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Change of perception in a digital age

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I hate knowing that Willie McGee doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. I hate having no reasonable argument for his inclusion. I hate knowing that he had an OPS above .800 only once in his career, that he never hit more than 11 home runs in a season, and that he never came particularly close to any significant statistical milestone.

In my mind, McGee had at least 3,000 hits, slugged well over .480, averaged 25 steals a season, and made sliding catches on every fly ball hit to shallow left-center field.

Baseball Reference [3] tells me I’m wrong.

As Philip pointed out this morning, the internet has changed nearly everything about the baseball experience. It’s changed the way we evaluate players, it’s changed how much we know about players, it’s changed the way we receive — and report — information about players, and it’s changed out ability to speculate, debate and second guess every single player move during the offseason. It’s affected our perception of everyone from Don Mattingly to Robinson Cano to Slade Heathcott.

The internet is powerful, and I’m starting to get the sense that it’s not going away.

As you can probably imagine, I adored McGee when I was a kid. The Cardinals were my team in the ’80s, and because they stole a lot of bases, I assumed stealing bases was the best way to win a baseball game. It’s stealing! Getting something for free! Surely there can be no greater advantage! Now? Well, we know that logic isn’t quite accurate. I never had any doubt that Ozzie Smith was the greatest shortstop to ever play the game, that McGee should be an MVP candidate each season, and that Bob Forsch was wrapping up an unforgettable career (if you’re too young to remember him, look him up, the guy was good). I waited for each issue of Baseball Digest so that I could look up player moves and re-evaluate each team’s roster. I considered myself well informed.

Turns out, I wasn’t even well informed about the information I had!

Digital media has changed my job in too many ways to count. It’s amazing to talk to guys who covered the Yankees or Mets in the ’80s and ’90s. They say the beat is almost unrecognizable at this point. And if the distributing of information is unrecognizable, the same must be true for the gathering of information. Prospects don’t surprise people any more. Signings rarely come out of nowhere. Players are rarely underrated or overrated without a large contingent of people telling us they’re either overrated or underrated.

For those who grew up without Twitter and MLBTradeRumors, is there any part of you that misses those innocent days? I firmly believe that more information is better, but there was something nice about being absolutely confident about Willie McGee’s place in history.  


Associated Press photo