We may as well start with Brian Jeffrey Giles.
May 13, 1990: He stepped into the box, made the motions all hitters do with the bat, crouched, spat, etc. He looked, at a glance, just like a major leaguer. Music probably did not play, although who knows. Maybe the loudspeakers played The Escape Club's Wild Wild West. Maybe the crowd hummed in a faint, disinterested E flat. It doesn't matter. It was the bottom of the fourth, none on, one out. In the second, he'd hit a sacrifice fly to move Dave Valle from second to third, the most productive of his nineteen hitless plate appearances on the year. The Mariners were 14-18, displaying the sort of proximity to satisfactory baseball that marked the era. They were almost good. But they were also starting some guy named Brian Giles.
It's crazy that Giles was still in baseball. A former first-round pick with the Mets in the early eighties, Giles reached the majors at 21, and was discarded at 23. Like so many prospects, he just didn't hit in the bigs. He voyaged to Vancouver, and Buffalo, and Hawaii, and Colorado Springs, then Calgary. Three years removed from a major league game, he found himself as the right depth at the right time: Omar Vizquel broke a leg, Giles had been hitting in the soft air of Denver, and suddenly the fates determined he should get one more shot.
He blew it. He went hitless in seven straight games, and was banished to pinch running duty. The great Dave Cochrane took over at short. Calgary beckoned. His career was over.
Yet even men like Cochrane need rest, so here Giles was, bottom of the order, by himself a ninth (as Brautigan might say) of a forfeit. Hidden from daylight by tons of concrete, he stood under a halo of lights, surrounded by the green plastic of the Kingdome turf and the distinctive maroon of empty seats. Greg Cadaret threw him a pitch; we'll never know what it was. All we know is the retrosheet data: Home Run (Line Drive to Deep CF-RF). The Mariners went on to win, 10-5. An entire career could have been salvaged, a conclusion written in a single afternoon. It could have, except Giles started another game.
Four days later, facing Jimmy Key in the top of the third, Giles doubled to left; the team batted around, and in his second opportunity, he hit a three-run home run. His next at bat, he hit a grand slam. It was the greatest game of his career, what would be the greatest game of most players' careers. His legacy is a two-inch recap by the AP, scanned onto google from a copy of the Bend (OR) Bulletin, and a gamelog at Baseball Reference. Nothing else remains. Vizquel soon returned from his injury, Giles returned to the minors, and never made it back again.
This article isn't about Giles, of course. There are a million Gileses, all unique, all with their own story and their own relative heroism. One of the beautiful things about baseball is how much of it there is, how much opportunity for infinite beachcombing. One could look at all this history being lost and feel despair; certainly, I think, people will someday look at the pre-sabermetric, pre-online-video era of even ten years ago as a kind of dark age. I prefer a less pessimistic view. History is lost and forgotten all the time, but it's also rediscovered, reclaimed.
It is also generous. Eminem, during that same pre-statcast era that was his own height of pertinence, began a popular song with the warning: "Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment would you capture it or just let it slip? Yo [added for emphasis]."
It's an attractive idea, this One Shot - the same that led Hemingway protagonists to blow up bridges in suicide missions and slice bulls to death. It feeds the idea of narrative, that there is a culmination of things, a climax, which then lends the feeling that the story was predestined and that its protagonist is a hero. It's one of the powerful appeals of sport, as well, that allows us to witness greatness reified. The trouble is that as much as we want it, as much as we want clutch performance and the rise of heroes, life doesn't work like that, and it's good that it doesn't. There is no One Shot. We each get hundreds and thousands of shots, opportunities to fail and learn and try again. This is what real life is: not heroism, but interesting imperfection.
The season is three days gone, and its death weighs heavily still. But it's silly, because the great thing about baseball is that it never dies, hardly even stops to rest. Vin Scully, in his final address, was quick to remind us that while he may be done, there would still be Dodger Baseball in the spring. The names change, sometimes even sadly the cities. But baseball continues on, elevating and destroying and celebrating various Gileses, combining and ignoring us all. not even success is immune: World Series victories are replaced by the desire to win the next World Series, just like every team that loses. There is no real failure at all, just that same interesting imperfection.
There are many endings, but no Ending. This article is one of them. I've served at Lookout Landing for four seasons in various capacities, from author to editor to guy who put up the second game thread. As my family grew that work has mostly transitioned to behind the scenes, clipping out commas and em-dashes, but the camaraderie and the spirit is still dear to me. Unfortunately, as responsibilities amass, it's time to say goodbye.
Thank you to the site managers, Nathan and Scott and Jon and Jeff. Thank you to the writers who wrote and write some wonderful things, and who have made this site even better in my absence. And mostly, thank you to the community. My little pseudo-career been blessed with readers who are thoughtful and engaging, the exception to the rule of not reading the comments. I messed with you folks a lot over the years with some of my schemes, but you always rolled with it. Thank you for that faith, and patience.
And thanks to the Mariners, who keep trying, and who keep me company while I weed my yard and make stars out of play-doh and live my extremely tangential life. Good luck next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that.