Posnanski makes a great point today about how sports commentators, columnists, broadcasters and the like tend to fall in love with narratives, even if they don’t really hold up. His example: how everyone during and after last night’s Tigers game was gushing about Justin Verlander, and sticking with that narrative even though, on the merits, the performance wasn’t all that great: eight innings pitched, four earned runs.
I agree with the general point, but I must quibble with Posnanski’s use of Verlander as an example of this.
For one thing, four runs in eight innings against an offense like the Yankees on short rest (or however you want to characterize pitching three days after Friday’s false start) isn’t anything to sneeze at. Not otherworldly, strikeouts notwithstanding, and I agree with Posnanski that it’s way too easy to blow it out of proportion. But it’s not nothing.
More generally, I think the praise of Verlander last night and into this morning is less about his line score and more about him just being an amazing freak of nature who is outrageously fun to watch. Posnanski himself describes it in his column: the crazy velocity, changing repertoire and control; the fact that he was still cracking 100 on the radar late in the game. Setting aside his game score — and acknowledging that people who overstate his literal effectiveness are drinking Verlander Kool-Aid — that stuff was pretty damn remarkable, and it’s thus understandable that it is being remarked upon so much.
This all falls under a theory I’ve cited many times recently in which our friend Ken Arneson reminds us to “Remember the Beer.” That enjoying something and wishing to honor it some way is a totally different matter than properly assessing something and wishing to praise it in a different way.
We can appreciate that Dwight Evans was objectively better than Jim Rice, but if people want to recall Jim Rice’s exploits more fondly because they took great enjoyment from them back in 1978, so be it. We can be in awe of Wily Mo Pena’s home runs even though, by every objective measure, Wily Mo Pena sucks. The point is that just as we should never let our fond memories of a player shake our objective assessment of his merits (no matter how much I enjoyed Jack Morris’ career, he wasn’t a great pitcher), we shouldn’t let the objective assessment of the player detract from our enjoyment of him. Same goes for movies and records and art and stuff too, by the way, but that’s another essay.
As for Verlander: no, his performance was not “great” last night in an objective way. But it was dazzling. And enjoyable as all hell unless you’re a Yankees fan. And if people want to talk that up to the heavens today, I see no real reason to take any issue with that.