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The weird alternate universe of Facebook’s MLB tags

Facebook thinks Citi Field is a movie theater and Busch Stadium is a bridal shop. What else?

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Baseball players are athletes and baseball stadiums are arenas or venues. That seems easy enough to accept, right? Broad categories people and locations can be slotted into based on what we largely presume them to be?

In normal life sure. But that’s not always the case on Facebook.

If you don’t work in media or have a business Facebook page you might not know about the behind the scenes capabilities of the social media platform. But if you do, you know about a feature called “News Feed Targeting” that allows companies and pages to choose a few categories to specifically target their posts towards beyond their general audience.

When you do this, there is usually a category attached to the person or subject you are choosing to target. Like so:

Seems easy enough. Derek Jeter, noted athlete, is categorized as an athlete.

Yet, if you use this feature enough there are some surprises that show up over time. In fact, some of the categories that Facebook has chosen for well-known baseball teams, players, or stadiums are so out of left field (pardon the baseball pun) that it’s easy to wonder how it happened in the first place. For some of them, it’s also extremely funny.

It’s obvious, but also needs to be said, that there are far more controversial and important things about Facebook’s platform and practices happening right now. There is so much happening that requires a magnifying glass focused on it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is a fun look at one aspect of Facebook’s system that has some glitches, and let’s not pretend it’s anything more serious than that.

Facebook also currently has a deal to exclusively air more than two dozen MLB games throughout the season — which is a decidedly mixed experience — yet can’t accurately handle the labels for hundreds of baseball-related things.

Let’s start with how the teams themselves are categorized. This is the sector of baseball that is least often mis-labeled, to the platform’s credit.

For the most part, MLB teams are labeled as “Sports Team.” The notable exceptions are the Chicago Cubs being labeled as “Stadium, Arena & Sports Venue” which is self-explanatory enough, and the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays being listed as a “Local Business.” Not really accurate but fair enough. They are, after all, businesses that operate locally in their respective cities

The most glaring mis-labeling is the Mets are listed as “Sports Team” which is completely off the mark. Everything else is as it should be in this area.

With players, though, things start to wander a little farther off the path. I put in the names of 100 of the top active players right now, and 34 of them were identified as “Athlete.” The other 66 were a mixed bag, but were mostly not available as a Facebook tag or labeled as a “Public Figure.” Before we get into the athletes who weren’t any of these things, let’s parse who got “Public Figure” or nothing at all.

Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, and George Springer? Three of the top young players in the league right now? Not available as tags. Nothing. Compare that to Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy not only being in the system but getting the “Public Figure” tag, or Justin Smoak making the cut. No shade to either Murphy or Smoak, but there’s clearly no rhyme or reason to this system.

One explanation may be the way Facebook adds things to their system or updates their tags, although for such a global, constantly used platform it seems like a huge oversight to not be monitoring what categories are attached to which commonly searched terms, or if there are terms being searched that don’t show up in the listings at all.

And that’s before we even touch upon the random labels in this group. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu’s tag category comes up as “Amite City, Louisiana (City).” (This is as good a time as any to tell you my methodology involved writing out the names as completely as possible before coming to a conclusion, so anything that came up as an autofill halfway through a name was not included unless it was the last autofill remaining.)

Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s category is “Codename: Kids Next Door.”

Why? There’s no clear reason for either of those associations. They are seemingly random attachments, and it’s incredible. I hope Schoop somehow hacked the system himself to add his label because he’s a secret Codename: Kids Next Door super fan.

I also searched nearly 30 retired stars, including Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds, Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. All of the icons I entered had some sort of label with the exception of Jimmie Foxx. Justice for Jimmie Foxx please, Facebook.

Outside of that exception, 10 of the players were considered public figures while the rest are simply athletes. But once again, it’s unclear how that distinction is made. Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson are public figures, which makes sense, but Cal Ripken, Jr. is not. Carl Yastrzemski and Randy Johnson are, but Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra are not. It’s completely without guidelines. What did Joltin’ Joe ever do to you, Zuck?

Cy Young was listed only as “Cy Young Award” when he should clearly be filed under “got away with being a huge racist because he wasn’t as racist as Ty Cobb, that lucky bastard.” That’s probably a standards thing though.

Let’s move on to stadiums though, because how some of the fields are labeled is where things really get wild and how this whole deep dive got started in the first place.

Of the 30 baseball fields currently in use, 22 accurately show up as “Stadium”, “Arena & Sports Venue.” Yankee Stadium is listed as “Performance and Event Venue.” Also accurate. Coors Field is labeled just “Park” which is a shade-throwing label if I ever saw one but objectively accurate.

Safeco Field, Camden Yards, Minute Maid Park, and Citizens Bank Park are listed as “Landmark & Historical Place.” Don’t ask me why parks built in 1999, 1992, 2000, and 2004 respectively get the landmark designation while places like Fenway, Wrigley, or the Oakland Coliseum are not. At this point we’ve established Facebook’s rules make no sense at all.

The remaining three are where things truly go off the rails here. Citi Field, allegedly the home of the “Sports Team” Mets, is listed as “Movie Theater.”

While Mets fans probably wish they could watch any number of movies before they have to watch another Mets’ game this year, that’s clearly not the case. It is a great business idea after the Mets are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs this year though.

SunTrust Park doesn’t have a label at all, and when you type in its name it comes up as “Megaworld Corporation - Local Business” which I can only assume means the Braves are secretly operating a Bond villain-style secret corporation in the tunnels of their stadium with their star rookies spending off days acquiring top secret information about governments around the world.

The best of the lot, narrowly beating the joy that is “Citi Field, Movie Theater,” is Busch Stadium. Which is labeled as “Bridal Shop.” Yes, bridal shop.

Everything else here you could squint and make the mental leap as to why the labels are the way they are. This is the most confounding, humorous label of the lot, and probably means the Cardinals should open their own team-themed wedding store.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment about the labels. Which doesn’t rule out the possibility that this is part of some master plan to buy Busch Stadium and turn it into the largest Kleinfeld’s this country has ever seen.