Outcomes and Desire

Last night, we saw a lot of things happen. Amazing things, in fact. We saw four teams fighting to make their last six months of hard work mean something, to keep their season’s alive. We saw two teams complete two of the most epic collapses in Major League history. We saw the Rays win a game in which their WPA once stood at 0.3%, and we saw one of the best closers in baseball give up consecutive hits to Chris Davis, Nolan Reimold, and Robert Andino.

But there was also one thing I didn’t see last night – a single player on any of those teams who gave less than maximum effort. I didn’t see one single player show signs of apathy. I saw players win and I saw players lose, but I didn’t see anyone who won or lost because they lacked the internal moral fiber to make it happen.

For whatever reason, it has become fashionable in America to take the results of sporting events and extrapolate character and fortitude from the outcome. Within seconds of Evan Longoria’s second home run of the night, we were being told that we saw “one team who wanted it and one team who didn’t know how to get it”, with the inference being that Tampa Bay’s improbable comebacks were the result of their determination and willpower, while the Red Sox collapse shows that they simply didn’t have that kind of inner strength.

It’s all B.S. If reality was dictated by the strength of one’s desire, every 18-year-old boy in America would be sleeping with Megan Fox. It is a simple basic rule of humanity that we cannot will something into existence. Yes, we can work hard and put ourselves in position to receive those things that we want to happen, but at the end of the day, a huge part of what happens to us is beyond our control.

I guarantee you that Jonathan Papelbon badly wanted to finish out the ninth inning in Baltimore last night. You can’t have seen Marco Scutaro use every ounce of athletic ability he was given to turn a circus double play and think that he wasn’t giving his all last night. Michael Bourn used every last bit of speed he had to try and steal his way into better position all night long. Dan Uggla couldn’t have possibly used any more effort to try and score on Jack Wilson’s sixth inning single.

All of those players are sitting at home today, their season over, wishing they had one more chance to make it right. Every single one of them wanted to win last night – they wanted to win all month long. They just couldn’t make it happen, but it wasn’t for lack of effort or inner strength. The outcome of a baseball game is not something you can determine through willpower, and the results of the struggle is not a pathway to teaching us about the character of the combatants.

The Rays and Cardinals should be lauded for their accomplishments. Their managers have every right to be proud of their teams for never giving up even when history suggested that they were fighting a losing battle. However, there’s no reason to believe that the Red Sox or the Braves gave up in September, or that their failures were the result of some kind of deficiency on the inside.

We can applaud resilience and determination without getting into character assassinations for those who came up short. Baseball is beautiful because it’s not predetermined, and it gives us nights like last night. Let’s celebrate the greatness of the game and those who play it – even those who aren’t celebrating today. Their fight and their spirit to play on gave us the drama that we’re all relishing this morning. No one rolled over. No one gave up. Baseball just happened.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

newest oldest most voted
hunterfan
Guest
hunterfan

I agree with you in regards to last night. However, I think there might be a larger narrative. Several of the players on the Red Sox, for example, looked dog tired this last month. I have no doubt whatsoever that they were trying in the individual games. But what if the real problem is that they didn’t get after it hard enough in the offseason with proper conditioning programs?

Sometimes the results of the games might hinge on decisions made several months ago, where one player “got after it” in his offseason conditioning and the other “didn’t want it enough.”

Whether or not you agree that’s the case in this specific instance, I think the pendulum might be swinging too far in the other direction where we don’t think the outcome of games is ever tied to who works harder. Sometimes it still is about desire and working hard, albeit in the offseason (on your swing, on conditioning, on defense, etc.) as opposed to in the game itself.

Jross
Guest
Jross

I don’t see why its hard to believe that some players have a better “work ethic” than others, and it pays off for those that do have it conditioning wise in the off season. In addition, these players would then be physically more prepared to do better than they would have if they hadn’t of ” put in the work”.

Hermy
Guest
Hermy

You are correct some players do have better work ethic than others, no one is denying that. What Dave is saying is that it is impossible to say that the Rays players as a group had a better work ethic than Red Sox players just because the Rays won one more game, and “the Red Sox looked tired in September.”

Proud Moonie (Unificationist)
Guest
Proud Moonie (Unificationist)

David Wells is a fat-ass who didn’t seem to condition, but he was a good pitcher. In fact, he pitched a perfect game while being hung-over. Too bad he has T2DM.