Nobody bats a thousand…Wait, that should read “Nobody bats a thousand over a representative sample size.” Someone has most definitely batted a thousand over a sample size of a single hit. I know I shouldn’t start with a cliché like that, but it really does help to start my point and allows me to counter the cliché with one of my favorite phrases; “representative sample size.” Basically what I mean to say is we all need to have a little perspective.
Baseball rewards failure. When a batter steps to the plate he’ll, if he’s an elite player, hit the ball and safely reach base 3 out of 10 times. That means fans love cheering for players who fail 70% of the time. Is that really something to cheer for? Would you eat at a restaurant that only completed your order correctly 30% of the time? Would you cheer for the student who answered a question correctly on a test 30% of the time? Would you fly on an airline that only landed safely 30% of the time? No, you wouldn’t and anyone who would needs to stay away from me. I want a little more than 30% of life and what it has to offer.
Baseball rewards failure. Rickey Henderson is considered the greatest base stealer of all time and he only had an 81% success rate. If the greatest neurosurgeon in the world had an 81% success rate I’m not letting him operate on me. I refuse to be one of the 19 people to perish on his table. I refuse to let the B-minus student take a scalpel to my head, because that’s what 81% is. It’s a B-minus, good, but not great. It means you are barely above average. The greatest base stealer is, but percentage sake, no better than a barely above average student.
By this time, discerning readers have begun to figure out that there is something wrong with what I’m saying, that I can’t possibly believe what I’m saying. I don’t. Baseball doesn’t reward failure, but if you listen to what fans and media say about players you’d think it did. I recently had a moment where I booed Carlos Beltran when he was introduced at the 2012 All-Star game. I did it because I was disappointed that the San Francisco Giants traded away a top prospect for him and didn’t receive a playoff berth in return. I booed him for being a flop in SF and I was wrong to do it. In 167 AB’s Beltran hit .323 with 7 HR’s, pretty damn good for 44 games of service. He also waived a no-trade clause he had in his contract with the New York Mets in order to join the Giants. I didn’t practice using perspective, and if I did I would have realized that the injury to Buster Posey combined the need to count on Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff to mimic their playoff success was praying for a second miracle instead of being thankful for the first one bestowed upon the team. Beltran wasn’t a failure; he was just the vessel into which I poured my volcanic hate. And that wasn’t fair.
Fans and media are quick to label players, call them great or a bust depending on a single play. So many times I’ve heard some expert say that “Player X is batting over .400 in his last 10 AB’s.” I’m sure I could find dozens of players who have hit .400 in a 10 AB stretch. That doesn’t show any type of perspective; all that shows is an ability to manipulate stats to say whatever we want. Clever if you want to fool a rube, not so much if the person actually thinks for a full minute about what’s being said. There is a Latin phrase, post hoc ergo propter hoc (after it, therefore because of it), that says that because one event followed another the first event therefore instigated the second. It’s also a logical fallacy, because sometimes the first event has nothing to do with the one that follows. The trade for Carlos Beltran had nothing to do with why the Giants didn’t make the playoffs, and in fact the trade for him probably helped the Giants win more games than they would have without him on the team. They failed because there were other weaknesses that weren’t addressed by the team, not because Beltran wasn’t good enough.
My statement that baseball rewards failure also doesn’t take into account the fact that baseball isn’t a one-on-one sport. It’s more like a one-on-nine sport, and those numbers can climb higher depending on the umps working the game that night. Once a hitter puts the ball into play, unless he hits it to a few select places on the field where the defense can’t reach it or pounds it over the fence, he has to scurry 90 feet before one of the defenders can throw the ball to the first baseman. Very few students have to contend with nine other classmates trying to prevent them from getting the answer right on their test and very few surgeons have to deal with a large crowd of people heckling them while they try and settle down enough to make their first incision.
Baseball doesn’t really reward failure, but we scream and shout like it does, we curse out the TV, we might even throw things (although I have experiences with that, of course!) But really, a lot of the problems with baseball, and sports in general, is a complete lack of perspective. We all want to win today, but in a game that has only one championship trophy 29 fan-bases will end up being angry, sad and looking to lay blame. And that’s when we tend to find someone we believe has been rewarded for failure, just like I blamed Beltran.
Baseball doesn’t reward failure, it rewards success. If it truly rewarded failure then Alfonso Soriano would be a hot commodity on the trade market, Starlin Castro would be the highest paid short stop in the game and Eric Byrnes would have a lifetime contract with an MLB team (but that’s a blog for another day).