40 Days and 40 Nights: A Tragicomedy of Errors

Aristotle Would Approve - Bob Levey

In which the author finds humor in a recently concluded 8-32 run.

No matter how good you are, you're going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you're going to win one-third of your games. It's the other third that makes the difference.-- Tommy Lasorda

Ludicrous things are pleasant, whether men, words, or deeds. -- Aristotle

It just doesn't matter. -- Bill Murray, Meatballs


Let’s forget for the moment our vibrant, rebuilt farm system and that insanely low BABIP and accept as fact that this team is awful, not based on a bunch of advanced statistics but rather on simple numbers. And those numbers are, as of Saturday night’s nail-biter, 8 and 32, which was our record over the last 40 regular season games stretching back to last year. That puts us at a not-so-nice but round .200. Somehow our winning percentage is exactly at the Mendoza line. Adopting for the moment the Lasorda Rule, we see that for the last three years, the Astros have played as poorly as an MLB team can play and with Tuesday night's blown save against the Nats, we are once again at .333. We continue to adhere strictly to the perhaps inviolable laws of Lasordian physics. But for those 40 games, we were temporarily in violation.

Curious as to where this span would fall historically but never a fan of heavy lifting, I didn’t even attempt to find a way to isolate and compare 40-game stretches spanning multiple seasons, no less, so I looked up the worst season records in baseball history. In recent history, the 2003 Detroit Tigers finished at .265, well above that clip. Before that, the 1962 expansion Mets – you know, those guys who incited the Casey Stengel quote, Can’t anyone here play this game?, which became the title of Jimmy Breslin’s comical account of those expansion Mets – finished at .250, also well above our current clip. In fact, you can go back all the way through the ‘modern era’ (1900 on) and not find a single team that finished with a record worse than .200. Only three times in the pre-modern era (i.e., 1896-1899) did it occur and that was done by teams comically named the Spiders, the Alleghanys and the Colonels.

I’m not arguing that this 40-game stretch makes us the worst team ever. This is slightly less than 1/4th of a season and actually consists of two relatively small stretches pulled from two separate seasons and two related but separate teams. I’m sure the percentage will rise as the season goes on. So I’m not exactly judging. Neither am I predicting. This team could, given the super low BABIP and potential influx of talent, begin turning things around at any moment. And I am also, for once, not advocating for major changes. I’ve called elsewhere for significant personnel changes and aggressive promotions. I’m not doing that here.

If it’s neither judgment, prediction nor prescription, then what is it I am doing? Excellent question and thanks for asking! I'm here as a self-appointed life coach for the landed aristocracy and unwashed masses alike of TCB. Because it's getting kind of edgy in here. Nerves are frayed; tempers are flaring, with 'Chris Carter' fast becoming the TCB version of Godwin's Law. I'm merely trying to sketch a picture of what we have as fans put up with since September 14, 2013 and recommend a way to cope: let's have a good laugh. This has been comically rough, the kind of experience that inspires laughter in Germans. I wouldn't be surprised if in Oldtown Gimmelshtump Germany someone is inventing a super-long compound noun to describe the enjoyment of the suffering of Astros fans. Since the Astros have become the so-called 'laughingstock' of baseball to Germans and non-Germans alike, let's play along. Because, when you think about it, it is at least a little bit funny. The Astros' play could inspire two-word reviews, a la that of Spinal Tap's infamous Shark Sandwich album. We have witnessed over the last couple of years everything comically terrible in the baseball book: comically terribly hitting, comically terrible base running and comically terrible defense, the latter example of which is so bad Business Insider, of all places, felt the need to get in on the fun. Even the non-visual numbers are kind of funny -- we had, at least going by WAR -- the worst bullpen ever last year, by a significant margin. This season our entire team is flirting with the Mendoza line. Is there any way out? Will we ever come out on top? Well, no, actually, because as noted by renowned Princeton historian Bill Murray in the award-winning coming-of-age PBS documentary Meatballs, even if we do manage to somehow, against all odds, start winning, the guys from Camp Mohawk will still get all the girls because they've got all the money.

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