Tomorrow, I’ll post my thoughts about this year’s “Pitchers and Catchers.” But first, here’s my general take on the whole ceremony of “Pitchers and Catchers,” taken from my book The Last Days of Shea
When a baseball season ends, it is a tradition for baseball fans to comfort each other by observing that there are “only three and a half months until pitchers and catchers.” At holiday time, people say “only a month and a half until pitchers and catchers.” Not “until pitchers and catchers report to camp ahead of everybody else.” Just “pitchers and catchers.” It’s a magic catchphrase, an incantation, with its own poetic rhythm. Pitchers and catchers. Butchers and bakers.
You know how when you’re waiting on line outside a building and you think, “once I get inside the building, I’ll be almost there” and you get inside the building and see that you’re not almost there because there’s this big waiting area where the line is compressed into a tight coil that you’re going to have to snake through for the next god-knows-how-long? Well, pitchers and catchers is like when you just get into the building.
When pitchers and catchers arrives, you see pictures in the paper of guys in uniform in warm sunny Florida. You read articles about some players not going to dinner with each other as often as they used to, or about some manager wearing a World Series ring in order to fire up his players, or about some general manager announcing that the goal of the team is to win the World Series this year. Somebody scoops the big story that the owner agrees with the general manager that the team ought to win the World Series. The players will eventually be asked to weigh in on this. You can’t wait. Maybe someone will disagree?
So you’ve waited so long for pitchers and catchers and this is what you have to read about. Well, at least there’s some news, sort of. A couple of guys played winter ball and you hear how they did. Some young player who hit .270 last year did really well in winter ball. So would it be fair to expect him to hit .290 this year? Sure. Why not?
What are you doing? Well, pitchers and catchers are here. So it’s time to predict and speculate about the season that will start in another month and a half. You look over and over at the stats of the guys we’ve got. You look over and over at the stats of the guys we don’t have. You make little adjustments on the basis of people’s age, temperament, and that article about the guy in winter ball. You try to determine, with the maximum amount of precision, just how much hope it is reasonable for you to have.
How much hope it is reasonable for you to have? Are you crazy? You know, don’t you, that even if you read every scouting report, every newspaper article, every blog entry, and every statistical breakdown, you still will not have any idea of how well the Mets will do in a coming season. You know that many things will happen that you cannot possibly anticipate in February. But, you think, this is okay. You like unpredictability. This is part of the reason you’re a baseball fan. You assume unpredictability. And yet here you are trying to determine how much fear and hope you have a right to have, even though once the season starts, you will hope and fear as much as you goddamn want to, no matter what all the statistics and scouting reports have told you.
What you do during the offseason is a waste of your time. In this respect, it is exactly like what you do during the season. For even if things turn out well and your team wins 100 games and is way ahead, nothing you have seen in the season, nothing you know about any of the other teams, nothing you know about anything, will give you any way to even begin to guess what is going to happen in the World Series.
So pitchers and catchers arrives and your brain becomes a little command center, absorbing and interpreting information. You read, think, calculate, and compare. You may even buy some of those expensive baseball prediction magazines in the supermarket. You have something fun to do as you move slowly in the line in the lobby of the building. And to whet your appetite for the big show you’ll eventually be seated for, the people who run things have set up a little television in the lobby on which you can watch that most tempting yet annoying of all spectacles: the exhibition game.