This essay appears in the July 21, 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated. It appears on this site with the gracious permission of the magazine’s editors.
To the beaten dog, every sudden movement is another impending brutality in a lifetime of such. Eventually, even the most modest and trivial move in the mutt’s direction induces a simpering cower.
Tell me on June 16 that Matt Wieters, after playing only 26 games, will cross into the valley of the shadow of Tommy John, and I am supposed to mark that date as the moment when the Baltimore Orioles of 2014 ceased to matter. Flay me with the knowledge that Chris Davis—he of the 53 jacks a year ago—will be hitting a buck-ninety-nine at the All-Star break, and I am supposed to lower my head to your rolled-up newspaper. Push my cold little nose into the mess that has come of Ubaldo Jimenez’s first Baltimore season on a four-year, $50 million contract—he’s 3–8 and now disabled—and I ought to accept the rain of blows that surely follows.
And yet, Steve Pearce.
Anything that can happen, will. And in an infinite universe, it will happen repeatedly. The full implications of the second law of thermodynamics apply to the American League East just as soundly as to a million monkeys at a million typewriters. Eventually, and regardless of all prior history, the Baltimore Orioles are going to type the complete works of Shakespeare.
How do we know this?
Well, for one thing, there is no God. There is only science. If there were a God, he would be—as evidenced by all of modern baseball history—a devoted fan of the Yankees. And God, at least the Judeo-Christian version of Him rather than the Aristotelian unmoved mover, is said to be good. Ergo, there is no God.
So, alone in this cold and expanding universe, we are left to consider the random motion of atoms, of protons and electrons and quarks, as these elemental essences dance and glance their way through the hollow space of, say, a Camden Yards, a Fenway, a Yankee Stadium. There is no romance to the matter, no theology, no purposed narrative even—if by narrative you mean a tale with a moral, with cause and effect, fate or redemption, hubris or vindication. No one is making a point here; the monkeys just keep typing.
Entering play on Thursday, the Orioles were 10 games over .500, three up on a Toronto team that was dominant a month ago and also three ahead of a battered, shield-down Yankees Death Star. The O’s run differential is +24—encouraging news indeed when you consider that the oh-why-the-hell-not O’s of two years ago, the ones who won 93, were only +7 as they stole every one-run and extra-inning game.
The current Orioles, sitting pretty atop the once-vaunted AL East, are actually more legitimate in some ways than the 2012 team that went to the playoffs for the first time since Clinton was president, Lewinsky was a name known but to him, and the world was still debating whether all electronics would cease to operate properly at the stroke of the millennium.
In other words, all I am saying is give Pearce a chance. We can win this.
Why? Because the Yankees’ rotation is shredded and their lineup ordinary, and because Tanaka couldn’t pitch every game and now may not be able to pitch at all. Because Toronto’s batting order—topped with speed and stacked with power—is now hollowed by injury, so much so that talk of trading only for a front-line starter now yields to talk of trading for some of everything. Because Boston is as flat as Shane Victorino on the trainer’s table, awaiting another epidural. And the Rays? Where did those guys go?
The electrons dance away from the great as well as the good. Overall, this is no comfort whatsoever; to accept probability theory is to acknowledge that eventually the United States and the Russians must engage in a nuclear exchange or that your goodly wife will eventually screw the mailman or the yoga instructor. But it also means the American League East can’t forever be the home of predominance.
All right, you say, maybe Baltimore can win the division. Maybe Jimenez gets off the DL and reels off a half-dozen wins. Maybe Davis finds his stroke. Maybe the monkeys can produce a Cymbeline or a Titus Andronicus.
But for Hamlet or Lear, you’re thinking I’m going to need more simians and more keyboards. In the AL Central, Detroit is running away and showing no holes. And the Athletics are throwing up gaudy numbers. Here you sit, Simon, hermetically sealed in your 12-foot-wide South Baltimore row house, nattering on about the Orioles’ run differential? Really? The A’s have scored 163 runs more than their opponents—better than a run and a half more in every game. That’s a statistic that doesn’t smell of probability theory but stinks of certitude.
To which, I reply by discarding stats entirely. To hell with Billy Beane. Chew instead on more quantum mechanics—the uncertainty principle of which clearly states that any effort to measure quantities is disturbed by the very act of observation. In other words Heisenberg has Bill James by the ass.
Remember: Anything that can happen in an infinite and expanding universe eventually will. And despite some long years wandering amid the deep-space weight of baseball dark matter, Baltimore has now crawled from its black hole.
I’m a scribbler by trade. And like all the other scribblers, I know it’s as tempting to assert for a narrative of tragedy as to exalt in glory. Either outcome is food and fuel for poets, who can throw meter at men in the thrush of righteous victory or, even easier, at those bravely facing inevitable doom. We want it all to Mean Something.
I have a close friend, an Emmy-nominated writer, who expends his finest verbiage sending out midseason pontifications on his beloved Cubbies—missives writ in the lofty stylings of a Mencken or a Perelman, speckled with almost as much literary and historical reference as North Sider profanity. Strung together, end on end, season after season, these emails are as comic and inflated a baseball jeremiad as ever committed to language.
Of course my friend, being a lifelong Cubs fan, would wish to remain paper-bag anonymous, but anonymity is for Mob witnesses. His name is Jim Yoshimura, and he is a romantic and a chump and is playing a mug’s game. The Cubs are merely the Orioles of tomorrow. The quarks are still in play for them as well, and all things, mathematically, must pass. Believe in the expanding universe, Jimmy. Believe as I do.
Except, well, there’s this:
In 2003, at the University of Plymouth in England, researchers experimented with a half-dozen Sulawesi crested macaques in a Devon zoo, and discovered there were more unexpected variables than mere simian typing. After a month the monkeys had produced only five pages of work, heavily invoking the letter s throughout. And the lead male eventually took to smashing his machine with a rock, after which the other monkeys urinated and defecated on the keyboard.
So if Chris Davis could start hitting the baseball, that’d be nice too.