Friday, October 05, 2007

Occam at the bat

In retrospect, I can't believe that I planned a week-long trip to Montreal — Je me souviens, my brothers! — so as it would completely occlude the last week of the baseball season. At least the food made it worthwhile.

Now that I'm back, I'm catching up on the flood of baseball writing that springs forth from the outsized loins of our nation's scribes, and I have to say that it's not disappointing in the least. For every well-informed commentary piece, there are five that make my brain hurt. And while most people gravitate toward the non-stop deluge of half-witted prediction assemblages that rarely do more than regurgitate the same meaningless "September stats," tales of debuting veterans and discussions of the importance of "grit" and "postseason experience," I find myself more attracted to the postmortem pieces.

Folks, these gems are early Christmas presents.

I won't bother singling any out, as all of them are eligible for a full FJM-ing. They speak to absurdities and imaginary variables and use words like "complacency" and "apathy." (and those are just the ones about the Mets!) They lord over dumb statistics, revisit unfortunate circumstances as if there were some kind of twisted providence at play, and second-guess even the most mundane decisions made by managers and G.M.s. They use the words "choke" and "clutch" more than a Car and Driver feature from the 70s. And, worst of all, they fall back on fifth-grade metaphors that serve only to further convince people that baseball writers don't realize that we're in the era of free agency. Quoth Buster Onley, on the penultimate day of the season:

And now the NL races could be completely settled today, in just under 24 hours, unless the Mets can somehow exorcise the demons of failure that seem to possess them.

I mean, good fucking lord!

It's a product of human nature to grasp for patterns within chaos, to search for logic in apparent randomness. To that extent, one must provide some allowance for the kind of hyperbole we're bound to be drowned in at the conclusion of a baseball season. But the problem doesn't lie in talking heads grasping for explanations, it's only in the explanations they choose to put forth.

Baseball seems to be an especially rich breeding ground for bullshit explanations. It's got curses and ghosts in stadiums. It's got the nonexistent wars between small-ball and Weaver-ball, and scouts vs. statheads. It's got crafty veterans and hustling (and always white) hustlers of hustily hustle. It's a game that supposedly participates in active ageism, until a young team like the Marlins come along and win the World Series, and writers talk about the power of "energy in the clubhouse."

I realize that some people think this kind of stuff supplies the yarn for the wonderful tapestry of the game's oral history, or something, but it's all bullshit. Almost always, you can break things down neatly if you're willing to simply willing to accept one essential maxim: Unpredictable things happen in events governed by human beings, the most unpredictable creatures on the planet.

William of Occam would have a field day with the New York Post's fetid stream of hyperbole recently, not to mention The Godfather's confused and confusing kneejerk postmortem on the Padres. Most certainly, he would have guffawed at bombastic moron TJ Simers' absolutely inane explanation as to how the Dodgers' best players — who happen to be the team's youngest players — are the real problem in the clubhouse, as opposed to the overpaid and whiny veterans who gorged themselves on at-bats they didn't deserve.

In all of these cases, the real answers are self-evident and self-evidently boring. The Mets, a team with a dearth of good pitchers and a lot of old (and, thusly, prone to rapid decline) bats, ended up winning 88 games, which is about right for a team with that profile. That the Amazins suffered a 5-12 skid to conclude the season is simply a matter of timing, not of some lack of clutchiness or presence of a sinister vapor. If the Mets went 5-12 in July, they certainly would not have been accused of a "collapse," but of a second-place finish that is disappointing only to those who believe that Carlos Delgado is still 27. The Padres, simply, were an 89-win team, which was good enough for a Wild Card tie. Unfortunately for the Friars, one-game playoffs without the contributions of 2/3 of your starting outfield are a harsh way to sum up a entire season. And the Dodgers simply mismanaged assets, wasting at-bats on washed-up veterans while one of the most talented groups of young players in the NL sat on the bench or in the minors wondering exactly who they needed to blow to get a full-time shot in the bigs.

I realize that I could be wrong, and that the Mets' finish could be attributed to some kind of clubhouse "complacency." But I would bet dollars to donuts that if the Mets had managed to reduce the impact of the slide, or if the Phillies hadn't finished as they did, sports writers would have feted the team (and the almost-fired Willie Randolph) for "not panicking." I guess the people within baseball are comfortable with the knowledge that this is how things are, but it's still disappointing to me that most people actually believe the only-in-hindsight "analysis." Listen, if you think Ned Yost should be fired because he's, tactically speaking, one of the dumbest skippers in the game, then fine. But if you think he should be fired because his team "choked," then you're nothing more than a reactive idiot. To take it a step further, Charlie Manuel should still be fired after this season, because he too is an idiot (quick: have you ever seen George W. Bush and Charlie Manuel in the same room at the same time? Didn't think so!). But one man could very well lose his job, while the other will probably get a contract extension, purely because of the vagaries of a baseball season and bad luck. And that just make me, and my boy William, die a little inside.

1 comment:

Pepe said...

You are absolutely right about Charlie Manuel. He should be fired, but he won't be.