Bull Durham is the best sports movie I have ever seen. People always want to say of a good sports movie: “It’s not really about sports, it’s about life.” Bull Durham is about baseball. It just so happens that baseball is about life.
Baseball is a game of failure. Just because that’s a cliché, doesn’t mean it’s untrue.
Last year, my favorite team (the Reds) made the playoffs and were promptly destroyed in three games (including only the second post-season no-hitter ever thrown) by the Phillies. And this was a good year. The Reds had not had a winning season for a decade. They had not been in the playoffs since I was a sophomore in high school (1995). They have not won the World Series since 1990. It has been a long drought.
There are 30 major league teams. Obviously, it doesn’t work this way, but statistically speaking, the average team will win the series only once every 30 years, though there will be at least seven near-misses (playoff appearances) in that time span. Of course, there will always be teams like the Cubs, who haven’t won in more than 100 years and the Yankees, who win more than their fair share.
In baseball, as in life, some of us are lucky and some of us are not. Some of us have lots of money and some of us don’t. There are elements of fairness – rules common to all – but neither is a truly equitable endeavor.
But this is what baseball offers and this is why I love it: There is always the chance, even if it’s only the ghost of a chance. And mostly, you have more than that. There are seven teams this year who made the playoffs last year, but did not win the World Series. Perhaps, they think, things will break right this year. There are eight more who had winning records and they have to be thinking that if things turn right, maybe they will be in the playoffs this year. And that would feel like a success, even if it isn’t the ultimate goal.
And there are other teams who signed the big player or have the young kid coming up who are thinking that maybe they won’t make the playoffs this year, but the team might win more than it loses. Or maybe they know that won’t happen this year, but they can see it on the horizon. Maybe next year. And if we can have a winning season, why not the playoff? And if the playoffs, why not the Series? We think about it long enough and it doesn’t seem so far fetched. We can always get better. It can always be better in the future.
But it doesn’t always get better. Crash Davis, despite a call up in some forgotten year, does not become a big league ballplayer. The Pirates haven’t had a winning season in almost 20 years. We all know people like that. At one point or another, most of us are people like that. We fail and we fail and we fail. Sometimes it is because we might not try as hard as we could, but often it isn’t and there aren’t any explanations beyond, “Well, that’s just how it goes.” Sometimes, we age out of our old dreams and we stop trying to be big league players and start trying to be big league managers. We think, maybe this is what I can do. Maybe this is what I’m good at.
Some of us may never find that one thing. We may never reach the World Series. Some of us have to be the Cubs. And it might not even be your fault. Sometimes, the sun just doesn’t shine. To paraphrase Mickey Mantle, Crash Davis was good. Maybe we’re stuck behind somebody (like Crash was). Maybe we’re born in the wrong time and will only be appreciated after we’re gone. It’s so hard to know. And that’s where it turns. Because you never know.
You never know, and tomorrow it might turn around. The shortstop will start to hit and the pitcher will find his control. Many of us will see it coming, but for some it will be inexplicable. Teams go from last to first. It happens all the time and you can’t always see it coming. This is just the way it happens for some of us. It can start to turn and you can barely feel it. Crash Davis might make a good manager someday.
Tomorrow, baseball season will start and there are some teams out there, I am sure, for whom it will start to turn. And some of them won’t see it coming. A groundball will poke through the infield or homerun will sneak over the wall and something will happen. And I love it.