What 100 Means
Monday night, Felix Hernandez picked up win No. 100 of his major-league career. It was something of an occasion, as all these round-number achievements tend to be, and Felix was a wee bit emotional in the aftermath. Felix has always cared about wins, because wins mean that the team won. Felix is awful young to have 100 wins already, and now people are looking forward to another 100 more, all in a Mariners uniform. Yesterday, Felix reached a milestone.
Of course, he reached that milestone against the Astros, in a start in which he had to come out early with back discomfort. Everything you need to know about wins, you can glean from the fact that Felix didn’t get win No. 100 in his previous start, in which he allowed a run to the Tigers over eight innings, generating a dozen punch-outs. Against maybe the best team in the American League, Felix was nothing short of dominant, and he came away winless. The milestone was reached when Felix turned in an inferior performance against a team that’s laughably bad.
It’s easy to ignore the achievement, because we’ve been conditioned to ignore pitcher wins. For good reason — pitcher wins are stupid and they don’t make sense. Nobody would design pitcher wins as they are from scratch were they beginning today. Sometimes some pitchers get more wins than they deserve, and sometimes other pitchers, like Felix, get far fewer. It’s a small miracle that Felix ever won 19 games in 2009. He had 13 wins when he won the Cy Young. Felix’s career ERA in no-decisions is 2.80. A dozen times, Felix has allowed no more than two runs, and lost. An incredible 39 times, Felix has allowed no more than two runs, and come away with no decision. Last April, Felix blanked the Indians over eight frames, with a full 12 strikeouts. He didn’t get support and the closer blew the game. Felix didn’t get a win. It’s not an unfamiliar experience.
If you don’t believe in a stat, it doesn’t make sense to care when a certain level is reached in that stat. I don’t care about how many times I’ve been to Walgreens, so I wouldn’t care about the hundredth time I went to Walgreens. What’s deemed to be insignificant ought remain insignificant regardless of circumstances, and if you can’t stand pitcher wins, then you shouldn’t ever care about pitcher wins, no matter what they’re saying, because ultimately they’re still pitcher wins and you decided to dismiss them.
But let me tell you a thing about Felix’s 100 wins, as flawed and as dumb as the total is. Objectively, wins are stupid, and objectively, celebrating round-number achievements is stupid. There’s no reason at all why this should matter, but it does, if only in a little way. And you shouldn’t deny yourself the feeling.
For one thing, pitcher wins aren’t completely meaningless. There is a correlation between winning and effectiveness, so wins aren’t measuring nothing. They just don’t measure effectiveness as well as other things. But far more importantly, consider Felix and consider how you’ve probably come to take him a little for granted. When Felix came up and set the league on fire, many of us took for granted that he’d be amazing, and we were disappointed when he disappointed. When Felix blossomed into an ace some years later, it started to feel like routine, and now whenever Felix isn’t outstanding people wonder what’s wrong. Every time Felix allows three or four or five runs, there’s panic, because Felix isn’t supposed to do that.
The greatest barrier to happiness is the failure to appreciate what you have, what’s good, what are blessings. We’re always thinking about change, we’re always thinking about upgrades, and while evolutionarily there’s a benefit to what one might consider ambition, there needs to be a balance and people have difficulty finding it. Unhappy people tend not to be appreciative enough. Ordinary people also tend not to be appreciative enough, and they could be happier. Look around you. You’re doing well, at least on average. A lot of the time you probably don’t feel like you’re doing well enough.
The Mariners have a blessing in Felix Hernandez, in the so-far durable ace who’s committed his career to this team and this city despite what one might see as indications that the Mariners have been trying to drive him away. Other teams, most other teams, don’t have a Felix. I laughed the other day when Buster Olney compared Matt Harvey to Felix because there’s no comparison, at least not yet. Harvey’s a hell of a baseball player; Felix is a team. Felix is a player who seems to love us all back, and that’s a rare quality, or more accurately a rare constellation of qualities. As bad as we’ve had it overall, we have it good here.
We have, in Felix, something every sports fan wants. A superstar athlete who allows you to daydream, to overlook the fact that it’s all just a business. It doesn’t feel like it’s just a business for Felix, and he’s selected this place as his home. We have this fantasy of a starting pitcher and more often than not we take him for granted. It’s not necessarily something we can help, not without re-wiring ourselves, but there’s no way Felix is appreciated as much as he ought to be. This is not a feature — this is a bug.
What 100 wins does is, if only for an instant, give us a little perspective. It allows for a moment of reflection, and out of reflection comes appreciation, appreciation for what Felix is and how he’s come along. When Felix won the Cy Young, it only mattered because it let us appreciate him naturally. We got to feel natural appreciation when Felix threw his perfect game, and when he signed his extension. And we get to feel natural appreciation now, or at least we did last night. It’s only temporary, because we are wired to not feel those feelings all of the time, but it’s important to feel them on occasion. We got to count a blessing. That’s an easy thing to suggest, but it’s a diabolically tricky thing to do.
None of this stuff really matters. None of the achievements really matter, none of the inductions really matter. Not to us, as fans and outsiders. What matters is the amazing ability these players have on the field, and what they do for teams and cities, and so 100 wins isn’t significant because it’s 100 wins. It’s significant because it reminds us, ever so briefly, of how lucky we are and how lucky we’ve been. In the aftermath, Felix got to reflect on his career, and we got to reflect on Felix. We got, for a few moments, to appreciate, and those are the moments of greatest clarity. Here’s to these moments, and to the next.