Online sports forums soaring during pandemic

Trivia master Bill Irvin.

Asheville – Sports enthusiasts are filling the void of no major team sporting events by surfing the Internet on free sports sites for opinion debates and trivia tidbits.

NASCAR has gone on. Now Major League Baseball is set to open its season July 23. Fantasy leagues will get active again by then, resuming an immensely popular hobby.

For many weeks up to now, the absence of sports to watch in person or on television has been partly filled by keeping up with developments of teams and sports and often debating them. This is a fun diversion, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and varying limits on public activities.

There are many sports fan group pages on Facebook, typically specializing in an era of a pro sport, a franchise or even one of its finest seasons. Who is the Mt. Rushmore (top four) of each franchise, in a major sport?

Common online debates include all-time best starting lineups, and comparisons of stars. Is Michael Jordan or now Lebron James the greatest pro basketball player ever? Best quarterback — Joe Montana, Tom Brady, or who else? Master of the Mound —  Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax? Was the greatest hitter N.Y. Yankee Babe Ruth, or Ted Williams of arch-rival Boston? That Sox-NYY rivalry sparks entertaining exchanges of insults on sites.

Many instead dwell on borderline baseball Hall of Famers, ripping ones enshrined or making a case for a favorite to get in.

Atlanta Braves fans should realize many complain about aces of the Nineties Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine getting strikes called for pitches outside the edge of the plate. Many chastise the Braves for winning only one World Series (in 1995, over Cleveland), rather than praise their winning half of the N.L. pennants (five of ten).

Fireworks explode online over whether Barry Bonds and other steroid-proven sluggers should get enshrined, if Pete Rose should be forgiven for betting on the national pastime while a manager, or if “Black Sox” Joe Jackson should also still be kept out of the Hall of Fame for allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series.

Politics and social and racial tensions seep into many online forums. Ty Cobb’s true nature is oft-debated. His granddaughter Cindy Cobb fiercely defends him. She notes Ty’s father and grandfather were abolitionists, and ahead of others he publicly backed the right of blacks to play MLB.

A strong division in the Super (Carolina) Panther Fan Group was over Cam Newton, veteran star quarterback the team let go three months ago. He finally signed, with N.E. Sunday. Debate simmered over whether the Panthers should sign him at a premium-cost contract, despite his recent severe injury history. Those doubting Newton’s value were often deemed “racist,” and his logical injury risk unacknowledged.

Hot topics are how authentic the brief 60-game MLB season is, and in a business-labor squabble whether “billionaire owners or (multi) millionaire players” were more to blame for the labor impasse.

NASCAR took center stage last week, about whether a garage rope with a looping handle was merely a door handle or blatant lynching noose symbol.

Perhaps above all, there are online punches about NFL players (and other pro athletes apt to follow) kneeling during the national anthem, to protest police brutality versus blacks. Debate rages about Black Live Matters’ emerging anti-capitalist protests and occasional rioting, and the anthem as a symbol of the country and those who fought in combat for it with 15 FBI agents determining it wasn’t a hate crime.

Yet, more innocent and fun topics persist. Vintage Baseball Photos lists nearly 68,000 members. Administrator Kevin Baskin is in Arkansas. “Visual storytellers” include expressive Andy Strasberg about his childhood worship of Roger Maris and sly promotional events for the lowly Padres 40 years ago.

Baseball 1857 through 1993 (pre-realignment) “storyteller” Joe Gerrans is a patriotic veteran. Talkin’ Baseball 1848-1994 also honors memories. These Facebook forums are free to browse.

Trivia Master Irvin

Retro Sports Triviots challenges fans’ memory and mystery/problem-solving. Trivia contests have no prizes, beyond pride. Massachusetts native Tom O’Brien, a mailman, is the chief administrator and relentless and comical message poster. He often pretends a past pro athlete he pictures is instead a celebrity look-alike.

Trivia maestro Bill Irvin, 61, a financial advisor in Fremont, Calif., is a Dodgers fan in S.F. Giants land. He bucks the “New York mystique” and bias. “Some get pissed if you say (write) anything about how much (Mickey) Mantle K’d” (struck out), he told The Tribune.

The political conservative joins a sports debate “if I feel my input is welcome,” but not against a stubborn, emotional wall. “Know your audience.”

The journalism major and former corporate exec writes crisply, with gentlemanly intellect. His questions are challenging, the stories behind them fascinating. On the 1857-1993 MLB page, he asked who was the sole pitcher to face both Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Their careers were a decade and a half apart.

“Al Benton was the only pitcher to have pitched to both Babe Ruth (w/Phillies, in 1934) and Mickey Mantle (with the Tigers) during his career,” Irvin noted.

He told The Tribune he checks baseball data books, and for “goofy” tidbits online. He discovered many feats happened only once in MLB. “I began realizing how bizarre the game can be, and how interesting bizarre trivia is.”

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