The Ecstasy of Failure: Lessons from Getting Beaten

By Johnny Ginter on April 1, 2014 at 11:15 am

Aaahhhhh, I'm just so glad it's back!


Baseball is back! Pudgy guys in uncomfortable polyester, standing out in a field in ridiculous heat for three plus hours at a time! Fans, sitting in metal chairs in 95 degree weather, eating pretzeled dough and drinking beer and trying to avoid the various health complications associated with all of those things! Squinting furiously at the batter's box from across the field, trying to discern if the pitch thrown was a ball or a strike or a low flying bird! Watching the Reds give their pitching staff no run support at all, ever, at any time! CATCH THE FEVER.

I love baseball because it is about failure. A sport foolhardy enough to predicate success on players being able to hit a small round object traveling at upwards of 100 mph with a slightly larger round object, and then reward them handsomely if they can actually accomplish that even a third of the time, is definitely my kind of sport.

Think about it: if a player fails to get on base 60% of the time over the course of the season, they're considered to be one of the best in the entire sport. Make 5ish fielding errors during the 160 or so games that you play and hell, you're on top of your game, buddy! If you pitch seven innings and allow two runs on a regular basis, you might be headed for Cooperstown at the end of your career. And so on.

The point is that because baseball comes with such a ridiculously long list of things that players are expected to be good at, that essentially no one is going to be all that good at all of them, and in fact some otherwise impressive players and teams might completely blow at many of them. That's okay though, because the terrific thing about baseball is that this is expected. People who enjoy baseball enjoy it because that persistent, near-constant failure is what makes the overall successes feel good.


So I understand if Ohio State football and basketball fans are disappointed with how 2013 and 2014 turned out, because that's an unfortunate byproduct of how we view those sports.

Football in particular is about supposed perfection. Teams are always gunning for the undefeated season, quarterbacks shouldn't throw any interceptions, running backs should be able to avoid fumbling for years on end, linebackers should never miss tackles, and so on. We get so caught up in the idea of perfection that when it's lost, we tend to ignore how amazing almost-perfection actually was.

Case in point: Braxton Miller obvious had an up and down season in 2013, what with the injury and all. His performance in the final two games, both losses, was mediocre, and he threw a crucial interception at the end of the Orange Bowl in what could've been an epic comeback drive. And because we view success in football through the lens of perfection, we'll also ignore the fact that Miller only threw seven interceptions all season (against 24 touchdowns). We will also ignore that his completion percentage went up five points, that he threw for more yards, more yards per attempt and more touchdowns overall, and that he did this throwing an almost identical number of passes as in 2012.

In other words, Braxton made great strides at the QB position statistically in 2013, but I'm willing to bet that in the first few weeks after the Orange Bowl, you weren't thinking about that. Which is understandable, as Ohio State had just lost a major bowl game, but instead of looking at that failure as part of a longer process of success, it's looked at as a fleeting missed opportunity.

Basketball too, is viewed similarly, even though the likes of Kentucky are pointing out that a lack of success in the regular season means pretty much jack and squat once the tournaments start. But that doesn't keep fans from gaping in awe at an undefeated regular season, even if in the long run it doesn't mean anything if said regular season screw ups are going to steamroll you in the most important game of your season.

Look, it's Spring. Baseball is eternal. It represents the unrelenting failures in life, while offering hope that if you swing the bat enough times, eventually you will make contact. And it will be awesome.

So wipe away the sting of the Orange Bowl, and know that the Ohio State football team continues to get better as the weather gets warmer. Braxton is back, there's a crazy fleet of young RBs ready to do their thing, and the defense has been shored up in terms of personnel and coaching. The temporary failure of last season will be simply that.

In basketball, Thad Matta will be coaching an entirely different team next year. Yes, it's sad to lose guys like Craft. But it was also sad to lose Sully and Turner and Thomas and Oden and a billion other dudes. There is a cavalry, it can shoot jumpers, and it is coming. Worry not.

Also: go watch some baseball! If nothing else, it serves as a reminder that looking like an idiot in front of thousands of people isn't always the worst thing that could happen to a guy. Playing for Cleveland is.

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