As the World Series approaches, America turns to Twitter. It's where reporters drop gossip tidbits, lineup cards are revealed, analysts crunch stats, and athletes talk trash. It's where everyone mans up and then apologizes. Updated every second, it has become baseball's liveliest public square -- that many-to-many conversation Don Peppers forecasted in The One to One Future 15 years ago. Peppers described the internet's potential for marketing and business, but it has also revolutionized the way we think about sports -- and, as it turns out, literature.
Take for instance St. Louis super-utilityman Allen Craig's new Twitter feed, @tortycraig. Craig's a second-year rookie whose bat has always been appealing to Cardinal brass even if they haven't found Craig a permanent place in the field. This season in 200 at-bats he hit .315 and racked up 11 home runs and 40 runs batted in, which extrapolates to a 25-100 everyday hitter. In short, Craig already is a superior bench guy and has the potential to be an above-average MLB regular. Yet, in a move of inexplicable weirdness, he has chosen to write a Twitter feed from the perspective of his imaginary pet tortoise, Torty.
Torty's first tweet, posted on September 22, captures the bizarreness of much that follows: "Lettuce, carrots, water, astroturf, dingers & doubles. Another routine day watching Master Allen play ball from the aquarium." Yes, Master Allen. Subsequent tweets are equally erudite, raising trash-talk to a new level: "I realize my Tortoise & the Hare analogy isn't perfect. The Braves would be a maimed hare with mange & distemper, limping to the finish line." In real life, the Cardinals would magically eliminate the Braves in the season's final game.
Not all of Torty's tweets are about the larger drama of Master Allen's team getting to the playoffs: "Little known fact about tortoises. Our shells are saber-proof. #Cantsabermebro." Whether it's true or not, the beauty of this tweet, also early in Torty's oeuvre, is that it combines outdoor education, swordsmanship, internet convention, and the slang form of "brother" in one short expression. Like a poem by Ezra Pound, it's compact, strange, and manic. Other tweets are downright absurdist: "Sometimes Jason Motte's glove joins our conversations. That is to say that Jason & his glove talk & Jason & I talk. I can't hear his glove." Welcome to the 21st century, we guess.
The best thing about Torty is the way it recasts clubhouse culture for fans who live by the notion that something special is going on in there. Joke's on them -- something impossible is going on: "The mood is good in the clubhouse. Master Allen, Daniel, Jon, David, & I played Scrabble. I won with 'Rcepzsinski.'" Understandable that a tortoise (or anyone, really) would misspell lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski's last name and not realize that proper nouns are unacceptable in Scrabble. Later, "Master Allen is using the concentration technique of breathing thru his eyelids like the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands." Good grief. And he sheds some light on what it must be like to work for the legendarily erratic skipper Tony La Russa: "Mr. La Russa told Master Allen that he may be used as a def replacement tonight even though he was removed for a def replacement last night."
Drama between current and former players frequently makes an appearance:
Suppan then talked to Carp about his approach in Game 3, "Might I suggest throwing more softly?" he said. "It worked for me in the '06 NLCS"
Carp said, "Jeff, I'm not throwing $%^#@&% softer. That's $%^#@&$ crazy talk." Suppan replied, "Crazy, is it?" Carp said, $%#@#$% A it is.
Suppan said, "I have a 1.68 career NLCS ERA. What's yours?" Carp answered: "4.15." Suppan replied, "I rest my case. Throw more softly."
Later on I overheard Suppan: "So I pitched really well in the '06 playoffs and Milwaukee signs me for $40 million! Haha!" Everyone laughed.
This kind of satiric japery is, again, welcome for fans who wonder what conversations between players must be like. By (we assume) fictionalizing Suppan's remarks and aiming them at the Brewers franchise (which would later lose to the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series), Craig applies his invented persona not only to sideline playfulness but to higher social and literary ends. Torty is always saying two things, finding the irony of the game, needling greats like Albert Pujols, whose Dominican accent he replicates perfectly. Although Torty might seem like a Jim Henson construction to his teammates, Craig's puppet speaks for all of us, and more eloquently than we could have thought to speak for ourselves.
And far more effectively than most other MLB players, such as Milwaukee's Nyjer Morgan, whose Tony Plush tweets, like his outfield defense, are just weak -- or Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips, who'd do better to keep his public contribution between the foul lines. Whether the Cardinals win the World Series or not, they've already won the classiest Twitter award.
Note: The authorship of @TortyCraig, while it seems to be Allen Craig himself, is uncertain. In any case, it is witty and well-loved by its readers.
Follow Aaron Belz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/aaronbelz