Sunday, September 09, 2007

Everyone Has An Asterisk In Life

I did an off-the-cuff estimate a few months ago of what the career homerun totals would look like without steroids in the picture (Short answer: Bonds retires with 600, Palmeiro, Sosa, and McGwire all finish with around 400). When I set down the list on paper, other extraordinary circumstances kept intruding onto the list. What would Ted Williams’s total have been without five years of military service? What would Harmon Killebrew’s totals have been if the Washington Senators hadn’t had their heads up their collective asses during the first 5 years of his career, when he rode the bench? What would Mel Ott have hit in a normal ballpark?

There are stat freaks who attempt to estimate these things quite exactly. I’ll read it if they do it, but I haven’t the interest to do it myself. What jumped out at me in compiling the list, however, was that everyone had some abnormality that needed to be accounted and corrected for. Some had very small adjustments, such as hitting during the pitcher’s era 1963-68, or the strike-shortened 1981 season. Others had larger necessary adjustments, such as well, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Everyone was an exception. And this is among those who got to baseball in the first place, those who weren’t hit by buses, or played darts instead, or were born in Siberia. Further abnormalities eliminated many actual ballplayers. What is the equivalence between Negro League homers and Major League homers? What would Tony Conigliaro have hit if he hadn’t been nearly killed in 1967? Even among the group which had the most injury-free, stable careers, there was not one who didn’t have some sort of asterisk beside their total. Even the hypernormal group was not normal.

So too with all of life. No one has a normal one. Just today alone, I heard the stories of three lives that have some fundamental unfairness attached to them. I wasn’t looking for these stories, and I even had an attempted-avoidance nap. They’re everywhere. There are no normal lives. In The Horse And His Boy Shasta pours out the story of his difficult life to Aslan. Yet the lion, while in some ways protective and sympathetic, says “I do not call you unfortunate.”

Tracy and I used to kid “When does all this craziness stop and real life start?” It wouldn’t be funny if we didn’t all immediately identify with the sentiment.

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