I don’t like hype. No, I take that back – it’s not strong enough. I can’t stand hype. Hate it.
Let me give you a for instance. If you’re not a baseball fan, you’ve probably been spared hearing about Bryce Harper. Harper is an undeniable phenom – left high school before his junior year and got his GED so that he could enrol in community college at 17. After a year of college, he was the number one pick in the draft and signed with the Washington Nationals for a ridiculous amount of money. He rocketed through the minor leagues in just a bit more than a season and, at the age of 19, he’s already playing in the major leagues.
I hate Bryce Harper. I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, and everything that I know about him I’ve learned through the media, but I hate him. It’s not rational and I won’t even try to pretend that it is. And my feelings about him are completely a result of the hype. You can’t swing a dead cat without reading a story about him or hearing about him on a podcast. Earlier tonight, Major League Baseball’s Twitter account was breathlessly tweeting that he was only a triple away from the cycle, and encouraged everyone to watch LIVE as he went for history, which meant that their website was also giving everyone a chance to see that game for free. You don’t often hear “free” and “Major League Baseball” in the same sentence.
History – that’s a big word. Particularly in sports, you’d think people would reserve it for things that happen exceedingly rarely. But here’s the problem; there have been 272 times in major league history when a player has hit for the cycle, going all the way back to 1885. That means that, on average, at least two players per season hit for the cycle. Not common, but not exceedingly rare either. By comparison, there have been only 21 perfect games pitched. 16 times where a player has hit four home runs in a single game. 15 unassisted triple plays. Only twice when a player has hit a home run from each side of the plate in the same inning. Now THAT’s historic. Not something that happens twice a year. Not something that’s been done no fewer than eight times by players for Harper’s own franchise.
So, why is MLB pumping his tires so furiously? A kid, with that kind of talent, doing things at that young an age – that’s a drawing card, a meal ticket, for potentially the next two decades. And so the hype faucet gets turned on and, once it’s flowing, you have to keep feeding it. And it’s not just MLB itself revving the engine. When the Nats go on the road, Harper will often get booed. This isn’t an unusual thing for a key player on the visiting team. Blue Jays fans boo Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the Yankees – boy, do they boo ARod – just like they boo Kevin Youkilis on the Red Sox, or any visiting pitchers who throw over to first again and again to hold a baserunner. Fans boo the enemy. However, according to so many baseball writers who I see reference it, booing Bryce Harper is inexplicable. He’s only 19; leave the poor kid alone. It’s just mean. It’s as if booing was invented the minute Harper made it to the major leagues.
Example the second – The Beatles. Yes, I don’t like The Beatles. No, take a minute; I’ll wait for you to pull it together… There you go. I’m sorry, but they leave me cold. I think their lyrics are simplistic. I think that, although they harmonized well, none of them were particularly good singers. But I’m convinced that, as much as anything, it’s the hype. I can’t stand the hype. I can’t stand the looks that people give you when you say you don’t like The Beatles, as if you’d told them that you just finished a supper of sous vide puppies with reduction of baby seal. I can’t believe that more than 40 years after they broke up, Rolling Stone magazine is trying to tell me that they have three of the top five, four of the top ten, and five of the top fifteen albums ever recorded. Ever. In the history of recorded music.
I recently sat through a round of all-Beatles-songs karaoke, and I found myself Statler & Waldorfing the whole time. “Richie Havens did that song better.”, and he did – I dare anyone to play Havens’ version of Here Comes the Sun and tell me it doesn’t kick the original in the ass. “Chantal Kreviazuk did that song better.” “The Thompson Twins did that song better.” “That guy who just sang that did that song better.” I meant very little of it, but it was awfully fun tweaking people.
Wayne Gretzky. Patrick Roy. Kanye. Prince. Woody Allen. Harry Potter. ER. Glee.
I just find that hype has been on my mind a lot lately. The challenge, seemingly getting tougher as I get older, is separating the reaction to the hype from well-reasoned, considered opinion. I don’t know why I’m finding this so difficult, but I hope it’s a good sign that I’m at least aware of it.