The game has no heart.
It is, after all, just a rulebook and a culture. It is framed by those rules, defined by the harsh reality of statistics, and shaped by the people who play it and run it.
Oh, the people have a heart, but that heart is limited by the scoreboard, the will – no, the necessity – to win. The scoreboard, of course, is the ultimate statistic, but its corollaries tell the story in more detail. Whether 19th century or 21st century, the statistical measures of performance cannot be set aside, cannot be ignored just because it would feel better to do so.
The game has no feelings.
And that’s part of its charm. Baseball will generate its share of feel-good stories, but the feel-bad tales predominate, even if we don’t hear them. Every “designated for assignment” in a team’s transactions is a minor tragedy, the ending, or at least re-shaping, of a dream.
So success is not given, success is earned. If someone plays major league baseball for 13 years, that someone has survived the vast indifference of the sport through talent, will and yes, some luck. Their story was written by an algorithm that balanced success and failure, performance and failure to perform.
The game does not soften its blows.
Brandon Crawford got off the interstate – moved his batting average out of the .100s – at the start of September. It may continue to begin with a “2” for the rest of the season. It may not.
If it doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of trying. Crawford, a proud, talented player, will put in the time, put in the effort, to start hitting the ball with authority.
But Crawford is closer to age 37 than age 36, and the fastballs are faster now, the sliders break more sharply, and sweep more elegantly. And those pitches he could hit hard five years ago, or even two years ago, are now foul balls. Or pop-ups. Or swings and misses.
And at shortstop, where Crawford once ranged with confidence, he has lost a step. Or two. The rocket arm will occasionally misfire. That second topspin hop will elude him.
Most of all, it is sad to see. Crawford is a local product, and though he was blessed with talent, he had to work hard to earn his spot in the majors, and in the hearts of Giants’ fans.
But sad as it is, painful as it is to acknowledge, Crawford’s time has come. There is no hiding from the calendar, just as there is no hiding from 97 on the hands, or a 100-mph grounder in the hole.
If there are benevolent baseball gods, Crawford will find himself in the last month, and produce a few weeks of consummate play at short, and enough line drives to get the average to .220. And he will make some big plays as the Giants right themselves and power into the postseason.
That’s the story we want. That’s the story that feels good, that has heart.
But as we all know, the game has no heart.