A (real) angel in the outfield

Lou Brock in motion (Baseball Hall of Fame)

Lou Brock tells this beautiful story. Many years ago, he tried out for the baseball team at Southern University. He wasn’t a finished baseball product then, not even close, and he felt sick at the tryout. “I can’t hit these guys,” he told himself. Lou Brock felt the urge to run away.

And then, he saw a young boy — 12 years old, maybe — running on the field. He was tiny compared to the other players, but he was out there, playing catch, cheering people on, slapping the players on the back, laughing. Brock saw the kid and felt this joy inside him swell. Yes! Baseball is a game for the young, a game to be played with love and confidence and the free spirit of childhood. Brock stayed. He hit a home run in the tryout. He made the team. He went on to the Hall of Fame.

When the tryout ended, Lou Brock looked for that boy who had braced him and inspired him. But Brock could not find the kid anywhere. He walked over to a new teammate and asked where that little boy had gone.

“What little boy?” the teammate asked.

“You know the one that was out here running around, playing baseball with everyone, seemed like everyone knew him.”

And the teammate looked funny at Lou Brock and said, “You’ve got to be out of your mind. There was no little boy out here.”

Brock spends his days fighting bone cancer. He’d appreciate a few prayers, I know. Lou Brock has told the story of the little boy on the field many times, and he always ends the same way: He has no idea who he was. But, Brock figures, he had to be an angel.

“A prop in someone else’s feel-good story”

The Cubs and the Dodgers just ended a wonderful little three-game series at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won the first game when Anthony Rizzo hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth against LA closer Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers won the second game with a tightly pitched performance from starter Brandon McCarthy and three relievers.

And the Cubs won Thursday 4–0; the big blow was this beer-splashing shot from Rizzo.

This was good baseball, and with all due respect to first place Arizona and Cincinnati — here’s hoping they keep this up all year long — there’s a pretty good chance we will see the Dodgers and Cubs again come October.

But there was a little drama going on during this series that was very easy to miss. Jim Steinmeyer, the great inventor and writer of magic, talks about a concept called “the dazzler.” Without getting too technical, a dazzler is an extremely bright light that makes everything around it very difficult to see.

The Cubs are baseball’s dazzler at the moment. You know, the Cubs run last year was so magical, so Disneyesque, that it can be easy for fans to forget that they left a trail of heartbreak in their path. America wanted the Cubs. And the Cubs prevailed. Cue the parade. The whole run feels like a movie montage now, bold music, gorgeous cinematography, a few tense moments, sure, but never too much for the heroes to overcome.

And in that movie montage, nobody else really matters. The Cubs 4–2 victory over the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series feels almost routine, not unlike the United States’ 7–3 victory over Czechoslovakia in the 1980 Miracle on Ice Winter Olympics. Everybody remembers the U.S. victory over the Soviet Union in those Olympics, of course. Everybody forgets that Czechoslovakia was the second-best team in the world then, and the U.S. upset of Czechoslovakia is part of what made the whole thing possible.

“There’s a particular kind of sting,” Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi says, “to being a prop in someone else’s feel good story.”

Yes. That’s exactly it. The Dodgers were a prop, a “PUT LOSING TEAM HERE” fill in the blank on the Cubs’ magical ride. And then, this week, they had to be there, front and center, while the Cubs celebrated (and celebrated) (and celebrated) their first championship in more than a century (and celebrated).

“Look, the Cubs were the best team in baseball and very deserving World Series champions,” Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi says. “Hats off to them. I think they have to be considered the favorites again.

“But we feel like we’re a pretty good team. You get the feeling people say, ‘Of course the Cubs beat the Dodgers, they were the better team.’ That’s not what baseball is. If you play that series 100 times, how many times would we have won? How many times would they have won? In our mind, it was a series that hung in the balance.”

Zaidi points to a couple series-turning plays like the Miguel Montero grand slam against Joe Blanton in Game 1 (“We’re one pitch away from winning that game, I think,” Zaidi says) or Adrian Gonzalez getting thrown out at home plate early in Game 4 (“I still can’t watch that play and see how he’s out”). This isn’t sour grapes. He isn’t suggesting the Dodgers could have or should have won that series. He’s saying that they PLAYED in that series.

“We are a footnote to their march to the World Series,” Zaidi says. “I know that. And I know this speaks to the denial that every team has when they lose, all those what ifs no one else will ever see. I’m just pointing out that this is a proud franchise too. We have not won a World Series in almost 30 years.

“So I think some of our determination this year is, like, we’re not going to be prop in someone else’s feel good story, you know? We felt like we were playing best supporting actor, and we don’t want that. And I think it’s part of our motivation this year to be our own feel good story this year.”

History, as they say, is written by the winners. This week, the Dodgers watched the Cubs’ party from the opposing dugout. World Series rings. Raised banners. Dancing With the Stars. Fireworks. The Dodgers watched all that up close, and undoubtedly felt more than a few emotions bubble up.

Cubs president Theo Epstein smiles just a little when he hears about how the Dodgers are using the Cubs as motivation. He expects that.

“If you spend time or any sort of mental energy focusing on other teams’ motivations, you’re kind of missing the point,” he says. “It’s all about your group. I think we assume the Dodgers are gonna be really, really good.”

The Pitcher Win Scoreboard

Time for our weekly look at the Win Leader scoreboard. The idea here, you might remember, is to just see WHO is getting the pitcher wins. There are no judgments being thrown around — not yet anyway. It’s just a season tally to determine what the pitcher win means in 2017.

Yes, I know of all the efforts — including my own — to simply get rid of the pitcher win. But, realistically: It ain’t happening. The win is too engrained in our connection with baseball. There’s a nostalgia for the win. Even now, people are wondering when San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner will get his first win of the year.

So if we’re going to keep the win, let’s see what the stat is actually telling us. Who is getting these wins? Here is the Win Scoreboard so far:

Twitter poll of the day

Here are results from the Hall of Awesomeness Twitter poll:

You know: If “Vin Scully” is an option on basically any poll — Who should be president? Who should be the next Batman? Who would you want officiating your wedding? — Vin Scully figures to get at least 60% of the vote. Vin’s awesomeness is so overpowering that I think he might be the one guy who can break the Internet with kindness.

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