Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Big Papi of Arabia

On Monday, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox drove in the winning run in walk-off fashion for the second straight game against the Phillies. Tuesday morning, I saw the highlight on Sportscenter, and then grew angry as the Sportscenter gang threw it over to the Baseball Tonight studios so Orel Hershiser and Steve Phillips could discuss whether or not the Phillies should have even pitched to Ortiz in the first place.

Hershiser’s point was that the situation (there were men on first and second, two outs in the bottom of the 12th) was such that the pitcher is better off pitching to Ortiz, no matter how “clutch” he is. With an open base, a pitcher can throw a wider variety of pitches to a wider variety of locations, since if he walks Ortiz, it isn’t the end of the world. Hopefully, the pitcher could get him to swing at a bad pitch out of the strike zone and make the last out. If Ortiz ends up walking, you have to throw strikes to the next hitter (the extremely-good-at-hitting Manny Ramirez), because walking him brings in the winning run. As such, logically, being able to pitch outside the strike zone to Ortiz has a better chance of success for the pitcher than having to throw only strikes to Ramirez, no matter who is or isn’t clutch.

Meanwhile, Phillips (notable for putting together the early 00s Mets, the Arbusto Oil of baseball teams) had no particular argument other than “Nooooooooooo, Big Papi is just soooooooooo clutch. You just know he’ll drive in the winning run! You just know it!”

This is the same argument we had over the Iraq war, just in a different forum. On one side, you have logic and reason. On the other, just something that “everyone just knows is true.” Back before the war began, I used to argue all the time that it was a bad idea to invade, because of (insert one or more: historical animus between Sunnis and Shiites, making a civil war between them likely; the fact that an alliance between a radical Islamist group like al Qaeda and a secular dictator like Saddam didn’t make much sense; etc.)

All there was on the other side was, “We were attacked on September 11!” and “He’s a threat, everyone just knows he’s a threat!”

And I think we know how that turned out.

No matter how it turned out for the Phillies, they still did the smart thing. Hershiser was right. The pitcher just made a bad pitch. It happens. But pitching to Ortiz is still the right move.

The Bushies keep trying to say the same about Iraq, that it was the right thing to do but there were just some problems in the execution. But they didn’t do the logical thing, the Hershiserian thing. They followed the example of Phillips. To take the metaphor further, what they did is equivalent to having intentionally walked Ortiz (because you just knew he would beat you), then given up a walk-off grand slam to Ramirez, then saying “Hey, nobody could have predicted that Ramirez would have hit that. Walking Ortiz was still the right thing to do, because he’s so clutch. What? How can you say he’s not clutch? I can’t believe you would continue to deny his clutchness!” As if that were the point.

But hey, who am I to question the received wisdom from on high that everyone just knows? Does this mean I hate America and David Ortiz, or am I just objectively pro-Manny?

No comments: