Thursday, December 8, 2011

Where have you gone, Andres Torres?

Old sap doodling about a time before
his time, a time that never was …
Baseball is myth, and myth is humans trying to make sense. Baseball is childhood, fun at the heart of grief. Baseball is story.

About this, I'm in the naive minority.

To most, baseball is math. Statistics drive dollars, dollars fuel victories, though not necessarily the victories we naifs expect, namely the World Series. Money rules; baseball is business. I realize now, so late, that Albert Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals' too-good-to-be-true first baseman, is duty-bound to expect and accept the highest salary in history, so that some future Pujols can do likewise, ad infinitum.

Were I Albert Pujols, I would have realized long, long ago that I made more than I could possibly need, and would seek a lesser salary now as Free Agent No. 1. But to do so would cause the market for professional athletes everywhere to implode, and the math-driven dreams to dry up forever.

[Pujols fulfilled his role in grand style today, taking a 10-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; it means two things: (1) he doesn't mind playing for the most awkwardly named team in U.S. pro sports and (2) he will demonstrate the baseball law of diminishing returns as his power recedes drastically by year three of his contract.]

When legend becomes fact,
sketch the legend.
Math trumped myth, as it always will, once again this week: the San Francisco Giants traded Andres Torres. Had he played for the Giants a decade or so ago, he might have been called one of the Fighting Hydrants — small-statured, amazingly athletic, relentless, old-school crowd favorites.

Torres is among my all-time favorites who lives a wonderful story, which includes finally finding a way to control his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder so he could focus on playing centerfield and hitting home runs. Hit or miss, Torres play full out. He even lets errant pitches go by with great energy, snapping back like a torero taunting the bull.

Torres broke through the season before last, the Giants' championship season, and well deserved the Willie Mac Award he earned for exemplifying spirit and leadership, after Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. Last season Torres was lousy. Many say the championship year, Torres especially, was a fluke. I wanted so badly for Torres to prove the real fluke was last year. I still do, even as he moves to the Mets.

Salary aside, Torres is the ideal athlete. Triumphantly gifted, he sometimes performs game-saving feats. But he frequently fails spectacularly, too, in front of 42,000 paying fans and hundreds of thousands on the other side of the cameras. Often the harder he tries, the more likely he fails, flailing at pitches one would think he had learned by now to lay off. But Torres charges into the next new day, hoping, planning for better.

[Also, the Giants traded a good pitcher, Ramon Ramirez, to the Mets, and gave up on signing outfielders Cody Ross and Carlos Beltran. The wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'; I don't know where I'll be tomorrow …]

Now I do as before, make myth out of majority rule. New promising players whom I should know, but don't, will fill the roster, and I'll look for the stories among the numbers, and hang onto the stories until they break my heart again. It took me years to return to the Giants after Will Clark and Matt Williams left.

I'm not so stubborn as before.

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