The 21st Century has not been kind to Americans. There are good reasons for this and bad reasons for this. That must wait for another time. For now, it’s enough to notice that one of the central myths of American life—American meritocracy—has been horribly cracked, if not shattered, in this un-American Century.
Americans have told themselves for generations that if they just work hard enough, they’ll be rewarded. It’s usually been bollix, of course, but in the 21st Century, Americans have had to confront the bollix in new and frightening ways. “The game is rigged, folks,” said the Big Guy, but it was the one assumption that even his most ardent foes shared.
This half-reckoning has come to baseball as it has to every other corner of American life. Since the 1990s, we fans have seen, over and painfully over, that the race does not go to the swift, nor yet bread to the wise. Like the rest of American life, baseball in the 21st Century has been dominated by the rich, and the steroid freaks, and the rich, steroid freaks.
One night in Bridgeport
This has all been a long way of saying that Carlos Rodon was awesome tonight. He threw a no-hitter and nearly had a perfect game (the #ToeBall might yet outlive even tonight’s fame). It’s one of baseball’s highest achievements and it was accomplished by a man who has personified the decline of American meritocracy.
The White Sox drafted Rodon third overall in 2014. He made his way to the big leagues but there he stalled, and often stumbled. He had to go through lengthy rehabs twice. Last year, in the playoffs, he couldn’t get a single Oakland A out. In the winter, the Sox declined to offer him a contract. He resigned with the team for pennies on the Major League Baseball dollar.
Now he has thrown a no-hitter. He is one of only 307 men to have done so since 1876. It’s a story so treacly that it might make Norman Rockwell retch.
One of the things that modern analytics have taught us is not to get caught up in small sample sizes. Sound advice, that. But one of the (fading) glories of baseball is that its democratic pulse still flickers, however faintly. Saul Bellow brilliantly described the ethos of American democracy as “the universal eligibility to be noble.”
Carlos Rodon had a rough, painful slog to a no-hitter tonight. After tonight, he may well resume his rough, painful slog through the league. Tonight he cashed in his eligibility and walked with the Nobles.