Celebrating No-Hitters: Positive Tradition or Inertial Reasoning?

Andy Lyons

Should we really celebrate no-hitters? Or are they an antiquated notion that should be thrown away for more sophisticated evaluations?

One week ago, Homer Bailey pitched a no-hitter. Most fans were pretty excited that, and Homer Bailey was definitely pretty excited about that.

Brian Kenny wasn't.

You can see why Kenny's remarks might receive a bit of backlash.

Regardless of whether Kenny is correct, his comments evoked a fascinating question, not just about how we should analyze pitching performances -- most people would agree that a 1 H, 0 BB complete game is better than a 0 H, 9 BB complete game -- but about how we should watch, value, and appreciate the game of baseball.

I suggested to Kenny on Twitter that we should differentiate between valuable traditions and inertial reasoning; that is, is the celebration of no-hitters valuable because of the fact that it has always been celebrated, or is it simply a case of following the conventional norm for the sake of normality, in the same way that we still value pitcher wins?

I think it's some of both. On the one hand, there's nothing particularly special about a no-hitter as compared to, say, a 1-hit 0-walk complete game. If we invented baseball today and had to decide which pitching performances to celebrate, surely said performance would be celebrated more strongly than a 0-hit 9-walk performance.

On the other hand, I believe that there is value in the collective excitement that comes from a no-hitter bid, regardless of the actual "greatness" of a no-hitter. Everyone -- the fans, the announcers, the pitcher, the other players -- feels like something special is happening (whether or not it’s actually special), and to get caught up in that excitement is not only natural and understandable, but should be encouraged!

That doesn't mean we shouldn't also try to cultivate a similar shared excitement over the 1-hit 0-walk game. In fact, fans should be able to, and encouraged to, take joy in any aspect of baseball that they want. Happiness is good (perhaps the only good), so anything that leads to happiness follows suit.

On the other hand, Brian Kenny's points about the being "stuck in the past" and focusing on the wrong thing with regards to celebrating no-hitters are important and valid. While enjoyment of baseball can come in many different forms, I have an intuition, which I expect many of you share, that there is a normative aspect to our celebration of the game as well. That is, we should celebrate excellent plays, games, performances, players, teams, and careers, and the extent to which we celebrate them should somewhat correspond with their excellence.

Obviously, there are interesting, enjoyable, and celebration-worthy aspects of baseball that transcend the value that they have on the field. Derek Jeter's shovel pass against Oakland in the 2001 playoffs will always be remarkable to me, not because it was the most important play in those playoffs, or even in that game, but because it was so unexpected and epresentative of Jeter's style of play.

But, when we celebrate players through outlets like the All-Star Game, the Hall of Fame, or just through social media, using purely aesthetic or tradition-based criteria seems wrong in a sense. Baseball is a sport in which players vie to beat each other through physical performance, and to reward one player for a performance over another, more impressive performance, based solely on the tradition of the no-hitter, almost defeats the purpose of the actual game.

As with most things, we must find a balance here, a balance between sharing a collective tradition-based excitement with other fans and players, and celebrating truly impressive and dominating performances for being impressive and dominating. Most importantly, we must be conscious of the reasons for our celebrations of certain performances, aware of the value of said performances on the field, and careful not to trivialize the joy that other people draw from baseball, in whatever form that may come.

. . .

Matt is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and the Hardball Times.

You can follow him on twitter @MRHBaseball.

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