This piece, by BP’s Sam Miller, first appeared at the Baseball Prospectus main site and is exclusively available to BP subscribers. We’ve posted a sneak preview here.
There were two trillion possible half-versions of you. And your father, he encountered thousands of women in his life, any of whom could have been your mom, bringing us into the quadrillions of possibilities for you. And there were two trillion possible half-versions of him, and there were thousands of women in his life, all of whom had two trillion possible half-versions and thousands of possible mothers who all had two trillion possible half-versions of themselves, besides, of course, having thousands of possible mothers (who each had two trillion possible half-versions of themselves). This sentence stretches back millions of years, every word of it snapping together in just such a way that of those trillions to the power of trillions of possible outcomes one survived and produced you. You are alive because math finally just gave up and guessed an answer, and the answer was you, and the answer was loved, and the answer loved back, because life is good and sweet heavens are we lucky to be part of it.
And tomorrow, you’ll drive to work and you’ll be one second too late to make the yellow light, and you’ll think, “why can’t I ever catch a break?”
Baseball has a luck problem. Nobody on the field even wants to say the word, hear the word. You try to ask them about their run differential or their BABIP or their FIP and it’s a different kind of blank look than you get when you ask about other nerd stuff—this is the do-not-engage blank look, the let’s-keep-this-grounded look, the keep-me-away-from-your-wrathful-pagan-god-science look. They don’t want to hear that they’ve been lucky, because that implies they’re not so good, and that they’re going to get worse. They don’t want to hear that they’ve been unlucky, because it’s even worse to be cursed than to be bad—the latter at least having a theoretical fix. Or perhaps both of those explanations are wrong, but something about the luck conversation marginalizes what these guys do, turns it from a game of skill (legal in all but five states!) to simple gambling. It is a game of skill. It is absolutely a game of skill, and the Cubs won the National League Wild Card game 4-0 because they were extremely skillful. You could not watch Jake Arrieta throw high cheese and steal second base and not see the skill. It’s also, unfortunately for the Pirates, a game of luck, a million years of gods-sex producing a moment when the bat boy walks through the dugout patting your shoulder and shaking your hand and telling you thanks and you’ll get ‘em next year.
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Lead photo courtesy Charles LeClaire—USA Today Sports.