BP360 now on sale! A yearly subscription, '23 Annual & Futures Guide and t-shirt for one low price

Failure sucks.

Failure sucks and no one knows it more than Daniel Murphy, and your humble author herself. Booting a groundball that changes a game in a World Series where millions are hanging on your every move is definitely failure on a grander scale than deleting a mediocre “recap” seven times over before finally deciding to write about oneself[1], but it’s still failure, and it still sucks.

Baseball is a game of failure. It’s a game of failure to a point of cliche, where if you fail a little under seven times out of 10 that’s an 80-grade hit tool. Perfection is impossible, and yet, because we as humans are bound to our brains’ ability to pick and choose a narrative out of nothing, there are failures that stand out more across time (and in specific moments of time, too.) We still bring up Bill Buckner, and not for any of his 2,715 hits, or any of the games he won.

Though failure is inevitable, that doesn’t make it feel, or look, or sound any better. No number of platitudes in the world can make up for that ugly sensation inside, the voice that tells you “You right mucked that up, didn’t you? Yep, that’s you, you failure.” It’s very easy to go from “I failed” to “I am a failure,” to personalize the incident, and it’s amazing that there are even any athletes out there, that they don’t just hit that wall that so many of us plebeians do where it’s easier to just quit than to keep going. Well, not that they don’t hit the wall, but that in many places there’s a conscious decision to keep going, which is how you end up with a robotic optimism as self-defense. This isn’t just true of athletes, too. This happens in anything—because to admit self-doubt out loud can be fatal.

Conversationally, this is called burnout. It happens to athletes, even talented ones. It happens to musicians, to chemists, to writers, to anyone who puts their whole being into something in an attempt to be the best. It happened to me, and it’s dangerous, because failure turns into apathy, and then you end up working in social media with a degree in music, throwing the instrument you spent four and a half years dedicating yourself to in the back of the closet.

I could turn this into a paean to how this is why the sports specialization culture has got to stop, but no, we’re talking about Daniel Murphy’s incredibly public failure last night. Murphy spent the first weeks of this postseason as everyone’s problematic hero, his accomplishments lauded and his personal statements held up to the light of public judgment, again. Of course, things change when there are off days. Murphy has all of three hits in this series, singles, and while he’s not the worst second baseman in the league, it’s easier to live with his defects when he’s hitting home runs in crucial situations.

Maybe that’s it, though. Murphy is clutch, but clutch is both positive and negative: What is given is taken away. Or maybe that’s just easy narrative building again, because stories are fun to hold on to. Maybe Murphy’s blunder was just that, a simple failure, and chance and nothing else put it squarely in the worst possible moment and the worst possible location, and geez, I bet that’s nice to read, but one man’s failure is another team’s success, and it’s easier to say “Daniel Murphy failed” than “the ball hit by Eric Hosmer[2] took some really weird hops, go Hosmer!” All sports is luck, affected by some skill, but much less than we’d like to believe.

Daniel Murphy failed last night. We all fail, sometimes.[3]

[1] (and then not writing about oneself as much as one claimed)

[2] (Funnily enough, the man who hit the ball that Murphy failed to field had a few “key errors” of his own. This could have easily been the redemption story of Eric Hosmer, but redemption stories don’t get to be written until after the championship is won.)

[3] Many thanks to Patrick Dubuque, without whom I would have written a really awful piece about all the times during the season that Daniel Murphy failed.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
If that same play happens in Game 4 of the NLCS you shrug and go "oh well, tough hops happen" and then you complain that Collins left Clippard in too long and that Familia seems to have lost it at worst possible time (the game was only tied after the error).

If it happens to a fielder known for his fielding, you shrug and go "oh well, tough hops happen" and then you complain about Collins and Familia and maybe Cespedes. Or you start some elaborate speech about how the Royals play the game right because they don't strike out *cough* Harold Reynolds *cough*.

It happens to Murphy and the fun storyline is how he's cost them the World Series... because I guess if he makes that play then Familia strikes out Moustakas rather than him singling in the 2 runs? Or something like that.

Murphy screwed up... but so did Familia, Clippard, Collins, and Cespedes.
How about the following spin off of your blog for narrative building?

There is a distinct difference between "I failed" and "I am a failure." The latter is like sentencing oneself to prison for life, and the former can create an opening for growth. The latter interpretation does indeed suck, but the former is to be embraced. Perhaps the former is why the Royals are on top 3 games to 1 at this point? Baseball is, as Sam Miller likes to point out, really hard. I guess we will see tonight how the Mets interpret failure.