While congratulating Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas on being inducted to the Hall Of Fame I’d like to show why I love the game of baseball.
It was a good day yesterday with those aforementioned three getting the ‘call to the hall’ and especially with the PED gang losing ground. One entirely falling off the ballot with another one up next. A good day. But also a day to reflect on why this game is so beautiful.
It shines because of the mortality even of its greatest players. When I first watched Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary, the thing that struck me most was that in the intro the narrator stated that baseball was a game in which even the best players only succeed 1/3 of the time they come to bat. We associate excellence with perfection. 100%. Not 30%. Still a .300 life time batting average is an extraordinary thing.
See, in football (the way the Europeans play it), there are great players from all over the world. Those players are not 100% all the time. Who is anyway? But because of how the game works if such a player isn’t at 100% people won’t notice it because he might score the winning goal or play the pass which leads up to this goal. And then he gets celebrated. And rightfully so. Seldom do we hear criticism for players who didn’t look good in a win. But in baseball, we can track such things by unsing the numbers. A pitcher might win a lot of games, but if he won a lot of those games because his offense picked him up by scoring tons of runs, would people say this guy is great? In an earlier age, maybe? but today? With stat heads and sabrmetricians? No way.
Which brings me to Greg Maddux. We all agree that the decision to send him to the Hall Of Fame was the right thing to do. That he was one of the best there ever was and, well, maybe there ever will be. There are far better writers than this one who can tell the story of the pitcher who they called the Mad Dog. Like this one. Or that one.
What I find fascinating is that when I read all those encomiums on how Maddux used to get hitters out I get the impression that he was immortal. A godlike athlete who stood above everybody else. Still he lost 227 games. Which is a lot. And normal. And totally okay.
I’ll just look at 1994 when he had an ERA of 1.56. And still he lost 6 games. He lost against the Cardinals on April 19th (5-4) giving up 8 hits with one homerun. He lost to Pittsburgh on April 30th (1-2) giving up 7 hits. I could continue like this, but moving a little faster he lost to Montreal on June 27th. By a score of 2-7. 6.2 IP, 7 H, 1 HR.
Now, this isn’t to degenerate Maddux but to praise the game. That a player who was great still had days like these. That he looked mortal. At times. Which, in turn, is a little encouraging to people like me. Who can’t be perfect as well. Whatever they do for a living.
This is what I truly like about the game. That it records the mortality of outstanding players.
Or, like Gary Cohen always says: “It’s a humbling game”. It truly is.