Dance of the Pelicans
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-11 23:30

In most team sports, the truly elite, best-of-all-time teams win about 90% of their games. The best regular season NFL team of all time won 100% of its games. The best regular season NHL team of all time (counting ties as half a win) won 91% of its games. The best regular season NBA team of all time won 89% of its games. The best English Premier League of all time won 88% of its games.

Baseball is harder. The best regular season MLB team of all time, the 2001 Seattle Mariners, won just under 72% of its games.

Even if you’re the best team in baseball, on some days, the best player in baseball will beat you. Or a starting pitcher who is better than your starting pitcher that day will beat you. And it’s not some occasional random fluke. It will happen about 35-40% of the time. That’s baseball.

I think we sports fans who enjoy multiple sports sometimes forget how different baseball is. If we think our team is good, we carry our other-sport expectations with us, and want them to win about 90% of their games. When they don’t, we feel like they’re not living up to their potential. We feel like they’re letting us down.

The lesson, therefore, is: never watch any other sports. Watch baseball, and only baseball.

That’s a joke, of course. Baseball is my favorite sport to watch, but I never really played it much. As a player, my sports have been basketball (before my back and knees made me quit) and soccer. But with contact sports being out of the question because of the pandemic, I’ve had to resort to my (roughly) 23rd-favorite sporting activity, cycling, to get my exercise.

I get bored of most forms of exercise if I’m not chasing a ball. To give my cycling a goal to chase, I try to ride around and find something new. There’s a lot of construction going on near my house, so if I vary my routes, I can usually find something new that’s happened around town.

Yesterday on my bike ride, I was riding along the bayshore, and I came across three pelicans flying around in circles, looking for food in the bay, and as soon as they found something, quickly diving down to catch it. I filmed a video of one of them.

It was a very peaceful moment. For a few minutes, all the troubles of the human world disappeared. Instead, I was onstage for a performance by a completely different species. There was no anger, no disappointment, no frustration. There was just being, free of judgment.

When I got home from my bike ride, I opened up my Twitter and was instantly given two major pieces of information:

  • Ramón Laureano had been given a six-game suspension for his role in the brawl against Houston.
  • Joe Biden had chosen Kamala Harris to be his running mate.

And then my Twitter feed was full of all sorts of opinions and judgments about these two major pieces of information.

These two news stories are completely independent of each other, but now they will always be linked in my mind, both because they arrived in my consciousness simultaneously, and because they were national stories, and even international stories, that both involved Oakland.

Kamala Harris, who was born in Oakland in the same hospital as my wife and two of my kids, could spend the next eight years as Vice President, and the following eight years as President, and every time sixteen years from now I think back about her career, and make some kind of judgment in my mind whether she was a good or bad VP or POTUS, I’m going to think about Ramón Laureano and the time he charged the entire Houston Astros dugout in the Oakland Coliseum in the middle of a pandemic.

That’s just how it is now.

Later that evening, the A’s lost their second straight game, 6-0 to the Angels. Mike Fiers didn’t really have his curveball, which made him much less effective than otherwise. Meanwhile, Dylan Bundy had all his pitches working for the second time against the A’s this season. And with two straight poorly pitched games, panic started setting into my mind. Oh NOeS! WE cAn’T WiN 90% oF OUr gAMeS iF wE LoSe tWo gAmES iN A rOW! WE NeEd NeW PItcHErS! MaKE sOMe tRaDEs!

That isn’t a particularly helpful or useful state of mind for a baseball fan. A baseball fan needs to be more like a pelican, circling around, calmly looking down at these events from a distance, only making a judgment when it’s worth taking a closer look at a particularly delicious-looking fish.

This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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