Point of View: Winners All

Is there to be no respite from excellence?

Walk-off home runs, leadoff grand slams, great pitching, Elroy Face throwing out the first forkball of the season. . . . Is there to be no respite from excellence? 

The Steelers, the Penguins, and now, at long last, the Pirates too? Hold, hold my heart. 

Oh, and by the way, not to belabor the point, which I will, but did you notice recently that Jesse James’s nullified touchdown reception versus the Patriots would have counted had the N.F.L.’s recently revised catch rules been in place? He broke the plane, yet we were in pain.

Yeah, yeah, a fellow fan said, but what about the Jaguars? 

“Ah yes, the Jaguars. . . . What about them?” I said, not waiting for an answer.

Interesting how the mind works. Losses fade quickly into oblivion and even mediocre seasons in time take on a glow. Soon it all becomes one — one circumambient championship season.

It was not always that way. The Steelers in the ’50s were pedestrian, a .500 finish was the best they could hope for, the Pirates were bumblers and fumblers reminiscent of a minor league team, and the Hornets, the Penguins’ predecessors, were a minor league team, playing out of the Duquesne Gardens, a rink near the East End Lutheran school, where I, a sixth grader then, was peaking academically (especially when it came to the boorish recital of catechism passages), and was warned I risked perdition by holding myself in such high regard. This was said, I recall, after Mr. Koehler found me laughing at my distorted reflection in a Christmas tree bulb. I was chastened, momentarily, and then continued on my merry way.

But back to the Pirates of the ’50s. They were pretty awful, and yet I loved to go to the games, often by trolley on a Sunday, and sit in the bleachers watching doubleheaders for 50 cents. I’ve always liked to think they were major league baseball’s absolutely worst team, certainly if you take their combined record of 454-777 throughout my formative years. The Mets of ’62 barely edged them out, by two or so losses.

Win, lose . . . as long as it’s singular, distinctive, as it were, that’s all that matters. Strive for excellence, strive for klutziness, it’s all one as far as I’m concerned — as long as mediocrity is lowered to new heights. One wants to be distinctive, whether it be at the top or the bottom of the scale. 

One of our favorite quotes comes from Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural.” “We live two lives, I think, the one we learn with and the one after that. Suffering teaches us what to want.” We want a good game, in other words, not so much the winning, which can be cloying after a while — Super Bowl and Stanley Cup championships can tend to make one a bore — but valiant efforts. If you’re going to lose, lose with panache. If you’re going to suffer, suffer with aplomb. And thus reveal victory and defeat as the imposters they are. 

“You had many great shots,” an opponent of mine said the other day, “and many lousy ones.”

Ah, the human condition. We all had our moments, in fact — of triumph, of chagrin. Of “Damn, ain’t I great,” and of “How could I have missed?!”

“The average age of mortality is 76 now,” my partner said. “Though, of course, that’s if you were born this year. I just feel lucky every day I wake up, knowing I’m ahead of the game.”

Our losses increase and yet we’re winners! Winners all.