Baseball in the time of COVID
(Writing time: 30 minutes)
OK, let’s enjoy Mookie Betts’ throw together:
Here’s the thing about a great throw from rightfield: We’ve all seen hundreds of them. Clemente. Parker. Ichiro. Dewey. Valentine. Barfield. Vlad. Colavito. Snyder. Mondesi. Winfield. Judge. Mookie.
And yet every single time we sone one like this, it feels like a little miracle.
There is just something about the geometry, the time-space continuum, that makes a throw like Mookie Betts’ seem impossible. You cannot just pick up a baseball and throw it on a line more than 300 feet to nail a runner going full speed. It’s often said that the hardest thing in baseball — the hardest thing in sports — is hitting a baseball, and I’m sure that’s right. But we see that happen so often, we can’t help but lose our wonder about it.
But a throw like this happens rarely — circumstances and timing have to be precisely right — that when it does, the throw triggers strange sounds in our vocal cords and unleashes the same awe and joy as a perfect magic trick.
My friend Jonathan is a Dodgers fan, and a few days ago he (half) jokingly texted me to say: “BTW, have not been impressed by Mookie Betts.” This was after Betts started the season 2-for-16 without an extra-base hit. I told him that he MIGHT want to give it a little more time, but there is a point, I think, to be made: Mookie Betts is one of those players who does so many things well that you really do have to watch him over a long season to fully appreciate his brilliance.
Sure, you randomly might catch him on the right day — he does tend to have brilliant days. In the last five years, Betts has had five games with three home runs. Nobody else in baseball has more than two of those games. He has had nine more games with two homers. That means Betts has hit more than 28% of his home runs since 2016 in just 14 games. That leaves a LOT of downtime in between. He will routinely go two or three weeks without hitting a single home run.
And that’s why you have to watch him all the time to see all the other things he does. He draws walks. He’s one of the best baserunners in the game. He has led the league in runs scored each of the last two years, and I do think scoring runs is a deeply underappreciated talent. He plays a brilliant right field.
And, yes, he can unleash a throw now and again that will make your brain explode.
I don’t know how much longer this baseball season will go on. I see that I have only two minutes left to write this, so I don’t have time to get into detailed thoughts on the subject. But I can say that watching Betts make that throw on Friday was one of the few times so far that I could ignore the weirdness of this season and put aside the rotten feeling that baseball these days is powered by blind and irresponsible hope, and just experience the marvel of baseball.