Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 4, 2022

Balancing Immediate Gratification With Lasting Joy

Fandom comes with responsibilities, one of which is to balance the natural desire for immediate results with an appreciation for all that has gone before, and especially for achievements measured not by a season, much less a game, but over the fullness of a career.  We who part with our hard-earned dollars to fill the three tiers of seats at the big Stadium in the Bronx do so with something between hope and expectation that the lads in pinstripes will provide reason to cheer and, in due time, to send us home happy.  It is the same at every other sporting venue, for it is the rare member of a franchise’s faithful who passes through the turnstiles of any park filled with a desire to see their heroes lose.  The only variable is the confidence level of the spectators, the exact mix of hope versus expectation as they take their seats.  Still, when that day’s contest ends in disappointment, as inevitably some must, the serious fan is buoyed by the longer view.  While only one club’s history includes 27 championships, every team has stories worth cheering, including many of more recent vintage than the last Yankees’ title.

Every fan of the Great Game has been reminded this week of the equal weight that must be given to both the present and the past.  The importance of the here and now was made plain on Tuesday, when MLB’s trading deadline for this season arrived at 6 p.m.  The deadline has always showcased those teams most committed to the immediate gratification of playing deep into the current year’s October.  That is even more true now, with the elimination of the old allowance for subsequent deals provided the players involved first cleared the waiver process.  Except for minor league callups, the trading deadline now cements rosters for the playoff run.

Although three of the division leaders are double-digit games in front of the runner-up, with the postseason field expanded to twelve teams every club with at least a .500 record can still conjure a not entirely fantastical scenario in which it nabs at least a Wild Card slot.  That’s a majority of MLB teams as this is written, which may have limited the number of GMs choosing to sell at the deadline.  Yet there was still plenty of action, with some three dozen trades announced between the end of last week and late Tuesday afternoon. 

The biggest of them all was of course the deal that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell from the east coast to the west, the now former Washington Nationals traded to San Diego for what seemed like the entire Padres farm system plus first baseman / designated hitter Luke Voit.  The latter was a late addition to the package after Eric Hosmer exercised the no trade clause in his contract to remove himself from the deal as originally announced. 

Because they are expected to do so, plenty of pundits rushed to grade not just the Soto megadeal, but, in some cases, every single transaction that took place over the days leading up to the deadline.  But as has been pointed out in this space in previous years, such assessments are tentative at best.  The classic deadline trade is an established star exchanged for a package of prospects, so one team’s return is years in the future.  Certainly, if San Diego, which currently holds the National League’s second Wild Card slot, storms through the postseason to claim its first title, the Padres will be unquestioned winners of the trade.  That will be true even if such a result is delayed until 2023 or 2024.  But if Washington rebuilds around the five prospects sent to D.C. from the Padres, only two of whom have seen any major league time, it might be hard to judge the Nationals as losers in the deal come, say, 2025.

Which doesn’t mean one shouldn’t feel bad for fans in the nation’s capital right now.  Less than three seasons ago the Nationals were on top of the baseball world.  Now, virtually the entirety of the roster that turned a miserable season’s start into a World Series winning finish in 2019 is gone, and with the team up for sale the future is uncertain.  Still, like Paris for Rick and Ilsa, those fans will always have 2019.  So it is with every franchise, which is why memory plays such an important role in the lives of fans. 

Memories such as those Nats fans have of their team’s 2019 title are sweet, but best of all are stories of sustained accomplishment.  Fans in the Bronx celebrated those kinds of tales last weekend, when the Yankees brought back Old-Timers’ Day after a pandemic-induced two-year absence.  Under a bright July sun, fans cheered the heroes of another time even as the exploits of each former player was recounted.  Because the Yankees are a uniquely successful franchise, many of those resumes included championships won.  Still, the day was not without sadness.  The pause in these celebrations brought on by COVID meant the list of former greats who had passed on since the last gathering was unusually long.  Included on it were Bobby Brown, the former New York infielder who went on to serve as president of the American League, Don Larsen, of World Series perfect game fame, and Whitey Ford.

Then, even as fans in every big league city were digesting the results of this year’s trading deadline, came news of the death of Vin Scully.  For 67 seasons Scully told fans, first in Brooklyn and then in L.A., but really all across the country and around the world, when it was “time for Dodger baseball.”  He did so with grace and knowledge, and with a passion for the Great Game that was apparent to everyone listening.  He also understood that the contest on the field was the center of attention, which gave him the awesome ability, exceedingly rare in a sportscaster, to remain silent.  Listen to his most iconic call, that of Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.  After the ball sails into Dodger Stadium’s right field seats, what one hears for more than a minute is not Scully, just the frenzy of rapturous fans.  It’s the same with his coverage of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, and, for national TV, of the decisive play in the Mets comeback win over the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1986 Series. 

Scully’s ability to understand both the moment and his listeners, and to excel at his craft for nearly seven decades, explains the enormous outpouring of sadness and affection from players and fans at the news of his passing.  It was a powerful reminder that while we will always celebrate the immediacy of championships, our highest honors are reserved for the timelessness of legends.

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