Friday, October 28, 2011

Quick Takes - The greatest game of all time?

I humbly disagree, LL Cool J.

Last night's World Series game was amazing. There's really no other way to describe it (except there is, and we'll get to that in a bit). The Rangers were one strike away, twice, from winning the World Series, only to have the Cardinals come back from two runs down in both the 9th and 10th innings before hitting a game-winning home run in the 11th to extend the series to a final seventh game. It was one of the most incredible finishes in World Series history, in baseball history no less, but a curious thing has happened since the game ended. Reporters and fans alike have begun calling it "the greatest game ever." It was certainly a spectacular game, and the drama it provided consistently over the last three innings is tough to match, but was it really the greatest baseball game in the history of the sport? There were loads of errors, managerial miscues, poor pitching, poor defense, and it merely extended the series instead of ending it. Is that the greatest game ever? Do all those negatives go away because of the drama and the spectacle of it all? And, more importantly, what does the "greatest" even mean?

We're quick to add that title to anything that's immediately prevalent. A successful film. A mind-blowing album. A breathtaking athlete. A cultural revolution in the Middle East. A mass protest against banks or the government or something. A game. Our collective context for "the greatest" extends only as far as our short-term memories and our own preferences, and that's even with the depth of statistics at our fingertips. Most modern NBA fans still call Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time, and statistically you could make that argument, but people from a different generation and a different preference would point to Wilt Chamberlain, or Bill Russell, or Jerry West, or whoever changed their perspective and left that imprint on the game. And that's how "the greatest" forms. It's a moment that changes perspective. Last night was definitely a perspective changer, and it's prompted more discussion about a singular baseball "moment" than there's been in years, but does it eclipse everything that's happened prior simply because it happened "now"?

Normalized statistics are really the only way to accurately judge "the greatest" of anything. But statistics can't really pinpoint the right set of variables that would please everyone and establish a true formula for greatness. It's not a problem with statistics, it's more a problem with people and how we choose to categorize and canonize things. If an album sells the most copies, but it's poorly-reviewed by critics, is it greater than an album that sold a handful but critics loved? Do the masses determine the greatest of anything, or is there something more fundamental to greatness that's out of the public's hands?

I think it's the latter, but that's what makes last night's game and the subsequent beatifying of it so interesting: People are calling it the greatest because of how it impacted them individually, and as long as there's enough people who contextualize it individually as "the greatest," it simply becomes that thing in the public sphere (greatness in numbers?). The concept of "the greatest" ignores the fact that it's often difficult for anyone to come up with a better example, because few of us have the proper historical and statistical context to compare it to other so-called "great" games in MLB history, but that's really what the greatest is all about: 15 minutes of fame, sometimes extended because there isn't anything more pressing to disestablish it. Muhammad Ali is the "greatest" boxer of all time because no one's come close to pushing his legacy, his impact on the sport, his impact on popular culture, and his ability to be at his best under the brightest lights. But, statistically? There were better boxers before him and have been better boxers since him. Here's the real point: If the Rangers win tonight, doesn't that change the context and perspective of game six? Doesn't that change the "greatness" formula?

  • Does Nelson Cruz know how to play outfield? Based on last night's game, where Cruz misread an easy line drive with two outs in the 9th that would've won his team the World Series, I'm guessing no, he doesn't. But don't get too excited, Mariners fans, Franklin Gutierrez may have caught that ball, but he wouldn't have hit eight homeruns in the playoffs to tie Barry Bonds for the all-time playoff record. Also, he wouldn't have been in the playoffs, because he's on the Mariners. Damn, that was depressing, sorry about that.
  • When Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush used the adjective "stink" to describe his team's performance this past weekend against the Broncos, Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell told reporters that, in fact, "He stinks," referring to Bush. Ahhh, teamwork, you are a fickle friend.
  • Of all the stupid shit I've read and wrote about over the past week, of course an athlete talking about god has to show up. Of course. We couldn't just have a nice, peaceful Quick Takes, make fun of a few people, make fun of myself, and all go home together to eat some Velveeta Shells and Cheese. No, religion and sports are, once again, inevitably intertwined, and I'm the one left to cover it rationally. Josh Hamilton, who I really like as a baseball player and respect as a person for what he's overcome (drugs are bad, mmkay?), told reporters that god told him he was going to hit a home run last night. And lo, the lord spoketh, and Hamilton hitteth said homerun, and so the lord's existenth is proveth! Hamilton told ESPN, "[God] told me, 'You haven't hit one in a while, and this is the time you're going to.' You know what? I probably had the most relaxed, peaceful at-bat I've had of the whole series at that moment. It's pretty cool. You ought to try it sometime." As to what the "it" he's referring to is, that's for each of us to decide personally (my bet's on mushrooms), but I sure wonder what god must think about Nelson Cruz, and Neftali Perez, and Darren Oliver, and Ron Washington, and, and, and. Not only that, but the inane idea that some omniscient superbeing is watching a freaking baseball game instead of helping out sick children, preventing murders, stopping brutal civil wars, or clearing the horrible flooding in Bangkok is so ridiculously insane that it makes my brain hurt. It physically hurts. And what makes it hurt even more is that a religious person may actually revel in something like Hamilton's divine home run, that it's some sort of justification for belief, and ignores the logical implication of what that god would actually be like if He chose to dip His hand in Major League Baseball instead of all of the aforementioned (and unmentioned) atrocities in the world. That's something to believe in? Sports fan Jesus who doesn't give a crap about all that other stuff aside from excusing it as "part of god's plan?" I JUST WANT TO WRITE STUPID JOKES ABOUT SPORTS, OKAY?!
  • Chargers all-pro left guard Kris Dielman suffered a grand mal seizure on the flight back to San Diego last Sunday after sustaining a concussion in a loss to the Jets. I don't know what it's going to take for the NFL to take concussions seriously and reduce the brutality of the sport (remove the pads, seriously, that's how you fix it), but I think we're one step away from finding out what that end is.
  • The only reason Tony Sparano is still the head coach of the Miami Dolphins is so they'll continue to lose in a desperate attempt to draft Andrew Luck, right? We're all aware of that? You too, Commissioner Goodell? For all the problems I have with David Stern, at least he tried to figure out a way to lower the incentive for teams to tank by introducing a draft lottery. Now, whether or not Stern rigs the lottery every year is a completely different discussion.

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