Celebrate Different

Last night I was talking with Eric Freeman about No Hitters. By talking I mean agreeing that it’s pointless and purposefully joyless to whine during and immediately after a no-hitter that the game isn’t as “well-pitched” as other games that aren’t no-hitters. There is inherent value in the sheer improbability of a game like the one Francisco Liriano pitched yesterday. It was a messy, unbecoming, a nerve-wracking, defense-driven spectacle of the highest order.

No-hitters are news because they are rare and dramatic, not merely because they are impressive. As far as I know, there isn’t a contingent of people out there screaming and tweeting that Francisco Liriano pitched the best game of the season last night. There isn’t a contingent yelling about how he’s the league’s best pitcher. That’s besides the point. The point is that there is joy in the string of lucky plays and defense and building tension that defined his performance.

I went to the Mariner game last night. Erik Bedard tossed five of the ugliest no-hit innings in baseball history to open the game. He even allowed a run. Anybody in the park could have told you that it wasn’t a great performance. They would have also told you that they were disappointed — and yet not surprised — when Ian Kinsler broke it up with a double. It has to do with the streak. It has to do with the fact that the baseball fan experience is defined by narrative as much as it is by statistical understanding.

That might be the whole point of this blog. I don’t think we’re working against the grain here. I don’t think we’re anti-sabermetrics. We love and embrace them. They are useful. They make us smarter. But from my angle, a central element of that world is this ill-defined quest to seek out the ‘objective best’ of everything. I think that comes at the expense of the ‘subjective best’ — the most interesting, the most dynamic, the most grok.

The Francisco Liriano no-hitter was an anomaly. Jeff Sullivan from Lookout Landing tweeted that “Since the beginning of the 2010 season, 86 starts have a higher game score than Liriano’s yesterday.” If anything that makes the performance all the more compelling. Sullivan later tweeted that the start was “impressive in a different way than usual.” Damn right it was different. Let’s celebrate different. Francisco Liriano is a pitcher on the verge of total collapse. He — with the help of his team and yes, precarious luck — held it together for something magnificent. Let’s sing about it.

4 Responses to “Celebrate Different”

  • Great post. I’m singing.

  • It comes up with no-hitters (I always think of A.J. Burnett’s 2001 masterpiece), but the achievement that really brings home the celebration of different is the cycle. The cycle is far from an optimal offensive performance, as America’s-Temporary-Favorite-Baseball-Player Sam Fuld proved earlier this season, but we’re still infatuated by the concept. There’s an aesthetic quality to it, a kind of majestic symmetry. It’s also fascinating because it rolls two of the most disparate offensive achievements into one, the triple and the home run.

    The cycle is an excellent narrative, another encapsulation of the rising action. And like no-hitters, it is graced by some fascinating names and talents. When John Olerud is one of the only two players to hit for one in each league, what’s not to love?

  • Thanks, Navin. Unfortunately for those nearby, me too.

    As for the cycle, Patrick, yes. I agree completely with everything you said. Also if you love John Olerud you will LOVE next week on the blog.

  • Ha! Not to be totally self-serving, but in the blog-title-inspiring words of Beethoven: “Oh friends, not these tones. Let us sing yet more joyfully.”

    Working with the music analogy: many people think that learning music theory lessens one’s appreciation for the mysterious power of music. The narrative of a piece is less profound, the argument goes, when you have this complex, technical vocabulary to approach it with. But I would argue it makes the musical narrative better, the experience even more magical.

    Same thing in baseball. Why ought sabermetrics crush one’s love of the narrative of the game? There’s no reason for it to, because, as you point out, a knowledge as to how weird and “poorly pitched” Francisco’s no-hitter was makes it even more awesome.

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