Thursday, June 3, 2010

Contenders Series #41 - Foster the People - "Pumped Up Kicks"

First, the song:

It's another random one, for me, anyway.  Jamie recommended it.  She tends to like dance-y stuff, often with whistling.  I could pretty much do without any song that has whistling in it.  I could never hear whistling again and be more than happy.  This one, though, is great.  Light and summery, even though the lyrics appear to be about shooting kids for their shoes.  So it goes, I guess.

Second, a long tangent:

A Tour of Aaron's Psyche, via The Internet

I have really been through the wringer, emotionally, with this Armando Galarraga stuff ... in a way that would not have been possible five years ago, in a way that really makes me feel uncomfortable with society as a whole, and my place in it.

Just after 4 PM yesterday, the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians began playing a baseball game.  I had very little interest in said game.  On some level, since the Tigers are likely to be the Minnesota Twins' main competition in the American League Central this year, I am rooting for them to lose at all times.  I check scores hoping to see them on the short end, but I don't follow their games pitch by pitch, and a Tigers win or loss usually has no effect on me.  I was at work.  I may have had a fantasy baseball scoreboard window open, but I wasn't really checking it.  This game did not exist to me.

Around 5:30, Twitter began to come to life.  Tigers starter Armando Galarraga had a perfect game going through 7 innings.  As Indians starter Fausto Carmona was also pitching well, the game was moving incredibly quickly.  Without the Tweetings of baseball-connected strangers, I would not have known about any of this.

I am an subscriber.  This allows me to watch every baseball game, and just about anywhere.  I can watch them on my phone.  I can also watch them on my work computer.  I put the Tigers game on in the background, and returned to reviewing deposition transcripts for possible waiver of privilege.

Galarraga worked a perfect eighth.  He retired the first two batters in the ninth.

Then, something very sad happened.  On a play that would have been the final out of the perfect game, first base umpire Jim Joyce missed what appeared to be an easy call, declaring runner Jason Donald safe at first.  The Tigers announcers expressed roughly the same level of muted, disbelieving horror as if Joyce had stabbed Galarraga as he went to cover first base.

To his credit, Galarraga shook it off and quickly retired the next batter.  The game was over.


I get unnecessarily invested in no-hitters, and perfect games even more so.*  I know it's stupid.  An hour before, I was hoping Detroit would lose.  Now I was on the edge of my seat hoping they'd win.  There is no reason I should be a ball of nerves and adrenaline every time a big league pitcher gets twenty consecutive outs.**

* And Ilana is ALWAYS nervous for the pitcher, in almost any situation.  She couldn't watch the ninth inning of Roy Halladay's perfect game last weekend, and still hasn't seen the replays of the end of this one.

** Boy, sort out the tenses in that paragraph.  I really need to start editing these.

But I am.  And when these fledgling masterpieces are broken up (as the vast majority of them are), I feel let down.  Just generally bummed out.  Most are broken up by hits, and most are emphatic, non-controversial endings.  To me, this one felt about the same as any, really.  Maybe a little worse.  It wasn't as if Donald had lined a sharp single to center, but maybe as if he'd blooped one over the shortstop's head.  It's over.  So close.  Too bad for the pitcher.  But what a performance.  A shame it had to end that way.  Breaks of the game.


The internet, however, did not react that way.  The internet, I am coming to understand, is most useful as a vehicle for instant, uninformed hate.  This was not a sad story.  This was not an unlucky break.  There was a villain here.  The umpire.  He did not just make a Bad Call.  He was a Bad Person.  We assumed things about him, then we repeated them until we knew them to be true.  This was about his ego.  He wanted to be the star of the show.  He wanted it all to be about him.  He should be fired, or worse.  On the sports discussion board, a thread titled "THAT MOTHERFUCKING BITCH ASS UMP BETTER FUCKING DIE!!!!!!! sprang up, and it soon had over 200 replies.  We had all been wronged.  We demanded vengeance.

Blind internet rage.  I don't know what's left to say about it, really.  It makes me sad.  More than that, it just leaves me exhausted.


Thankfully, voices of reason emerged.  As is often the case, these voices emerged in the form of Will Leitch and Joe Posnanski.  Leitch's column, How a Botched Perfect-Game Call Brought Out the Best in Everybody (Except Us) took the internet to task:
This is nothing against punditry, "professional" and otherwise, of course; we can pundit with the best of them. There is just something slightly untoward about this small, human moment, in which two men, one perfect and one far from it, show compassion, empathy and warmth to each other ... and we turn it into a screaming match about baseball bylaws and old-school versus new-school values. Yesterday was one of those magical and painful nights that only baseball can give us. It's a night no one will ever forget. And it was the first real test of how baseball history is written when it's written in the exact moment it's happening. Forgive us: We came away unimpressed.
 It was well-argued and sensible.  Still, I don't know that I felt any better after reading it.

Posnanski, though, was nothing short of miraculous, in a column posted mere hours after the event.  Detailing the reactions of both Galarraga and Joyce, he reached a conclusion that almost left me thankful to have watched the whole ordeal unfold, that this was the epiphany we had all been working toward:

But … that something beautiful. I don’t want to forget it. As soon as Joyce made the call, the camera cut to Galarraga. And he smiled. That’s all. No argument. No theater. No wild waving of arms. No, he just smiled, a smile that seemed to say: “Are you sure? I really hope you are sure.” Nothing has ever come easily for Armando Galarraga. He signed with the Montreal Expos when he was 16 years old. He did not get out of rookie ball until he was 21. Texas got him as a throw-in when they traded Alfonso Soriano to Washington. He made one start for the Rangers and did not get out of the fifth inning. He was traded to Detroit for a minor leaguer named Michael Hernandez.
Then, he pitched well — finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year balloting. His strength was his calm; he did not seem to get flustered, did not seem to let little things trouble him. Of course, you never know what bubbles underneath. He struggled terribly his second full season. But, even so, there always seemed something substantial about Armando Galarraga.
And in that moment when he had a perfect game so unfairly taken away from him, he smiled. In the interview after the game, he simply said that he wasn’t sure about the call but he was proud of his game. When told afterward that Joyce felt terrible about the missed call, Galarraga said that he wanted to go tell Joyce not to worry about it, that people make mistakes.
Galarraga pitched a perfect game on Wednesday night in Detroit. I’ll always believe that. I think most baseball fans will always believe that. But, more than anything it seems that Galarraga will always believe it. The way he handled himself after the game, well, that was something better than perfection. Dallas Braden’s perfect game was thrilling. Roy Halladay’s perfect game was art. But Armando’s Galarraga’s perfect game was a lesson in grace.
And when my young daughters ask, “Why didn’t he get mad and scream about how he was robbed,” I think I will tell them this: I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s because Armando Galarraga understands something that is very hard to understand, something we all struggle with, something I hope you learn as you grow older: In the end, nobody’s perfect. We just do the best we can.
Because ... yes.  Absolutely.  Galarraga's smile is exactly what we should remember here.  Posnanski doesn't belabor the connection in his column, but we'd seen that smile minutes before, when the first Indians batter launched a sure double to the gap in left-center field.  Covering an almost impossible distance, rookie center fielder Austin Jackson somehow made an impossible running catch.  And Galarraga smiled.  The same one.  The grace that Posnanski details ... it's not just about understanding when something is taken from you.  It's about understanding when something is given to you as well.

This is why I love baseball (and, at the same time, I understand that this is why other people hate baseball) ... it gives itself to this kind of overblown verbosity.  You could write a book about the ninth inning of this game, a game no one had any particular reason to care about, a game featuring two teams I consciously dislike.  You could get deeply philosophical, and play with big issues, and tie it all back into a baseball game.

I would read that book.


So, okay, have we learned something?  Have we come to terms with the idea that our relationship to culture now consists of listening for the voices of reason above the screaming?  That understanding is out there if you really look for it?  Maybe we had. 

(This post then went into a horribly negative ending, but, y'know what?  I'm cutting all of it.  Let's end on the "listening for the voices of reason above the screaming" part.  Let's end on Galarraga's smile.)

Download:  Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks


  1. Can I still have Joyce's head on a spike? The internet must QUENCH MY BLOODLUST!!!!

    /may have missed the point.

  2. Jerry:

    (1) I appreciate that you read these and leave comments.
    (2) I appreciate that you think there was a point to miss in all of this.
    (3) How has no one picked up Galarraga yet in our fantasy league?!? He's totally going to throw nothing but perfect games from here on out! And he's lined up for two starts next week!

  3. (1) There are long periods of time between Dre McGary posts on Deadspin.
    (2) I assume there is a point in most of your posts and would write long comments about this, but that requires too much effort.
    (3) 2009 was a long terrible pitching exposition. Though John Lackey is getting near the drop zone.