The Lesson of Cliff Lee: Nobody Knows Anything, But We Won’t Stop Talking About It

Was the courtship of Cliff Lee the most useless sports story of the year? Every word I read on the subject (or

wrote on the subject

) was wrong—not just wrong in the ultimate guesswork, which happens all the time when you speculate about sports, but wrong on all the premises beyond the guesswork.

It was boring to sit through weeks of speculation about whether LeBron James would stay loyal to Cleveland or take the opportunity to play somewhere flashy like Miami or New York, but at least LeBron didn’t turn around and sign with the San Antonio Spurs. If you guessed loyalty, you were wrong, but LeBron was the one to blame.

If you guessed anything at all about Cliff Lee, you came out looking silly. Did Boston

force the Yankees

to extend their offer to Lee from six years to seven? Lee

wasn’t insisting on seven years

. Would Lee be put off by the Yankees’ big-city setting and attracted by Texas’

closeness to his Arkansas home

? Lee went to another big city altogether. Was the

vileness of Yankee fans

enough to turn Lee against New York? Lee went to


. Would Texas’ lack of a personal income tax make the Rangers more attractive? No. (Although from that angle, at least, I did learn that ballplayers can get

taxed on their road games state by state

, which seems really, really annoying for athletes who play road games in 16 different cities each year, even if they can afford to hire accountants.)

And it’s not even that all those premises were wrong. It’s that the overarching meta-premise was wrong: that the

leaked and rumored offers

were the substance of Cliff Lee’s decision; that the process was public, and that it was a matter of Lee making up his mind. In fact, it was a private business negotiation. The purported expert knowledge was just different flavors of ignorance. Does that mean that next time, we’ll all shut up till we know what we’re talking about? Not at all. It means we got an exciting surprise to talk about—the thrill of an upset, without anybody even playing a game—and, even better, It means everyone is as smart as the experts. So where’s

Carmelo Anthony

going to end up?