ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28: The St. Louis Cardinals celebrate after defeating the Texas Rangers 6-2 to win the World Series in Game Seven of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
First, we have to deal with this. I will speak of it only once.
I didn’t watch the seventh game of the World Series. Wasn’t much point to it, I guess. Game 6 made the Cardinals a karmic foregone conclusion. Don’t misunderstand; I wanted to watch it. I just couldn’t. It was physically impossible.
See, when you’re a featured guest on the lockdown ward of the psych wing at Johns Hopkins, there is no communication with the world writ large. No tee-vee. No dulcet tones of Eric Nadel on the radio. No internet. No iPhone. And just to prove that you can find a blessing in any situation, no Tim McCarver and no Joe Buck. Just limb restraints and a volume of intravenous psychotropic drugs that would float an Iowa-class battleship. I don’t blame them, really. When they hauled me in, I was ready to make R.P. McMurphy look like Kristin Chenoweth.
This is where I ended up a mere few hours after David Freese homered in the bottom of the 11th to win Game 6 for the Redbirds on a 3-2 Mark Lowe change-up that was cock-high and, as Lyndon Johnson used to say, straighter than an Indian goes to shit.
After twice coming within one strike of the Rangers first World Series title in franchise history only to endure the worst testicular tire-ironing in the history of our National Pastime, I had what some Harvard prick with a Van Dyke called an "apoplectic conniption followed by extreme onset psychosis." If you’ve ever wondered what they write on a man’s chart when he tries to beat himself to death with a fungo, then brother, that’s it.
The kindest way to describe the ensuing four months is to say that they’ve been educational. When they moved me out of isolation on Thanksgiving eve, there weren’t any private rooms available (holiday rush). So, for about three weeks, I lived with this guy who’s convinced that he’s General Eisenhower. Poor bastard still can’t figure out how he let Montgomery talk him into Operation Market Garden.
As for me, I was preoccupied with re-litigating Ron Washington’s "management" of Game 6. Through my continuous rants, I was apparently able to reach Ersatz Ike in a way that the Freuds couldn’t. In a moment of clarity, he looked over at me and said "so who in the hell is Esteban German and what was he doing hitting in that situation?" The question is still a rather sore point with me, so let’s just say that my answer was sufficiently animated to buy me a night in the hole.
My only real contact with the outside world was a 65-year-old orderly, who would keep me supplied with bits of news, Red Man and (after imposing a rather steep tariff) the occasional pint of Macallan. Anyway, one night last month, we’re having a pop in this little bar he has set up in a janitorial supply closet. He starts telling me about his father, who was a lifelong fan of the original Washington Senators. Season ticket holder at Griffith Stadium until the club packed up for Minnesota in 1960. The Senators only Series title came in 1924, and other than a couple of pennants in ’25 and ’33, they didn’t piss a drop. Most of the time, they were putrid. There was an old saying, "Washington—first in war, first in peace, last in the American League." But, said my friend, his old man kept going anyway.
Having endured the first 37 years of Ranger history before 2010, I could sort of identify with that. But I was a kid for a pretty fair chunk of that time. Kids are stupid. "What," I asked my friend, "kept your pop going back year after year when he knew there was no hope?"
"He was a baseball man," he said. "He liked the pain."
And there it was.
I’m 42 years old. I’ve forgotten more about baseball than most of you will ever know. But it wasn’t until that moment in this longest of winters that I began to understand what this game is all about.
It’s about embracing pain. When you give your heart to baseball, she gives you pain in return. Why? Because that’s what she has to offer.
This is a game of accumulating failure. Players who accumulate failure at the slowest rates end up in Cooperstown. Consider: Teddy M.F. Ballgame hit .344 for his career. That means, according to the crude but somehow enduring metric of batting average, that he failed over 65% of the time. And with apologies to the abacus jockeys and Babe Ruth, Mr. Williams was the greatest pure hitter.
As it goes for the players, so it goes for their clubs. The team that accumulates failure at the slowest—or in the playoff era most opportunistic—rate wins a championship. Actually, winning is kind of a misnomer. You don’t "win" a game where the defense has the ball so much as you just survive it. You stanch the bleeding for longer than the other guy. And it just so happened for the Rangers that on 27 October 2011—in the cruelest three innings of baseball you’ll ever see—there wasn’t a tourniquet in the house, much less a cotton ball.
How do you get over that? It’s one of two questions I’ve pondered all winter, right along with why in the name of Alexander Cartwright didn’t Nelson Cruz play one fucking step deeper? Alas, I digress. In a sense, I think it’s harder on the fans because we can’t do a damn thing about it. The players, at least, get to go back to work. That’s what the Rangers are doing right now. For them, the promise of tomorrow makes yesterday bearable. There’s simply no other way to handle the grind.
As for me? At first, I thought my newfound understanding of the game was one too many bitter pills. I was silly enough to think that my ticket out of the rubber room was to swear off this Godforsaken enterprise with every fiber of my being.
Then came spring training.
So much for abstinence.
Next time you see me in this space, I’ll be talking about the 2012 Rangers. I’ll do so with the belief that the franchise will win a World Series (although I think 2013 is a bit more likely than 2012…but we’ll get to that later). But when that day comes, I won’t feel compensated for having endured Game 6. The hard truth is that you don’t get over something like that. You have to face it, scream your lungs out, and then put it away. But it will always be there, a part of your baseball life, the totality of which must be embraced. You give your heart to baseball and she gives you pain in return.
And God help me, I do love it so.