Eager to climb the corporate ladder? Totally uninterested in professional sports? Finding this combination to be problematic? There’s a simple solution. You need to learn a new language. You need to learn how to talk sports.
Anyone who has been in a corporate setting for very long will have noticed that one of the core bonding rituals in many workplaces is a group discussion of professional sports (the sport of choice will vary by country, so ex-pats have it particularly hard.) The sports talk is usually seasonal, but not in the way a non-sports aficionado might imagine. In America in August, for example, you would think that baseball would be the topic, since the season is in full swing at that point. But you’d be wrong: in most US offices, the topic in August is either the US Open tennis matches, or the upcoming NFL season.
You see? It’s a puzzle for many of us.
You could of course choose to opt out of the conversation, but you would do that at your peril. Personal connections, whether with clients, prospects, or colleagues are crucial to your success. Not to mention your happiness!
Alternatively, you could try to fake it by saying things like “How about those Yankees?” “Can you believe those Dodgers?” “Will the Mets ever catch a break?” Nine times out of ten, this will be an appropriate comment that will start a conversation. The problem is, you won’t be able to hold up your end of the discussion after your initial volley.
We here at Dandelion Chandelier feel your pain and confusion, and we’re here to help. In an occasional series, we’ll share exactly what you need to know about sports to converse with your colleagues, the CEO, your next-door-neighbor, your date, your partner, that nice guy at the dog run, your Uber driver, the barista/mixologist you have a crush on, the cashier at the bodega or the person sitting next to you in business class. ‘Cause you never know where the next great relationship might come from.
The Sports Desk has kindly agreed to go back to basics with us, and we promise we’ll give you just the bare minimum in order to be able to participate in a conversation about sports without embarrassing yourself or annoying anyone.
Irrespective of the sport, here are the basic facts that you must master as soon as possible: the months the sport is played; how many players are on a team; the name of the team you are rooting for (just pick one); the player everyone loves; the player everyone hates (there’s always one); the one issue that everyone is either excited about or complaining about (there’s always one); the name of the championship game, when it is played, and the name of the trophy (if there is one); who won the championship last year; and who the MVPs were (regular season and championship game.)
If you know all of that, you’re 80% of the way there. Toss off a couple of casual comments that cleverly alert your audience that you have these facts at your fingertips, and you’ll earn the right to stay in the conversation.
To get all the way to full preparedness, we’re going to go sport by sport and ‘splain what else you need to know (and not a single thing more).
First up, as we head into July: Major League Baseball (MLB). Special thanks to my brother and nephew for their timely and insightful comments about our national pastime.
The brief answers to the basic questions are: the season is April through October; nine players per team per game; it’s your call, personally we love the Red Sox; everyone loves the Cubs’ Kris Bryant; shade is frequently thrown at former Yankee Alex Rodriguez (aka J-Lo’s new boyfriend) and at the Nationals’ Bryce Harper (could be jealousy); one hot topic right now is how much to change the rules to entice younger fans to engage with the MLB; the World Series is played in late October (it’s known as “the Fall Classic”) and the winning team is awarded the Commissioner’s Trophy; in 2016 the Chicago Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians 4 games to 3 to win their first World Series since 1908, ending the longest world championship drought in North American professional sports history; MVPs for the regular season were Mike Trout of the LA Angels for the AL and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs for the NL; MVP for the World Series was Ben Zobrist, Cubs outfielder, who hit a go-ahead double in the top of the 10th inning that led to an 8-7 win over the Cleveland Indians. It was a freakin’ awesome game.
Here are the only other essential facts that you could possibly need to know as a layperson:
1. Must know: the MLB First-Year Player Draft happened last week – it took three days. Nice to know: The Minnesota Twins made shortstop Royce Lewis the first overall pick in this year’s draft; in total over 1,200 players were chosen. Extra credit: Lewis is a high school student from California; Lewis and the Twins have agreed on a contract with a $6.725 million signing bonus, the most for a high school player since MLB’s new compensation system for drafted players began five years ago.
2. Must know: The MLB All-Star Game is at Marlins Park in Miami on July 11 at 8:00P; it’s the first time that the Marlins will host “the Midsummer Classic.” Nice to know: The game is the first since 2002 where the outcome does not determine home-field advantage for the World Series; instead, the team with the better regular-season record will serve as host. Extra credit: The Tampa Bay Rays are the only remaining MLB team to never have hosted an All-Star game.
3. Must know: MLB has two leagues: the American League (AL) and National League (NL). Each has 15 teams. Be sure that you know which one “your” team is in. In the NL, the pitcher is listed in his team’s batting order along with the eight position players. In the AL, the manager designates a reserve player to hit in lieu of the pitcher in the batting order. The player designated to hit for the pitcher is the “Designated Hitter” or “DH” for short. Nice to know: For the All-Star Game, players for each league’s team are selected by the fans for starting fielders; by managers for pitchers; and by managers and players for reserves. Extra credit: The managers of the All-Star game are the managers of the previous year’s league pennant winners and World Series clubs.
4. Must know: MLB has a Commissioner (the CEO of the league). Nice to know: His name is Rob Manfred. Extra credit: He’s been in the role since January 2015; the commissioner is chosen by a vote of the owners of the MLB teams; Manfred is only the 10th Commish in the history of the league; so far, people seem to like him.
5. Must know: As of this writing, the best team in the AL is the Houston Astros; the best team in the NL is the Colorado Rockies. Nice to know: At the beginning of the season, the consensus was that the teams in the 2017 World Series would be the Red Sox (AL) and the Dodgers (NL). Or maybe the Cubs (NL). Extra credit: You won’t look foolish mentioning any of those names – plus the Cleveland Indians (AL) and the Washington Nationals (NL) – as “teams to watch after the All-Star break.”
6. Must know: The Miami Marlins are for sale with an asking price of $1.3 billion. Derek Jeter is part of a consortium with Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney’s son Tagg is paired with Tom Glavine, and it’s unclear which pair will emerge victorious. Nice to know: The current owner of the Marlins, Jeffrey Loria, has only a 6% favorable rating from local MLB fans due to a costly new stadium and subsequent player cuts to stem financial losses. In February it was reported that Loria had been in negotiations to sell the team to the family of Jared Kushner, and that the parties had come to “a handshake deal;” at the same time, the Administration was working to name Loria the Ambassador to France. Subsequently, the Kushners promised not to buy the team if he’s appointed. Extra credit: As of this writing, the latest rumor is that a mystery third bidder has emerged. Watch this space for updates.
7. Must know: The Cy Young Award is given annually to the best pitchers, one each for the AL and NL. Nice to know: Each league’s award is voted on by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Extra credit: Roger Clemens currently holds the record for the most awards won, with seven. Sandy Koufax is another legendary multiple winner.
8. Must know: Interest in MLB is on the wane in the US, and the fan base is aging; Statista reports that in spring 2008, 35.3 million people were “very” interested in MLB – by spring 2016, it was only 32.7 million (only 8% of 18 to 29 year-olds said that they follow MLB “very closely”). Two million fewer people attended games at a stadium from 2011 to 2014, and half of the MLB TV audience is over the age of 55, up 41% in the past decade. Nice to know: the league’s proposed solution is to speed up the game through new pace-of-play rules. Extra credit: Kantar Media reports that in the 2016 post-season, TV advertisers spent less than half the amount on MLB that they spent on the NFL.
9. Must Know: Fans are annoyed by the pace of play and the length of the games (in 2014, the average game lasted 3 hours and 8 minutes), but they disagree about the proposed remedies. It’s a classic purist v. progress debate. Nice to know: MLB’s leadership is concerned about the dearth of African-American players in the league and is establishing opportunities for African-American kids to be introduced to the game and develop their skills. Extra Credit: to spark a conversation with anyone who is an avid fan, ask this question: what’s your stance on the Designated Hitter?
10. Must know: National television rights for MLB games are shared across Fox Sports (World Series and All-Star Game), TBS, the league-owned MLB Network, and ESPN. Nice to know: You can stream MLB games on mobile devices via MLB.TV. Extra credit: You can catch the All-Star Game and all post-season games on ESPN Radio. Teams can also contract with local and regional radio and television stations to broadcast their games.
11. Must know: Baseball announcers are unusually important to fan enjoyment, due to the slower pace of the game; they need to be able to tell stories well to fill the time. The play-by-play announcer will do most of the talking. Nice to know: Prior to his retirement last year, Dodgers play-by-play announcer Vin Scully was the consensus favorite MLB announcer; this season Jessica Mendoza, a former standout college softball player at Stanford, is bringing gender and racial diversity to the baseball broadcasting profession as one of the three regular announcers on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Extra credit: If you follow one MLB reporter on Twitter, make it Jon Heyman of the MLB Network and the FanRag Sports network; he’s reportedly a must-follow for baseball junkies.
One last bit of advice? Read the local sports section every Monday morning before work. Even if you just skim the headlines, you’ll make it through the workday in fine shape.
Now go get ‘em, slugger.