By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist
We do it all the time, whenever we’re confronted with the bare facts of a reality we’d rather not confront. Did you see Uncle Phil? Wow, he looks terrible. He really let himself go. Man, he got old. What a shame. That’s what happens when you don’t take care of yourself. And on and on.
In fact, old Uncle Phil, if he’s old enough, represents something closer to the best-case scenario rather than the worst. At least he made it that far along in life, not succumbing to illness or fatal injury before reaching his golden years. Really, we ought to celebrate old Uncle Phil rather than denigrate him, no matter what he looks like now or what shape he’s in. For in the grand scheme of things he won. We should be so fortunate.
But we don’t because we struggle to accept the cold realities of aging, of life, of the world as it affected and pummeled poor old Uncle Phil. We prefer to think that the world can’t touch us if we’re strong enough, if we’re vigilant, if we don’t let it. We won’t get old, we like to tell ourselves. We won’t end up like poor old Uncle Phil.
It’s that sort of pretzel logic that helps us make it through our days -- the belief that it’s in our power to remain forever untouched. It’s comforting to believe this, even though deep down we know that it’s nonsense.
It’s also why we’re so quick to want Scott Kingery out of our sight right now. His current stat line suggests that he’s earned a ticket to some serious time on the bench. As of this morning he’s batting .071 with only two hits all season. Following up on his second half slump in 2019 he appears to be a bust. After getting all that money – six years and $24 million guaranteed, $66 million if all the options are picked up – he looks like a failed experiment.
And maybe he is. But right now it’s impossible to tell because Scott Kingery is still, weeks later, dealing with the debilitating aftereffects of Covid-19. He’s still struggling to breathe as freely as he once did after a particularly brutal battle with the virus that left him – a heretofore healthy 26-year-old world-class athlete – unable to get up and off his couch for three weeks.
If Covid-19 can hammer someone as young and healthy as Scott Kingery, what can it possibly do to the rest of us? Worse, once it’s ravaged the system and “recovery” has taken place, what damage might remain? The possibility that Kingery might never fully recover from his infection is downright frightening. We can comfort ourselves by saying that he didn’t die from having contracted Covid but it’s far less comforting to consider that he might battle it for the rest of his life. Truth is, we just don’t know. And that’s absolutely scary. Scott Kingery’s reality is the reality we’re all confronting right now – the reality of the terrifying unknown.
So it’s no surprise that we’d prefer to focus on something else. That the guy had a poor second half and that the Phils would have been better off keeping Cesar Hernandez around rather than entrust second base to the likes of Scott Kingery. Clearly, we prefer to reassure ourselves with the notion that this is his fault. He, and he alone, is responsible for his dreadful play up to now. If he were a better player last year he’d be a better player this year as well.
Again, that may be true. But, given all we are just starting to understand about Covid and its aftereffects, we're just guessing. True, young, previously healthy people tend to survive their infections and far fewer of them require hospitalization than unhealthy and/or older victims. But beyond that we have no idea what the lingering toll of Covid might be.
It may very well turn out that despite everything we do, Covid can not only touch us but beat us into submission. Maybe not immediately but eventually. Scott Kingery is a red-pinstriped representation of that cold, hard reality staring us in the face. As young as he is, as strong as he is, it took him out and continues to batter him even though we like to tell ourselves that he’s fully recovered. In fact, he may never recover.
We ought to celebrate the return of Kingery to a big league ballpark. Just to make it back given what he’s been through and continues to battle is, like poor old Uncle Phil’s, closer to the best outcome rather than the worst. He “beat” Covid but even so remains at war with it. This is, as we understand the virus today, the significantly less exhilarating definition of “winning.”
But we’d rather he go away. We’d rather believe he just isn’t very good. We’d rather tell ourselves this is just about baseball, nothing else. Because if it isn’t, it's a helluva lot more difficult to get up in the morning.
Mitch Nathanson's biography of Jim Bouton is out now. Stay home and read it.