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Seven of the American League’s 1937 All-Star players, from left to right Lou Gehrig, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg. All seven were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.Wikiemedia commons
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Why I Watch Old Baseball Games, Not Just the Ones I Missed Over Shabbat—and You Should Too

On the surprising rewards of re-experiencing a game, even when you already know the ending

Yair Rosenberg
October 20, 2017
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Seven of the American League's 1937 All-Star players, from left to right Lou Gehrig, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg. All seven were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.Wikiemedia commons

This past Saturday night, like many observant Jews across the country, I watched the Yankees vanquish the Cleveland Indians in Game Five of the American League Division series. This would be unremarkable except for the fact that the game had been played three days earlier. Thanks to the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and then Shabbat—during which religious Jews eschew electronics—I had completely missed the entire exciting affair. I’d heard the Yankees had won, but did not know the score.

Some might raise an eyebrow at watching a three-hour sporting event when one already knows the outcome. It’s one thing to DVR a game one can’t watch in real-time, avoid all spoilers, and watch it shortly thereafter. It’s another to wait days, know the endgame, yet do so regardless. But I’ve actually been engaging in such retrospective fandom for some time—and not just for games on Shabbat.

Like many journalists, I’m often on the road, whether for reporting or speaking or both. Unlike many journalists, on such trips, I like to rewatch classic baseball games that I already witnessed when they first took place.

You might think this would bore me to tears, but you’d be wrong.

Baseball, perhaps more than any other major American sport, is about the journey, not simply the destination. That’s not a cliche; it’s a distillation of the sport’s appeal. After all, the sport spans a 162-game season where each match can last four hours and beyond. What makes this seemingly interminable slog so riveting is not merely the ecstatic final moments when a winner is crowned, but all the twists and turns that led them—and us—to that point. Yet those twists are the very things we tend to forget until we go back in time and rewatch the classics we thought we remembered. We all recall the outcome, yes, but not the experience—the tug-of-war between teams, the highs and lows of player performances, the swing of the scoreboard.

For this reason, watching baseball games when you already know the final score can be surprisingly rewarding. It’s not unlike the experience of a brilliant Shakespearian tragedy: one walks in the door knowing the outcome and the eventual demise of most of the characters, but is still enthralled—and kept guessing—by how we get there.

Now, baseball is not Shakespeare, but the same principle applies. Take one of the greatest games of all time, Game 7 of the 2003 Yankees-Red Sox American League Championship Series. You might remember that Aaron Boone won it for the Yankees with a walk-off home run. But do you remember how the game got to that point in extra innings? How Roger Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers of the age, was knocked out early, only to have Mike Mussina throw stellar shutout relief in his stead? Or how another elite Yankee starter surrendered a game-tying home run to David Ortiz? Or how fabled closer Mariano Rivera went three immaculate innings, in one of the longest outings of his career?

You might remember that Rivera famously blew Game 7 of the 2001 World Series in Arizona against the Diamondbacks. But do you recall how the Yankees dramatically retook the lead just before he lost it?

You might remember how the Cubs last year defeated the Indians in a decisive Game 7 as well. But do you remember how both teams’ twin relief aces, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, both proved mortal in the match-up? Or how one of baseball’s best starting pitchers was knocked out before the 5th inning?

The list goes on. Ever since I first rewatched the 2003 ALCS Game 7, I’ve been hooked. Far from lacking urgency, the games take on new life in retrospect, as my mind struggles to reconcile my knowledge of the outcome with the twists and turns of a game that I have mostly forgotten.

Major League Baseball maintains a “Classics” channel on YouTube. Whether you keep Shabbat or not, I strongly encourage you to give it a shot.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.