By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) I take my eyes off my screen for two minutes, and already I’m behind what’s going on as the MLB trade deadline approaches, while the NFL is in the middle of its wacky, post-lockout farmers market.
As far as I can tell right now, the Bears are adding 26 undrafted college free agents, and a lefty one-out specialist from the Braves, pending a physical by team doctors (one of whom was sent to a hospital in Tampa in exchange for two MRI machines and noted gastroenterologist Dr. Irving Hershberg). Edwin Jackson’s deal to Toronto goes through only when the Titans’ agreement with Matt Hasselbeck is finalized, which will allow the White Sox to promote roots-rock legend Alejandro Escovedo from AAA – if, of course, the amount of cost savings is verified by the Congressional Budget Office.
Man, this is fun.
It’s hard to believe how quickly our feelings have changed about these things. I’m old enough to remember when most sports fans resented the very idea of player-movement, grumbling about loyalty and the need to familiarize themselves with new faces every year, like it was some kind of chore that disrupted their lives as fans.
Jerry Seinfeld summed up the mentality of the time when he quipped that the shuffling of players from team to team meant that fans were, in essence, just “rooting for laundry.”
But that was seventeen years ago.
Now, we can’t get enough of the chaos. This recent flurry of trades, waivers and signings is blowing up social media sites, burning through the internet, and dominating conversation on the air and in office hallways and break rooms.
When we examine the reasons for this significant shift in our thinking, they become clear: we’re more demanding, impatient, informed, and involved than ever, and we’re more likely to think like players.
It’s the “action” part of the word “transaction” that matters. We are in constant clamor that our team DO SOMETHING, whether in the cellar or contending, in the middle of the season or with games months away. Our endless quest for gratification is temporarily satisfied by whatever move, even if minor. All of the time spent yelling “Send him down! Call him up! Stash him overseas! Build a statue of him! Feed his fingertips to wolverines!” gets fleeting validation when something, indeed, actually occurs.
Fantasy sports – love ‘em or hate ‘em – have changed the conversation, too. We have abstracted professional athletes into our own commodities, turning flesh-and-blood into mere gambling fodder. We have inured ourselves to player-movement because we, ourselves, are conditioned to making the moves that simulate those in real life. The drafting, wheeling and dealing is where the fun is for inveterate fantasy players, surpassing even the games themselves.
Even those of us who don’t participate have benefitted from fantasy popularity, since it has been a driver of the information technology that has allowed us to geek out to our hearts’ content on statistics, news and rumors. The instant ability to connect everywhere has demystified the phenomenon of players coming and going from our teams – we now know when it’s likely a guy might depart, since we know the full details of the contract, every tick of the arbitration clock, how he changes salary-cap decisions, when his poison-pill roster bonus kicks in, and who’s on the rise in the organization at his position.
Finally, and most importantly, we’re all free agents. Our fathers may have slapped the sports page on the kitchen table, muttering about commitment, but that’s because they worked for the same company for 40 years, built up stock or a real pension, and retired to Florida. It was jarring for them to see Reggie Jackson or Andy Messersmith cashing in, because they couldn’t relate.
We, however, walk across the street for a better opportunity, conditioned by distrust in an era marked by outsourcing and downsizing. We understand powerfully the right to improve one’s professional standing, be we in sales, media, education, law or any other line of work. Our rapidly-evolving world economy has ended the stigma of the job-hopping opportunist because so many are doing it out of real need. We’ll grab the better insurance plan, vacation package or management-training track when we can find it — it may not be about millions of dollars, but it still allows for greater empathy.
Truly, Seinfeld was right. When it comes to our professional sports teams, we are rooting for clothing.
But what he didn’t account for in 1994 was how much we would start to appreciate and enjoy the process of it all. We not only care about the laundry, we are texting each other about the choice of detergent, slamming message-boards with virulent debate over the water temperature during the rinse cycle, and creating a Facebook fanpage for the lint trap.
I’d write more, but there are now already 1,567 unread tweets in my timeline and I want to read them all, immediately.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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