Houston’s Jewish Existentialism Astro Alex Bregman – The Forward


If you are not from Beantown or Bayou City, you may not be aware of the culmination of a remarkable drama that occurred when the Houston Astros defeated the Boston Red Sox in the ‘a marathon to win the American League Championship Series. After a first win in Houston, Boston erupted with two wins that included not one, but two Grand Slam tournaments in a single round. Like a cue, another grand slam was belched out by the Sox in Game 3.

But the earthquake plates had not finished moving. In the hostile confines of Fenway Park, the Astros went orbital in games four and five. Not only did they beat the Sox pitchers for 18 points in both games, but they also put down the Boston killer row, allowing just three points. Not only did the momentum shift to the Astros, but the home court advantage as well.

On Monday night, the Astros took advantage of this momentum to clinch a 5-0 victory. Their pitchers were as picky, their hitters as loud as in their previous wins. In addition to the team’s deluge of home runs, Kyle Tucker hit a three-runner explosion in the 8th inning, increasing the team’s margin. In the final round, with the Red Sox still struggling and failing to understand the Astro pitchers, those extra points proved to be unnecessary.

Is it possible, however, that all the races were ultimately pointless? That the noise and fury rising from the stadiums, roaring in taverns and coolers, and rumbling in the media meant nothing? In short, that this series was less an epic than an existential event?

No player is better positioned to offer an answer than Alex Bregman, the All-Star third baseman, who before joining the Astros, had been a member of the Albert Congregation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although Bregman majored in sports administration at LSU, he often appears to have majored in philosophy. With an emphasis, it seems, in existentialism.

Faced with miraculous Houston Astros victory, Alex Bregman became our most eloquent Jewish existential philosopher

It’s crazy, but people dressed in Astro swimsuits and conjuring up barbecue smoke share a number of ideas with the philosophers when wrapped in trench coats and wrapped in Gauloise smoke.

“Playing meaningful games,” Bregman remarked, “that’s what it is about”. It sounds pretty straightforward. Until you realize like Nietzsche – the grandfather of existentialism – that the Grand Arbiter is dead. We killed the Ump, says Nietzsche, replacing it with reason and science. (MLB risks killing umps by replacing them with the science of automated ball hitting technology. Who needs the Big Man when you have Trackman?)

How can life be meaningful in such an absurd world? What to do when, overnight, the traditions and truths that we have lived our lives by evaporate? When does everything we thought was solid melt in the air? Just as the existentialist thinker Albert Camus turned to football – aka, football – for an answer we could turn to baseball. Former goalkeeper for his university team, Camus remarked “the little I know about morality, I learned on the soccer field”.

So, too, for Bregman. The 2017-18 cheating scandal, when the Astros stole signs from opposing teams, taught him a harsh existential truth: not only are we doomed to be free, but we are also responsible for the choices we make freely. It is only by exercising this freedom that we can live meaningful lives, but also live a life inevitably marked by mistakes.

It took a while for Bregman to choose to admit he made the wrong choice. This is not surprising: after all, freedom is also an inexhaustible source of existential angst. But as existentialists have insisted, the burden of freedom is liberating. This is what Jean-Paul Sartre meant by his paradoxical assertion that the French have never been so free as under the German Occupation. Or, as our Gold Glove finalist puts it, “having pressure is a privilege”.

The existential lessons Bregman learned from baseball don’t end there, however. For one thing, life is littered with times when you find yourself on your own as Bregman stands in the batter’s box and watches a ball blaze towards him at 100 mph. It is, most of the time metaphorically, a moment of life and death.

For Dr Rieux, the narrator of Camus’ novel “La Peste”, such loneliness is, literally, also a moment of life and death. Although unable to cure his dying patients, he persists nonetheless. As he said to his friend Tarrou: “I defend them as best I can, that’s all. The right thing to do, Rieux understands, “was to do your job as it should. “For Bregman, it’s no different:” The only thing I have control over is working hard and running my business the right way. “

Faced with miraculous Houston Astros victory, Alex Bregman became our most eloquent Jewish existential philosopher

On the flip side, the doctor and batter eventually discover that, whether faced with the plague bacillus or the puckered ball, their efforts only make sense when done with other men. To a priest who joined him to fight the plague, the atheist Rieux declares that only one thing matters: “We are working side by side for something good that unites us. Learning Spanish to get closer to the many Hispanic players on the team, Bregman echoes Rieux when he explains that “being a good teammate is part of life”.

But you also have to be a good person. At his bar mitzvah, 13-year-old Bregman announced that we “must all realize that there are people who can suffer and we must all try to do our part to alleviate that suffering when we can.” Even a baseball player can do something about it. Several years later, upon learning that a fan was dying of stage 4 cancer, Bregman visited his home and spent an hour at his bedside. Perhaps Rieux, who spends his life alongside the dying – a spectacle, he admits, to which he has “never been able to get used” – would approve.

Finally, the two men share the same existential and skeptical vision of victory. When Tarrou tells Rieux that his dedication to healing the dying means a life of endless defeat, he can only nod. There is no reason to hope, Camus insisted, but it was no reason to despair. For those Astro fans getting ready for tonight’s game, they might want to remember what Bregman never forgets. “This game is so great,” he observed, “because it’s a game of chess.” Rieux could not have said better.

Faced with miraculous Houston Astros victory, Alex Bregman became our most eloquent Jewish existential philosopher

Rieux also has the final say in “The Plague” – a difficult word to remember last night at Minute Maid Stadium. How could we? In the stands, the fans roar; on the field, the players embraced; in the streets, strangers were beating on them. The cheating scandal seemed once and for all relegated to the past; the rapture of this victory seemed to extend into the future.

And yet, how much similar to the experience of Rieux as he walked the streets of his town which, with the retreat of the plague, explodes into celebration. “Listening to the cries of joy that rose from the city, Rieux remembered that such joy is always in danger. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from the books: that the plague bacillus never die or go away for good.

Or, as Bregman might say, wins never last.

Robert Zaretsky teaches at the University of Houston. Her latest book is “The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas”.

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