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Trey Hillman: An Emblem for a Stubborn and Backwards Franchise

The Trey Hillmans and Dayton Moores of the world always tell us about the magical and mystical world of baseball. They describe it as a game played in a kind of manly tableau of romance, a strange concoction of male heroism -- you have to look into a guy's eyes now and then -- and a well-wrought detective novel. Little things, things that don't show up in the boxscore, are of course, supremely important. And it makes them feel intelligent, although they are at root anti-intellectual, to adhere to this sort of gnosticism. Not everybody really knows the game, like those who really know the game. Scouts, it goes without saying, are part of the initiated, the wizard sleuths who know what to notice and how to interpret the signs. The oracles of this creed speak as all oracles do, in circles designed to confuse outsiders. Thus, we are sometimes told things seemingly empty: he's a ballplayer, he plays the game the right way, and so on.

It is, fundamentally, a world enchanted by magic. A mythical world. Symbols and signs abound. Beginnings and endings, naturally, are of the utmost importance. How the first inning of the game starts, for the offense, is most important. Proper supplications must be made. If a good "bat-handler" can be found to bat second, much good fortune will be generated. His groundouts to second will be recorded by the spirit world approvingly. A dirty uniform, even if dirtied in missing a flyball or in being thrown out in a steal attempt, is both a sign of piety and a talisman of good tidings.

Momentum is omnipresent and extremely powerful. And yet, at the same time, momentum is fickle. As such, baseball plays out not unlike a Homeric epic. Momentum is the goddess who must be constantly courted and placated, for to lose her support would mean disaster. To lose a game in the 9th inning is to gravely offend her. For days, even weeks, the angry goddess will punish the team for any ninth inning loss, especially those where the Closer has not been properly used. Whole seasons, it is said, can be lost in this way. Curiously however, the goddess Momentum tends to sleep in the seventh and eighth innings. Losses there are merely accepted by all, perhaps as part of man's punishment for sins long ago committed.

This worldview, perhaps we shall call it a theosophical one, is not without its strengths. As noted above, it offers numerous intellectual and emotional comforts to its believers, including a deep connection to an imagined past, which for most men carries with it an association with the happy days of childhood and early manhood. Nevertheless, heresy and schism, continually lurk in this moral universe. A tragic flaw in the theosophical system, we might say, has been a combination of a basic rigidity or fundamentalism and an insidious trojan horse, both related to Closers.

The save statistic, which encapsulates so much of what the theosophical approach to baseball holds dear -- its myths of hoary-bearded bravery, its obsession with specific moments, its dedication to Momentum --  has by the end of this first decade of the 21st century nearly undone the enchanted world of old school baseball. A deep heresy within the old Soul School of Baseball, the seductive Save lured many old masters to venerate a number, a statistic. Of course, this kind of thinking went against the core understandings of the theosophical approach, and should have reminded men of their greatest enemies, the casts of eunuchs who had turned to numbers to evaluate the game. Numbers, they thought they still believed, were a false sign, something that only men with years and years of exposure to baseball dirt and spit could resist.

But they were wrong about themselves. In truth, the religion had always had a weak spot for numbers, which may have had a high place in the creed which the theosophical view had replaced. Various cults had repeatedly sprung up around the RBI and the pitching Win. The cult of the Save, in this way, was both old and new and old again. Their dedication to this number produced many elaborate rules and theories, and for the first time the old wizards became Scholastics. Legalistic men. Philistines. Obscure debates erupted around whether or not the Closer could be used to get four outs, or even, pray tell, five. The old veneration of feel, of grasping a certain key moment in the game, was replaced by dogmatism. Men who had pledged to deny a focus on numbers found themselves unknowingly turning to them more and more. The number with which the inning started, regardless of who was batting or what the score was, dictated everything.

Dominated by heretics from the inside, the theosophical model thus turned in on itself, losing the approval of the gods forever. Though they do not quite know it, it is now the domain of men doomed to be on the losing side of history.