Braves announcers on signs

By Jason Wojciechowski on August 19, 2005 at 7:25 AM

Heard on the Braves-Dodgers telecast on TBS tonight: "You want your signs to be hard enough that the smartest players on the other team can't pick them up, but easy enough that your dumbest players can get them."

I should just leave that without comment and let us enjoy it, but there's a whole topic here of intelligence in professional baseball players, and how "smart" is, I think, mis-applied too often, reflecting more of a style of play than actual intellectual ability. I have no idea of Randy Johnson's intellect, but no one's ever going to think he's brilliant because he's huge, he throws really hard, and he's got redneck hair. On the other side of things, we'll assume forevermore that Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are reading Dostoevsky and physics textbooks on their team flights because their fastballs don't top ninety and they're smallish (as athletes go, at least), unimposing, white guys.

Perhaps the most important point here is the racial one. When was the last time a black or Latino player was described as smart? There's still the perspective in American sports culture, though it's much more under the radar than it was twenty years ago, that non-white players (in any sport) are there purely because of athletic ability, while white players are a more varied group: you get some big-time athletes, but you also get the "scrappers" and the "gamers" and the "guys who know how to play the game" and the "smart players."

This works in, as I said, any sport. Shaquille O'Neal, you'll recall, just finished his MBA a few months ago. But does anyone describe him as a "smart" player? I realize there's some difference between outside-the-game smarts and game smarts, but I don't think non-white players get credit for either kind of intelligence.