Goldman: A beautiful dream for 1914 and 2018

From SABR member Steven Goldman at The Hardball Times on September 28, 2018:

If miracles were commonplace, they wouldn’t be miracles. In order to maintain our faith in the ineffability of the divine, prayers must go unanswered. This applies equally to cancer cures and baseball comebacks.

There is an old (1975) book called Baseball’s Miracle Teams by John Durant. It may have been written for children; it certainly reads as if it were, though it gives no outward indication of its intended audience. A slim volume, it covers just three teams, the 1914 Boston Braves, 1951 New York Giants, and 1969 New York Mets. (Apparently the American League had never had a miracle team through 1975, just an endless series of Yankees juggernauts.) In trying to explain how the Braves were 35-43 (.449) at the season’s approximate midway point, 11 games behind the first-place New York Giants, but thereafter went 59-16 (.787), won the pennant by 10.5 games, and swept the Philadelphia A’s in the World Series, Durant wrote this passage about one of the team’s two future Hall of Famers, shortstop Walter “Rabbit” Maranville: “For all his colorful antics on and off the field, he was a fine player. He was, in fact, a great shortstop. He saved many a game for the Braves with his ‘impossible” stops and his accurate snap throws to the bases.”

“Impossible” is in quotes, so we know we’re not supposed to take it literally, but it still raises epistemological questions, such as, “Can Rabbit Maranville make a stop so impossible that Rabbit Maranville can’t make it?” This is pure fantasy, of course; as John Lennon sang, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” If Maranville actually made a stop, it may have been difficult, but by definition not impossible.

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Originally published: September 28, 2018. Last Updated: September 28, 2018.