By John Pierce
As George Will put it: “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”
While I will enjoy college football and other activities on this Saturday, there is always an element of sadness for diehard baseball fans when the season comes to an end. Our thoughts move toward that mid-February day when pitchers and catchers make their way to Florida and Arizona to work out the winter rust.
By all accounts this was a most usual and memorable post-season. There was not a baseball analyst in the world on Labor Day who could have predicted this outcome. It was completely improbable and, if a movie script, would have been panned as implausible.
But as mature thinkers know: probability does not equal certainty. Therefore, the cliché in a sport filled with clichés: “That’s why they play the games.”
The St. Louis Cardinals were buried in the wild card race until my beloved Atlanta Braves went into a free fall. Also, the reigning world champions in San Francisco stalled out late in the year as well — yet in a more-steady decline.
Then the good-luck Cardinals mowed through the mighty Philadelphia Phillies with no regard for the Cy Young-filled pitching staff and a lineup stacked with all-stars. After the first round of playoffs, the nine teams with the highest payrolls (totaling more than $1 billion) were all out of contention.
Ultimately, the Texas Rangers and the Cardinals faced off in one of the best (although Rangers fans won’t be able to use that word for awhile) series many of us can recall. In unusual fashion, I watched the whole thing without choosing sides. My detachment was probably because I was still smarting over the Braves’ absence.
My default is set on the National League, but not only because that’s what I watch the most as a Braves fan. Primarily it is because the designated hitter is the worst thing that has happened to baseball since the 1919 White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series.
No. The DH is worse than that. Maybe it’s the worst thing since ex-Mets manager Bobby Valentine donned sunglasses and a fake mustache to try to stay in dugout after being ejected.
St. Louis is arguably the best baseball town in America and Albert Pujols is both the best player and a good guy — although he should have signed his contract extension months ago and not come across so greedy.
On the other hand, the Texas Rangers remind me much of the Braves in the early-‘90s. Just hosting a World Series was remarkable enough last year. Now they were back and could taste it — coming within one strike of the championship trophy, not once but twice in Game 6.
We Braves fans got that close repeatedly in the 1990s and can empathize with Lone Star baseball fans. For us, the World Series title in 1995 was as much relief as celebration. I hope Rangers fans win it all sometime — just not against the Braves. Every baseball fan needs to go to such a parade once.
Now back to George Will’s comment. Baseball at its basic level is a game. But while too many people take sports too seriously, there are lessons to be learned if we pay close enough attention.
Among them is the clear fact that what looks so highly probable at one moment does not always turn into reality later. That’s why we play the games. That’s also why we move forward in the more important aspects of our lives — with faith and hope.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.