Indians, WWW

Professional Athletes and Intangibles: While We’re Waiting


I was a pitcher in high school—not a great one, but a solid innings eater, maybe the number three or four guy. I attended to a prep school, one that attracted students through its academic, not athletic, reputation; the “notable alumni” section of our Wikipedia page looks decidedly nothing like this. Still, we were pretty successful during my senior year, largely thanks to our best player. Let’s call him Sam for his privacy. Sam had the prototypical body for an MLB prospect—6’3” righty, I’m guessing 180lbs. To use a scouting term, he had a “projectable” frame, and he could throw his fastball into the low 90s; for comparison, on the best day of my life, I may have touched 75 MPH. Sam was also our starting shortstop on days he wasn’t on the hill with the pill. He could hit, too; the man could play baseball. I think we all thought we were playing with a future pro prospect. As naturally gifted as Sam was, it didn’t translate into even an impressive college performance. As far as I know, Sam now lives in New York City doing something financial that I’m too dumb to understand.

All those guys we watch every day in baseball, or once a week in football, or however often basketball players play, those guys have more than just talent. Sam had talent. It takes much more than that to become a professional athlete—coachability, dedication, hard work, ability to thrive under pressure, adaptability, just to name a few. Now, certainly, intangibles exist. Some guys are leaders, most are followers. Everyone has their place, and psychoanalysis of grown athletes is well above my paygrade. But, even the professional athletes with the absolute fewest leadership tendencies made it to the peak of their profession, and just by doing that, they’ve proven that they have what it takes. They’ve all thrived under pressure before—many were in the College World Series, some probably were in the minor league playoffs, but every single one of them had to play well in front of amateur scouts, and then team officials, with their futures on the line. The ones that didn’t? You know them as Hank, your accountant, and Bill, your dentist.

It’s tempting to recall the 2018 Cleveland Indians playoffs, and chalk that utterly lousy performance to not being able to handle the pressure or not being properly prepared. I assure you, dear reader, that pressure or preparation had nothing to do with it, and that the Indians “wanted it” just as bad as the Astros. For three days in early October, the Indians were shellacked, tattooed, whiffed, and bamboozled. In order to get to that highest stage, though, each member of the Indians had to earn their way. They’ve all been selected precisely because they can handle the pressure of being a professional baseball player; otherwise, they would have flamed out in front of amateur scouts, or in the College World Series, or in the minor leagues. They’ve all played extremely talented teams before. Heck, most of them had made the playoffs the year prior, and the World Series two years before that.

So why did 2018 end the way it did? Well, for starters, the 2018 Houston Astros also happened to be an excellent baseball team. They were the Indians’ equal when it comes to their starting rotation, with more depth, a stronger bullpen, and if not a better lineup, at least a more complete one. Still, FanGraphs estimated before each of the ALDS games that the Indians had a 46.4%, 47.5%, and 51.7% chance of winning Games 1, 2, and 3, respectively, based on each team’s lineup and starter and the location of each bout. This may be difficult to remember, but the Indians were actually winning each of the final two games of the series two-thirds of the way through each game. These games ultimately came down to was that the Astros offense came alive against the Indians’ bullpen, and the Indians’ offense was dormant. What you can’t do as a fan is attempt to diagnose the Indians’ problems from those three games. It’s three games! The Indians actually outscored the Astros in 2018; Houston’s lineup wasn’t considerably better than Cleveland’s. What you can do as a fan is be frustrated in the results, but I’m not sure that’s going to accomplish anything. Let’s all remember that the Indians are really good, three games are essentially random, and that a lack of cynicism and thanklessness should be what separates us Clevelanders from the more spoiled fans of the Northeast, not just our team’s payroll. It’s baseball season, everybody—let’s go Tribe!

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I worry that television’s so-called Golden Age was mortally wounded with the end of Mad Men, and Game of Thrones final season is its dying gasp. Certainly, there are quality shows on TV right now. HBO’s Barry transcends genre, equal parts PTSD nightmare and acting drama, all the while being as reliably hilarious as you’d expect from a show starring Bill Hader. BBC’s Killing Eve is an utterly enthralling addition to the spy genre, thanks to stellar lead performances from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. Donald Glover’s trippy ode to his hometown Atlanta was unlike anything that had come out before. I could go on and on about the great shows that are still in their television infancy, and well, there, that’s the problem.

The amount of content being produced by each source, and the sheer amount of places making TV in the first place, is astronomical. There is so much programming on TV right now that I’m sure someone with the exact same taste profile as I have could easily have listed three different shows than the ones I just named, and wouldn’t be wrong to do so. I don’t care if it’s your job, no one could watch, or even scratch the surface of everything on TV. When Breaking Bad ended in 2012, all anyone could talk about was how Walter White went out on top, even those who had never watched the show before. Jump to now, and I can’t find a soul who watches Killing Eve, which is a bummer, both because it’s really really great and also because storytelling is an inherently social human event. I want to talk about the amazing feats of human suffering I just experience, and there’s no one around with whom to blow off that steam. With the diversification of TV sources, with it has come its specialization, which means anyone can find something for them. Just good luck talking about it with anyone.