Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The Banana Split
Most of the time in sports, we get things right. When a player accomplishes something, we celebrate it. Fans enjoy seeing players reach milestones or goals, even if they aren't team accomplishments. When a running back rushes for 200 yards in one game, we make a big deal about it, and rightly so. That's one hell of an afternoon. If a pitcher throws a no-hitter (no matter how prevalent it has recently become) it is something to cherish. Putting up a double-double in a basketball game is rather commonplace, yet the sign of a solid afternoon.
Occasionally there are events celebrated that are understandable, yet a bit over the top. Derek Jeter recently passed Babe Ruth on the all-time hits list. Sure, that is a nice thing for Derek. But Jeter was already the all-time Yankees' hits leader. He reached that milestone last season. And Ruth, although a fantastic player, was something like 38th on this list. Big deal. The name meant more than what Derek actually accomplished. So, if it meant something to him, then so be it. Good for him, passing a legend, but let's leave it at that.
I feel the same way when a team makes a bowl game in college football. Perhaps if it is their first bowl appearance in school history, we can celebrate it, but other than that, is there any conceivable reason to be proud of this? The way college basketball is going, making the NCAA tournament will be thought of in the same vein. With so many schools reaching this goal, how great can it be?
On the other hand, every so often in sports, there is an accomplishment celebrated that is so inane, so utterly pointless, that people cheer as if it means something. The only sport this happens in is baseball. The only event that spurs such a reaction is when a player hits for the cycle.
Hitting for the cycle: the dumbest accolade in sports. The first true test of whether something is dumb is how completely random it is. For you see, most of the time, when a player has a chance to hit for the cycle, they are not trying to, or shouldn't be trying to get there. The act of actually hitting for the cycle in a baseball game is all circumstance and luck. The second test of idiocy is whether said goal is actually a good thing to reach. Is hitting for the cycle really good? If the alternative can be thought of as better, you have yourself a very dumb accolade.
Joe Jones is coming to the hypothetical plate. There is one out, and his team is trailing by one run. This is his fifth and final at-bat of the game. Coincidentally, (yes, entirely coincidentally) in his first four at-bats, he has gone 3 for 4, with a single, triple, and a home run. Jones is having himself a nice afternoon. Of course, with one out, he needs to get to third base so the next guy up can knock him in with an out. If he hits the ball to deep right center field, does he think about stopping at second base for the double even if he can probably get to third? Does he consider it just for a split second? Does the crowd groan a bit if he passes second base and continues on, knowing he gave up his cycle? Does a fan at home, to himself or quietly aloud, whisper the thought, "ooh, ah, okay, I guess if he gets to third that was a smart play...but still..."? And what if he gets thrown out at third? It is not, inherently, a bad play to make a second out at third base, yet if it was in place of hitting for the cycle, can't you just imagine what the announcer would say?
If this hypothetical Joe Jones scenario is plausible, even possible, what does that say for the accomplishment of hitting for the cycle? When an act, that clearly and without question, hinders the success of your team (stopping at second when you should be able to get to third) is celebrated, where does that leave us?
As a self-proclaimed fan of stats, cycles are even more obnoxious. 'Oh, Jim Jones went 5 for 6 with 5 doubles? That's a nice game for him. But didn't you see John Jones hit for the cycle!?' Jim's afternoon is good for his average and slugging percentage but gets lost in the wind, not to be remembered even two weeks later. Meanwhile, John's day, albeit less impressive than Jim's, will be remembered, in fact it is forever etched in history as another cycle.
Please, for the sake of everyone who is a fan of common sense, do not bring up how historic it would be to hit for five doubles in one game, and just appreciate the exaggerated analogy for what it's worth. The point is, going 5 for 6 with five doubles is not "something." It doesn't have a name, and that makes all the difference. In fact, right now, I want to officially call any game where a player hits five doubles a banana split. Banana splits have two bananas (the double) and five scoops of ice cream (the five). Actually I made that up, but the name stands nevertheless. Now someone contact the Elias Sports Bureau and see how many Banana Splits there have been in major league history. Then we're really getting somewhere.
Okay, where was I? So how great can an accomplishment be if anyone even considers hurting their team to get it? How can that be celebrated when it is even an option? And what about the alternative? If Jeff Jones has a double, triple and home run in a game already, he just needs a single for the cycle. However, a player coming to bat wants extra bases to help his team. So Jeff hits one between the left fielder and center fielder, and makes the valiant attempt to stretch the extra base. Unfortunately he gets thrown out at second. He goes back to the dugout, sullen and disappointed, until he realizes, by making a possible base running error and taking a man off the base paths for his team, he has now hit for a cycle! Hooray! Make sure to inscribe his name in the record books.
The only other possibility where an event like this can take place is with a triple double in basketball. I suppose it is technically possible for a player to have 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists, and to begin to miss every shot he takes on purpose, in order to try to get some extra rebounds. This is possible, yet seems unlikely and out of place. Where as a player foregoing or missing the extra base in an attempt to secure a cycle seems probable and commonplace.
From now on, can we all agree to never give a crap if someone hits for the cycle? I want this to happen. By all means, congratulate him on getting four hits in a game and slugging 2.500 (if he was 4 for 4) but that should be as far as it goes. In the history of baseball, there have been about the same amount of no-hitters as there are times a batter has hit for the cycle. I want to never hear this stat again. No-hitters are impressive. Hitting for the cycle is random and fluky. No one should ever compare them again. Now hitting for the banana split? That's another story.
(Image taken from icecreamjournal.turkeyhill.com)