For me, as a Boston Red Sox fan, what befell the Washington Nationals last week stirred unpleasant memories of having my own hopes dashed by the cruel bounces and turns of that little white ball, as it turned my team from sure winners to embarrassed losers faster than you could say”Bucky Dent.” Luckily, as I have explained here, my temporary abandonment of the beloved Hose did not turn me into a Nationals devotee, so I could watch the horrors of the Nats’ ninth inning, decisive game catastrophe, which occurred when they were one strike away from victory and a step closer to their first World Series in 79 years, with analytical detachment. I have consoled my heart-broken friends, and am prepared to help them through the long, hard winter, when visions of “what ifs?”will dance through their heads instead of sugarplums. John Feinstein, the acclaimed sports writer, isn’t helping, however.
As I predicted, he and many others are playing the worst and most unsportsmanlike version of hindsight bias, and blaming the Nationals’ loss on the controversial decision to shut down their young pitching phenom, Stephen Strasburg, before the end of the 2012 season to protect his arm. Feinstein writes:
“…even if you’re convinced that ending Strasburg’s season early was the right thing to do, at least consider this question: Do you honestly believe the Nationals would have wasted a 6-0 lead Friday night had Strasburg been the starting pitcher? What if the Nationals had trotted out a four-man rotation in this series of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann (pitching at home where he’s far more effective) and Ross Detwiler and Edwin Jackson had never seen the mound? Do you really believe the Cardinals would be playing in the National League Championship Series?” This series wasn’t lost when Drew Storen let it slip away after getting within one strike of ending it. It was lost when Nationals owner Ted Lerner bought into agent Scott Boras’s line that the Nationals had to sign Jackson to help eat up some of the innings Strasburg wasn’t going to pitch.”
This is rank consequentionalism as well as a breach of sportsmanship, fairness and common sense. I agreed with Feinstein, and even quoted him approvingly, when we both wrote that the Nationals’ decision to shelve their second-best pitcher on dubious grounds was a betrayal of the team’s duty to win for their fans. The decision was made, however, and the team roster was set. That Nats roster lost because its best pitcher, 20 game winner Gio Gonzalez, and the Nationals bullpen couldn’t hold 6-0 lead (a team with a 6-0 lead will win about 90% of the time) and the team’s usually effective closer lost a two run lead in the 9th inning ( two run leads in the 9th inning will win more than 90% of the time). And Feinstein blames this on…the absence of the Nats’ number two starter?
The answer to Feinstein’s question, “Do you really believe the Cardinals would be playing in the National League Championship Series?” is “Sure. I believe that’s as likely as any other outcome, because there is no way to tell what might have happened.” Strasburg might have stunk. He might have pitched wonderfully and lost. He might have won his game, and the Nats would lose anyway. The Nats played the Cardinals with the team they chose to put on the field, and hypothesizing that a decision made in August, or worse, February, when the Nats signed free agent pitcher Edwin Jackson, cost the team its chances to advance in the play-offs in October is disrespectful of the game’s unpredictability, the resilience of the St.Louis Cardinals, and the Nationals themselves. They could and should have won without Strasburg…in fact they nearly did. They could have won by hitting better, fielding better and pitching better when it counted, just like every losing team, in every game, big or insignificant. Feinstein’s whining about one of many decisions that shaped the team that faced St. Louis is the worst kind of factual cherry-picking, and he’s cheating by doing it with 20-20 hindsight, all so he can say “I told you so.”
Don’t listen to him, Nats fans. I know you’re new to this, and you don’t want to get into bad habits. The ethical, fair, and mentally healthy way to look back on a wonderful baseball season that ends with a shocking defeat is not to look for excuses, or to drive yourself mad thinking about what might have happened if something has been a little different. Listen to me, for I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with this particular situation—in 1967, 1972, 1975, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2009. I think I qualify as an expert.
What you do is realize what a lot of fun and excitement baseball and your team gave you for six months, be grateful, and hope that the next season is just as much fun, and that it ends a little better. You were lucky to follow such an entertaining team, to care so much, and to be rewarded with your devotion by hours and hours of enjoyment. You should feel like you do when you walk out of a wonderful movie: thrilled, sorry it’s over, but happy and looking forward to seeing it again.
Don’t listen to John Feinstein.
Pointer: John May
Source: Washington Post
Graphic: Washington Times