Sports are peculiar. Lots of very strange things happen when a group of men dresses up in similar clothing and assembles for coordinated action against another group of men who are likewise similarly dressed. With two forces opposed, it’s impossible for everything to go according to plan for either side. Beyond the relative athletic skill of the players and the strategic maneuvering of the coaches, there are always those things that are going to happen that can only be attributed to luck.
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A simple fly ball gets lost in the lights and lands for a double. A basketball player slips on some sweat and allows an easy layup. A punted football bounces sharply to the left and glances a player’s leg for a fumble. A hockey puck caroms off the boards in front of the goalie for an easy tip in goal. A soccer player falls down because for once he was actually injured.
You can’t plan for these things. They just happen – good for one side and bad for the other. It’s all part of what makes sports grand and occasionally allows for a lesser team to defeat a better opponent against all odds.
Sometimes in sports, there is something happening that is bigger than just the random chance of individual games – something that seems almost magical. It’s not just one play or even just one game, it’s a series of games or a whole season where all the stars seem to align, the ball bounces just right and guys are in the right place at the right time.
The New York Giants run to the Super Bowl is a great example. This was not the “best” team in the league, but things just seemed to go their way. They shouldn’t even have made the playoffs, but a few lucky bounces and they’re in. If a player fumbles the ball, luck is a huge factor in where the ball ends up. The Giants fumbled the ball eight times in the last two playoff games (including the Super Bowl) – they did not lose one of those fumbles. That is something more than just luck.
Serendipity is “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” Maybe this is divine intervention or dumb luck or the manifestation of unbending will – but things just go well time and time again.
Serendipity is also the name of a boat that the family of an ex-girlfriend of mine used to own. One summer her whole family spent a month on this boat in and around the French Riviera – yeah, the one in France. At first, I wasn’t invited. (Whatever – I had already been to France.) But then my girlfriend’s mom had to leave early for some work crisis and I was invited to take her place. Awesome! This truly was serendipity!
Except for one thing: I had just gotten my head shaved. That’s not really my thing but I had a friend who had let his hair grow out so much that he looked like a low-level drug dealer. So, we made an arrangement to each get our heads shaved. I took one for the team thinking my girlfriend wouldn’t see me for a month. Anyway, my girlfriend did not approve and my all-expense paid trip to the French Riviera was cancelled – kind of an un-serendipity. [Editor’s note: Dear readers, we must apologize for Jed. Normally we let him do his vaguely pertinent story sidebars, but here he did a story sidebar on a story sidebar. If you feel somewhat lost, you are not alone. In case you have forgotten, this is a baseball website called Through the Fence Baseball and we mostly (other than Jed) talk about baseball.]
Serendipity is also the name of a mediocre romantic comedy starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. Two star-crossed lovers put their future in fate’s hands and a series of unusual events bring them back to each other and they live happily ever after. If I have spoiled the ending for you, then I’m sorry (that you didn’t know that already because that’s how these movies end always).
The premise was solid, but if you’re going to have the audience connect with two star-crossed lovers, maybe you want to bring in an actress that plays “human” better than Kate. Yeah, she’s pretty – and great when she’s running around killing vampires and werewolves and the disabled. But when she’s not kicking ass, she comes across as someone who read about emotions in a book. The only emotion she should be worried about portraying is all-leather bodysuit. [Editor’s note: Jed, here’s an idea: baseball.] [Note to editor: Respect my process or we all walk!]
When Prince Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers, he surprised the baseball world. Of all the rumors and stories, Detroit was never mentioned as a place Prince would wind up. It looked like it was going to be the Texas Rangers or the Washington Nationals or maybe he’d sign some short-term deal and get back into free agency quickly for another shot at a huge contract.
But why was Detroit suddenly chasing this superstar when it had not previously expressed interest or even the need for his services? Victor Martinez is the answer. Victor blew out his knee just a short time before Prince signed with the Tigers. Detroit felt they needed his bat in the line-up if they wanted to be a World Series contender.
So, one player’s injury affects his team’s fate and also affects the fate of at least one other team. Serendipity takes different forms. Maybe this is the move that helps the Tigers go all the way or maybe the Nationals put some unknown guy at first base where Prince would have been and this new player comes out of nowhere to be an All-Star.
Back in early 2003, the Red Sox were trying like heck to trade Manny Ramirez to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez. And they almost did. But after they decided to take a break in the negotiations, the Yankees’ third baseman Aaron Boone blew out his knee playing basketball and New York needed a third baseman. So, they swooped in and traded for Alex Rodriguez.
The Red Sox fans were crushed. They were going to have Alex Rodriguez at shortstop and then get the very good Magglio Ordonez in right field (after a widely publicized probable trade of Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox). They were stuck with what they had before. And, worse, the hated Yankees got Alex Rodriguez – probably the best player in the game at the time.
Well, it worked out fine for the Red Sox. They won two championship titles in the next few years – even impossibly overcoming a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez to get to the first of those World Series. That’s serendipity. And maybe all that wouldn’t have happened if that other trade had gone through.
Sports is full of these kinds of “what if”s.”
A few years back, the Miami Dolphins were inches away from signing Drew Brees and then changed their mind and got Daunte “Small Hands” Culpepper instead. Miami has been awful ever since. Drew signed with the New Orleans Saints and went on to win the Super Bowl. Serendipity.
When Michael Jordan came into the league, the Portland Trailblazers had a chance to draft him, but chose Sam Bowie instead. The Chicago Bulls gladly welcomed the greatest player in the history of the game onto their team. Bowie was disappointing to say the least. And the Trailblazers – refusing to learn from their past mistake – recently chose Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Durant is now one of the best players in the game today, while Oden’s claim to fame is that he is the oldest-looking player in the game today. Un-serendipity.
Obviously there’s no way to know in advance that these events would transpire exactly the way they did. Well, maybe a little. I mean, if you get your head out your butt and look at Jordan vs. Bowie or Drew Brees or whomever – but even then, poor talent evaluation by your competitors can be part of the long path to your success.
If we’re all sitting around our TVs in late October watching the Detroit Tigers celebrate their World Series championship, it won’t just be that so-and-so pitched great or just that so-and-so hit a lot home runs or just that the team played great defense. It will also be because of Victor Martinez’s sudden injury, Prince Fielder’s surprise signing and a thousand other “lucky” things that needed to happen. That’s serendipity.