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The Measure of a Man

Baseball is not like life. Sometimes it appears to be, but despite all the baseball clichés we use to describe our circumstances, baseball is mostly only like baseball.

If that sounds overly reflective, then OK. I learned today that a friend’s father died suddenly. In baseball, when the unexpected occurs (injuries excepted), it usual thrills one side and pains the other. When our loved ones die, there’s only pain.

My friend is a great guy in no small part due to the influence of a dad who loved him and worked like crazy to give his kids a better life than he’d had growing up. I knew only the good stuff: a big smile, a firm handshake, and invariably warm greetings. But as a person, he surely also had the flaws and warts we all have.

In baseball, we can square things up nicely, the good and the warts. Advanced analysis can pin down with great accuracy how many runs a player contributed or prevented. We can precisely figure the sum of his exploits at bat, on the bases, in the field, on the mound. We can make little tweaks to account for his the help or hindrances he received. In the end, it all squares up across the team, the league, the season, the history of baseball. If it doesn’t, we can force it to. Nice and neat.

We can’t take the measure of a man so easily.

Oh, we try. Net worth, titles, happiness indexes, job satisfaction, years married, comparisons to the Joneses, Facebook or Twitter follower counts, page views, numbers of spouses. We often use these and many others to measure the quality of life or our contributions to it in some fashion or another. They are inadequate.

At a personal level, I constantly gauge life. Does so-and-so measure up to my expectations? Do I measure up? Is this fair or is that just? Am I getting what’s due me? Is someone else getting my share?

Life is not like baseball. But I often wish it were. I’d like to know how much joy I have. How much love I have contributed to the world—even how much venom. The inadequacy and incompleteness of the information we have leave us with only stock phrases to describe people. I’m doing fine. They are a nice family. She seems like a happy. He’s a douchebag.

The Hall of Miller and Eric gives me the mild and probably illusory satisfaction of thinking I know the best answer to an answerable question. It’s a stand-in—see, here’s something I can know…or make like I know. It’s like any hobby or project—discreet, fathomable, defined. Life is, well, not. The HoME and any Hall appeal to a deep need to put order on something unwieldy, to measure, and remeasure, and finally put a pin in something and call a crazy 212-sided puzzle done.

It’s basic human stuff, partly escape but partly intensely real and in some ways, more like life than the game we analyze. I can look at a box score and know exactly what Harry Hooper actually did. The challenge comes in interpreting what it means and how it compares to hundreds of others’ cases. But that challenge—with its attendant measuring, comparing, deciding, electing, and celebrating—is fun.

As I reflect on a good man gone too soon, fun things, things like the HoME, seem small and silly. At the same time, I know that my friend reads us and enjoys our work. We make a little something that entertains and engages him and our other regular readers. Yes, small potatoes, but valuable ones: a big part of Miller’s and my lives, and now, perhaps, a tiny part of yours.

If in the end the love you take is, indeed, equal to the love you make, we hope at this site that we make lets our love of baseball shine through. Even if you disagree with our conclusions, we appreciate that you let us into your lives a couple times a week. And while our little project may not amount much in the grand scheme, it seems like lives consist of untold numbers of little projects, all piled up on one another, enriching our experiences. Ours is just one.

Baseball is not like life. It is a part of life—and with any luck, a life well lived.

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “The Measure of a Man

  1. Very, very nice and thoughtful piece. My best to you, your friend, and his family. RIP
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | September 24, 2014, 8:44 am
  2. I’m a Dad with adult kids. I’m well past the halfway point of my journey. And a couple of decades past my “sell by” date. A marker of this revoltin’ development is that I treasure those elements in my life that bring me serenity. Eric and Miller bring me that rare commodity, right on time, every week. As one more Dad bumping and careening along the base paths, I say, Well Done Gentlemen.

    Posted by Geoff Shields | September 24, 2014, 10:11 am

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