Johan?

A reader of my blog left a comment asking why I wasn’t more enthusiastic about acquiring Johan Santana.

I am enthusiastic.  Very enthusiastic.  It is just difficult to know what to say.

Johan Santana is a very consistent pitcher who can legitimately claim the title of “best pitcher in baseball.”  He gets a lot of strikeouts and gives up very few hits per innings pitched.  It was necessary for the Mets to sign him because they had to do something major to get people to stop thinking so much about the Great Collapse at the end of last season.  With Santana, the Mets get a young ace and they certainly have the best pitching staff in their division and arguably the best pitching staff in the league.  They should make it to the playoffs and they certainly have the talent necessary to make it to the World Series and perhaps even win it.  You had to come to my blog to find this out?

All the articles about the Santana acquisition said the same things.  And now all the articles about the introduction of Santana to the press at Shea are saying the same things.  Everybody is impressed by how stable, solid, and centered Santana seems.   He is articulate and he seems to be calm, dedicated, and very intelligent.  He helps out the little town high in the Andes where he was born and grew up.  He’s likeable and looks as if he can handle the challenge of pitching in New York.  He will get along with the guys on the team.  He says he wants to win a World Series with the Mets.  He says New York is the center of the world. 

I would love to know more about this guy.  Just because I’m curious.  I’m not finding much on the Web.  I’m curious about how he got what I’ve always thought of as a German name.  I wonder what he thinks of Hugo Chavez, the left-wing president of Venezuela (and sharp critic of the U.S.) whom he’s met and had dinner with several times.  I wonder about his tastes and interests, about what distinguishes him as a human being and not merely as a pitcher.  I won’t find out about any of these things, of course, because anything that might make him stand out could get in the way of someone appreciating him.  Look at how ticked off I got at Ryan Church for his theological opinions.

This is one of the things that’s so weird about following baseball.   We see what these  players are in their statistics.  Then we add a little bit of character to the statistical contour (consistency, toughness, being a nice guy, being an unselfish player).  And so we make them up as characters and then we offer our conditional allegiance to the characters we’ve made.  Someday we might learn that they were nothing like what we’ve made of them (as happened with players like DiMaggio and Mantle).  And someday we might run up too hard against what they actually are as human beings (as with poor Steve Trachsel).  And then there’s the fact that we project onto them all of these hopes and dreams and fears.

Right now, this pleasant, exceptionally talented man is accepting his role and responsibilities.  He knows that we have a story here and that he will be expected to provide a compelling turn of the plot.  Like Gary Carter in 1985 and Mike Piazza in 1998, Johan Santana will assume the mantle of our dreams.  Depending on what happens next, his calm, his change-up, his consistency, his skill as a hitter, will all acquire meanings.  They will all become part of our collective memory.  He will earn his money by becoming part of each of us.  Isn’t Carter part of you, isn’t Piazza?  Isn’t 1986 and 1999 and 2000?  What is this world that is a part of us but that we see from such a distance, filled with people we love and don’t know?  I don’t know exactly, but I know I really like it and that it’s coming back next week.

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