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Former Montreal Expos player Tim Raines poses for a photograph prior to the 2013 induction ceremony for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. (Dave Chidley/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Former Montreal Expos player Tim Raines poses for a photograph prior to the 2013 induction ceremony for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. (Dave Chidley/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Kelly: Tim Raines is a poster boy for sports injustice, but his snub doesn't deserve our obsession Add to ...

This week, Chris Bittle, Liberal MP for St. Catharines, addressed an issue of importance to all Canadians.

“I rise today to speak of an upcoming ballot,” Bittle told the House of Commons. “This is not a matter for the Minister of Democratic Institutions. I am, Mr. Speaker, speaking about the baseball hall of fame ballot.”

Sounding a bit like a Reddit sub-thread brought to life, Bittle launched into an appeal on behalf of former Montreal Expo Tim Raines.

He reminded us that Raines “had an impressive on-base percentage. On par with Tony Gwynn.” He won a batting title. “For five years, he was measured as one of the most valuable players in the National League.”

In all, it was a stats-dork fever dream made real. The geeks have won. They’re in control.

As he speaks, Bittle’s colleagues can be seen in the background giving him a “What’s happening here?” look. Maybe they’ve been too busy wrestling with the machinery of power to give close attention to Tim Raines’s astounding walks-per-season ratio.

Should Raines be in the Hall of Fame? Probably. If you drill down in the numbers, the case is there. He was a remarkably efficient player on a series of posthumously fetishized Expos teams. If Raines had enjoyed his best years as a New York Yankee, he’d have been in ages ago. But he made the terrible mistake of carpetbagging his way onto a team Americans – and, more importantly, voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America – did not pay any attention to. Now, all he has to show for his toil is millions and millions of dollars.

Should any of the rest of us care? Absolutely not. I’m going to do you the favour of assuming you have real problems. If Tim Raines’s hall-of-fame tragedy ranks near the top of that list, then congratulations. Your life is blessed beyond measure.

Should our elected representatives be raising the issue in Parliament? Well, you don’t need to be reminded that this is how government works. People stand up and talk all sorts of meaningless nonsense in the hopes someone will notice. It’s rather like life in that sense. This one worked a charm. Everyone’s talking about it.

“Sometimes, it’s the items that cut through the seriousness that get the attention,” Bittle said Thursday. “And maybe that’s unfortunate.”

Although clearly meant light-heartedly, Bittle’s YouTube moment speaks to a growing infantilism at the core of our public life. It’s called sports.

Somewhere along the line, we have managed to convince ourselves that sports matter. Not the emotions they evoke or the friendly tribalism they promote – things that actually do matter. But the results.

We kid ourselves that life should be this simple – winners and losers. It’s all down there on a sheet of paper, expressed in the comfort of numbers. The meritocracy is no longer just evident to the eye on the ice or the field. It’s computable. If you apply enough rigour to the investigation, every outcome seems inevitable in hindsight.

Raines has become one of the ne plus ultras of this trend – a very good, if not especially remarkable player during his career; turned hero after the fact because the thing he did best – get on base – wasn’t particularly rated at the time.

From the modern perspective, that his skill is not recognized isn’t just unfortunate. It’s unjust. It’s worth getting worked up over. The list of things like that is growing exponentially.

The passion with which grown-ups can argue this or a thousand other small points of order when it comes to the games men play continues to boggle my mind.

Most people can’t articulate strong feelings about Syria beyond a “Yes, that’s terrible.” But they will work themselves purple arguing whether Jose Bautista should be paid and how much and for how long.

Because Syria is complicated. And Jose Bautista (who should not be paid and I will fight you if you think different) is easy.

As the world gets more complicated and the background noise gets louder, we retreat into easy things. What should be a pleasant distraction becomes a central focus.

Since sport has become the last cultural niche everyone recognizes, serious people who should have better things to worry about worry about that instead. A corrosive feedback loop is created whereby everyone feels compelled to give over all their free time to caring deeply about the Jays’ playoff push.

Eventually, unconscionable swaths of time are given over to cogitating Wins Against Replacement and what it all really means. For Tim Raines.

This obsession with the arcane minutiae of games is one of the things that typifies childhood. I think this every time I see a grown man wearing a Josh Donaldson jersey out in public. Like an 8-year-old. A few of them – and this is the lowest of the low – bring baseball gloves to the game.

If your great-grandfather could see you now – and I don’t care where he’s from or what he was like – he’d punch you in the face, and he’d be right to do so.

At their best, sports are a connector of disparate people and a harmless escape. However, they were never meant to be taken with seriousness – as in the eerie way Canadians now talk about hockey, as if it were some patrimony brought down from Mt. Sinai. A list of the places where people care so much about sports that they’re willing to beat each other up over them is a pretty good list of places you wouldn’t want to live.

I expect sports to become even more central to our public discourse, especially given recent events to the south. When there isn’t enough bread for everyone, the people in charge like to go heavy on circuses. They are unique in appealing to all the classes.

What’s dispiriting is how complicit smart people are in their own dumbing down. Play sports, watch sports, talk sports, care about sports. That’s all great. But not if you begin to think that sports and how they turn out explains something vital about your culture. They only do that if you choose not to pay attention to anything else.

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