by Joshua Worley
Economics is sometimes called the "dismal science", given its often grim predictions. I think that perhaps baseball should be called the "dismal game".
The numbers in baseball can be relentlessly grim. As much as we may want to believe in the human spirit, in the ability to rise above one's previous limitations, over the long haul the numbers tell us what will happen. Penny wasn't really as good as a sub 1.5 ERA. Hendrickson couldn't really turn it around and suddenly become a good pitcher. There are smart people out there who can tell you in great detail why these things are so, how the great mass of previous performances prove that players don't really change their ablity, not in the way we'd often like to think, not in the way sportswriters like to talk about.
It must be especially dismal to be the fan of a bad team, and know that they can't be good, no matter what they do. It's one of the great philosophical questions: is false hope better or grim, realistic despair better? How comforting it might be to believe that winning is just a matter of playing harder, getting the right chemistry in the clubhouse, getting that one new guy to put you over the top ... I think most fans of truly hopeless teams don't think this way, though. They've got to know. They've seen the losing year after year, seen managers come and go with different styles. It's always about the talent, and in the end the numbers reveal who has the talent and who doesn't.
I wished that the Dodgers might be a great team when they started out so well, but I knew they really weren't. The numbers for these players just aren't there. Sometimes I think the numbers aren't really there for this to even be a good team over the entire season. The pitching will get worse ... the offense will collapse without homeruns ... these are the quiet whispers of dread. Dismal reminders lurking behind bad losses such as the one we just had.
These dimal thoughts won't last. For a hour, a day, a week of bad losses, I may think of baseball as the dismal game. But deep down I know, and I always come back to this: Baseball is the Joyous Game. Even the bad teams win. Even the weak players will hit their homeruns, occasionally. The numbers are powerless over any one game. Even in a loss you can remember something you never saw before, and smile. I'd never seen a player fumble a ball into the dugout while trying to throw. That was cool, the way it just whipped right out of Figgins's hand like some jokester was holding a baseball magnet just off camera. I loved the way both managers came out of the dugouts and each had their own little ump cluster; I hoped that each manager would convince his own ump cluster he was right and get the umps to turn on each other; or alternatively I hoped Little and Scioscia would dispense with arguing with the umps and go right to arguing with each other. What fun, and we get to do it tomorrow and try to erase the nasty taste of this game. Maybe Hendrickson will find his April form again and continue to defy his grim numbers. Maybe something else equally preposterous will happen.
Still, I'm keeping the title I started with. There are ups and downs to real life, and there are ups and downs to baseball life. Tonight is a down for Dodger fans. I'm not going to pretend it isn't. Tonight was the dismal game, but tomorrow is a new day. May the joyous game return again.