Last week I brought you the Game of Thrones Edition, so we might as well run with the whole epic fantasy series thing.
Hey, don’t judge me. (Or do, whichever.) The Harry Potter series, for all the things it might not have been, was just really effective, clever storytelling, and relentlessly entertaining. You can try to tell me otherwise, but I’ll just assume you (a) haven’t actually read or watched it or (b) left your ability to enjoy things back in grad school somewhere. But, hey, to each his, her or its own.
I’m not going to worry about spoilers so much this time, because while ASOIAF is very much midstream, the Harry Potter series is very, well, over, and I figure if you haven’t gotten through the whole thing, you probably won’t be terribly interested anyway. Also, I’m going to avoid the obvious “Yankees are Voldemort/Death Eaters/the Slytherin Quidditch Team” tack. Just pretend I said all those things, make up your own jokes, and move on. (Note: OK, there’s one “Yankees are evil” thing in here, but it’s more muted than that.)
Saves are like Quidditch.
Quidditch, as even the total neophytes have probably gathered, is kind of the official sport of the wizarding world. It sounds terribly thrilling and fun, everybody flying around on brooms, beating some balls at each other with sticks, trying to get this other ball into rings stationed at either side of the field, and trying to catch this one tiny little sentient ball with wings, the little thing that can turn the whole game on its head (which, naturally, makes catching it Harry’s job — I said good storytelling, not great literature).
There’s one problem, though: it makes no sense. It’s really hard, at this stage in our societal development, to invent a new game from whole cloth that both makes sense and is compelling enough for people to want to follow it (witness the roller derby, jai alai, American Gladiators, etc.). Logistically, J.K. Rowling probably would’ve been a lot better off just making Quidditch be a straight-up form of soccer on brooms, but then, Quidditch and the excitement of the games themselves is a huge part of the early books, so maybe if Quidditch isn’t Quidditch, they don’t capture readers’ imaginations the same way they did, and the series never gets off the ground.
Who knows? Either way, from any rational angle (to the extent that you can look rationally at a game that has kids flying around on brooms) the rules suck beyond redemption. Most of the teams, most of the time, are devoted to this goal of getting the big ball through the rings — at ten points a pop — when the fact is that the snitch (the little gold ball with wings), worth 150 points and an immediate end to the game, makes that other ball and the rings completely irrelevant in almost every imaginable instance. It’s like NFL football, if touchdowns were worth six points, field goals three…and any single interception was 100 points and an automatic win. It’s ridiculously imbalanced. Quidditch is a fun little thing, as long as you don’t think about it at all.
And saves? Saves are fun little things, as long as you don’t think about them at all. Look: Mariano Rivera’s career record is, I think, a really cool thing. Rivera is a great and fascinating player, and it’s a great excuse for Yankees fans — for all fans, really — to celebrate him and his career. But the “save” stat itself is just so ridiculously stupid that if you stop to think about it at all, the magic of the moment fades quite a bit. Happening to be on the mound at the end of a game your team was leading by between one and three runs (to simplify things a bit) just isn’t a thing that, by itself, is interesting or worth measuring. I do think that doing it 602 times is interesting — next time somebody sets the all-time RBI record or bats .400, that’ll be interesting and worth celebrating too — but the stat itself is as senseless and poorly thought out as Quidditch.
The Red Sox are like Lord Voldemort.
Rowling does an awfully good job of keeping up Voldemort’s apparent invincibility from the time he really reemerges from his assumed death (in book 4 — if you’re reading through the series with young kids, take as long as you can on book 3) all the way through to the very end. You learn about these weaknesses he supposedly has, but then you never actually see any signs of them. He’s the greatest wizard in the world, he’s taken steps to ensure he should be immortal. It helps, of course, that he’s pure evil (not part of the comparison to the Sox, which would be just as lazy as doing it to the Yanks). He’s unbeatable and terrifying until, very suddenly and at just the right moment, he’s not anymore. He’s gloating, assured in victory; he’s afraid, for just atiny little moment; and then the end comes.
The Red Sox made their own emergence from a horrible kind of mostly-death state of being on April 16. Coming into the day 2-10, they won 8 of 9 and went 81-42 (.659, a 107-win full-season pace) from that date all the way through August 31. In September, though, they’re 5-14. Now, the odds are still heavily in favor of their fate being happier than the Dark Lord’s — their playoff odds sit at 88% as I write this, and I expect them to be back over 90% by morning — but still. The cracks have definitely, and very suddenly, started to show.
Ian Kennedy is like Dobby.
Dobby’s a house elf, definitely the “cutest” character in the books. House elves by and large are kind of a willing slave race (which has troubling implications, I suppose, that I’ve never been inclined to think through): they’re bound to a wizarding family, and most of them seem to want nothing more than to make their masters happy. Dobby’s different, though. He labors unhappily under his particularly cruel master family (the Malfoys), wants freedom as desperately as most house elves fear it, and when he eventually gets that freedom, he blossoms from kind of a curious, mild annoyance to one of Harry Potter’s most valuable and powerful allies.
So, yep, here’s your “Yankeez = evil” moment. The masters to whom Ian Kennedy was indentured for his first four pro years were harsh and demanding ones, jerking Kennedy around and never really giving him a chance to flourish. He was hurt, too, of course, and didn’t do a whole lot to instill faith with the chances he got, but nonetheless, he was the Yankees’ servant (as all young players are to their teams), and the yoke didn’t fit him well. Cut loose through a trade to the Diamondbacks, Kennedy has spread his wings and, after a surprisingly strong 2010, has emerged in 2011 (improbably) as one of the better starters in the National League.
Ryan Theriot is like Kreacher.
The less heralded house elf (who makes almost no appearance in the movies), Kreacher belongs to the mostly-evil family of Sirius Black and, when forced to serve his old masters’ enemies (pro-Harry, anti-Voldemort), becomes terribly nasty, muttering awful things under his breath and attempting to undermine his masters at every turn. Later, though, it becomes apparent that Kreacher was laboring under a series of false impressions, and probably didn’t really fully appreciate what he was doing.
Ryan Theriot hasn’t reached that catharsis yet. But he’s tiny and kind of looks elfish, and anyone with a combined 2010-11 WAR of 0.3 who is deluded enough to say this — “When I was playing shortstop we were in first place. I know that. It is what it is” — has some misplaced negativity shaped by a seriously flawed view of the world.
The Reds are like Hufflepuff.
Hogwarts School is divided into four “houses” — Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. The first three are all pretty awesome. Gryffindor boasts Harry Potter, and the values sought for its members are courage, valor, loyalty, etc., etc. Slytherin is the evil one, all about cunning and ambition. Ravenclaw is a bit less interesting, but they’re all about intelligence and creativity, and most of the cool good characters who aren’t in Gryffindor end up in Ravenclaw.
Hufflepuff, though? As the out of place humor of the name suggests, they’re just kind of pathetic. Hard work, tolerance, and fair play. If I were to pick a single player to represent Hufflepuff, it would probably be Livan Hernandez, or maybe (maybe!) Harold Baines. Almost all of the characters you meet from Hufflepuff are, while “good,” incredibly lame. The most notable one is best remembered for dying. You get the picture.
Really: if you’re not a fan and your team didn’t play them recently, when’s the last time you thought about the Reds? They’re not good. They’re having a worse year than a lot of people expected, but they haven’t completely fallen apart like the Twins, and don’t have nearly the off-field drama of the Dodgers or Mets. Joey Votto has been brilliant and probably deserves MVP consideration, but he’s not getting it, and for whatever reason, just isn’t viewed as the star he really is. Jay Bruce still has yet to take that big step forward — he’s been very good this year, but, like teammate Brandon Phillips, he’s good in ways that most people don’t tend to notice — and no one else that’s stayed healthy for most of the season has done anything worth noting.
There are a lot of teams who are worse than the Reds, but none about whom it’s quite as hard to find things to say. So they’re basically the Hufflepuff of the Majors.
Wallace Matthews is like Gilderoy Lockhart.
Lockhart is a teacher whose boasting and vanity far, far outweigh his actual talents or knowledge. Ultimately, a spell he uses backfires, erasing his memory…and pretty much wiping him out as a character, though he makes one pretty funny appearance as a totally befuddled mental patient.
Wallace Matthews wrote this, and we’ve come full-circle back to saves again: Matthews argues that the 602nd save makes Rivera “Greatest Yankee of His Era,” better than Derek Jeter — a little later on, he reiterates his claim from a week or so ago that he’s the third greatest Yankee of all time, behind only Ruth and Gehrig, ahead of not only Jeter but Mantle, Berra, DiMaggio, and Ford (among others, obviously). Then there’s this:
And unlike other individual accomplishments, particularly in offensive categories, every one of Mariano’s saves necessarily resulted in what is undoubtedly the most meaningful stat of all — a win for his team.
That right there? That’s just a guy who has entirely lost touch with reality.
Note: I struggled a bit in getting this one started, so I threw it open to Twitter. Thanks to Jason, Peter, Moshe, Larry’s Girlfriend, Dawson and Ira for the kickstart (and for several of the ideas themselves).