I love no-hitters.
That’s not the most controversial position one could take, although I am sure there are those who don’t share my enthusiasm for hitless baseball. A lot of fans – perhaps the majority – go to the ballpark for offense. Hits, walks, stolen bases, home runs, those are the things that get the crowd excited. Routine ground balls and fly balls are not. But with baseball featuring so prominently the matchup between pitcher and hitter, the no-hitter seems to capture the game at it’s most elemental. Baseball as a game of failure is even more pronounced when the pitcher reduces the opposing lineup’s success rate from a healthy 33% (a rough average OBP based on these conflicting numbers) down to zero (or close to zero, depending on the number of walks a pitcher allows). It is an amalgamation of pitching, defense, effort, skill and luck that projects in bold the things (except, of course, hitting) that make baseball so fantastic.
I go into every game I attend hoping for a no-hitter. A 1-2-3 first brings a smile to my face. I nurse the anticipation generated by a multi-inning bid. If a game remains hitless into the final third of the game, I’m like the atheist in the foxhole – all of a sudden I find religion. The furthest I’ve made it is into the 8th inning, so there’s no telling what kind of reaction a 9th inning bid or a successful no-hitter might elicit from me. I know how I would not respond, though…by leaving the ballpark with the game still in progress.
The frequency of no-hitters and perfect games has picked up in recent seasons, but they remain far from an every day occurrence. There have already been 5 this season, little more than a third of the way in, but the most seen in any season in the Modern Era is 7 (1990 & 1991). Even assuming that maximum every year, with 2,430 games played each regular season in baseball a fan who attends a single game in a given season has a 0.29% chance of witnessing a no-hitter. That is part of what makes a no-hitter so special. That randomness is also what allows a person who hasn’t attended a sporting event in 15 years to be in attendance for Matt Cain’s perfect game last night in San Francisco (as I heard on the radio this morning). Although it vexes me that a casual fan could stumble upon the transcendence I seek every time I go to a game, it also reaffirms my love of baseball. On any random night, at any mid-week game, any random fan (or non-fan for that matter) can show up at a baseball game and witness something special.
I may struggle to find the grace to rejoice in the good fortune of fans lucky enough to see a no-hitter, that’s on me. There is not grace enough in the world, however, to pardon those fans who leave a no-hitter before it’s over. Prior to this morning, I had never considered such a scenario, but it was reported that people left last night’s perfect game at AT&T Park after the Giants had run up an early 10-0 lead on the Astros. It makes sense: people leave sporting events early all the time for a variety of reasons so of course there would be people departing a perfect game prior to its completion. And yes, the Giants were up 10-0 in the 5th inning, leaving little doubt about the outcome of the game. Still, there ought to be some sort of penalty for leaving a game like that before the final out.
I know this is America and people can – within the confines of laws and social mores – do whatever they want. If we want to skip a good friend’s birthday party to watch reality television, we Americans can do that. If we want to drive around the rim of the Grand Canyon and never stop to behold its majesty, so be it. We can live a half an hour from the ocean and never go to the beach, that’s our right. Still, I have never understood why people leave sporting events early. In my opinion, you paid for the ticket, you went to the game, you can stay until it’s over. People don’t leave 10 minutes before the end of a movie they’ve been enjoying* or before the final act of a play they’re engrossed in, why leave a game before the final out? As I understand it there are 6 reasons people leave games early, one of which is always defensible, one of which is often defensible, one of which is occasionally defensible and the final 3 of which are never defensible. They are:
1) Family or Medical Emergency
There are things in life that are more important than baseball (I know, right?). Two of those things are health and family. Anyone who leaves any game for medical or family reasons has no need to answer to me or anyone else.
2) Young Children’s Bedtimes
The intergenerationl aspect of baseball fandom is one of its strongest attributes and although they don’t do a lot of game-watching at games they attend, I am in full support of parents bringing children of all ages to games. It’s that early muscle memory, tradition and familiarity that molds future baseball fans. Of course, children have physical needs, too. They are still growing and developing and they need their rest. If a parent needs to leave a regular season night game early to get their kids to bed, that’s OK. For day games I don’t see any need for an early exit and I think postseason or special event games should be afforded some flexibility by parents. Even if a child is asleep for the final 3 innings of a World Series game or a no-hitter, that is likely an experience he or she will come to eventually cherish. Given the value and rarity of those experiences, I do not believe fans should exit a no-hitter early simply for bedtime reasons.
3) “I double-booked, but I love this team/game so much I wanted to stop by for a little bit.”
This is where being a serious fan starts to pay dividends. If you are such a diehard that you would rather see part of a ballgame than no game at all, you deserve a little leniency. I’m not oblivious – baseball games are long. Sometimes people have other plans but still want to see a team or an individual player or simply want to spend a little time out at the ballpark prior to a conflicting engagement. Again, this is fine for regular season games. When it comes to the postseason, it’s not like it happens at different times every year – why did you double-book?** When it comes to a no-hit bid, it becomes a question of how important is the alternative commitment. If there is any flexibility at all, 99 times out of 100 a fan should stay until the first hit is recorded or the game is over, whichever comes first. There are commitments that would make this decision more difficult, but not many. If you won’t get fired or divorced or lose custody of your children for choosing the no-no, you stick around.
3A) The Season Ticketholder Corollary
“Serious fan” and “season ticketholder” are pretty close to synonymous, and let’s face it, not only are baseball games long, but the baseball season is also long. I consider that one of baseball’s allures, but still 81 games a year is a major commitment. Even partial season ticketholders make a serious investment of their time and I respect that. Maybe a lopsided mid-week game against a cellar-dweller isn’t worth finishing out when you have been at every game of a 7-game homestand. I see no high crime in taking off early when you are at the ballpark all the time. As with #3, though, playoffs and no-hitters are not optional. If you’re there, you stay until the end.
4) “The home team is getting killed and it’s not fun to watch.”
Baseball isn’t always home runs and World Series trophies, there is a lot of disappointment and frustration in there, too. But it is that suffering that makes the wins that much more enjoyable and the big moments unparalleled. If you’re team is down, there is value in sticking around. Share the frustration with your fellow fans and support your team in a difficult moment. Furthermore, you never know when an epic comeback might be just an inning away. As far as no-hitters go, if your team is getting no-hit, you can cheer for that hit to break it up or root for a chance to witness a little piece of history, but either way you’re not leaving.
5) “Let’s leave now to beat traffic.”
This is easily the worst excuse ever to leave a game early. You don’t leave work early to beat traffic, why would you leave something you enjoy to avoid an additional, what, half an hour? Never ever ever acceptable.
I cannot think of any other reason why people leave games early, but I am sure there are some. Whatever they are, they are not good reasons.
So, to whoever you were who left Matt Cain’s perfect game early last night, whether you were aware a perfect game was in progress or not, I’ll help you out for (hopefully***) the next time. The perfect time to leave a perfect game – or any game for that matter – is when it’s over.
*OK, when I saw Letters from Iwo Jima there was a group of elderly ladies sitting in my row. One of them was obsessively concerned with not driving home after dark, so they left the movie 10 or 15 minutes early. Otherwise, I have never seen this happen.
**The only condition I set schedule-wise when planning my wedding last year was that it must take place before October so that it would not conflict with the playoffs. Good thing I thought ahead considering how things turned out.
***Although you’ve let me – and baseball – down by leaving early last night, I still wish you the best. What is the point of life if we can’t learn from our mistakes?