A heart-rending misplayed ball in the outfield by Alek Thomas of the Diamondbacks was the stuff of Rangers history, as it sparked the rally that led to their first-ever championship, but it is surely going to be grist for Thomas’s nightmares.
OH MY GOODNESS!!!— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) November 2, 2023
RANGERS LEAD 3-0!!!
: FOX pic.twitter.com/LWxqHkeOM8
Camera operators repeatedly zoomed in on Thomas in the dugout to convey his state of mind to the baseball world. But really, isn’t it obvious? The poor guy feels like crap! You know? I wanted to shake the camera operator to stop them from continuing to broadcast his pain, and in a way, manufacturing more of it. Thomas’s error alone didn’t cost the Diamondbacks the game or the Series. But it’s a good plot twist so we keep returning to it, at Thomas’s expense.
Online reactions like “YIKES ALEK THOMAS” didn’t provide a lot of nuance but it’s clear this will be hard for him to ever live down. Thomas is going to be reviewing that play in his head, in interviews, and in historical accounts for years to come. With every additional close-up and comment, my heart hurt a little more for the outfielder.
As some commenters noted, Boston is no stranger to World Series errors, none more famous than the one committed by Bill Buckner in 1986.
As a kid in 1986, did I feel bitter disappointment over that? Oh hell yes. Did I blame Buckner as I cried all by myself in front of the TV when this happened? Yes, I did. Did I think that I personally could’ve—and would’ve—fielded the ball cleanly?
Didn’t we all?
As with Thomas, Buckner’s error didn’t lose the Series for the Sox; there were plenty of other missed opportunities. But boy, did he pay for our collective need to blame! He spoke in later years about receiving death threats, about the nasty things that were said to his wife and kids. Think about almost singlehandedly carrying multi-generational pain like that, on behalf of the entire Red Sox Nation. Ultimately, he made his peace with Boston, and Boston with him. I’m glad that absolution on both sides happened before he died. What a terrible thing we put on him.
In June 2022, the Sox were in town here in Seattle and Bobby Dalbec homered to give the Sox the lead…with some help from then-Mariners left fielder Jesse Winker. In one of the most poignant on-field moments I’ve ever seen, it appeared that the ball bounced out of Winker’s glove. His glove was at the top of the wall, and it seemed as though—if Winker hadn’t been there—the ball would have bounced back onto the field for a double. But the ball went the other way. Home run. Winker immediately put his head in his hands, slid down the outfield wall to the ground and sat there, slumped, for a long time. I saw him bang the back of his head against the wall once or twice and the genuine sadness to his posture was moving. Winker was the last guy off the field in the half-inning, trotting slowly like he didn’t want to face his teammates in the dugout. And that was no high-stakes game, either.
Seeing Alek Thomas and remembering Jesse Winker and our own Bill Buckner brings to mind former MLB player Drew Robinson. His story, if you’re not already familiar with it, is a mind-blower. After bumping around the minors and bigs, he felt so overwhelmed by his own perceived failings (remember, this is a sport where a success rate of just 30 percent is good) that he tried to take his own life. But luckily, he failed again, when it mattered most. He miraculously survived. By another miracle, despite having blinded himself in one eye, he made it all the way back to the Giants’ Triple-A team, the Sacramento River Cats. Take a moment to feel that: against every odd, he ascended to the highest level of minor league baseball, doing it with one eye.
Read that article when you have time to devote to it, and maybe when you’re alone. I’m not saying you’re going to cry, but you might get something in your eye. He describes the pressures of professional sports in a way that I’d never thought of, but it’s a way that I see now in Buckner, Winker and this week, in Thomas.
I attended many Tacoma Rainiers’ games when the River Cats were in town, hoping only to catch a glimpse of the superhuman Drew Robinson playing. Unfortunately, it never aligned, and Drew retired. He’s become a champion for mental health in baseball, working with the Giants and also doing a lot of public speaking. I hope he’s able to reach out to Thomas, because Thomas surely needs some support right now.