in a row next week. If they start like the Tigers did in 1984, well then that's pretty interesting. But even those Tigers stumbled in the second half and limped into the playoffs. They won a hundred plus games, but they didn't set any records or anything.

The rational thing to do is to keep reminding yourself that it's still early. Baseball has entertainment value over the course of a long season and at most, results at this time of year should be looked on with interest and amusement. But to make bold statements or to get hopes up too high or down too low is premature. And teams need to simply smile when faced with stupid questions based on such small sample sizes. Let's just watch and see what happens, shall we?

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