Are the Nats’ troubles the result of the Lincoln assassination?

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Well, that seems rather silly. Clearly it’s more to do with President Garfield’s murder, yes? A bad event which has given an entire city a complex which causes poor play to grow even worse as the team and its fans realize that, sadly, bad things will always befall them?

If you think that’s crazy then you haven’t been watching ESPN’s Bill Simmons diagnose the entire city of Memphis, which he believes grows pessimistic about their Grizzlies thanks to the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. Really:

“I didn’t realize the effect [The MLK assassination] had on that city…I think from people we talk to and stuff we’ve read, the shooting kind of sets the tone with how the city thinks about stuff. We were at Game 3. Great crowd, they fall behind and the whole crowd got tense. They were like, ‘Oh no, something bad is going to happen.’ And it starts from that shooting.”

These comments have led to a lot of fun on the Internet this morning, with folks making increasingly tortured explanations for a given city’s sports pessimism. “…and it starts from Mrs. O’Leary’s cow …” is maybe my favorite so far.

I have this feeling that, upon some reflection, Simmons will admit he was a bit off base on that and I’m sure that, by the light of morning, he would like to have that one back. But, even if it was just a moment of hyperbole, and even if it doesn’t have anything to do with baseball, it is worth thinking about what leads one to say stuff like that and to realize how that same impulse infects a lot of sports writing, baseball included.

Simmons has, in very large part, made a career out of (a) making broad generalizations of what a given city’s sports fans think and feel; and (b) connecting sports to positively everything. He has written thousands of words about the psychology of Bostonians. He has compared every bit of pop culture with which he is conversant to sports and vice-versa. That’s his very popular, very successful shtick.

But underlying that shtick is either a conceit or a miscalculation: that sports ARE life. Or that they are the most important thing in it. That sports reflect human reality in ways they really don’t and have a deeper meaning than they really do.

On occasion sports do transcend entertainment and have real meaning. Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. The 1980 U.S. hockey team. Jackie Robinson’s triumph. Billie Jean King schooling Bobby Riggs.  These moments do occur and when they do sports become something greater. Or, at the very least, serve as a microcosm of or a complement to something greater.

But it’s very rare that such things happen. For the most part, sports are a wonderful diversion. Games which may make our lives better, but after which life — real life — actually resumes. And they are just games.

So much bad sports writing — and bad sportsfandom for that matter — is the result of thinking that these games are more than just games. It leads Simmons to say silly things like he did last night. It leads beat writers to spin out horribly tortured metaphors when setting the scene of the previous night’s action. It leads columnists to make character judgments about ballplayers because of what they do on a diamond. It leads fans to become overly-invested and find heros, villains, bums, gods and frauds around every corner.  And all of that noise alienates people who would like to simply enjoy a game once in a while.

We should be careful of making too much of sports. We can take them seriously in the moment. We can be passionate about our teams and the players we love. We can immerse ourselves in them and talk about them from morning to night.  But we must never forget that, in the end, they are just games and that real life is something else altogether.

Report: Hanley Ramirez “eyed” in federal and state investigation

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Former Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez is reportedly being “eyed” in an ongoing federal and state investigation, per Michele McPhee of ABC News. McPhee did not elaborate on the exact nature of the investigation itself, but provided a few more details during an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub on Friday:

“Obviously, I know absolutely nothing about sports or Hanley Ramirez’s stats, but what I do know is crime,” McPhee said. “And there has been some reports about a FaceTime phone call that was made between a man during a car stop. After that car stop, police recovered a significant amount of drugs. And during that car stop, the suspect claimed that one of the items found in the vehicle belonged to Hanley Ramirez and then FaceTimed [Ramirez] in front of police. And that car stop coordinated with the timing of his release from the Red Sox.”

McPhee further clarified that she thinks the suspect — who was reportedly transporting 435 grams of fentanyl and a “large amount” of crack cocaine — was tied to “a sweeping federal case involving a substantial ring that’s being operated out of Lawrence, Massachusetts.”

Ramirez, the Red Sox, and Major League Baseball have all denied knowledge of any current investigation. According to the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, Red Sox VP of media relations Kevin Gregg insisted that Ramirez had been dropped from the team for baseball reasons alone and had not been made aware of an investigation at the time of his release.

“Hanley has no knowledge of any of the allegations contained in this media report and he is not aware of any investigation,” the infielder’s agent, Adam Katz, added Friday.

The 34-year-old Ramirez was designated for assignment on May 25 and became a free agent on June 1. Prior to his release, he batted .254/.313/.395 over 195 plate appearances, 302 shy of the 497-PA threshold he would have needed to cross in order to activate his vesting option for 2019. He’s still owed the remainder of his $22 million salary for 2018.