Do we need heroes in sports?

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Buzz Bissinger has a post up over at The Daily Beast today, lamenting the absence of colorful heroes, rakes and rogues in sports today:

Sports are bigger than ever. It occupies us more than ever. It is ever exploding. There are still routinely great performances. But behind those performances there is less and less human dimension, either colorful or heroic … Are there any athletes in the modern-day era of sports either truly heroic or just truly colorful?

He comes up with a few examples. In the hero category he rightfully cites Pat Tillman, although his heroism had little to do with sports as such.  He also names a couple of people who fit the “colorful” bill well enough by virtue of their lack of self-censorship, like Rex Ryan, but notes that, for the most part, sports figures are programmed to be dull and non-responsive and private.

And he’s right.  It’s just that I just don’t know that this is a problem for anyone besides sports writers looking for juicy quotes.  While I love the stories about players of yore, the ones I love the most aren’t really about heroism as we tend to define it within the context of sports.  They’re the things written by or about people on the margins (think Jim Bouton), not the stuff written about the big names as they’re making their big marks.  The Mickey Mantle book that came out last year was way more insightful and interesting than anything anyone got from him when he was the king of the world.

Moreover, I don’t know that, insight aside, it’s all that healthy for our society to celebrate athletes as heroes.  How many of those would-be heroes pan out as true heroes over time?  How many role models turn out to be anything but?  Bissinger correctly notes that the relatively bloodless content of the game — the live action and recaps and box scores and all of that — has taken precedence, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.  If anything, it helps us to remember that sports are just that — sports — and not some substitute for real life. As always, XKCD got it right when it comes to identifying what we’re really doing when we try to make sporting events into something greater than what they are.

I get what Bissinger is saying. And as someone who grew up on the sort of sports coverage in which heroes and rogues meant everything, I too sort of miss the lack of color we see today and like it when someone breaks from the “I’m just trying to help the ballclub” script.

But I don’t know that it’s a bad thing in an absolute sense. It’s just where sports and society is heading. And it may very well us to bring some different perspectives into the sporting world that could, just maybe, make our society’s relationship with sports a bit more healthy than it was in an age where narratives were applied and dramatic roles were assigned to people playing what are, in effect, random games.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cardinals 5, Dodgers 3: The Cards had a 3-0 lead that the Dodgers erased by the seventh inning. It remained tied until the ninth when Dave Roberts called on his just-activated closer, Kenley Jansen. Jansen said he was healthy before he came in and he said he felt fine after he came out but in between he gave up ninth inning homers to Jedd Gyorko — a pinch hit number — and Matt Carpenter to take the L. Los Angeles stranded 14 baserunners. The Cardinals won their 15th game in the month of August, the most in all of baseball.

Giants 2, Mets 1: Derek Holland allowed a Wilmer Flores RBI double in the first inning and then he and six relievers shut the Mets out for the game’s final 12 frames. Zack Wheeler allowed only one run over seven innings while striking out 10, and relievers continued that fine work until the 13th. Some fine work can be undone, however, in the blink of an eye:

That allowed Andrew McCutchen to score what turned out to be the winning run. His comment about it after the game:

“Laughed all the way to the dugout. Everybody’s eyes were about as big as that big-eyed emoji. It was pretty crazy. Everyone was pretty stunned, but everyone was going to be stunned when something like that happens.”

It was the Mets, though, so is “stunned” really the right word here?

Athletics 9, Rangers 0: Mike Fiers allowed only one hit in seven shutout innings and the Rangers were the third team shut out overall on Monday night. Ramon Laureano hit two homers for Oakland. Khris Davis hit one, but it was a special one. Before the game Davis met with some kids from the Make a Wish Foundation, and one of them — Anthony Slocumb — autographed Davis’ jersey. Davis, still wearing the jersey in the game, launched a monster home run with Anthony’s name on the back:

Davis, after the game:

“I thought about him around the bases. There’s not a better feeling than hitting a home run, so hopefully he got some excitement and joy from watching that.”

And, I presume, he got the jersey too.

Mariners 7, Astros 4: Seattle helped Oakland back in to a first place tie in the West by beating the Astros thanks to a three-run homer from Robinson Cano in the eighth which broke a 4-4 tie. Felix Hernandez made his return to the rotation after a brief foray into relief work. He wasn’t great — he allowed four runs in five innings — but the M’s got to Houston’s pen, tying things up on a sixth inning and taking him off the hook for a loss when Mitch Haniger singled in a run, setting the stage for Cano’s heroics.

Braves 1, Pirates 0: When you have a 20 year-old rookie pitcher making his big league debut you don’t want to have him make one first inning run hold up, but that’s what the Braves did to Bryse Wilson. Wilson responded, however, tossing five shutout innings with five relievers keeping up the goose eggs the rest of the way. The Pirates, meanwhile, have allowed a single run in five straight games . . . and they’ve lost three of those games. When the opposition makes defensive plays like this one made by Ender Inciarte, however, stuff like that is going to happen:

Indians 5, Red Sox 4: Boston jumped out to a 3-0 lead in this potential playoff preview, but homers from Melky Cabrera and Michael Brantley in the fifth and six tied it up and a two-run homer from Greg Allen in the seventh put Cleveland up 5-3. Rick Porcello surrendered all of those bombs. Just before the Allen bomb he had been hit in the gut with a comebacker, which knocked the wind out of him. He said he was fine and no one blamed the blast on the effects of that comebacker. Porcello just said he hung a crappy pitch. Corey Kluber pitched in the seventh inning for Cleveland and got his 16th win on the year, tying him for the league lead.

Blue Jays 5, Orioles 3: Kendrys Morales smacked two homers, accounting for four of the Jays’ five runs. Toronto has taken 10 of 11 games against Baltimore this year and all eight at home.

White Sox 8, Twins 5: White Sox manager Rick Renteria was taken to a hospital before the game due to lightheadedness and stayed overnight for observation. If there was a TV in his room he observed Matt Davidson hit a homer and drove in three runs, Jose Abreu get two hits and two RBI and Lucas Giolito allow three runs and five hits in his second straight win. He also observed the Sox win their fourth game in five outings. Here’s hoping that, and whatever medical care he needed, got him feeling better and that he’s back with the club today.

Rays 1, Royals 0: The Rays bullpenned it up once again and saw four pitchers combine on the shutout, with second pitcher Ryan Yarbrough working the most innings. Willy Adames third inning RBI single was the game’s only scoring. Eight pitchers were used in all in this 1-0 game. I wonder if there were any nine-inning, no-rain-dealy 1-0 games that involved this many pitchers in all of baseball history before, say, 1990. I bet there wasn’t.

Brewers 5, Reds 2: Chase Anderson gave up early solo homers to Reds batters — he does that — but Travis Shaw and Christian Yelich homered — Shaw’s was a two-run shot — to give the Brewers a 3-2 lead by the sixth inning and they just added from there.