The way our brains work, we attempt to apply a narrative or causality to events, even after the fact, to justify what happened and why it happened. We look for points where the momentum shifts and where all of a sudden something that was unthinkable becomes inevitable.
Baseball is full of these moments. Of course Jeff will tell you all about game 6 of this year’s World Series and no one will ever stop talking about the Bartman play in Chicago or Buckner’s famous muff. Teams didn’t win or lose on those plays but it changed the flow of the game and, in retrospect, we consider it to be the dramatic reversal in the narrative.
Politics follows a similar course. In the 2008 Democratic primary, Hilary was inevitable but then Obama won Iowa and the narrative shifted. Sure, the changes may be due more to organization or groundwork but we prefer the grand, sweeping narrative and we look for game-changing moments.
This week’s Republican debate in Michigan offered the new narrative of choice for the primary season: Perry’s final flub. For a campaign that had already hit a rough patch (polling behind Herman Cain? Seriously?), they needed a strong showing. Here’s what they got:
Granted, the last time a Texas governor became president, serious doubts surrounded his mental capacity. And some pundits even point out that Perry’s damage control may have helped humanize him for the voters. But if Perry does end up losing the nomination as now seems likely, the narrative will state that this moment was what nailed shut the coffin. That’s just how our brain’s work. And how Perry’s didn’t.
Standing in the check-out line at my local grocer, I scanned the magazine rack hoping to find out if Khloe Kardashian had eaten herself to death or how drunk Jennifer Aniston got in Cabo while still thinking about Brad. Instead, I was subjected to an image I thought I’d blocked out 25 years ago:
Eldra “El” DeBarge.
On the cover of Jet.
Who’s Johnny… she said…
*cue the daydream montage*
I see Bert Blyleven record his 3,000th strikeout…
I see Bob Horner hit four homeruns in one game…
I see Mike Scott no-hit the Giants… the Red Sox come back to win the ALCS after being down 3 games to 1… Ray Knight skip like a schoolgirl on Mookie Wilson’s Bill Buckner nutmeggin’ dribbler…
…and… and, I… I see…
*snaps out of it*
Oh, Youppi… oh, dear, dear Youppi… no!!! It’s not FAIR! It’s not fair that El DeBarge gets a comeback and you don’t… not fair that in 2010 you’re relegated to Montreal hockey duty while El DeBarge gets nominated for a Grammy.
A GRAMMY FOR JEEBUS’ SAKE!!!
And you wonder.
You wonder why I don’t believe in god.
No loving god would subject the altruistic baseball fan to such chronic despair!!!
So hate me ‘cuz I I think El DeBarge topped out in ’86, just don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
Yesterday’s World Cup final reinforced a hypothesis I’ve been working on. The final game is always a let down. Yes, Spain did score a nice goal at the end of the overtime but the rest of the game was better avoided. And, in the interest of full disclosure, that’s exactly what I did.
Now, compare that with the previous day’s third place game or even either of the two semi-final games. The final game of a series just never lives up to it’s hype. Even when you think of your favorite World Series memories, usually those are from a game six or maybe an earlier game that helps extend the series. When it’s a final, teams are too careful and it’s the game and the fans who suffer.
If you still aren’t convinced, think about a few of those games. While not a World Series, the Cubs-Marlins series in 2003 featured Bartman and a total breakdown by the Cubs but that disaster was what got the Marlins to a game 7 in which they destroyed the Cubs. Bill Buckner’s infamous boot happened in a game 6 as well. Sure, there have been game 7 heroics but it’s the early games that give us the memorable moments.
Sure, I’m going to keep on watching the finals. Missing a Superbowl or a World Series game 7 would just feel wrong. But, it’s the game 6 I’ll not so secretly be looking forward to.
In the pantheon of sporting goats, none has a more hallowed place than the guy who brings the season to an end. Sometimes it’s a team effort (the 2009 Detroit Tigers along with the 2007 and 2008 Mets come to mind) but sometimes a single man takes that entire burden onto his shoulders and says, “Yes, I can and will end this season for myself, my teammates and the fans.” Brett Favre is just such a man.
Being a fan of a team in the NFC North, Favre has been a thorn in my side for years now. I was more than happy to see him leave the Packers and I wished him nothing but ill when he made his return to the barren wasteland of the North. However, it warmed my soul to see him end this season the same way he ended the last couple: throwing an interception. He is the career leader after all. It’s only fitting.
I guess the only important question left now is not will he come back….again, but rather, would you call him the Bill Buckner or the Brad Lidge of NFL football? Me, I’m going with Lidge.
If you called me an insane, obsessed, socially maladjusted freak in regards to my passion for the game of baseball, you would be absolutely correct. Try as I might to cover up the idiosyncratic ticks that put me at the top of the weird charts, there really is no denying my beyond reasonable quirkiness. In fact, baseball has long affected my dating life, my filial responsibilities, my job.
So you can imagine the worry and fear experienced by my dearest friends and loved ones when the MLB Network officially launched earlier this year. It has been alluded to that since the network aired, getting in contact with me has been harder than taking Sarah Palin seriously. This I cannot deny.
Besides getting the inside scoop on all things off-season baseball from the Hot Stove Show, shedding man-tears watching Mookie’s grounder trickle between Buckner’s legs and vehemently arguing/defending the selections of Prime 9, I have also been forced to evaluate the roots of my undying passion for our national pastime and why it means so much to me.
Which takes me back to the beginning…
Unlike many young boys, my father had very little to do with my interest in baseball. As great a man as he was (still is), he always had a calm reserve — an indifferent nature towards the game. Sure, he was a fan of sorts; but he wasn’t nuts about it in any way. His sister was. Yes, it’s all her fault. My dear Aunt Alice and her husband, Uncle Iggy, were absolutely wild about baseball and they molded me into a young, opinionated, domineering superfan at an early age.
Indeed, no two people had a greater effect on my psycho-following of the St. Louis Cardinals. They ate, slept and breathed Cardinals baseball (still do); their fiery enthusiasm infected me before I could even walk. Upon reflection, my earliest baseball memory is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s front page color photo of bedlam at Busch after the 1982 World Series. Emulating Jack Clark’s short swing and despising Don Denkinger came soon after. With the help of my aunt and uncle, it wasn’t long before I was memorizing the starting lineup of the ’85 club and dreaming of being Ozzie Smith.
My father took a backseat to this unruly creation of a Redbird child. While supportive of my decision to “go crazy, folks, go crazy” while reenacting Ozzie’s fist pump around the bases, it was clear that Dad didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about. Despite the quizzical looks he gave when I argued to stay home and watch the game rather than go to the video arcade, he accepted the fact that his son was some kind of weirdo.
As soon as I could operate the VCR, I was recording any and every baseball game on television. During the long the winter months I watched those games with the same intensity with which I watched them the first time. Then I’d watch them again. And again and again.
“Shh. It’s Tewksbury versus Sutcliffe, Dad. Pena’s gonna throw Walton out at second. Wait and see.”
“But you’ve seen this game already.”
“I haven’t seen all of it. There’s too much going on all at once. I’m watching just Pena this time. Just Pena. Watch.”
And he would… he would placate my desire… because he saw how important it was to me.
It was very important to me.
My parents were divorced. It got ugly at times. I lived with my dad, separated from my sister, who lived with my mom a hundred miles away. While my childhood spun around in chaotic circles of arguments, misunderstandings and fear, the melodic pace and harmonic rhythm of baseball calmed me like no drug ever could: the unique sound of Tom Brunansky’s bat, a whipping line-drive snagged by Pendleton at third, a Ken Daley strikeout. No matter what the final score, baseball, with its disregard for time and its indifferent ability to create heroes and villains and bystanders, became the one constant in my life.
It kept me sane.
So it was October, 1993, and I found myself in a certain state of panic. I was a selfish 14 year old boy who couldn’t imagine missing Game 6 of the ’93 Series and I wasn’t about to be quiet about it. In Tulsa, Oklahoma at the time to cheer on my dad (a marathon runner) in the 15k Tulsa Run, my complaining escalated — eventually becoming more annoying than persuading. The race was long over, but we were not anywhere near a television; the game had started and the anticipation was killing me.
“Dad, we have to go watch the game!” I whined.
“Okay, we will.”
“No, now! We’ve already missed the first inning!”
“We will. We’ll go in a little bit. It’s just the Blue Jays and Phillies anyway —
“Just the Blue Jays and — Dad, it’s important! We have to go!”
Several shrills of suffering and an hour or so later we were finally in the comforts of a relative’s home, watching the game.
My dad rested his tired legs and read the newspaper while I glued myself to the t.v. set, still jittery, shaken, upset from missing the first five innings of play. It was 5-1 Blue Jays and Dad uttered: “See, it’s gonna be a blowout anyway, Jeff.”
I grit my teeth.
And when the Phillies went on a tear in the seventh inning, scoring five runs to take a 6-5 lead, I looked back at him and said, “This is why you can never turn off a game, Dad. Anything is possible.”
Dad managed but a glance away from his paper.
The ninth inning rolled around. I shook with nerves at the suspenseful drama, mystique, myriad possibilities. Dad was unmoved. “Game’s over, Jeff. Mitch Williams is coming in.”
“You never know, Dad. You never know. You have to watch. Just watch.”
Williams walked Rickey Henderson.
“Just watch, Dad. Please.”
Fed up with my whining, he reluctantly put his paper down just in time to see Devon White fly out.
Paul Molitor singl
Joe Carter dug in.
I heard the rustling of Dad’s newspaper again, but before he could get into the reading position I shot him a glare so vicious, so maniacal, so threatening that he had no choice but to put it back down and focus on the game… just in time to see this:
Unaffiliated with the Blue Jays, unaffiliated with the Phillies, but fully affiliated with the wondrous game of baseball, I shot to my feet and screamed like a little girl. My whole being gushed with excitement, with incredulity, with a burning sensation never before felt as Carter jumped and ran the bases.
I looked at my dad, his jaw on the floor, eyes lit up like the Skydome fireworks.
“Did you see that, Dad!?! Did you see that!?!”
“I… I saw it. I don’t believe it but I… I saw it.”
“Don’t you see, Dad? Anything’s possible.”
“I guess you’re right. Anything is possible.”
If you can dream it, it can happen.
That’s the lesson baseball taught me, the lesson Joe Carter taught my dad, the lesson that comes from having a father who believes in you…
I love you, Dad. And don’t forget… you can’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right. You said it yourself on October 23, 1993.
From the 86 years of pure agony credited to the infamous Curse of the Bambino which included tumultuous yet exciting events such as the 1946 World Series, Carlton Fisk’s ’75 bomb, Bill Buckner’s mental lapse and the late-inning heroics of one Aaron “The One-Hit Wonder” Boone, to the most historically shocking comeback in the history of the world in 2004 to overcoming a 3 games to 1 deficit in in the ALCS last year only to sweep the hottest team in baseball on your way to winning it all — again… I have no idea how you do it, Boston — how your heart hasn’t leaped out of your chest and sunk through the floor, how you haven’t become a raging alcoholic nor eaten your children, how you haven’t been diagnosed with a severe case of jitteritis or how you have yet to set fire to the city of New York.
If I were you and I followed a team that knew no other style of play than the “force our fans to writhe and convulse in torment, exasperation and paralytic panic as we may or may not ultimately win this contest but we promise it will be interesting” I would, indeed, be a dead man.
Because, my fellow US Americans, I cannot take such stress. This is why every time Jason Isringhausen came in from the bullpen this season I immediately changed the channel. The pure uncertainty of his aging ability and his austere acuteness for blowing saves was simply too much for me. Often times I thought I would’ve been better off performing the Japanese ritual suicide rite of seppuku than watching him pitch late in a ball game, other times I just rammed my head into a concrete wall until I had the good fortune of sleep.
Dear readers, during the most stressful of times (i.e. close baseball games, first dates, election night) when my palms are sweaty, my brow furled, my pulse raging beyond control, I find myself resorting to the old habits of yesteryear already responsible for killing half of my family: nicotine, alcohol, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.
And that scares me.
Luckily for me, I was born in the midwest — far, far away from rickety noreaster accents and wild-hang-by-the-seat-of-your-pants baseball known as the Red Sox Nation.
Win or lose, no one knows drama like a Red Sox fan. And that’s something I do not covet — not one bit.
Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
I asked a similar question in the hypothetical earlier this season but now that some aspects of the postseason have sorted themselves out, I have to ask again. What makes you more sad, the Cubs winning the NL Central or the Cards not making the playoffs?
For all of you who picture me sitting in the alcove of my apartment drowning in the proverbial sea of my own tears because the Cardinals will be home this post-season while the Cubs journey on, you’re probably not too far off from reality. Of course, the half empty bottle of Jack, the lonely cavern of my heart and the clear and present danger of having one Sarah Palin next in line to the highest office in the land most certainly have more to do with my wallowing than the current state of baseball.
As I have said here before, the Cubs were supposed to win the Central and be one of the best teams in baseball this year. So why, Mr. Krause, should I be so surprised to actually see this come true? We’re both highly educated, extremely learned, dashingly handsome young men, so cut me a little slack here.
Verily, the true river of tears has yet to flow. In fact, it is on standby until the final outcome of the AL Central battle. If my neighborhood Sox find a way to wiggle back in there, then all will be well again and I will have much to look forward to.
If the menacing Twins manage to squeak in (which would realistically only extend their inevitable fate of just not being good enough) then I will go ahead and cry… right along side Mr. Krause, who again, finds himself rooting for the worst team money can buy.
Crying is nothing new to baseball fans. The likes of Bill Buckner, Bartman and Don Denkinger — among myriad others — have long tortured the hearts and souls of those most loyal.
And no one will cry harder (or longer) than Mets fans if the the second team of New York blows it — yet again — at the very last minute. Stay tuned… or, just keep your ears open for the hisses and boos from the Met faithful. That ricketty old stadium may come tumbling down sooner — and in a more creative way — than we all think.
Don’t hate me, ‘cuz as always, I’m right.