Like every other sports outlet these days, MLB.com filled the space where Thursday’s opening day should have been with classic reruns.
I landed on Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers – the bat-flip game.
In terms of drama and incident, that may be the greatest game of any sort played in this country. It had everything – controversy, comebacks, arcane rules, a near riot, goats, heroes and one perfect moment to cap it off. It was a decade’s worth of sports distilled into one afternoon.
I was at that game. I wrote about that game. I still have my scorecard from that game. And I don’t remember anything about that game.
Around the seventh inning, when things started getting nuts, I dimly recall seal-flippering at my laptop – bashing out nonsense for the sake of doing something.
When Jose Bautista hit the home run, I stopped writing. Now I was frozen. This is sub-optimal for a writer on deadline.
There’s a story they tell in the trade about a writer at the 1956 World Series. Don Larsen – a louche and erratic bon vivant – had just pitched a perfect game for the New York Yankees.
The writer sat at his typewriter, stunned. He was still sitting there miserably when a colleague returned from doing interviews in the clubhouse, long after he should have started writing.
The colleague – New York legend Dick Young – gave his pal the once over. Neither spoke. Young pulled a sheet of paper into his own machine and typed out one line. Then he handed it over: “The imperfect man pitched a perfect game.”
That freed the writer of his paralysis brought on by proximity of history.
This story is told a bunch of different ways, but often enough that it may even be true. That was on my mind as I started writing.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you. I reread the piece I wrote yesterday. It’s full of details I don’t recall in the slightest. I automatic-wrote the whole thing.
I suspect everyone who watched that game has similarly impressionistic memories. I further suspect more of them concern where you were and who you were with than anything that happened on the field.
Which is why you cannot rewatch sporting events, even the greatest ones. It’s not just a pointless exercise. It’s a frustrating one.
I get why sports networks are doing it. They show sports, of which there is currently none. But I want no part of it.
Sports – at least, the viewing of them – is meant to be temporal. The game exists for a moment and not beyond it. You can’t know the outcome and feel the same pleasure or disappointment a second time around.
If every future game is a potential treasure, every past one is something you’ve bought on Kijiji. They may in the end turn out to be the same thing and of the same quality, but someone’s had their grubby paws on the game that’s already been played. That someone is you.
Watching that game again, I noticed a lot of things I assume I didn’t notice at the time. That the game was stopped so that a fan could be ejected. That there were two clearings of the benches. That Bautista gave the most sneering postgame interview ever after it had ended: “I certainly didn’t mean any disrespect.”
It was said in a way that comprehensively reinforced the disrespect he had very obviously meant. Bautista – we won’t see his like again.
Now that I know these things, I wish I didn’t. They are interfering with my previously dreamlike recollections. I’ve replaced feelings with facts.
This is what sets sport apart from all the other arts. You can profitably watch a film or consider a painting over and over again. Music is even better. There are songs we’ve all heard thousands of times, and hope to hear thousands more, knowing they will sound just slightly different depending on our age, mood or circumstances.
We often ask ourselves of those other, loftier arts, ‘What does this mean?’ or ‘Why is this important?’
Which is senseless. The music you like has no meaning. You don’t even like it. Your cortex does. You wouldn’t have a Stones/Beatles argument with your own cortex, would you?
I know a guy, a celebrated music critic, who likes to say, “There are no guilty pleasures. Only pleasures.”
What I take from this piece of evident wisdom is that music (and most other art) exists beyond critique.
If you think The Cat in the Hat is more “important” than Don Quixote, that’s a viable argument.
It’s wrong, but it is also viable.
However, you cannot viably argue that the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors were just as good or better than the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors. Because one of them lost.
Sports is the only binary art. Things are either good or bad because there is a result. Which is boring.
If you asked a friend to tell you what happened in a game and they began reciting the boxscore, you’d think, ‘I need new friends’.
What you want to hear are their impressions of it. What it meant and why it was important. In this regard, all art critics are thwarted sports fans.
There are plenty of spaces within sport to find that mystery, but they boil down to metaphysics. That one guy moved better than another guy, or such and such a team had more style than all the others. Those are the fun things to talk about and argue, which is why they are the best part of sports writing.
When you talk about those things, you don’t pull your phone out of your pocket and say, ‘Let’s rewatch the entire third period of this game on Dec. 14, 1993, so that you can see how wrong you are about Mike Modano’.
We may talk about games that once happened. We may write about them, read the stats and rewatch short clips, but no one wants to go back and consider the thing as a whole.
Because that destroys our memory of it. It shears away all the mystery that is the core of the experience.
What you thought happened probably didn’t happen just as you remember it. Things you remember as fantastical may be less so. And always there is the fact that you know how it will end.
Watching a great game again is, in some very real way, killing a dream.
So now that I know the score (3-3) and the count (1-1) when Jose Bautista did what remains the greatest sports thing I have ever witnessed live and in person, I don’t feel the better for it. Rather, I feel informed.
Which is not the point of sports, or of any other piece of art you love and couldn’t say exactly why.