Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 21, 2022

Anxious April Is Upon Us

A NOTE TO READERS:  On Sports and Life is traveling this weekend.  The next post will be delayed by one day, until Monday.  As always, thanks for reading.

Blame it on the internet.  In our hyper-connected age, we are overrun by information and besieged by distractions.  Multitasking is no longer a useful skill for the busy but an essential talent for everyone’s daily existence.  Given that not entirely pleasant reality, it’s no wonder that many human attention spans now seem best measured in milliseconds.  That, in turn, surely must explain the plethora of solidly fixed, conclusive, determinative, and absolute opinions offered by fans of the Great Game, about individual players, entire franchises, and even the general state of the sport, now that the longest season is all of two weeks old.

Just two weeks.  Not a single MLB team has played so much as ten percent of its schedule.  Going into Thursday’s games, exactly one big league hitter had as many as 60 at-bats and no pitcher had thrown even 20 innings.  Those numbers accurately reflect the calendar, which is still more than a week away from turning past April.  We have barely seen the opening chapter of a regular season story that will not be fully told until October.  Yet judgments abound after this mere fortnight of play, to use a now seldom heard term for the time that has passed since this season’s delayed Opening Day. 

There is a lesson in that scarcity of use.  The word “fortnight” has been part of the English language for at least nine hundred years, and its origins are even older, having derived from Old English predecessor terms that first appeared in the 5th century and meant, not surprisingly, “fourteen nights.”  However, where that once represented a compact chunk of time that was a useful measure for a variety of short-term activities, it may now seem like a ponderously long period to a fan with three open apps on his or her smartphone.  Surely long enough, that fan could conclude, to produce results defining the shape of all that is yet to come through the remaining 150 or so games.

What else would lead someone to point out that Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, acquired by New York during the offseason to improve the team’s defense and serve as a stopgap for a season or two until one of New York’s promising prospects at that position is ready for promotion from the minors, is outhitting Carlos Correa, the top free agent shortstop who the Yankees did not pursue?  But there was the tweet, informing us that “Isiah Kiner-Falefa is hitting .281/.343/.375 with a 115 wRC+, Carlos Correa is hitting .184/.279/.316 with a 79 wRC+.”  A mere dozen games into the season, this does not even qualify as an interesting factoid, for just a week ago the same post would have never appeared, since at that time Kiner-Falefa’s batting line was .059/.111/.118.  

The dramatic change in just a handful of games is a reminder – though none should be needed – that the most meaningful numbers in a sport that since its earliest days has been defined by statistics are forged over a 162-game season, or a career of many such campaigns.  Those long-term stats, not last week’s, are what set the value of contracts, define legacies, and for a fortunate few, wind up engraved on plaques hanging on the walls of a museum in upstate New York.  If Kiner-Falefa outperforms Correa offensively this year it will be one of the season’s biggest stories.  But to intimate that such an outcome is in the cards based on both players’ output in a few April games is, to put it kindly, nonsensical.

Still, the IKF-Correa comparison was not the most ridiculous reliance on a small, no make that a miniscule, sample size in the past few days.  That honor surely goes to the fan who quite obviously does not like Aaron Hicks, the Yankees center fielder who, due to various injuries, has missed more games than he’s played since signing a 7-year, $70 million contract extension with New York prior to the 2019 season.  Finally healthy again, Hicks has played well in the early going, but not perfectly, which is all his detractor needed.  The fan’s social media post urged his followers to ignore Hicks’s batting stats to date, a fair enough proposition given the limited database of at-bats.  But this poster didn’t stop there, instead asserting that despite those heady numbers Hicks had already cost his team two victories because of the outcome of one specific trip to the plate in each contest.  Now that is a small sample size!

So it goes, in this April as in every first month of every season, with the overwrought amateur analyses extending beyond individual players.  When the Yankees took two of three from archrival Boston and split a four-game set with preseason AL East favorite Toronto to open the season in the Bronx, fans of the Bronx Bombers fans were upbeat.  That cheerful outlook lasted exactly as long as it took for the team to travel down to Camden Yards and drop a series to the lowly Orioles.  By the time the last out of that unfortunate visit was recorded, many of those same social media accounts were lamenting a season that was surely already lost.  Then there are the dread postings about baseball in general, highlighted by a stark warning that attendance to date is down 2% from a comparable period in 2019, the last season without pandemic restrictions in any ballpark.  Naturally, there was no context included, no comparison of weather in northern cities between the two years, or what percentage of full season attendance the first two weeks typically account for, just the dire news that the Great Game is done for.  Yet if that were true, would all this passion be on display? 

Though T.S. Eliot named April the cruelest month, in the Great Game the opening page of the season’s calendar is just sadly misunderstood, and, so very often, misleading.  As is true every year, the full story of this season has yet to be told.

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