The more you learn about baseball, the more you are surprised by how little you know. The more knowledge you have, the more you realize how much is really out there.
Erasmo Ramirez is a long reliever or a fourth/fifth starter with an ERA of 4.23, a FIP of 4.34, and a win/loss record of 29-32. These statistics carry some weight, if not as much as they did before the sabermetric revolution. They act as descriptions of what a pitcher did in the past. We can’t go back and change them without changing the past or changing how we calculate the statistics, so in this way, they are resolved.
But resolution is a funny thing.
Last night, before Ramirez was traded back to the Mariners, Tim Beckham and Adeiny Hechavarria let a ball roll between them into the outfield, allowing the Yankees to tie the game on a weak grounder that by every right should have been the final out of a hard-fought game with playoff implications. This blew the lead. The Rays would go on to lose in the eleventh inning.
When that ball went between the two infielders, I shouted. It seemed like the sorriest, most pathetic way to lose a game—to passively watch the ball roll gently into left field. I cursed, mostly at Tim Beckham, who many in the fan base see (unfairly) as a guy with enormous potential that he never quite lives up to.
“I know Little leaguers can make those plays!” I cried out to no one in particular, in that way only jilted sports fans can. Fans who feel like they’re owed something for their fandom. Who hold that they’ve lost some unknowable, infinite thing. Because I had given so much of my time, I was owed more, obviously, and this play was a broken promise.
But Beckham did something surprising after the loss. In the postgame interviews, Beckham was nearly in tears.
The blame should be split at least equally between him and Hechavarria—the shortstop is in charge of those kinds of plays. But this didn’t matter to Tim. He knew he messed it up. He blew it, and he felt that weight, more than anyone else did or could. More than I could.
When I saw this, the anger washed away. The world of the game of baseball snapped into focus. Because only a monster could stay that mad at a man who made a mistake, playing a child’s game.
This is not to say that sports don’t matter and that no one should get mad. Baseball’s ultimate inconsequence in the face of an absurd, endless universe is why it matters most of all. To put on such a lofty pedestal a game with these absurd rules, restrictions, and limitations is a kind of faith, albeit the kind with a lowercase F. Believing in something is always a leap.
Such faiths have driven mankind forward since day one. Faith in people, religion, family, technology, science, the future: these matter, and through people make up the matter of the world.
Beckham’s tears clearly reveal his faith in baseball, and elevate it to something more than a game played by millionaires. His emotional connection to the unfortunate misread grounder burned away that misty veil between the billion dollar game and my borrowed sofa in my studio apartment.
Sometimes you have to fight to bridge that gap, or be shocked away from it as I was the other night. This is not so with Erasmo. Whereas some players might need to break down a bit on camera for us fans to really feel the connection, Erasmo never seemed separate from you. He was who he was on the field every single day, a personality that burst past that veil into hearts and minds. In a sport that actively tries to suppress personalities (think about anything Bryce Harper tries to do) he was larger-than-life. If you haven’t yet, check out what he has done for the Rays even just this year because it paints an incredible picture of the man. It’s probably a cliche at this point to talk about his smile, but it’s hard not to mention it, considering nearly every photo taken of the guy has that smile plastered across it.
Rays fans may or may not remember the disastrous first appearances he had in 2015, when his ERA soared above 4000 (perhaps an exaggeration) and folks were calling for his head. Erasmo kept smiling through it.
I, of course, knew he was going to be fine, because I knew exactly who he was, even before he came to the Rays.
I was going to write today about my first memory of Erasmo Ramirez a year before his arrival in Tampa Bay, when I experimented with being a Mariners fan, as we all do. The good folks at Lookout Landing loved the guy for the same reasons we do now, so I followed him too. I was going to talk about how, on a vacation to the Bahamas, I bet on an M’s game Erasmo started, and won $25. I would have ended the story with the surprise that I later learned my father was so impressed by my confidence in my own knowledge of some unknown M’s pitcher that he laid down a cool $1000 on the game himself, and also won.
This would have been a fine, pleasantly surprising way to end the story. It also would have been horribly wrong. Now that I think about it—and believe me when I say I am thinking about it right now as I write, and might still be doing so when you read this —I couldn’t think of a worse way to write about Erasmo Ramirez. Gamblers and bookies reduce everything to numbers and trends, as I did when I laid down that “hefty” sum. When the game ends, in the eyes of the stats, it’s over. Case closed. Resolved.
But remember what we said about resolution.
Here’s a fun fact: when dealing with a digital television, a computer, or a microscope, resolution refers to the number of discrete points one can see within a finite space. In other words, it’s a measure of how close you can get two points before you can no longer make them out as separate. The higher the resolution, the closer you can get them. But here’s the rub: you can never put two points on top of each other. Two pixels can’t take up the same space. That’s not how these things work. So there must be, at some level, distance between red and a yellow pixel. Between one atom and another atom. Between a 4.23 ERA and the capital-T Truth.
Good luck quantifying every single thing Erasmo Ramirez did for this team while he was here. Enjoy providing the exact value the rubber-armed long relief man did for the team when he piled on players after walkoff wins.
I’m not even saying this like I’m some 50-year-old member of the Boston sports media, haphazardly calling out the nerds who make spreadsheets all day and couldn’t even compete in high school ball. I’m saying that there is a fundamental inability to directly describe a baseball player, and Erasmo made this perfectly clear every day he was on the Rays.
Faith in Statcast, Pitch Trax, and exit velocity readings helps us describe a game, and may help in the future to limit injuries and increase athletes’ qualities of life. But Statcast, Pitch Trax, and exit velocity readings will never offer a totalizing resolution, because they are asking a specific, limited question.
Erasmo Ramirez is a Cosmological Proof of the inability to totally resolve. This is why he matters. His influence and effect on the Rays—and on me—will never be totally resolved. It can’t be. The downfall of totalizing resolution lies in its very definition, in the Latin roots that make it up. This is my Faith, my unshakable belief that the world will never, ever be so reducible that it is impossible to be surprised by a ballplayer’s sudden emotion. Or delighted by a long reliever dancing in a DJ Kitty onesie. This faith drives me forward, fueling my love of this dumb game, a child’s game played by men.
The wider your spotlight shines into that infinite night, the more dark you can see around the circumference. The more you see how much there is to know. So be sure that your spotlight isn’t your only tool to see the world.