Commentary

Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and history

What happens when reality isn't really historic? We get Cody Ross stealing the show

Originally Published: October 18, 2010
By Jeff MacGregor | ESPN.com

It was going to be historic.

The advertising said so.

[+] EnlargeLincecum
AP Photo/Rob CarrTim Lincecum played a good game on Saturday. Cody Ross played a better one.

But as is the case with almost everything we sell ourselves in this overheated, undercooked American Now, Saturday night turned out to be not what was promised, not what was hyped, but merely what was.

Of course, this disappointed lots of folks. Including me, who had made popcorn and a promise to write about the epochal shootout, and the sports department at The New York Times, who reported the story Sunday morning beneath the buried Page 6 headline, "Pitching Duel Fizzles as Giants Beat Halladay."

Fizzles! Page 6!

The story dropped like a dotcom stone from our own front page, too, falling fast, fast, fast Sunday morning in the tumble of all those college football recaps and in advance of that long, long day of professional football.

When hype goes unrequited, and reality fails to rise to the level of our desires, it comes off the front page. If you want cold, hard facts from your local paper, check the classifieds. The rest of it, from front to back and from politics to business to international affairs, is a catalog of crackpot passions, broken promises, partisan heartache, dreams undreamed, lies, omissions, oversights, mythologies, tautologies, falsehoods, failures and disappointments.

[+] EnlargeRoy Halladay
AP Photo/Matt SlocumRoy Halladay made baseball history recently. Just not on Saturday night.

Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the Giants and Phillies was a terrifically watchable baseball show that had nothing to do with the fevered spiels and predictions which preceded it. It was sold as a heavyweight fight between pitchers Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay, and anything less than a bare-knuckle, 50-inning perfect game from each was going to be a bust. Coming off their spectacular prior performances, that seemed reasonable enough; and the promise that the whole enterprise would go straight into the history books a done deal.

Lincecum was all elbows and angles and effort. Halladay all smooth deception and power. Lincecum, who looks like a character from a graphic novel, or the way I've always pictured Ichabod Crane, is listed at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds. He has the elongated features of a very tall person, but is not in fact tall. Halladay, who when seen from the perfect dislocation of that center field camera is proportioned in the manner of a much shorter man, is actually huge: 6-6 and 230 pounds.

And "Lincecum, Halladay" really does sound like a British candy company.

Despite all these narrative perfections, it turned out the only pitching in the game worthy of special mention came from fake-bearded crazy Giants person, reclusive-Beach Boy-genius-namesake, power reliever Brian Wilson.

Cody Ross of San Francisco, also bearded as well as buzz-tonsured, was the night's unforeseeable hero.

[+] EnlargeTim Lincecum
AP Photo/Rob CarrLooks, like hype, can deceive. Lincecum looks tall.

So our "Appointment With History!," exclamation point, became instead our "Disappointment With Destiny." Sigh.

History is a fickle thing, and can only be made by consensus and in retrospect. If you want a few minutes of pitching history ready-made, please go here. And while you're back there, feel free to say hi to the 8-year-old me, feckless, fat and freckled and sitting in the last row of Miss Wyman's class listening to this game on a turquoise RCA transistor radio in a brown leatherette case, with that white earpiece run up through the collar of my plaid shirt in a clumsy swipe at secrecy. I'm the one doodling on my blue notebook.

I hope that somewhere Saturday night there was an American 8-year-old at least as resolute in his love of the game as I was back then.

A big part of the manufacture of history is the persistence of memory. So what we recall, we tend to make historic. Thus, the only honest question is not "Will this moment become historic?" asked in the present moment, but "Was that an historic moment?" asked in some unimagined and indeterminate future. (And we will save for another time entirely arguing the parts of speech and whether "history" or "historic" or "historian" take an "a" or an "an" in front of them. I prefer the indefinite article "an" before that soft "aitch" sound. But as this column proves week in and week out, I prefer indefinite articles generally.)

Today's 8-year-old won't know what was historic last week until the year 2054.

[+] EnlargeRoy Halladay
AP Photo/Matt SlocumIn 2054, what will Halladay remember about Game 1?

All of which makes awkward those endless Hall of Fame arguments pro and con about current players; and renders laughable cross-era debates about who was better than whom and what was better than what in this age or that. All of which will appear at agonizing length in my Unified Field Theory of Baseball©, which I will debut in this column in spring 2011, and with which I will compare the battle between statistics and experience to the war being fought over science and religion; advocate sending a poet, maybe Charlie Simic, to the moon; recommend a fashion ban on titanium necklaces unless worn by big league robots; and explain that if you're trying to figure out how many stones it took David to kill Goliath, you're missing the point of the story.

Baseball produces numbers only as a byproduct. What baseball sells is nostalgia. Not memory itself, or even history, but the appetite for those things. The craving for them.

Sadly, however, trapped between the hammer of routine and the anvil of the ordinary, we become small. Embittered. We want what we want. We wanted a big game Saturday night, an historic game. So that years from now we might look back upon it.

We did not get it.

It is this, the unbridgeable distance between our longings and our reality, that measures and records the sum of our disappointments.

So it is good news for 8-year-olds of every age that The Game of the Century will be played again on Thursday night.

Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at jeff_macgregor@hotmail.com, or follow his Twitter.com feed @MacGregorESPN.

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