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A Brief History of Stupidity

Boondoggles and Broken Hearts

Seattle Mariners v Detroit Tigers
grim reluctance and acceptance of fate (oil on canvas, 2016)
Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Baseball is wonderful. And sometimes it is very, very stupid. It is a gumball machine that can offer a diamond ring or one of those fingertrap things that eventually get so stuck you have to cut it off and the cheap dye leaches onto your fingers and you go around for days with a purple index finger. Today’s game was especially, epically stupid. Let us examine the ways and try to place them in their proper historical context.

Before the game even freaking starts:

Adrian Sampson throws four warm-up tosses and on the last one, feels a twinge in his elbow. He summons Iannetta, who summons Servais, who summons the trainer, who shuts Sampson down for the day. Or possibly the year. Who knows.

Historical Parallel:

Do you remember the movie Mars Needs Moms? Of course you don’t. The 2011 Disney film had a 150 million dollar budget and didn’t even clear 40 million. I have never met anyone who has actually seen this movie. Adrian Sampson didn’t cost the Mariners big money, but his stat line for today is every bit as empty as the movie theatres across the country were for the debut of this clunker. If you watch the re-broadcast of this game (you should not do that), listen to the sound Blowers makes when he sees the trainers come out and Sampson grabs his surgically repaired elbow. It is a sound of exquisite pain coupled with existential dread. I might record it and call it the Song of the Mariners.

Throughout the game:

I hate to be a broken record but the strike zone across MLB this year appears to range from “strikes are an abstract and highly personal concept” to “who knows the name of the wind?” to “full-on-bananapants.” Today’s strike zone was the third:

And it didn’t stop there. I thought about uploading the various screen grabs/Mariners Ump tweets but you don’t need to be subjected to that. The only good part of this was we got to see Chirpy Scott Servais, who let home plate ump Andy Fletcher hear about his displeasure. This is not to excuse the Mariners hitters, who were not good against a weak Tigers bullpen. But it’s undeniable that those calls changed the shape of the game, and maybe even the outcome; here’s Cruz’s at-bat in the 8th:

“All balls,” you could hear Nellie saying on the broadcast. Yes indeed.

Historical Parallel:

Speaking of people who are bad at their jobs, Benjamin Butler was a Civil War general for the Union forces in charge of New Orleans who stole silver spoons out of Southern households. He was so detested by Southern women that they dumped chamber pots on his head, to which he responded by passing an order that any woman saying bad things about Union Soldiers would be regarded as a prostitute. Way to go, Blue.

4th Inning:

Vidal Nuño had been doing everything he could to try to gut through this interminable, uninventive children’s puppet show of a game and had only surrendered two runs despite throwing approximately three times the number of pitches he’d expected to throw today. (MiMo was unavailable due to throwing 39 pitches yesterday, remember, leaving Nuño the only real option for multi-inning work.) Cruz had hammered a solo homer earlier in the inning—would have been nice to have Robi on base for that to tie it, but he’d been called out on some incredibly suspect calls, obvs—so Nuño was only working with a one-run deficit at the time when he decided to throw the Lesser McCann an 83 mph slider in the zone, which was promptly crushed for a two-run dinger. In came Edwin Diaz, who walked the first batter he saw, even though said batter was Jerrod Saltalamacchia. Maybe Diaz has a fear of multiple consonants? He managed to get a swinging strikeout from Romine before Kinsler and Iglesias both reached on base hits, which brought up Miguel Cabrera, a .381 lifetime hitter with the bases loaded. This could have gone very, very badly. Instead, Diaz decided to show us a little flash of the dominant reliever he will one day be, sending Harry Potter owls zooming all around the zone that Miggy couldn’t do anything with before freezing the big man with an 86 mph slider.

The Mariners would come back in the top of the fifth with two back-to-back home runs off the bats of Chris Iannetta and Leonys Martin, because of course. Then Shawn O’Malley worked one of the finest plate appearances by a Mariner this season and mad-dogged his way through a nine-pitch AB before he crushed a double off Tigers starter Daniel Norris. Marte moved O’Malley along with a ground out and then Gutierrez would hit an infield single because, why not, and then Canó stepped in with two outs and two on and Aaron Goldsmith, for some reason, decided to say, “we saw the Tigers have their best hitter at the plate strike out with Cabrera, and now Canó, the Mariners’ best hitter is up” and well you kind of know the rest, right? Shipwrecked on the laughter of the baseball gods. Canó sent a ball deep to left field and at the very last minute Justin Upton jumped up and grabbed it and came down grinning like that nursery rhyme kid, like little Jack Horner playing left field corner. Cruz would hit another home run in the sixth to tie it, but the rally dying here would come back to haunt the Mariners.

Historical Parallel:

Not really historical, but the Alice Cooper song Cold Ethyl is about a girl who’s so cool, yeah, she can squeeze you in her arms and freeze you with her charms

What makes her so cool? Well, she’s dead. As is my heart, after watching this game.

The End of the Game:

Nick Vincent worked a scoreless bottom of the seventh against the heart of the Tigers’ order, getting Cabrera to fly out, Castellanos to ground out after an eight-pitch battle, and then giving up a walk to Upton on again, surprise, some questionable calls—although Vincent missed badly with the fourth ball and did a little crow-hop of disappointment off the mound. Upton would proceed to steal second—“huge jump, no chance” was Blowers’s glum assessment—but Vincent managed to punch out Moya to end the inning. The Mariners, for their part, also worked a scoreless eighth, thanks in part to the Cruz at-bat pointed out above. I thought Servais might get run in this inning as he voiced much anger before reverting to his general “dad waiting angrily in crowded lobby of Cheesecake Factory” stance (this is ridiculous!). Benoit came on in the eighth and looked relatively pissed for someone whose countenance is usually fairly placid and Aslan-like. Benoit hates wasting pitches, as the pile of quarters in the change drawer known as his right arm dwindles ever-smaller. But he got through it, and the Mariners failed to score, and then Cishek got through his inning, and again the Mariners failed to score despite having Shawn O’Malley standing on third base with one out. It’s better we don’t delve too deeply into this. And even better that we don’t delve into how the Tigers eventually won the game in the bottom of the tenth, but it might rhyme with “gawk-off viled mitch.” The worst part was, we sort of knew the Mariners would lose this game, but then it seemed like they might not but probably still would, and then they found a way to lose it that was even more soul-crushing than you might have imagined (this also might rhyme with “Pile Bleager Hairor”).

Historical Parallel:

I thought about throwing the Titanic in here, or the Wilhelm Gustloff, or the Hindenberg, or some other human artifact laying waste to hope and humanity, but I think I might go with something quieter: Kate Chopin’s 1894 text “The Story of an Hour.” In this story, Mrs. Mallard, a supposed invalid, is told—very gently—of the death of her husband in a railroad disaster. To no one’s surprise, her reaction is to sob, loudly and without reprieve, as she sits alone in her room. Suddenly she notices a new feeling taking hold of her:

When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!" The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.

Mrs. Mallard sees her life stretching before her, free and open and of her own determination at last. “It was only yesterday that she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.” Free and open and unencumbered—what a way to live.

Then the door opens, and it’s her husband, very much alive.

The Mariners stand at the door, hat in hand, bemused by our wild eyes, as the trap of affection and nostalgia and all the other reasons we love this dumb team snaps shut once again.


A brief sidenote on a not-stupid thing:

I lived in Philadelphia for eight years before recently moving back to the city I was born in, the city that knows me best, the city that has always been my home. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of being back where you belong, the way it slides a weight off your bones you didn’t even know you carried. Today Tom Wilhelmsen pitched a scoreless sixth inning wearing the name of his city, his avowed home, across his chest. The thing they don’t tell you: sometimes, if you’re very lucky and you face a fair amount of trial to get there, you can go home again. Welcome back, Bartender.