Moments, Glorious Moments

I am an analyst by profession, and I bring that into my sports fandom. Analysis of baseball and football is a major part of how I follow, study and think about the games. In the baseball realm, I’m inclined toward what people called statistical analysis, Bill James, Baseball Prospectus and the like. Football, despite the efforts of people like the good folks at Football Outsiders, is not given to such quantification (a limitation the guys at FO are still struggling to get some perspective on), but even there, serious thought, challenging conventional wisdom and, yes, even some limited number crunching, is part of what I do as a fan.

That stuff is fun. It helps my understanding and appreciation of the games. But in the end, it’s the heart that is the center of sports fandom. There are moments in sports that explain why I get so emotionally attached to the games, why I growl in frustration when Kyle Farnsworth is brought into a tight situation and blows a lead, why I pound the table when Amani Toomer drops a key third down pass that hits him square in the chest. There are magical moments that make it all worthwhile.

Sometimes, those moments can come even when it’s not my team. Kirk Gibson’s game-winning homerun off of Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series was one of those. The gimpy slugger, forced to generate the power in his swing just from his arms, wins the game against the best reliever of his era. That’s a moment for poetry, not analysis. And it’s the beauty of baseball. Analysis can capture the value of a player’s season or career. But in a given moment, in one at-bat, or one play from scrimmage, anything can happen.

Of course, it’s better when it’s your team overcoming obstacles and long odds. But those moments can also be created by mediocre players. The 1978 season saw a near-miraculous comeback by the Yankees, overcoming a 14-game deficit to a very good Boston Red Sox team. But when all of that seemed like it might be for naught, it was weak-hitting Bucky Dent who creamed a three-run homer off Mike Torrez to bring the proper flourish to the Yankees’ season.

But moments are at their sweetest when your team is the underdog. The ’78 Yankees were a great team and the defending world champions. For the most part, even the greatest moments are somewhat dampened for Yankee fans. The Bronx Bombers are the greatest dynasty in sports. When they win, it is merely a promise fulfilled. It is when your team is clearly the inferior one, but wins anyway that sports find their potential for their greatest moments.Continue reading “Moments, Glorious Moments”