Baseball is a game of two images. One is the macro, the horizon viewing long run where statistics and trends are the language and structure. A world where someone’s worth is only what he achieves as all inputs approach variability. The other is in streaks, between base paths. It is etched in the grooves of the hearts of all who witness, it is the part where sport transcends the cold, dying newspaper or the colder, pixel that make up the computer screen.
It's a struggle to reconcile these two mirrored images because they run in opposite directions. One has tasked itself in knowing the game not as it is played, but how it trends. Yesterday we knew wins were one of the top measures of a pitcher. Yesterday we knew players could be clutch, and others not. Imagine what we'll know tomorrow.
What of the game between the lines? It's the only place for some ballplayers. Some spill out onto the pages of history and legend or infamy, become something more than just another ballplayer. For others, the dimensions of the ballpark clearly keep them. As time goes on, they aren't noticed much for their modest accomplishments. They fade away, just another name.
Willie Bloomquist is not someone you notice. He is completely average, standing 6’ 1" and weighing 185 pounds. He went to a good baseball school, was drafted fairly high, and then went away. Except that he’s always been here, playing baseball.
"Willie Bloomquist is an absurd hero. He has no hope of ever being a good baseball player: no power, can’t hit for average, ordinary speed, mediocre fielding. When his career is over, nobody will remember that he ever existed. And yet he continues to play."- Will Evans
Even his Baseball Reference sponsor, quoted above, doesn’t have much faith in him. It’s hard to imagine why he sponsors Willie, except maybe he’s attracted to cheap deals. It’s not hard to imagine why Evans feels this way, though.
Bloomquist’s career line is .265/.318/.657. His OPS+ is 77, and has never even cracked 90 in a full season. He has hit barely more home runs (14) than seasons played (10). He plays every position except beer vendor. After hanging around Seattle for 7 seasons he’s been kicked from Kansas City to Toronto to back to Kansas City to Cincinnati to Arizona in 4 seasons.
If you were so inclined, you could pull out a slew of exotic statistics to prove Bloomquist is average, horrible, a waste of space, the worst player of all time. For instance, his career BAbip is .314, but this season he’s at .360. Obviously it’s been all luck, and luck isn’t always a lady. Don’t believe, kid, this ship is sinking fast. The only one who doesn’t know is the captain.
And if you want to believe?
The response, then, is to throw it all away, the numbers, the smug skepticism, the tea leaves. Enjoy it before it goes away, because some day it will.
The truth is that Bloomquist will return to his normal, unremarkable self. Those who have been braying this since the start of the season will be vindicated, and everyone else will move on to some other poor, over-performing sap.
Baseball is littered with the careers of men just like Willie Bloomquist. It’s an insular game, one that demands just as much a respect to itself as it does talent. Every team of nearly every year in nearly every dusty memory can recall Willie Bloomquist, the idea. They could make action figures, talent not included.
A player like Bloomquist’s value is measured with intangibles. We, as fans, the measurers, are the gatekeepers to baseball’s "true" knowledge, and as such hate intangibles because it inherently keeps us out. It reminds us that we don’t really know what we think we know. Oh sure, we can count the base hits. We can record the information that is created by the artists, witnesses to history or infamy or mundane. But there is separation. A wall we can never hope to break down no matter the communication technology, or how open players become. We have a place, and it is outside.