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The People and Those Guys over There

Publication Date: August 1, 2000

I always envy guys like Rob Neyer or Scott Adams, who can (and have for large periods of time, in both cases) fill a good chunk of their creative burden with suggestions from their email. While I still enjoy getting baseball-related email, and I have had at least one useful suggestion in my mailbox and had several other discussions that helped me sharpen some of my arguments, most of my email, especially during the season, seems to be designed only to showcase some of the most basic human foibles.

One of the most basic of apparent human needs is the need to belong, to be a member of some set of people that we can claim some common identity with. The unfortunate flip side of that is that we have a need, which very few of us manage to escape, to consider that membership as having value, and, therefore, for those who lack that membership to be of lesser value. This behavior takes all sorts of names, from tribalism to nationalism to country club exclusiveness to "Go to Hell, Ole Miss", and it never gets any prettier.

Linguists say that most core human languages contained names for the group that used the language that translated to something like "the people" or "the men". If the geographical situation was right, the language would also contain a name either for a particular other group or for all other people that translated to something like "those other folks", if the coiners were in a nice mood, or "those idiots who don't speak our language", if they weren't. This is most noticable, as far as I know, in European languages, which explains the "nine names for Germany" effect, although it also shows up in places like Bangladesh, which literally translates to "Land of the Men". (That's if you pronounce it correctly; if you pronounce it the way most Americans do, it means "Land of the Frogs", which doesn't really have the effect they were looking for.)

This tendency, it turns out, is what fills up my mailbox. It takes two basic forms. The first is the perpetual college baseball regional flame war, wherein Eastern (or more appropriately Southeastern) fans are convinced that all other baseball is inherently flawed because LSU won nineteen national championships in the '90's and Western fans know that they worship the center of the universe because USC won fifty championships during the late Stone Age. A special subcase of this is the Northern fan, who is certain that the only thing preventing that Fordham national title is the fact that it's cold there when the season starts, or something. Note, of course, that there's some truth in all these statements, which doesn't detract from the ridiculousness of arguing about inclusion in a group that covers 1/4 of a giant country. I get accused of bias by all sides, so I think I'm doing OK on this point.

The other, and far more amusing, form is the tendency for fans of each school to choose close rivals and then focus on those rivals in the midst of a sea of data. I could, perhaps, understand the tendency for fans to try to boost the ratings of their own team. What I've never understood is how it seems to deeply offend many people if a local or conference rival is rated more highly than they perceive as just. I have, for example, gotten email from a Rutgers fan who granted Rutgers' rating as just but was deeply offended by the placement of Notre Dame. Given that one of the things that can do you the most good is for your opponents to do well in the ratings, that's not just bizarre, it's counterproductive.

One of the things that makes this amusing, or disturbing, I think, is the tendency for these rivalries to carry on even once they are removed from their original setting. It's amusing in the sense that, say, a Mississippi State grad and an Ole Miss grad in Minnesota would be seen as silly for carrying deep grudges. It's disturbing in the sense that Haitians and Dominicans in New York can carry over the resentments from their homeland, sometimes with violent consequences. In both of these cases, there are real differences -- MSU produces engineers who leave the state for better jobs (me included) while Ole Miss produces lawyers who perpetuate a ruling class worthy of any third world country; there is a very real difference in the standard of living produced so far by the cultures of Haiti and the Dominican Republic -- but the distinctions get blurred by the geographical distances, and the feuds are best left at home.

Since I deal with college baseball mostly on a national level, I tend to get hit with a lot of these complaints that have been carried outside their useful domain, such as the complaint I got from a Liberty fan that Coastal Carolina was overrated. This particular portion of the mailbox, I could do without.

Like most other folks these days, I get too much email, and anything that raises the baseball percentage of my mailbox is welcome. If you have suggestions or complaints, let me hear from you. If you have experiences you want to share, let me hear from you. But if you want to complain about "Those Guys over There", think twice. I want to hear from you, but I'm probably going to laugh at you.

Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> The People and Those Guys over There About the author, Boyd Nation