Baseball Celebrates the Beauty of the Individual Story

"MLB All Star Home Run Derby 2013" by gargudojr is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

People ask me what I do when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.

MLB Hall-of-Famer Rogers Hornsby

The most common critique I hear of people who don’t watch baseball is that it’s boring. This isn’t entirely false; rather than function by the minute, the action in a baseball game happens when or even if, it so chooses. A lack of action in a given game is notable for even fans who love to see a pitcher at their best. Still, the critique isn’t entirely false. Unless I’m at the game, I am frequently doing something else while I watch the game, like playing a game, reading a book, or even writing this, (It hurt me dearly to see Woo taken out of the game like that in his return from an injury). Still, the sport is undeniably beautiful in what it does and is always telling a story.

On May 10, there was a thread on the baseball subreddit that asked to celebrate players that weren’t necessarily very good but left a lasting impact on the fans of his team. There were a number of names that were fun to reminisce about: Munenori Kawasaki, Brett Phillips, Sam Fuld, etc. What caught my eye, however, was the mention of Willie Bloomquist, a below-average utility player that was with the Mariners for nine years between 2002 and 2015. This mention was followed by the sentiment that no other fanbase got attached to their mediocre players like Mariner fans. They were absolutely right, and I think that’s what makes baseball so great.

To preface, this isn’t a Mariner article. A few years ago, Dorktown and Secret Base put together a four-hour documentary on the history of the Mariners that goes more in-depth than I could ever dream of doing in 500 words. Rather, this is about what makes baseball great: the individual. You can certainly find people who are entrenched in their team fandom, and there have been a number of excellent team-centric storylines over the past several years. Take the 2019 Washington Nationals for example, who fell to 19-31 on May 23 of that year before going on to win the world series. They are still the prime example for a team that struggles out of the gate. However, far more interesting is the narrative provided by individuals.

To celebrate the debut of Pittsburgh pitcher Paul Skenes, who was drafted first overall in the 2023 MLB draft, the foremost cause for individual celebration is watching the young players shock the league. Skenes just finished his first ever MLB outing, pitching four innings and allowing three runs, but he struck out the first batter he faced and became the first starting pitcher in 2024 to hit 101 miles per hour.

Rookies and other young players are among the most celebrated in baseball. Mariner fans will of course remember Julio Rodriguez’s rookie of the year campaign followed by an even better sophomore season. 2024 RotY frontrunner Shota Imanaga is making headlines with every start. The Baltimore Orioles are a powerhouse driven by one of the youngest lineups in baseball. Mason Miller, as a relief pitcher, is headlining the American League RotY race on an Oakland Athletics team that was supposed to be dead in the water.

Conversely, everyone loves celebrating the big milestones of the greats that walk the field today. Andrew McCutchen, also of the Pirates, hit his 300th home run on April 14. In a series against the Mariners, Houston Astro Jose Altuve stole his 300th career base, continuing his ascent onto the Mount Rushmore of the franchise. Mike Trout, far and away the best player of our generation, was having a fantastic year before injuries took away yet another season from him.

Of course, the current talk of the league is the one and only Shohei Ohtani. The undisputed most valuable player in baseball, he’s been the subject of headlines nonstop for the last month, from his translator stealing millions of dollars from him to the fact where he is still leading the MLB in hits, doubles and OPS (he has dropped to third in home runs).

No matter where you look, baseball fans are celebrating their players, oftentimes more than their own team’s success. I similarly hold a lot of love for players on the Mariners that might not be that good. Of course, most of them haven’t been good this year but Dylan Moore is a prime example. He is a scrappy utility defender, who over the course of his career has been exactly average as a hitter. However, when I think of him I think of his mammoth grand slam to put the Mariners up 11-8 over the Astros in 2021. Seattle wouldn’t even go on to make the playoffs that year, but it’s moments like these that make me happy to be a baseball fan.

The team records might decide the playoffs, but the game is about the moments and the individuals that create those moments. I could bring up countless examples, like AJ Pollock’s two home runs in a single game despite a miserable overall stint with the Mariners. It’s what makes baseball the most beautiful sport on the planet.