Why I Love Baseball: The Weird Stuff

The only possible assumption you can make is that with a sample size this impossibly large, things are going to get weird. 

On a whim, on a cold night in March in Los Angeles, you watch Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. You watch as, impossibly, Dave Roberts avoids the pickoff. Not once, but twice. Then he steals second. And then, almost as impossibly, in the bottom of the 9th, down 3-0 in the series, Bill Mueller ties it with a hit up the middle. Then, in the 12th, David Ortiz swings the bat and Joe Buck calls it. Ortiz into deep right field. Back is Sheffield. We’ll see you later tonight.  

Look, you know the rest. We all do. It’s that series. It’s that year. It’s 2004. Play Tessie if you need an emotional recap.

I’m not here to tell you that I love the Boston Red Sox, even though God knows I do. I’m not even here to tell you I love baseball, because who doesn’t. I’m here, above all else, to tell you that I love the Weird Stuff. 

In baseball, you watch as 25 guys play 162 games. That’s 1,458 innings, plus a few extra for the games where it gets tense for the fans in the stands. Occurring just about every spring, summer, and fall since the 1880’s, the only possible assumption you can make is that with a sample size this impossibly large, things are going to get weird. 

Baseball is a game defined by weirdness. It’s 39-year-old David Ross hitting a home run in a win or die Game 7, and bringing the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series in 118 years. It’s Dee Gordon, who has hit 18 home runs in his entire nine-year career, blasting one into the stands to honor Jose Fernandez after the pitcher’s tragic death.

It’s pretty much the entire 7th inning of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS. You’ll remember that as the game where Elvis Andrus aged twenty years during half an inning and three errors. 

It’s the 2004 Boston Red Sox tying it in the bottom of the 9th inning, down 3-0 in the ALCS against their arch-rival New York Yankees, then eventually winning the whole thing for the first time in 86 years. 

It is, like I said, the Weird Stuff.

Nothing will get weirder than baseball, because nothing will go on longer than baseball. No other sport will offer as many chances at redemption and heartbreak, or as many opportunities for greatness, or as many instances of pure insanity.

It’s Oscar Taveras hitting his first major league home run to open the skies to a thunderstorm.

It’s the 1899 Cleveland Spiders setting the all-time road loss record because considering the lack of home town fans for the god-awful team, they had to schedule extra road games just to sell enough tickets to stay in business, thus losing extra road games and setting an unbreakable record. 

It’s every triple play, it’s every perfect game, and it’s every time a guy like Brock Holt hits for the cycle in the ALDS. It’s when the Royals win the World Series, it’s when Doc Ellis throws a No-Hitter on LSD, it’s when a bald eagle lands on James Paxton’s shoulder, and it’s when a one-handed pitcher named Jim Abbott throws a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993.

It’s Randy Johnson somehow, absolutely impossibly, hitting a bird with a fastball, only because we were due for that after this much time.

Baseball is nothing punctuated by moments of intense something. It’s about the long haul. Endurance, perseverance, and the ability to hit a small leather ball that’s been thrown at you faster than we’re legally allowed to drive on the highway. It’s the great human experiment. Take people trained their entire lives to hit that ball, and then put them in a league where only doing it one out of three times is elite. Make them do it for years, with few days of rest during a season.

This is the game where everything happens, because in a sport with this large a sample size, everything has to happen. But that doesn’t mean anyone’s ready.

Baseball is nothing without the Weird Stuff.

It’s what makes this sport great. It’s what we dream of all offseason. It’s what keeps us up late during inning 18, it’s what makes us tune in to game 163 of a 162 game season. It’s everything, it’s why this sport is like no other, and it’s why this sport is 151 years old. Because as old as it gets and as outdated and archaic as it seems, it continues to surprise. It’s beautiful. It’s why it can’t end, and why a season canceled by a global pandemic is just what happens.

To most sports, the year 2020 is a disaster. To baseball, it’s more of the same. It’s the Weird Stuff.

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Ben Ellenberg

Ben lives in Los Angeles and is almost always thinking about Tony Gwynn stuff.

One response to “Why I Love Baseball: The Weird Stuff”

  1. Josh Britt says:

    A wonderful way to relate what’s going on to the game we love. Reassuring – soothing, even. Thank you. Go Sox.

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