Ted: Eric, Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter of the year, which creates a great opportunity to discuss one of the more distinct accomplishments that baseball has to offer. I can’t think of another accomplishment in sport that receives so much attention for preventing something from happening. No shutout by any goalie, dominant number of blocks from a basketball big man or NFL defensive wall has quite the cultural cachet as the no-no does.
I still get all tingly when a pitcher throws a no-hitter. What is it about the feat, and the watching of the feat, that is so dramatic and compelling?
Eric: I have always admired the basketball Triple Double because it comes with a sense of completeness — it highlights balance and teamwork and efficiency. But rebounds are far less romantic than strikeouts. The great thing about the no-hitter is that it’s a high-wire act. With every succeeding batter the odds of it actually happening get slimmer. The other thing is that like a high-wire act, a no-hitter allows for a certain amount of wobbliness.
Ubaldo Jimenez walked a precarious six batters when he threw his no-no. That’s far from a perfect game. The perfect game is a different feat, a symmetrical achievement that borders on the artistically genius (I wrote about it here). A no-hitter like the one thrown by Jimenez is as much about guile, as much about nerves, as much about fear, as it is about pitching.
When pitchers throw perfect games, they look invincible. But when they throw no-hitters, they look human. That’s why I won’t let go of my high-wire metaphor. Have you seen Man on Wire by the way? I’ve been meaning to check it out on Netflix Instant.
Ted: I have seen Man on Wire. You will love it for the same reasons you’ll love the 1978 Expos: if you’re into the 70s and eccentric French people.
I don’t know if I’m buying your starry eyed vision of a 6-walk no-hitter. When I heard that little side note about the free passes I felt the feat was that something of a gold-plated clunker, to get the credit for a no-no when you’ve let six men on base. After all, the point of a no-hitter is that you dominated the opposition, not that you gave up an inordinate number of free outs. There’s a point at which it becomes a gimmick, like saying a guy just threw a no-doubler or a no-balker.
Now obviously I’m exaggerating; it was still a dominant performance. But can we put this into the canon of great performances? I suppose it doesn’t matter: it’s really fun to watch a pitcher walk the tight rope.
Have you ever seen a no-hitter in person? I haven’t, and I wonder what it’s like. Thoughts?
Eric: This is the point in our conversation when I inevitably tip my cap to the blogosphere’s ghost of the Expos, Jonah Keri. Moving on, I don’t know if I buy your sudden sabermetrically induced skepticism. It’s a no-hitter, not a no-walker. Have there been 1-hitters or 3-hitters pitched better than Ubaldo’s no-hitter? Probably. But they aren’t magic.
In other words, I don’t think the idea is that you dominated. The idea is that you didn’t allow any hits. NO HITS! I don’t see it as a gimmick at all. The no-hitter is not about retrospect. It’s not about analysis. It’s about the moment. Some accomplishments grow greater in scope as we look back on them. No-hitters are at their most dynamic as they are occurring.
I haven’t seen a no-hitter in person. But this is why I’ve always wanted to. I don’t think there’s any sporting achievment I’d rather see in person. I saw Fernando Tatis take Chan Ho Park for two grand slams in the same inning. I saw Ichiro break the single season hit record. But I’d trade both to see a no-hitter in person. I can only imagine the shivers and the tension and the elation at the end of it all.
What about you? If you could see any baseball achievement in person, what would it be? I know you’re a fan of the cycle’s mystique.
Ted: I feel fortunate to have actually seen the achievement I most wanted to in person: Craig Biggio’s 3,000th hit. As you’ve very effectively pointed out, that one was about retrospect, not about the tension of the moment. If you’re talking single-game variety achievements, I’d most want to see Josh Wilker throw out the first pitch at a Vermont Lake Monsters game.
Some cynical part of me thinks that a no-hitter is best appreciated from home, via television. That’s where the mastery is clear, after all. From the stands, most pitchers look the same, as do most pitches. The results would be engaging, obviously, but the true depth of the accomplishment goes out the door. I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to be there, just that the experience is profoundly different. It’s very likely that I am over-thinking it. I’d love to see a no-hitter in person.
Having no-hit myself with 18 walks, logic-wise, we’ll just have to agree to agree. No-hitters are as awesome as eccentric French people and the 70s.