George Springer Breaks
By: Patrick Dubuque
Saturday night, during Game 2 of the ALCS, Todd Frazier drove in the penultimate run on a batted ball that refused to come back to earth.
It’s a good hit, off a good pitch: a breaking ball that Verlander has buried at the knees, off the outside corner, the kind of pitch you throw because hitters don’t hit them and they sometimes get called for strikes. Frazier puts a three-quarters swing into it, like the salute of a fencer after a point, and because it is 2017 the ball sails 370 feet in the air. After an initial chase, George Springer, familiar with the caroms of his home field, settles in to take it off the wall. It never arrives. Springer absorbs this bit of information.
Springer immediately reacts to the wedged ball by glitching the hell out. “baseball.action = location / ball,” he calculates. “if ball == 0, then then then then then” and his adrenaline-soaked brain starts pulling random verbs out of the cache. “Up,” George Springer’s brain thinks, and he shrugs. “Up. Go up. You cannot go up here. Ball is up. Go to ball.” He shrugs.
A hundred years ago, the French philosopher Henri Bergson made a very early and very unfunny foray into the study of laughter. He cites two examples of basic humor: the runner who trips and sprawls awkwardly in the dirt, and the man of habit whose routines are upset by a practical joke. (We’re talking 1911 French humor, so adjust for era.) The root of this humor: a phrase he dubs mechanical elasticity, a change in the environment which the actor is unable to adjust to. Think of Lucy and the chocolate factory, Wile E. Coyote and the edge of the cliff. Think of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, dimly understanding their fate but unable to stop the momentum.
American comedy, at least in its current phase, appears to prefer the opposite: the surprising dose of humanity buried within the predictable structures and mechanisms of comedy. And this is Springer’s trick, because in an instant he transforms, becoming perhaps the most human a baseball player has ever been. Staring up at the baseball, like every boy with their toy stuck in a tree, he does the only thing left: he throws his glove.
Baseball has always been ashamed of the glove; it was the game’s second great compromise, after giving people money to play. Because of this admission that the game might have been birthed less than perfect, the sport has always pretended as though the glove were a hand, as inseparable as skin. Throwing a glove is one of the rule book’s greatest crimes, a three-base penalty, a harshness devised to prevent a player from even thinking of their leather as a projectile. But when baseball breaks, Springer can for a moment break free of more than a century and a quarter of dogma and release the ego, live out our collective childhood dreams.
For one moment in the humorless, over-dramatic orchestral swell that is October, we’re allowed to laugh.
The Poetics of Aaron Judge
By: Kate Preusser
In case you haven’t heard, Aaron Judge is tall. At 6-foot-7, he is taller than 99.952 percent of American men. He is also taller than 99.91 percent of Lithuanian men, a country where people are almost 5-foot-10 on average. He is in the 99th percentile for height in every country I checked on the height percentile calculator I looked up on the internet, even while falling all the way down to the 99.6th percentile in the Czech Republic, and 99.582 in the Netherlands, home of the tallest people in the world, on average. (Disclaimer: I did not check every country—just the tall-sounding ones.) There is no environment in which Aaron Judge is not amazingly, freakishly tall.
Compared to Judge, Jose Altuve is short, deliciously, comically so. The picture of the two of them standing next to each other went viral, because it is delightful, and because the spectacle of Judge standing next to Altuve allows us, jaded grownups, to briefly be children again. For a child, everything is a superlative: Every building is the tallest building on the planet; every horse runs faster than anything, ever; every ocean is the deepest ocean, every bird sings the sweetest song. As we grow and see more things, our eyes become weary of the world, which loses much of its capacity to surprise and delight us through sheer overuse, the same streets we walk down every day. We pause, at times, to capture the sherbet colors of a sunset, or a perfect fallen leaf, but the world has largely lost its ability to startle us into delight at every turn.
And then, once in a while, the world unleashes a corker at us, just to prove to us the old girl’s still got it:
The thing is, Jose Altuve isn’t that short, compared to the world at large. His listed height of 5-foot-6 puts him on the shorter end of American men (about the 13th percentile), but in his home country of Venezuela, he’s of perfectly average height. He’s only a little shorter than the average French man, and in India, he’d be taller than most. He’s not even alone in being one of the shortest players on the Astros; teammate Tony Kemp also checks in at a listed 5-foot-6. Unlike Judge, there is nothing particularly freakish about Altuve’s height, nothing to activate that childlike sense of wonder. It is only in relation to his fellow players, and to Judge specifically, that Altuve’s height becomes remarkable. This is the work that poets do: They rearrange the quotidian and put it in conversation with the magical, the freakish, the delightful, and then they show the world back to us, a polished ring returned from the jeweler’s. Thank goodness for baseball, a sport that allows space for many different body types and the delight that arises from moments such as these; a sport for poets.
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