In a game that can be this tense, where every pitch and swing and sign and steal can fluctuate your heart rate, there's always ample room for second-guessing. Major League Baseball has a long season of long games, and the playoffs are longer games that can make you start to break out in hives.
If your team loses, there's what-ifs: What if he didn't sit on that hanging curve? What if 3-2 pitch on the black was called a strike? What if the manager brought in the lefty to face the lefty?
If your team wins, there's what-ifs: What if we can't re-sign him (Cardinals fans know this one)? What if we can't contend now that our division stocked up and there's a bulls eye on our backs?
Baseball's a throwback sport, an old-school game with old-school rules (instant replay debate, anyone?) and old-school powers (Red Sox, Yankees) who command the most attention. And what's more old-school in America than armchair-managing with hindsight as your sidekick?
It's a true pastime of ours, and these are the grandest moments for which we do so.
It captivated everyone. It captivated your mom, grandma, little sister, your little sisters' friends, your little sisters' friends'-friends, their parents, the lifeguard at the community pool, the checker at the grocery store and the cop directing traffic on the corner. Literally, everyone paid attention to this, tuned in and checked newspapers to see who was leading the smash-a-thon to 62 between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa.
Casual fans were gripped. Non-baseball fans followed. Here were two monstrously ripped men who were jacking balls out of parks with a frequency so awesomely impressive, we were all in too much awe to wonder if they were cheating (more on that later).
And regardless of Mitchell Reports and awkward congress testimonies and the like, there's no doubt this season helped resurrect baseball. If it didn't happen...who knows where the game would be today.
Oh, man, Kirby Puckett was good. Clutch, too. Remind yourself for yourself if you don't remember. He was one of the game's biggest stars, a World Series hero with a sweet swing and golden glove. Twins fans loved him. MLB fans loved him.
Then, in 1996, while in the midst of punking spring training pitching, he woke up without vision in his right eye. Before that moment, he was never on the DL. And unlike pitchers' ligaments and shortstops' knees, surgeries couldn't repair Puckett's vision. His career ended.
He still made the Hall of Fame, deservedly so. Still, we can only speculate what would have been possible.
Athletes' primes are a small window, a glace of ones' life where their mind and body are in perfect, peak sync. Capitalization is key, because each day the window gets smaller and the skills slightly erode until you're forced out of your profession.
You can perform checkups as a doctor at 50. You can write sports articles and fix roofs and layout accounting spreadsheets until the golden years.
You can't hit a baseball.
So for Ted Williams to miss chunks of his career to fight for this country is not only admirable, but it makes you wonder what else he could have accomplished if he was in Boston instead of flying high above the Pacific Ocean.
What if the Giants didn't pack up and waive goodbye to the Polo Grounds? What if the Dodgers didn't bail from Brooklyn? It's only right to answer a question with the same questions here, because for our main demo at B/R (18 to 34), it's just hard to fathom these teams outside San Francisco or L.A.
But these clubs were entrenched in New York. They were in metropolis, the greatest city in the world, the kind of place Sinatra sings odes to. It's impossible to fathom two teams bailing from that biggest market in the country, but it's exactly what happened when these two squads Gold Rushed-it here to California and brought their turn-key rivalry with them.
Generations of grandpa's, sons, and grandsons here in California have embraced this them ever since, and nobody here (B/R's down street from AT&T Park) could imagine it any other way. What if...? We don't even want to think about it on the West Coast.
Read up here if you don't know just how good he was. He was sooooooooo good. The youngest-ever-Hall-of-Fame-inductee good. Seven-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young winner, NL MVP good...and he retired at 30 because of arm trouble.
What if his elbow stayed healthy? What if he could have kept flummoxing batters, sending them back to the dugouts with their heads shaking after flailing at the lefty's unhittable offering?
He'll always be one of the greatest of all time. He could have been even greater if he wasn't forced aside early.
It could be "What if Bartman stayed in his seat?"
It could be "What if Moises Alou made the catch?"
It could be "What if Moises Alou still missed the catch, but didn't stop around like a toddler afterward?"
It could be "What if the Cubs just won the next game?"
Instead, a fan was scapegoated, forced into hiding and media silence and a life of infamy. Regardless of what side you're on, this is an sad chapter of Major League Baseball everyone wishes turned out differently.
Somebody had to figure out sooner or later. At first we were all blinded, or chose to be. The home run is a sexy, alluring, make-you-jump-out-of-your-seat-in-awe part of sports. And in that era, there were so many huge ones, so many bombs to gawk over. It was awesome.
Then we realized it wasn't natural. A witch hunt ensued. The hammer was dropped. Implications flew around. The era of anonymous sourcing for sports stories was born. Asterisks arguments became daily radio fodder. The bubble bust.
But what if it never happened? What if they didn't cheat or we just didn't care? How would the game be different today? 'Cause it certainly wouldn't be the same.
Easy, he'd be in the Hall of Fame. And if he were in Cooperstown, we wouldn't have to have this argument constantly regurgitated every time a new class is inducted or his name is mentioned. Charlie Hustle was great, amazing, the all-time hits leader for you-know-what's sake.
But, he bet on baseball. If he didn't, he'd be enshrined, and we'd all be 500,000 percent less annoyed by this tired, yet still divisive, topic.
Well 2004 wouldn't have been so dang special, that's for sure.
No Dave Roberts steal. No Big Papi clutch hits. No monumental New York chokes. None of it would of happened. No trading The Babe, no curse, no lifting of said cruse, and no ensuing Boston run that makes them go from lovable underdogs to over-covered team with infuriating fanbase.
It just seems stupid now—awful and embarrassing, too. We as a country had some very myopic, hateful views that dictated policy. Baseball was no exception; read up.
Without a doubt, this is the biggest and most important what-if, one where there's no argument. The barrier never should have existed.
At the end of the day, on-field stuff is just on-field stuff. What if the Yankees bunted? Who cares? It's a game.
This was something much bigger, so it's important to look back and remember.