On The Mets’ Appeal And The Would’ve Fallacy

By Unknown author

I’ve been waiting to write this post for a while now. Not specifically about the Mets’ appeal of the Rays’ one hit on Wednesday night — that only happened in the last couple days — but about what is, to me, one of the most annoying things in sports. I call it the “would’ve fallacy.”

Before I get to that, let’s quickly clarify that B.J. Upton’s infield single off R.A. Dickey was just that — a single. A weak single, yes, and one that  could have been an out if David Wright made a very good play. But he didn’t, and unless Joe Torre is losing his marbles, the decision will stand.

But here’s the more important point. Saying that Dickey “would have had a no-hitter” if Wright made the play, or if it had been scored an error, is illogical and, in this case, probably false. Dickey himself summed it up best: “I think the asterisk beside the no-hitter would get more attention than the no-hitter, plus you’re not pitching the eighth or ninth inning with the pressure of a no-hitter going.”

Or the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.

There’s no denying that Dickey was dominant on Wednesday, and it would be fair to say he had no-hit stuff. But in throwing a no-hitter, handling the pressure is half the battle. Met fans should understand that better than anyone. As much as I love R.A., he does not deserve to be credited with a no-hitter, even if the call is overturned.

Call it “a game in which he allowed no hits,” if you must, but don’t give it a title that indicates the pitcher has — as Johan Santana did — displayed the remarkable physical and emotional poise necessary to accomplish one of baseball’s toughest feats.

Because of the pressure involved in a no-hitter, the “would’ve fallacy” is clear to see in this scenario. But I think it still applies, pressure or not. Suppose for a moment we live in a pressure-free world, where the burden of knowing one has a no-hitter going does not affect him whatsoever. Now, suppose Wright makes the play on Upton’s grounder to end the first inning. Some may be inclined to say that, in this environment, a no-hitter would have been inevitable.

Some take it even further, like Grantland’s Shane Ryan, who takes into account Wright’s error in the ninth inning that gave the Rays their first baserunner since Upton in the first. “The fact is, we could have had two perfect games in the same night if Wright could field his position,” Ryan writes. “Dickey was robbed, once by a scorekeeper and once by his own teammate.”

I hate to do this to you, Mr. Ryan, but let’s get philosophical.

Any event that occurs affects each event that occurs after it. That’s the plain, philosophical truth. If Wright makes that play in the first, Matt Joyce doesn’t come up to bat next and fly out to center to end the inning. Instead, he leads off the bottom of the second. With no one on base, maybe Dickey pitches to him differently. Maybe Joyce gets a hit. Maybe he gets hit in the head. There’s no way to know.

If a game is tied game in the bottom of the ninth and an outfielder robs a home run, it’s fair to say the home team “would have won” if the ball hadn’t been caught. The same holds true for a buzzer-beater in basketball, or a decisive penalty kick in soccer.

However, sports people too often talk about moments in a game as if they occur in a vacuum, as if you can change one play without changing everything else. I get it — in a non-stop sports news cycle, it’s tough to fill all the space without making some speculations. But isn’t what actually happens on the field ever enough?

R.A. Dickey threw a one-hitter on Wednesday night. It was awesome. Would he have thrown a no-hitter if the one hit hadn’t been scored a hit? Maybe. Probably not. Who knows? Who cares?

After all, where would our beloved Mets be without one-hitters?