Brief Encounter

Baseball is not a movie. Stop trying to dramatize it.


I think I stumbled upon the single most significant thing said about the entire baseball-PEDs story. The writer, Tom Verducci, likely did not realize he was saying the most significant thing about it all, but he did all the same.

After correctly noting that athlete after athlete has denied using PEDs in the past, only to later be found to have used them, Verducci says we can’t take anyone’s denial at face value anymore. Why?

… but we have seen how the movie ends too many times.

Thinking of this as a movie — or a grand drama of any kind — is why the discourse about PEDs has become so stupid.  When we think of it as a drama we require heroes and villains. We require quick resolution. We require a stunning, conclusive and emotionally satisfying dénouement.

But baseball isn’t a movie or a play. It’s a sport, played without a script by real living and breathing human beings.  We’ve been conditioned to think of it in dramatic terms because the sporting press developed as a means of dramatizing that which most people didn’t get a chance to see in newspaper accounts, but it is not itself a drama.

When baseball gets into the realm of PEDs and law enforcement our tendency to treat it as a drama is even stronger. Sports are often dramatized, but TV shows and movies have featured cops, doctors and lawyers more than anyone else by a factor of a million.  Put that all together and it’s almost impossible not to think of things like BALCO or the Biogenesis story in the same terms we think of “Law and Order” or “House.”

But that’s not how real life works. In real life stuff happens. If that stuff seems problematic or suspicious, it often, but not always, gets investigated. That stuff may have been motivated by evil, but it may have also been motivated by stupidity or accident or a combination of them all. Or there may be a mistake.  When the stuff gets investigated something approaching justice may result. But just as often nothing may come of it because there are dead ends or nothing particularly bad happened or because everyone just loses interest in the stuff. There may be consequences to it all or it may be meaningless.   It almost always takes a long time to determine whether the stuff meant anything or not.

That reality is really problematic for people who are used to packaging three hour ballgames into 800 word chapters and 162-game seasons into a novel, complete with heroes and villains. Which is why people in that world seem to eager to leap into this sports-legal-medical gumbo and begin to hash out plots.  It’s way easier to do that than to sit back and see what happens and what it all means. If it even means anything.

We let them do that with the games because they are, after all, just games. But when someone’s reputation, fortune, career and sometimes their very freedom is on the line, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to expect them to lay the hell off for a bit and let events unfold before they try to stuff them into the little dramatic constructs with which we’re so familiar.

John Lackey to start Game 1 of the NLDS for the Cardinals

John Lackey
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St. Louis has decided on John Lackey as the Game 1 starter in the NLDS versus the winner of tonight’s Wild Card game, manager Mike Matheny announced.

Lackey led the Cardinals in starts (33) and innings (218) this season while posting a 2.77 ERA and 175/53 K/BB ratio with 21 homers allowed.

Carlos Martinez being out for the playoffs with a shoulder injury took a big rotation option away from Matheny, but Lackey has a 3.10 ERA in 43 starts since joining the Cardinals in mid-2014 and also has a 3.08 ERA in 117 career postseason innings.

He’ll face either the Cubs or the Pirates, in St. Louis. No word yet on the order, but Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and Jaime Garcia figure to follow Lackey in the rotation.

The Yankees were booed last night. Did they deserve it?

Masahiro Tanaka

The boos came raining down from the Yankee Stadium faithful last night. They started when Brett Gardner grounded out in the eighth inning. More came later. A lot of it was, no doubt, based on Gardner’s disappointing performance late in the season. A lot of it was because, around that time, it seemed like the Yankees had zero shot whatsoever to mount a comeback. Which, in fact, they didn’t. A lot of it was pent-up frustration, I assume, from a late season skid which saw the Yankees lose their lead in the AL East and wind up in the Wild Card Game in the first place.

Anyone who buys a ticket has a right to boo. Especially when they buy a ticket as expensive as Yankees tickets are. It’s obviously understandable to be disappointed when your team loses. Especially when your team is eliminated like the Yankees were. And last night’s game was particularly deflating, with that 3-0 Astros lead feeling more like 10-0 given how things were going.

But isn’t booing something more than a mere manifestation of disappointment? Isn’t a step beyond? Booing isn’t saying “I’m sad.” It’s saying “you suck!” It’s not saying “I’m disappointed,” it’s saying “you should be ashamed of yourselves!” And with all respect to Yankees fans, the 2015 Yankees have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

This was a club expected to miss the playoffs, full stop. Maybe some people allowed for an if-everything-breaks-right flight of fancy, but hardly anyone expected them to play meaningful games late in the year, let alone a playoff game. They were too old. Too injured. There weren’t enough young reinforcements to fill the gaps. Some even went so far as to claim that they were about to spend years in the wilderness.

But then A-Rod broke out of the gate strong. And Michael Pineda had a really nice first couple of months. And Mark Teixeira put up numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place for him several years ago. The bullpen did what it was supposed to do and more, Masahiro Tanaka held together somehow and, eventually, a couple of young players like Greg Bird and Luis Severino came in to reinforce things. The not-going-anywhere Yankees were contenders. And they led the division for a good while. Of course they stumbled late. And of course they lost last night, but by just about any reasonable measure, this was a good team — better than expected — and, unlike a lot of Yankees teams in the past, was pretty darn enjoyable to watch.

Then the boos. I just can’t see how this Yankees team deserved that.

I realize a lot of people in the media have duped a lot of people into thinking that a team with a high payroll is supposed to be dominant. And I realize George Steinbrenner duped a whole lot of people into thinking that anything less than a World Series championship for the New York Yankees is failure. But that’s rhetoric and branding, not reason. In the real world where baseball players play baseball games World Series titles are rare, even for the Yankees. At the end of the season all but one of 30 teams are either at home for the playoffs or went home after suffering a gut-wrenching playoff loss. The Yankees are the most dominant franchise in the history of American professional sports yet they still have finished their year without a title over 75% of the time.

With that as a given, fans are left to judge their team’s performance based on its talent, its health, its heart, its entertainment value and the strength of the opposition which ultimately vanquished it. The Yankees weren’t nearly as talented as many, yet made the playoffs anyway. They were a walking hospital ward, let limped on. They never quit and never got pulled down into the sort of muck a lot of New York teams find themselves in when things start to go sideways. And, ultimately, they were simply beat by a better team. By any reasonable measure the 2015 Yankees were a good story, a successful enterprise, a resilient bunch and no small amount of fun.

It’s OK to be sad that it ended as it did. But that doesn’t deserve to be booed. Not by a long shot.