Last night, Mets phenom Matt Harvey took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox. I was at the Knicks game, but word spread quickly, as it always does when someone's throwing a no-hitter, and especially when someone from the Mets is throwing a no-hitter. (Even though Johan Santana broke the historical seal last season, there's still a hunger from those fans for a truly dominant, non-controversial, non-guy-getting-paid-$25-million-a-year-to-sit-on-the-DL no-hitter.) The collective "get-thee-to-a-television" when someone's throwing a no-hitter is one of my favorite byproducts of this age of constant information.
There is a byproduct of this culture now, though, and it is an obsession, almost a crusade, with rational and logical thought. Don't get me wrong: I don't think human beings have started becoming rational and logical as their default state. (As evidence, I submit "every single thing you ever see a person do, ever.") But we live in an age of wonks, of Nate Silvers and small sample size and regression to the mean and "bulk of scientific evidence" … you know, empirical reality. We believe we can reach an end point now, that everything has a Right Answer.
Generally, I love this: This is what human evolution looks like. A culture less concerned with alchemy and superstition and witchcraft, and more focused on objective analysis and practical solutions. This is WAR over The Will To Win. Any move toward sober, calm reflection is a positive. This is progress.
But not when it comes to a no-hitter.
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Matthew Leach of MLB.com, one of my favorite baseball writers, tweeted this after Harvey was perfect through five:
Your early, pre-emptive reminder: jinxes aren't real. #JinxesArentReal- Matthew Leach (@MatthewHLeach) May 8, 2013
During the broadcast, Mets announcer Gary Cohen said the same thing: He made it clear he is not one of those fools who think talking about a no-hitter somehow makes it less likely to happen. Cohen is a terrific play-by-play guy -- the Mets' announcing team might be the best in the game -- and I suppose it's refreshing that someone is going against the grain and is willing to say things other announcers won't.
But seriously, everybody stop talking about the no-hitter. The guy's throwing a no-hitter! You're going to jinx it.
Every sports fan who is not an infant knows that nothing they do during a sporting event is going to affect the outcome of that event. If you are able to walk across the street without getting lost or able to write your name in the ground with a stick, you are aware of this. But that doesn't mean that you should act that way. The act of cheering for a sports team, or player, or event, is inherently illogical, at its very core; yelling in support of your team doesn't actually do anything. But we do it anyway. We do it because it makes us feel connected to what's going on, because we want something happy to happen, because hoping for something to happen from the very beginning makes it that much more thrilling when it actually does. We invest ourselves in an activity that has nothing to do with us. It's a basic foundation of being a fan.
No-hitters, of course, are wrapped up in this whole notion. I've never seen a no-hitter in person before, so every time I go to a game, I wait until both teams have a hit and then say, to myself or to whomever might unluckily be sitting next to me, "Welp, there goes the no-hitter." A no-hitter is special and requires a tremendous amount of skill, But more than that, it requires an obscene amount of luck, and when you are trying hard not to jinx something, you are, in a quiet way, in fact attempting to conjure up luck. Luck is random and impossible to predict or control. This doesn't mean we shouldn't try to control it, even if we know we can't. If I have to sit in the exact same position for three hours to keep a no-hitter going, dammit, I'm going to do it.
The tradition of not mentioning a no-hitter while it is going on ... it's part of what makes a no-hitter so fun. It keeps us invested in the process, gives us something to build up anticipation for, turns an otherwise meaningless regular season game into something we'll never forget. This is what is so great about baseball, right? That a normal evening can turn historic out of nowhere? When we are shushing about a no-hitter, we are not legitimately trying to keep the no-hitter going, or at least we're not pretending we make a real difference. We are expressing -- or not expressing -- our good fortune to have the possibility of witnessing history, and our plaintive wish to keep it going.
Logically speaking, of course it makes no sense that you can jinx a no-hitter. But the fact that we think we can, that you can never be too sure, is one of the best things about loving sports. Leach, in response to someone (jokingly, I think) asking him to "prove" that jinxes aren't real, said:
@thecrix Pretty sure burden of proof is not on the person saying something magical and imaginary doesn't exist.- Matthew Leach (@MatthewHLeach) May 8, 2013
He's right, obviously. But knowing something is magical and imaginary is not the same thing as believing it is. I'm aware that, on the planet Earth, nothing I do while watching a game has a palpable effect. Damned if I'm going to let that stop me, though.
I'm going to keep shutting my trap during no-hitters. You should too. Talking about a no-hitter while it's going on? What are you, crazy? You're going to jinx it!
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