Ready for some baseball trivia to mark another new season? Let’s go back to the famous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Many baseball fans remember details from that game vividly, especially Mets and Red Sox fans of course.
From easy to hard, five questions with the answers right below:
Who made the error that allowed the Mets to score the winning run?
Who was the batter on that play?
Who scored the run?
Who was the pitcher?
Who was on deck?
Bill Buckner, Mookie Wilson, Ray Knight, Bob Stanley, Howard Johnson.
How’d you do?
If you got at least three right, try our bonus question:
Who was the winning pitcher?
It was Rick Aguilera.
Aguilera was a Mets miracle away from being the losing pitcher in a stinging defeat. The Mets dominated the National League in 1986 and talked and acted like they felt they were baseball’s best team. To lose the World Series, no less to a Boston team still mired in the “Curse of the Bambino” nonsense, would have been devastating.
Dave Henderson homered off Aguilera to lead off the 10th inning, and the Red Sox threw another run up off him to take the 5-3 lead they would, dramatically and incredibly, squander.
Of course even though he was the winning pitcher Aguilera had literally nothing to do with the comeback. Yet, as he was in the game when it happened, he gets the honor.
That’s how baseball does it. Fans, not to mention Cy Young Award voters, are often slaves to wins -- after all, kids, “winning is everything” -- even though very often it’s a statistic that proves nothing, or even misleads. Rick Aguilera got the win in Game 6? Think about that.
Sports fans bellow about winning as the ultimate separator between good players and great all the time, and more so in other sports than in baseball. Peyton Manning, the best quarterback in football history, falls prey to this constantly. Wilt Chamberlain in over 1,000 NBA games averaged more than 30 points and 22 rebounds, yet Bill Russell won 11 rings and Chamberlain two so Russell must have had a gene Chamberlain lacked. (Or, perhaps instead, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek and several other Hall of Fame teammates.)
This is how it works though. Fans love a winner. Moreover, they love to show off how they know that big famous crossover sports stars without titles really don’t deserve to sit with the cool kids.
We do make exceptions.
Mark Sanchez left the Jets last week with a 33-29 record in four years, having started right away as a rookie, plus a 4-2 playoff mark. Not bad if you ask me. Also, his four playoff wins were all on the road giving Sanchez more road wins in the playoffs than the Buffalo Bills since 1965.
Road playoff wins since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger:
“The Sanchize”: 4. Bills franchise: 3.
The New York Jets claim 40 starting quarterbacks in their history. Know how many of them have a record four games or more above .500, like Sanchez? TWO. The other is Vinny Testaverde (35-26). (Joe Namath, if you’re wondering: 60-61-4.)
But you know, Sanchez is terrible and hashtag butt fumble and whatever.
I’m not saying Sanchez is great, or even necessarily good. I’m saying we respect winning unless we don’t, and Sanchez, who for whatever reason generally was mocked in New York, just wasn’t cool enough for us.
(Obligatory reference here to Doug Flutie’s 21-9 record as a Bills starter.)
Let’s turn our attention to Ted Nolan. In his shocking return to the Sabres’ bench, Nolan is 16-35, a lowly win percentage of .313. But does it matter? Nolan, already a fan favorite and also a martyr from his messy 1997 departure, is seen largely as a coach fighting an impossible battle with a ragtag group of players. He’s doing his best, eh?
Well, his best is .313 at this point. What would less than his best look like?
Here’s a fun one for you. Jhonas Enroth has 26 decisions this year in the Sabres’ net and has won four. It’s a terrible record. If you judge Enroth on his record, he’s a goner.
My advice would be to not do that.
Enroth’s job is to stop pucks. A look at his success rate doing that tends to impress. His 5-on-5 save percentage is .929, 17th in the NHL among goalies playing at least a quarter of their team’s games. Jonas Hiller of Anaheim, one of the league’s winningest teams, ranks 18th. Ryan Miller ranks 29th. Antti Niemi of San Jose, the league’s winningest goalie this season, ranks 34th.
To look at Enroth’s record and judge him on that is a total failure to correctly analyze his performance. His job, boiled down, is not to win games, it’s to make saves.
So, what are we supposed to do with individuals winning or losing in team sports?
At this point, I treat it as trivia. It may be interesting to look at someone’s record, a curiosity, but it is not often telling and it is too often a lie. Stats are best when they tell a story. Winning stats tell fairy tales.
For the record I think Mark Sanchez isn’t great and Peyton Manning is. I think Nolan and Enroth are better than bums, especially Enroth, and I think Rick Aguilera has no business being on the plus side of the greatest game in Mets history.
Sorry, winning isn’t everything.