Thursday, September 06, 2007

Baseball and Narrative

I have something like a dozen posts backed up, mostly completed mentally but with no words on a screen. They're starting to run into each other.

Bill Simmons over at ESPN.com had an article about baseball playoff myths. #1 was that experience counts during the playoffs. This strikes me as an impression created by narrative. We know the experienced player and attribute more of the good things that happen to that player's actions. Example: Fading Star and Backup Infielder both get hits in the 9th inning, leading to a game-winning run. It doesn't matter which one hits before the other, or which one hits the double and which the single. The fan will remember Fading Star's hit as the key one. Forever. This will falsely reinforce his idea that experience is important in playoffs.

Repeat as desired. Make cliched pronouncements at work about this until retirement. Then switch to sports call-in shows.

4 comments:

Stan Roebuck said...

I agree that we often give the experienced player too much personal credit for what he does in an important game (we also overlook the times when he doesn't come through) but when making narratives out of a particular series, people will often make a hero out of the gritty back-up, even in preference to notable veterans. I can think of two examples off the top of my head.

Yankee fans remember Jim Leyritz, career backup catcher, for his game-tying home run against Atlanta in game 4 of the '96 Series. Wade Boggs' bases-loaded walk to force in the eventual winning run in the 10th inning of that game is pretty much forgotten.

Red Sox fans remember Dave Roberts and "The Steal" from game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. Bill Mueller's follow-up single which actually tied the game isn't known as "The Single".

The special significance of both these plays comes from the narratives we read into these series after they had ended. Both also overshadow a particular veteran's (Boggs, Mueller) accomplishment in the popular imagination, even though neither even won the game in question, let alone the series.

Woody said...

"(Strike 'Yankee') ATLANTA fans remember Jim Leyritz, career backup catcher, for his game-tying home run against Atlanta in game 4 of the '96 Series." It still makes me sick and our pitcher Mark Wholers was never the same pitcher again.

However, Atlanta fans also remember that backup catcher and pinch hitter Francisco Cabrera was the one who drove in popular veteran Sid Bream with two out in the ninth to win the 1992 NLCS against the Pirates in the 7th game. Cabrera still gets loudly cheered when he comes back to visit.

Jonathan said...

Please, no dozen posts in a row. Space them out one or two a day.

Michael said...

I think the myth was created by the Yankees and is the Yankees. When a team gets into the World Series as often as the Yankees did from the early 20's until, well, until forever, it continually reinforced the idea that it was the same group of wily veterans that made it into and won the World Series year after year after year.

The only thing that can extinguish that myth is what has happened in recent years. A new champion every year, lets see, in reverse chronological order, the Cardinals, White Sox, Red Sox, Marlins, Angels, Diamondbacks. That starts to debunk the myth. But the few years before that, we had the Jeter, Petitte, Rivera and Posada show. Those veterans knew how to play in the big games, that's why the Yankees win every year, so goes the "conventional wisdom". Those same veterans (change a few names, but you get the point) haven't had what it takes from 01-06, why? Must be those postseason hardened veterans on the aforementioned teams.

Who will it be this year? Those grizzled veterans from the Padres? The "haven't won a World Series since 1908" barely above .500 Cubs? The Mets, who haven't won since '86 (who did they beat that year, it is escaping me just now). Or the one World Series appearance since 1954 Indians? Stay tuned.