The Kansas City Royals and the Triangle of Rhetoric

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The beginning of the 2015 season is undeniably different than any that Kansas City Royals fans have experienced in my lifetime. You know the conversation you typically have at the beginning of spring with anyone who doesn’t frequent Kauffman on a regular basis:

CASUAL BASEBALL FAN: Well, I guess the season is starting again, huh?

YOU: (Discreetly hides 17 different baseball-reference/KC Star tabs) Oh is it? I hadn’t even realized.

CASUAL BASEBALL FAN: Sure is. So are the Kansas City Royals going to do anything this year or are they going to be awful as usual?

YOU: (Polite, hollow laughing to hide your aching soul) Probably not. You know how it goes.

CASUAL BASEBALL FAN: They always trade all their good players away anyhow. We’re like the Triple-A farm club for the Yankees, am I right?

YOU: (Less polite laughing and an abundance of teeth-gritting) Yeah, it sure seems that way. Hope we can get things turned around.

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I’ve had more than my fair share of these conversations as I’m sure you have as well. They are always frustrating and require an abundance of polite behavior on your part as an obsessive fan because you know that no amount of baseball knowledge dropped upon that unsuspecting person is going to change his or her mind. It often seems you’re better off just letting it go or everyone begins to think you’re a defensive jerk.

This season will be different because of the Royals postseason success in 2014. Now the roles have almost switched.

CASUAL BASEBALL FAN: Well, I guess the road to the World Series starts tomorrow, huh?

YOU: (Discreetly hides 17 different articles about how the loss of James Shields’ leadership could affect clubhouse morale) Oh…yeah. I can’t believe the season will be starting soon.

CASUAL BASEBALL FAN: I know. What do you think the over/under on Mike Moustakas homers is?

YOU: (Polite, hollow laughing to hide the image of Moose’s 2014 regular season stats appearing in your head) Uhhh, not sure. Kauffman is pretty spacious.

CASUAL BASEBALL FAN: No doubt they do it this year. They got rid of Billy Butler. He was just a roadblock in the middle of the lineup.

YOU: (Pulls up 2009-2013 Billy Butler stats and touches the computer screen as tears pour down your face) Probably so….

I run into this a lot where I teach. The students know I am a Kansas City Royals fan and that I write for a blog about the Royals, so I’m often asked what I think about the upcoming season as if I’m some expert which is an inherently ill-founded path for these students to take. They either come to me with hopes that I’ll assuage their opinions about 2015 World Series dominance or they’re engaging simply for the chance to say “The Giants are the greatest baseball team of all time” even though they can’t name three members of San Francisco’s team.

Regardless, the beginning of the season gets me excited and I try to integrate the Royals into my classroom as much as possible. As such, I’ve been thinking about them quite a bit in regards to my Speech class.

We’ve been talking a lot about persuasive speaking this past week and as such, we’ve been discussing the rhetorical triangle. For those of you that may not be familiar, it is, in fact, a triangle with a different word at each corner. These words are logos, pathos, and ethos which are the different groupings Aristotle used when discussing persuasion. Here’s a refresher from Mr. Evans:

Logos – This term boils down to having an opinion or statement to make and backing it up with logic and evidence.

This seems reasonable enough until someone tells you that they hate Billy Butler because “he’s fat.” There isn’t a lot of logic or evidence in that claim. There are baseball players bigger than Billy Butler. Also, I don’t think his weight has been a determining factor in his ability to hit the baseball.

I try to question my students as much as possible. Nothing annoys me more than hearing an opinion, asking “why?”, and hearing “Because” as the answer. Check your facts.

Pathos – Pathos is the tone and word choice you use while presenting your argument. If you use anecdotes to get a point across, you are using pathos pretty regularly. Baseball is a game of little stories so if you tell me you haven’t used pathos when trying to convince someone of something, I’m going to have a hard time believing you.

Word choice is also important when it comes to this corner of the rhetorical triangle. In the sentence above you’ll notice that I said “…I’m going to have a hard time believing you” instead of “…you’re a liar.” There is the offhand chance that you never tell little stories when you talk about baseball but there’s a much bigger chance that me calling you a liar isn’t going to be your favorite thing to hear. Word choice is key.

The anecdotes are the key part of pathos, though. Any time you have to speak in front of a group of people, odds are you’re going to try to make a joke or tell a story. You want to feel like the audience is on your side and telling stories can help. Anytime I want to explain to someone of my cynicism for the Kansas City Royals, I always go to the “I was at the debacle of a game where Jimmy Gobble gave up 10 runs” story. It’s pretty convincing

Ethos – This term deals with a speaker’s ability to connect with an audience. It deals with how you treat others whose views don’t line up with your own. Treating those of another opinion respectfully can often convince them to listen to your side of the story.

We’ve all been in that situation where a speaker unknowingly mocks a character trait or habit we possess before launching into his or her speech. However, because they mocked us in one way or another, we are immediately turned off to what they have to say. Even if their argument makes sense.

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An example would be someone opening up a conversation with you by saying “Basketball is better than baseball. Baseball players are always fatter, dumber, and less athletic than basketball players.” When you hear the first sentence of this argument, you might be willing to listen to what this person has to say even if you don’t agree. However, the second sentence is so close-minded that I would find myself wanting to disagree with this person strictly based on the way they present evidence, regardless of whether or not I agree with their premise.

If you want more information about this persuasive speech stuff, you can use the information we’ve been using in my classroom by clicking right here.

Now that I’ve written all of this, I think I know what direction my persuasive speech on the Kansas City Royals would go.

Twitter is an amazing place where people who have and may never meet are able to connect and befriend each other. I love twitter.

But there is also an insane amount of vitriol espoused on ol’ twitter.com and when it comes to baseball, it gets downright ridiculous in terms of those I see touting advanced statistics versus those just wanting to eyeball a game and make assumptions based on what they see.

There has to be some middle ground here and unfortunately, I have yet to see it. Those in favor of simply watching how a player plays claim that you can’t completely know how a player will play strictly by numbers and statistics. They act like people who care about statistics don’t even like sports and would rather watch a calculator than a baseball game.

The other side is no less close-minded. The advanced statistic community acts like anyone who may have the slightest disagreement with them is an illiterate idiot incapable of understanding baseball at all.

It makes me tired. Look, I am a proponent of advanced stats. I think it’s impossible to act like they don’t help predict a lot of things. There is way too much information proving true on a regular basis for this to be disregarded. I can, however, also acknowledge that sometimes a player simply doesn’t match up with what he should or has been doing. I don’t really have an answer for that aside from “baseball can be strange.”

So at the end of this stream of consciousness about speech, persuasion, and the beginning of the baseball season, I ask you to pause a moment before eviscerating someone with your opinion as the season begins. If you like advanced stats and someone tries to tell you that Billy Butler is awful, try to meet them where they are and show them why you don’t believe this to be true instead of just calling them an idiot and leaving it at that (something which I have too often done).

And if you’re on the other end, maybe take some time to read some articles on Fangraphs and look at trends before calling people “math nerds” and acting like those individuals don’t care about baseball. Trust me. They do.

So when I’m at Kauffman in April and I hear someone talk about how Moose is finally ready to break out and hit .320 with 30 dingers, I’m going to take a deep breath, laugh, and try not to think about how I’d be excited if Moose’s OBP hit .320.

Because if Moose does hit .320 with 30 dingers?

I’m not going to be mad about it.

Next: Alex Rios is Showing the Power the Royals were Hoping For

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