Clutchiness

My favorite baseball blog ever is the now defunct FireJoeMorgan.com.

Their ongoing theory was that there was no such thing as “clutch” in sports. That there were good baseball players and there were bad baseball players. And the former performed well when it mattered because they were excellent at the game – and while occasionally the latter performed well in big moments, under the lights, on the biggest stages, it was just a matter of a blind squirrel finding a nut, and that the sample sizes provided by baseball’s playoff system were just too small to use for true statistical analyses.

How a guy does over 162 games, that’s what matters, that’s how a player’s quality should be defined – it should not be defined by how they played for one week in October.

And I always agreed with them.

People that deride Sachin Tendulkar for only scoring centuries in losing causes or against Bangladesh come across as bitter old fools. Same with those who called Alex Rodriguez a choker because he never hit .450 in a Divisional Series or knocked in the game winning runs in game seven of the World Series.

The opposite is true, too. One great Ashes series followed by a lifetime of drudgery and ducks does not make a great player. Seasons, years, decades of performing at the highest quality makes one a great player – and those that are on winning teams get moved into an even higher category of greatness, whether they had great series or tournaments or not is beside the point.

I guess what I am trying to say is: MS Dhoni is great under pressure because he is a great cricketer – not because of some sort of phantom “clutchiness”.  He is just really good at scoring runs. Period.

Someone in the above Facebook thread mentioned how Rafael Nadal is better under pressure. Now while that is first of all like comparing apples to hand grenades, it is also total bullshit: Nadal is just really fucking good at tennis. Again: period. 

And let’s also put it this way: There is a ton of pressure in professional sport. All the time. In every game. In every situation. Being able to “clear the mechanism” and push the pressure to the side and maintain composure is what separates the professional from the amateur.

I have taken penalty kicks in my rec soccer league and have wanted to throw up beforehand. I was not mentally built for professional sport, in other words. But some people were born with that “thing” – and that thing is the ability to collect the ball in the 18 yard box, clear the mechanism, and score. That thing is to be able to stand in against Dale Steyn – no matter the situation – and perform.

Every professional athlete was born with a very high clutchiness rating, but some are simply better athletes than those around them, which is why they appear to perform better when it really matters.

I would rather have a guy that scores runs consistently over the long haul than a guy that only performs when it’s the playoffs.

You can have Kareem Abdul Jabar. I’ll take Alastair Cook.

*

That said.

There is magic in sport. And that is why we all watch. For those unexpected moments when spin bowlers no one has ever heard of step up and score runs and runs and more runs when their team oh so desperately needs them to.  Those times when lifetime .280 hitters tear the cover off the ball for two weeks in October. Those closing pitchers who shut the opposition down when the game is on the line on such a consistent basis that you have no choice to think that maybe, just maybe, there is something to the whole idea of “clutch.”

Or maybe not.

Either way, those moments alone do not a great player make.

However: those moments are why we all love these games.

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