Monday, November 3, 2014

Baseball Gods, Demigods and the Untold Story

Non-healthcare related post:

For those who did not hear the story of how the Royals won game 7 of the World Series 4-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning, I provide the following narrative.

When people stopped believing in the gods of ancient Greece, the gods retired to Olympus and paid little heed to the affairs of mortals. Religion seized power over the masses and ruled almost two millennia. Then rose the machine, and science and technology fought religion for dominion over men. Against the brute force of science and religion, the ancient gods saw little opportunity to exercise their unique, chaotic power over men. They stirred to life only occasionally on the field of battle and during athletic contests. Those battles and games provided fertile ground for the gods to implant bits and pieces of mythological narratives, but battles and games proved too ephemeral for the gods to stage a comeback in the hearts and minds of man.

Wide bosomed Gaia (aka Mother Nature), a woman who knew a thing or two about staying power, told her son, Chronos, “We need a game or a battle that never ends.” Chronos shook his head, sadly: “Battles cannot be waged in perpetuity. They are destructive, spending resources but never renewing them. Games end sooner rather than later, else they have no victor.” Persephone raised her hand indicating she had something to add but, as usual, she was sucking on a mouthful of pomegranate seeds. To clear her mouth to speak, she started spitting seeds at Hades with remarkable accuracy. He was clearly used to it and obviously annoyed but he waited for her to stop with the air of a man willing to accept his punishment.

Persephone said, “My life is a game I both win and lose every year. Neanderthal Hades lurking over there, sniffing around me like always, kidnapped me and took me to hell. I went on a hunger strike and, while I was in the underworld, the world above lay frozen and dead. Father Zeus ordered Hades to return me and Hades complied but he played me. He said, ‘You win,’ and he gave me pomegranate seeds as my prize. He knew I couldn’t resist those things. Because I ate those seeds while underground, I have to return to hell each year and winter returns to the world above. I am both goddess of vegetation and goddess of the dead. A game that follows my life story could play on and eternally renew itself—beginning again each spring, being fought each endless summer and culminating in a climactic if metaphorical battle to the death when the leaves fall.”

To make a long story short (though it is a great story, it is not the story of the moment), the other gods joined in and created the game of baseball. They arose from their long stupor and discovered new purpose. This is why only those who can see the unseen hands of the baseball gods can truly appreciate and understand the game of baseball. [Please note: not everyone who claims to see what others do not see is blessed with true sight. Some people see causation when there is only sequence. Do not be deceived by them. Those people are just crazy.] The game of baseball is populated with mere mortals, heroes, demigods, archetypes, legends, fates, sirens, muses, miracles, deus ex machina and the harmony of the cowhide sphere. The baseball shelf in my home library has on it: Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell; Mythology by Edith Hamilton; Man and his Symbols by Carl Jung; The Golden Bough by James Frazer; Mythologies by Roland Barthes; Bulfinch’s Mythologies by Thomas Bulfinch; Metamorphoses by Ovid; The Universal Baseball Association by Robert Coover; Baseball: An Illustrated History by Ken Burns; and The Baseball Encyclopedia, MacMillan edition.

Baseball demigods are mortal players with a single divine power bequeathed to them by a “parent” god. Of course, other gods have other narratives in mind, and they will find ways to tell their story. The god parent of the demigod will see to it that the divine power of the demigod is not simply overwhelmed or taken away by gods with competing stories. Of such contests amid such conflict, tragedies, comedies, epics, legends and chivalric romances are born.

The contest had been billed as dynasty versus destiny. Dynastic reigns are often built on the life story of a single demigod. Madison Bumgarner is a demigod with a single divine power: he can pitch in the World Series as many innings as he wants without allowing an RBI. Teams of destiny are not led by demigods but by heroes. Sometimes it takes the long view of history to determine whether a player is a demigod or a hero. [There has not been sufficient history to tell for certain but Salvador Perez may be either a hero or a demigod. He hit a homerun in game 1 off the demigod. It was a meaningless RBI at the end of a long outing; so, it may have been a red herring—an intentional feint allowed by the parent god of a demigod to confuse the other gods. On the other hand, it may have been a portent, a harbinger. Time will tell.]

This World Series may have been an accidental collision between teams of destiny and dynasty. It happens sometimes. It was an even year and the dynastic team was arriving as scheduled after winning in 2010 and 2012. The Royals may have been a year early. Their World Series was probably destined for 2015, 30 years after their one and only. I suspect the Royals even caught the gods by surprise, but by the end of the wild card game they were paying attention, and by game 7, the conflicting narratives were fully ripened and prepared for the harvest. 

A dynastic team simply wins the World Series—game 4 or game 7, it does not matter. A team of destiny wins by coming from behind with two outs in the ninth inning of game 7. Those who understand baseball mythology knew that the Royals would have to win by scoring 4 runs—their magic number. So, it was as important that Bumgarner take the mound leading 3-2 as it was that the Royals could not score until two outs in the 9th inning. The gods who were writing the team of destiny story understood that the demigod Bumgarner could not yield a run batted in while he pitched during game 7; so, they had to devise a way to score a run with two outs in the 9th without an RBI. 

Gordon hit a blooper to center field and the gods guided the ball past Blanco. Perez ran to the wall to pick it up and the gods kicked the ball out of his hand. By the time he ran it down, Gordon was approaching third. As Perez threw to Crawford for the relay, Gordon was rounding third and headed for home. The third base coach threw up both hands giving the stop sign. It was the right call according to conventional baseball wisdom, but the gods of destiny turned off Gordon’s mind and turned on his feet. Gordon flew around the stop sign and suddenly it became clear why Infante had done so earlier in the series. Miracles acquire gravitas through the accretion of parallel detail. A miracle without proper foreshadowing can seem a mere flash in the pan. 

The throw beat Gordon to the plate by ten feet but Posey had trouble capturing the ball in his glove—as well he might with six unseen hands slapping at it. Posey moves to make the tag and we see a replay of Escobar’s foot kicking the ball out of the catcher’s mitt in the final game of the ALCS. The game is tied.

Perez fouls out to end the ninth. Holland pitches a perfect top of the 10th and Bumgarner does not take the mound for the bottom of the 10th. The Royals score a run to win 4-3. It does not matter how the run scored. I suspect Moose hit his 6th homer of the postseason.

I don’t know what you saw. I know what I saw.

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