A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath, who adds any typos or factual errors that might appear within.
The column you’re reading right now – Rookie of the Year – has just turned ten years old. Happy birthday!
What does one write on such an occasion? Ten years I’ve been typing total nonsense about the most important things in my life. Does it add up to something greater than the sum of its parts? Have I secretly embedded coded messages that only now can be deciphered? Will I rename this column at last, or, bless my heart, retire from it?
While the five of us – the four of you reading this and I – ponder these questions, I’d like to take this opportunity to indulge in some Rookie of the Year nostalgia. Since it’s been ten years – TEN YEARS! – it seems only appropriate to do a top ten list.
In this case? I decided to cut and paste everything I’ve written for Unwinnable under this column header and run it through a word frequency counter. Excepting most pronouns, articles, prepositions and other inconsequential terms, what are some of the words that have appeared the most and what do they tell us about this endeavor?
Since laziness is a hallmark of this column, I only went back as far as June 2014, when we announced the Rookie of the Year would be transitioning to Unwinnable’s subscription model. What I ended up pulling – with some columns only partially reprinted or missing online – amounted to 53,137 words. From that, I curated the following ten items, listed from least to most frequently used. This, my four dear readers, is what you – ahem – have been paying for.
10. Horvath; supportive; quit; insufferable (1 time each): There have been hundreds of words I’ve used just once over the years. These, I swear, began as part of a random sampling. But as I put them together here, I realized they weren’t quite so random. Instead, they seem to explain the frankly astonishing and perplexing longevity of this column. Horvath is the last name of Unwinnable’s Editor-in-Chief [Well, at least, I was… –Stu], and also of his mom, who of the four of you is probably my biggest fan. I didn’t check which of the Horvaths I was referring to and I didn’t check if “supportive” was used in the same sentence. But I like to imagine it was. Which, not so paradoxically, brings us to “insufferable” and “quit.” Think this column is “insufferable” and want me to “quit?” Only a “Horvath” could make that happen.
9. Fucking (10); fuck (6): Dropping f-bombs only 16 times in the past seven years? Yes, zero is a classier figure. But I would have taken the over.
8. iOS (11); Apple (9); iPhone: (5): Every Rookie of the Year column, including this one, is written on my iPhone. Most of my free time is spent captive to iOS. As a practicing cult member, these relatively paltry numbers tell me I’m not as addicted as I thought. Or maybe that I’m in deep denial.
7. Three (30): No other number even comes close. Its appearances double the next digit on the list. Dumbfounded, I cheated and – very quickly – skimmed through the columns to peek at some individual threes. I found a bunch before I stopped looking, in a wide variety of uses that were not Twin Peaks season three references. Which tells us that “three” is truly some sort of magic number here in Rookie of the Year land. But what is the deeper meaning? Why does it keep popping up? Your three guesses are as good as mine.
6. Love (45); hate (6): This happy ratio proves nothing. Still . . . let’s just go ahead anyway and consider it irrefutable evidence that the Rookie of the Year brings seven and a half times more light into the world than it does darkness.
5. Wife (41); son (26); Jacob (10); Peter (3); sons (2): For the sake of this exercise, we’ll presume the majority of these terms were used to refer to members of my immediate family. And we’ll also ignore other words (like kids or children or boys) and selectively add up these four words – and these four words alone – about my two sons. Why? Because that adds up to exactly as many times as I’ve referenced my one wife. Husbandly devotion, case closed! Still, since neither of my sons were on the planet at the point where I started my column word count, I deserve – and shall receive – precisely zero brownie points.
4. Game (79); games (36): I started at Unwinnable writing strictly about videogames. It was part of a diabolical plan to con my editors into letting me submit ten years’ worth of columns that aren’t actually about videogames at all. I guess the joke is on me, though, since apparently, I never actually stopped writing about them.
3. Twin (84); peaks (76); Lynch (19); Frost (11); etc. etc.: Besides Unwinnable, I also write for a goddamn Twin Peaks-themed magazine, called The Blue Rose, and yet, clearly, I can’t help myself. You can’t say enough about this amazing television show, amirite? And yet . . . I seem to be proving otherwise.
2. Time (154); moment (32); moments (26): I write a lot about specific, singular moments – both fictional and nonfictional – because this column, at its best, is a way to stop time. Very often, I start tapping away a Rookie of the Year column not just to capture the feeling of a moment as it’s happening but to keep the moment alive a little longer. To slow it down or stretch it out just a bit more. To take it another turn or two around the block, even with half-frozen fingers. Someday, these things will be all that’s left.
1. I (1,007): I made one pronoun exception for this top 10 list and here it is. Not counting “I’ve,” “I’m,” “I’ll,” “me,” and many other ways I’ve referred to the writer of this column, “I” is the sixth-most frequently used word overall – trailing only “the,” “and,” “a,” “to,” and “of”. I was told growing up that using “I” too often was a hallmark of bad writing. Nonetheless, it’s embraced here in the Rookie of the Year column, an egomaniac’s vanity project only thinly disguised as a self-effacing dig at his ludicrous interests. Sometimes I do manage to touch upon something vaguely relevant – and maybe even important – but ultimately, I’m simply blathering on about me, myself and, above all else, “I.” After ten years, I guess a single word says it all.
Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.