(First blog post in history to have a picture of both Tris Speaker and Steve Jobs)
This post is in honor of Steve Jobs, arguably America’s greatest industrialist of all time. Though Steve will be known for how his products changed a multitude of experiences for users around the world, we will take a look, in broad strokes, of how technology has affected sports.
Era of Mass Communication
In 1916, the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians came to a deal trading Sam Jones and Fred Thomas from the Indians to the Red Sox for a superstar named Tristram “Tris” Speaker (above). While this is probably the last time the Indians ever got the better end of a trade with the Red Sox (Tris ended up hitting close to .350 for his time in Cleveland and his career batting average, .344, remains 7th all-time in Major League history), the real interesting thing was this is one of the first trades to be made using a radical new device: the telephone. Though the Indians and Red Sox did meet in person, exchange telegraphs, and send letters – they did conduct some of the negotiations over the phone. Crazy! Now, if your Billy Beane, you have three cell phones, 2 blackberrys, and an iPhone as you are talking to several GMs at once, who may be thousands of miles away.
This communication boom has also affected how players are perceived and looked at. Players no longer have much privacy, as Chris Broussard, Rachel Nichols, and other professional stalkers/reporters will give us updates on their every move. Ty Cobb was a son-of-a-bitch racist, Mickey Mantle was the consummate drunk, and Ted Williams a hot-head. But, we do not seem to focus too much on these thing now – all of them are viewed as greats and few seem to talk or think of their riddled pasts. Few players nowadays can escape how their personal life affects their image as stars on the playing field – just ask Tiger Woods (who may have never been caught 50 years ago), TO (who may be one of the greatest receivers of all time – what!? Look at his stats), and countless others.
The NFL head coach yells into his Motorola wireless headset, asking his assistant coach in the booth to look at the high definition replay of the fumble and wonders if he should throw the red flag onto the field so that the referee can go to a TV booth, also on the field, to assess whether the play was called correctly or not. Yes, this is just like Otto Graham’s football.
Replay has changed sports. College/NFL football, tennis, hockey, college/NBA basketball, and even baseball use it to correct errors in the game – no more phantom touchdowns, goals, or anything else. Yet, beyond just reviews, replay is used ubiquitously as TV filler as we have to hear idiots like Chris Collinsworth or Boomer Esiason go into ridiculous detail about how little they know about football.
Other game-time technology has also changed the experience of sports: the speedometer, the digital scoreboards (with TVs!), stadium music, and more!
Perhaps the most important thing that technology has given us is the access to greater information about our favorite teams. It has revolutionized the way front office personnel look at talent, but it has also made fans and players more well informed.
Want to know how bad Alex Rodriguez is in the playoffs? Don’t wait for the stats in tomorrow’s paper to tell you – look it up on your computer, or your phone! Want to know how much a couple of tickets for the Michigan/Northwestern football game is? Don’t look in the classifieds or wait until game time to scalp – go to StubHub or Ebay!
It is simply awesome how much information is available to the casual sports fan. It allows us to understand the game on a deeper level, attend the games with greater ease, and waste countless hours trying to perfect our fantasy sports teams (yes, TitforTat is undefeated).
What it Means
Steve Jobs did unbelievable things to revolutionize the way we look at technology and even information. Sports has undoubtedly benefited and will continue to do so.