Why Joe Savery Didn’t Scream at Ty Wigginton

They may play kiddie games, but athletes are much more grown up than the rest of us in some ways.

The Phils made three errors yesterday in dropping their second straight extra-inning loss to the Orioles. In fact, the winning run scored because Ty Wigginton booted a grounder by leadoff man Adam Jones that let him get on base. The Orioles’ Matt Wieters then hit a double just past the overstretched glove of right fielder Hunter Pence, scoring Jones. What happened next was truly remarkable. None of the Phillies screamed at Wigginton. None of them cursed Pence for misjudging Wieters’s ball. Everybody was disappointed, sure, but there wasn’t any finger-pointing or name-calling.

We could learn a lot from baseball.

From all sports, for that matter. There’s a wonderful fatalism built into games. Sometimes balls take bad bounces. Sometimes runners trip. Sometimes pitchers hit batters (not on purpose). Sometimes balls get lost in the lights. Stuff happens. Everybody mutters “Damn.” And then everybody moves on. The blame game is so rare in sports, in fact, that last month when Shane Victorino misjudged a fly ball in center field and pitcher Cliff Lee shouted at him in the dugout afterward, the exchange made the national news. Both Cliff and Shane declined to discuss the incident.

How awfully un-American of them.

Because more and more in our country, when something goes awry, we dwell on it. We wallow in it. We create committees to look into it; we file suits to get money from it; we formulate new rules and laws to make certain that nothing ever will go wrong again. We’re willing to spend years, decades, seeking redress. Your child has spina bifida? Must be somebody’s fault. Your car caught fire? Find someone to blame for that, too. When did we become so sure that everything occurs for a reason, so determined to thwart happenstance and haphazardness and mischance and mishap and all those other outdated words coined for occasions where folks used to just say “Oops”?

This knee-jerk search for somewhere to lay blame is paralyzing our nation. Every time a child suffers a misfortune, it seems, there’s a drive for new legislation named for the victim and intended to prevent another tragedy. It’s understandable. The word “tragedy” is from the Greek for “goat,” related to the word for “gnaw.” Grief eats at us. We chew on it over and over again. We no longer simply swallow our tears and move on.

But life is full of randomness, of things that happen for no reason. “Accidents” are just that—unplanned, unblameworthy. A dozen years ago, in the course of fixing my child’s bite, an orthodontist killed two front teeth. We talked to several other orthodontists—could what happened have been foreseen? Was our orthodontist negligent? No, they all agreed. It was just bad luck.

When I tell people this story, they always gasp and ask: Did you sue? No, we didn’t sue. We may have shouted a bit, like Cliff Lee in the dugout. But our kid got fitted for implants, eventually. We went on with life. And our kid learned that not everything can be controlled for. That bad things sometimes happen. That when they do, it’s not the end of the world; you pick yourself up and move on.

This illusion we have that if we try really hard, we can make life play by our rules is just plain silly. Can you imagine what sports would be like if the playoff game stopped so Shane Battier could dress down LeBron for missing a foul shot? If Michael Vick paused in the huddle to lay into DeSean Jackson for a dropped pass? Athletes may not be the greatest role models in lots of ways, but they’re stellar ones in this: They get over it. The rest of us should learn to as well.