There are two things I’ve seen a lot of this summer. The first is Jason Bay rolling over fastballs to the third baseman. (Variations of this include Jason Bay waving at fastballs, and the ever-popular Jason Bay watching a slider hit the corner for a called strike three.) The second is the television show Louie, comedian Louis C.K.’s show, now in its second season. One of these things – Jason Bay – should be sad, and the other – Louis C.K.’s show – should be funny, but I haven’t found either to be quite what I expected. For one, I don’t think the story of Jason Bay’s season is entirely a sad one. And Louis C.K.’s excellent show, although he is a comedian, isn’t so much funny as it is accurate. They’re both sort of weird, I’ve thought a lot about both this summer, and I’ve found both meaningful. There’s something to be said about how to handle failure, and Jason Bay’s season and Louie both say something about this.
So I guess I mean that I’ve found Jason Bay’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season almost inspiring.
But first Louie. I was familiar with Louis C.K. before, mostly from YouTube clips and his brief turn on Parks and Recreation, but I hadn’t seen his show until this summer. And if you haven’t seen it . . . the saying is that every joke has an element of truth to it. Louie is truth with some element of joke to it. It’s not at all like his standup, which is laugh-out-loud funny; I don’t laugh more than once an episode, if that. It’s not a comedy, not in the modern “something-that-makes-me-laugh” sense, nor in the classical “any-story-that-doesn’t-end-with-everyone-dead” sense of the word. I’m not even sure if the show is funny at all. Maybe real life as a television show — actual real life, in all its banality, presented as absurdism . . . maybe that’s the joke. Maybe that’s what is supposed to funny. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to be funny. Honestly, I’m not even sure if I enjoy it.
But I can’t stop watching.
There’s an episode, the finale from last season, when Louie – a loose version of C.K., a forty-something divorced father of two young daughters, living in New York City – hires a baby sitter, goes out and tries to have fun for a night. He fails miserably, going to a bar and then awkwardly to a club and finally ends up walking home alone. When he gets back to his apartment early in the morning, his daughters wake up and they all go out for an early breakfast at the diner. The last scene is the three of them laughing and eating pancakes. This is more-or-less the plot of every episode of Louie. Our out-of-shape, balding hero attempts to do something to improve his life. He tries to get better. He tries to work out. He tries to date. He tries to tell his friend he loves her. He attempts to buy his daughter a present she’ll love. And he invariably fails.
It sounds depressing, but here’s the thing that makes Louie so compelling: Louie isn’t a buffoon, a Homer Simpson or George Costanza, someone whose shortcomings we’re supposed to laugh at. He’s an everyman, the moral center, like Jim Halpert or Michael Bluth or Hawkeye Pierce. He’s us, the one we imagine as ourselves. Only, unlike other everyman on television, Louie fails at just about everything. Which is why it’s unlike any other television show I’ve ever seen, and why I find myself thinking about every episode long after. Instead of showing an idealized version of life and saying, “Hey, look, here’s someone like you, only funny and he wins in the end,” Louie says this: “Here’s this guy. He’s divorced, getting older, fatter, balding. He’s got two daughters who mean everything to him, but he only sees them three nights a week. He’s a successful comedian, but he’s broke. He tries to do a lot of things, and he isn’t very good at any of them. But he tries.
“So what we’re asking you is this: If this was your life, how would you feel about this? Would you regard yourself as a success or a failure?”
I think it’s worth considering the same question about Jason Bay’s short, painful Mets career.
Okay, I know. Maybe it’s not worth asking because Jason Bay has been so awful. He’s hit 17 home runs in 203 games with the Mets. 17. Jason Bay’s home run total couldn’t legally buy cigarettes, rent a car or watch someone “fix the cable.” Both Vance Wilson and Todd Pratt, backup catchers, hit 17 home runs in their respective Mets careers, and they had fewer trips to the plate than Bay. It’s been a statistical nightmare from one category to the next. He’s tied for the fifth-lowest batting average in the National League this season. He owns the third-lowest slugging percentage. He’s sixth in OPS, and the five players below him are all light-hitting shortstops. By Fangraphs’ measure, 32 left fielders have been more productive this season than Bay, and only Juan Pierre and Raul Ibanez have been worse. There are a lot of ways to say that he’s stunk; those are just a few.
Bay has played an okay left field – left field, maybe the least important position in the field – and run the bases decently. But the Mets didn’t sign Jason Bay to play an okay left field and run the bases well. They signed him to hit home runs and drive in runs . . . or at least not to be unbearably, insufferably, soul-crushingly awful.
Instead, he has been unbearably, insufferably, soul-crushingly awful. Look at his monthly OPS this season:
April – .736 OPS
May – .617 OPS
June – .664 OPS
July – .648 OPS
August – .681 OPS
It’s been a drone of bad. Bay has basically been the Metal Machine Music of MLB left fielders. Every time you think he’s turning a corner, he turns three more corners and keeps going in the same direction. By just about every objective measure, Jason Bay’s Mets career has been a failure.
But – and here’s the but – I find myself pulling for Bay more than I should. Because he seems like a decent guy trying his best in spite of all his failures. He seems totally reasonable, realistic, self-deprecating and down to earth. And he’s done everything but hit. He runs out everything: He’s reached base on six errors this season, a good number, and grounded into just seven double plays, a particularly good number for someone who is slow and has hit a lot of ground balls. He’s 20 for 21 stealing bases with the Mets, and by the eye and the advanced metrics, he’s played a decent left field. I know a lot of major league players try hard and hustle and run things out, and some fans dramatically overvalue these things and others dramatically undervalue them. I don’t want to overstate his case: While Bay’s hustle has helped offset his struggles at the plate, it has in no way made up for them. He can’t hustle his way out of this.
But it certainly seems as if Bay is trying as hard as he can. He’s failing, but he’s trying to beat things out, trying to field his position, trying to fix his swing over and over again. And I think there’s something to be said for that. There’s something for going down that way. Maybe baseball is indeed a lot like life, as people sometimes say; maybe it isn’t. But if it is, I’d say that Jason Bay’s season is a lot more like life than anything else I’ve seen this season. Someone trying their hardest, but falling short again and again. Pushing the boulder up the hill, watching it roll away again. And then starting it all over the next day.
Which brings me back to the Louie question: Right now, in this season, is Jason Bay a success or a failure? If Jason Bay works in the batting cage all day, trying to recapture his swing, and then goes 0-4 and strikes out twice . . . did he fail? And if that’s not failure, how is that not a cop-out? How do we measure success, really?
I know Jason Bay’s career is going downhill. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that it will be over before the end of next season. Lucas Duda look built for left field and is easily outhitting Bay. It’s looking more and more inevitable. At this point, pulling for Bay is a lot like pulling for Louie. You can hope it all works out, that the reasonable guy will find it in the end. But these are different from other things on TV. This is a little too real. You know how it finishes.
Two home runs in his last three games? Maybe this is the turn around. Maybe not. I’m pulling for him either way.