What Twitter teaches us about baseball fans

By Dan Holmes ♦ April 22, 2012

There are many ways that social media has changed our lives, some for the good and some for the bad (see Anthony Weiner’s … um … weiner, for example). Of all the social media options out there — the mash of FourPinterMyFacebook-ish stuff — the one i love (and use) the most by far is Twitter. I find tons of great information via Twitter, have made friends, found business connections, and so on. But one of the funnest things I do with Twitter is share my fan experience with other sports nuts. Gone are the days when I have to sit on the couch and watch baseball by myself – muttering under my breath at the stupid defensive play or the bad decision the manager just made – with Twitter I can share my angst (or joy) with a limitless number of fans.

Often (as you’ll see) the banter is juvenile or just plain stupid. But there are very knowledgeable fans who share nuggets as well. This article however, is about the trends I see while watching games and also keeping my eye on the Twitter feeds of various teams.

Based on my hours of live tweeting games, here are nine things fans think they know about baseball:

1. A single baseball game is a strong indicator of how good a team is.

This cracks me up. Invariably, if the favorite team is losing, the Twitter feed for that team is doom and gloom. There are always a group of Tweeps (that’s Twitter-speak for Twitter regulars) who are ready to jump off a cliff, write off their team, trade all the players (see #6 below) etc. These fans just don’t seem to remember that the season is 162 games long, and that the other team has good players too. Sometimes the opposing pitcher is just on his game, and your favorite team gets shut down. It’s funny to see how many “The #Cardinals suck, they’re losing 11-4!” messages you have crawling down the feed. Fans who overreact to one game need to remember what Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda said about the grueling inevitability of a baseball season: “You’re going to win 50 games and you’re going to lose 50 games. It’s what you do with the other 62 that matters.” Even the great teams lose one out of every three or so.

2. It’s easy to lay off a really good breaking pitch.

You’ll notice this one when you’re watching a game in person or with a friend on TV. The batter reaches for a pitch and misses it as it dips under his bat, often as it dives into the dirt at home plate. Some fans react as if the batter is the biggest dope in the world. What they are missing is that it’s really very hard to lay off a good breaking pitch from a big league pitcher. The center field camera makes it look much easier than it is. Those pitches breaking pitches are coming in at 85-90 MPH, when fastballs average 90+. As the ball comes at the hitter, it comes out of the same arm slot as a fastball, so it looks like a fastball for about 58 feet, and then it either dips or hops to the left or right. The batter has to make a decision in a split second. Not easy.

3. Every pickoff move by the opposing team is a balk.

Another one that you’ll see at the ballpark a lot, too. Few people know the balk rule and you’ll invariably hear fans shouting “BALK!” any time the opposing pitcher threatens a throw or makes a throw to a base. General rule of thumb – if the pitcher steps off the rubber first, he can fake a throw, he can stare at the runner, he can do just about anything. It’s not a balk unless his foot is on the rubber and he deceives the runner in some way.

4. The manager is an effin’ moron.

Well, maybe the manager of your favorite team IS a moron, but even so, he knows a lot about baseball. Some of the comments that slide across Twitter are comically oversimplified, like criticizing the manager for not putting in the closer when the starter gets shelled or for putting in the closer when the closer blows a save. In many cases, a manager is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. There are legit reasons to bark at a manager, like questionable lineup selections or overmanaging his bullpen (every friggin’ manager does that in today’s game).

5. The kid in Triple-A is better than the bum getting pummeled today.

Whoever is having a bad game, there always seems to be a kid in the minor leagues who would be perfect in his place. Until, of course, THAT kid starts to perform poorly, then someone else should take his spot.

6. If our GM was smart enough he could find a way to trade our fourth starter, backup catcher, and a prospect for Albert Pujols or Justin Verlander!

I love this one. Here’s the text of an ACTUAL Twitter message from last August by a Red Sox fan: “Red Sox should send Varitek/Miller to M’s for King Felix, need his arm b4 Yankees get him.”

Nevermind that Felix Hernandez was in the second year of a five-year deal with Seattle, and the M’s had already said he wasn’t available. But the great part is that this fan thinks that 54-year old Jason Varitek (who retired after the ’11 season) somehow wante to return to Seattle (where he once played) AND that the M’s wanted him! The “Miller” he mentions is Andrew Miller, a one-time hot pitching prospect who is in his third organization after being a first round pick by the Detroit Tigers in 2006. Miller’s in the minors in 2012.

Best advice for fans out there: don’t make up silly trade scenarios just because you’re in first place in your fantasy league.

7. Pitch counts mean everything.

I lay the blame for pitch counts at the feet of ESPN. Starting back in, oh about 2001, the “pitch count” started to become a quasi-official stat quoted by the Entertainment Tonight type broadcasters at ESPN. Not long after, MLB.com began to include them in their box scores and gameday live broadcasts. Somehow, 100 pitches started to become a magic number, too. Supposedly when a starting pitcher reaches 100 pitches his nails are supposed to fall off, his pitches lose 10 MPH, his tongue starts to hang out the side of his mouth, and it’s open-season batting practice for the opposing team. BS. I once asked Nolan Ryan when he first started hearing about pitch counts, and he said “No one ever talked to me about pitch counts in my entire career.” He sort of snarled it. Former Tiger Mickey Lolich told me he thinks he once threw 175 pitches in a game, and Mick never had a sore arm. Ryan pitched for so long that the Rangers held frequent AARP Nights at the ballpark. The ONLY reason that pitch counts mean anything today is because most big league teams use their pitchers based on them. Some, like Ryan’s Rangers, shun the pitch count (Texas has been to two straight World Series, so their philosophy seems to be working) and train their pitchers in the minor leagues to throw 100+ pitches. The reason is simple and smart: it’s easier to find 405 really good pitchers than it is to find 12. When big league teams trust the most critical parts of their games (say the 6th, 7th, 8th innings) to the 3rd, 4th or 5th best reliever, they are wasting opportunities. Why not allow your ace (who’s your ace for a reason) learn to go deep into games? If we prohibited people from Tweeting about pitch counts, we’d eliminate about 25% of the traffic on Twitter.

8. We have better nicknames for our players than you do!

And they do! Tweeps come up with great nicknames for their favorite (or most loathed) players. Consider these: Tigers Brandon Inge (Cringe), or the name that Phillies fans call their closer: CinnaBON. There are also several “fake” Twitter accounts, like @PhilCokesBrain and @FakeMattKemp and @WeaversSwagger (Jared Weaver).

9. If you can bunt, we like you.

One thing is for sure: Twitter fans love baseball players who do the “little things” move the runner over via a groundball, or deliver a sacrifice fly. But they reserve a special sort of love for the batter who can bunt. Bunting is huge to twitter followers. Maybe it’s the 140-character version of a base hit.


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