Hunter Pence actually breaks most of his bats by slipping on banana peels and tumbling comically into barrels filled with them. - Kevin C. Cox
Hunter Pence swinging the bat is a skill; Hunter Pence breaking this bat on that pitch against that poor middle infielder is luck. That's okay.
We're writing about animated GIFs again this week, courtesy Our Sponsors, and given the animated GIF I'm about to show you I need to ask you to take, as given, the following things: First, that I really do Watch The Games; second, that I really do believe the San Francisco Giants to be perfectly deserving National League champions and am not agitating, here, for a new regime in which Pythagoras determines the outcome of individual series.
Third: That I really don't believe that everything that happens in an individual baseball game is driven by luck, and that I think interesting and relevant and worthwhile stories and lessons can be drawn from at-bats and innings and other minute sample-sizes.
Having said that, I'm able to show you this GIF:
Luck is a term we use lazily but it's also a term people react to lazily, unwilling to accept that their interlocutors are humble or sane enough to know that it's a relative thing—the residue of design, to quote the guy to whom we'll someday owe the pleasure of having seen Oscar Taveras play baseball.
For me to get lucky enough to hit a Joe Kelly pitch through the hole to score three runs, you'd have to start months in advance. Some computer glitch would have to get me onto the Giants' draft rolls, and an absent-minded professor at the university where I adjunct would have to spill some undetectable steroid onto my teaching copy of Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular.
I'd have to become a Jeremy Lin-style sensation for a few months, but just before the NLCS the absent-minded professor would have to break into my penthouse—I've become tainted by fame, and lost touch with my down-to-earth friends and girl-next-door love interest from the first 20 minutes—and tell me that the serum, ah, it, er, I tried to make more of it, Mr. Moore, sir, but ah you see well it burned through my Erlenmeyer flask, sir," and he'd hold it up and look through it and that would be the act break.
I'd have to be powerless, then. Hunter Pence, the hard-working and shamblingly intense but earnest guy I displaced with my ill-gotten powers, would have to take my spot once the coaches saw I was just some punchless adjunct again, then he'd have to twist his ankle at a crucial moment in Game 7 and I'd have to come up and apologize, in voiceover, for all the low things I'd done. I'd have to smile and wave at the girl-next-door, who tears up under her glasses in her humble third-deck seats, and she'd have to transmit to me over that distance, somehow, the idea that it was never about baseball for her, it was just about the real me, before the fame and the money and the endorsements from celebrities appearing in the second act as gentle and winning parodies of themselves.
And I'd have to take some gawky swing against Joe Kelly, who'd probably be kind of a dick in this scenario, but it's exactly the kind of gawky swing that breaks the bat in the right places and sends the ball frisbeeing past Pete Kozma. And the spell broken, I'd have to insist on being taken out for a pinch-runner, and the g-n-d and I would have to get married right there on the field, with my buddies from the team and the university hanging out and the fast version of "Let My Love Open The Door" playing.
That's luck, and it's not the kind of luck we're talking about when we talk about luck, here.
Hunter Pence just had to have his bat break in the right places, because he'd done everything else—he's a good baseball player, and being a good baseball player puts you into situations in which you can succeed without completely taking credit. Being an above-average major league hitter is mostly skill; getting to the NLCS is mostly skill; getting three runners on against Kyle Lohse is mostly skill.
Getting the bat on Joe Kelly's fastball is skill, and hitting a Pong-shot that leaves Pete Kozma wobbling in place like a crossed-over point guard is luck. It all counts, and nobody's trying to cheat Pence (or Barry Zito) (or even Pete Kozma, maybe) out of the credit he deserves. If we on the Moneyball side of no-man's land and the world's remaining Danny Knoblers can agree to those terms, maybe we might be able to enjoy individual games for what they are, and enjoy the entire season for what it is, without having to feel a seething indignation at a keyed-up parody of the other side's opinion.
Not that we should enjoy that individual game for what it was. Because it sucked.
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