Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

Felix Pie

In Baseball, Long form on September 1, 2011 at 10:22 am

The Felix Pie’s of the world aren’t made for Triple-A. They are supernovas, a Dylan Thomas poem set to a disco beat. In a perfect world, Felix Pie would be diving into sections of fans named after him, “Pie’s People” or something like that. He would be the guy smashing shaving cream pie in faces during post-game interviews for a playoff contender. Or he would be searching for the lost city of Atlantis with only a half a bottle of Orange Slice and a pet rabbit named Roscoe. He’d be Manny Ramirez or Bill Lee or he would just disappear forever because the circus is never fun in dimly lit small towns smelling of stale beer and sheep.

When he first arrived in Baltimore, plucked from the dying vine of the Cubs’ minor league system in exchange for a magical starfish named Garrett Olson, he was sad Felix. His teammates hated him, his manager treated him like a petulant child; what’s worse, he was not very good. Pie played left field like a baby deer learning to walk. Every fly ball to left field should have been scored to the Pastoral Symphony; every at-bat should have come with a disclaimer.

But then an old wizard named Crow decided to work one last spell and Pie’s bat came to life. Why he had to zap the strength of Nick Markakis to do so, Oriole fans will never know. But suddenly, Pie’s bat came to life. He OPS’d 1.045 in 63 at-bats in August. He finished with a a 497 slugging percentage after the All-Star Break, and fangraphs had him with a UZR/150 of 7.7, a total zone rating of eight.

Stacey Long of Camden Chat, high priestess of all Oriole blogs, used to call Felix Pie adorable and for a while he was. How he chased after flyballs like Peter Sellers in a comedic scene. Or the way you could always stay for an entire Pie at-bat knowing he was going to swing at, and probably put in play, one or two pitches. Perhaps the ultimate Felix Pie highlight was when he tripled versus the Angels that summer, sliding into third to complete his bid for the cycle. He popped up from his slide clapping his hands, oblivious to the score, the Orioles’ record or even Mike Scioscia’s evil stare from the third-base dugout. At that moment, Pie was oblivious to space and time, and we as Oriole fans were right there clapping along with him.

Adoreableness is a rare and fragile thing though. It is not beauty. Beauty is refined and elegant, a smooth silk sheet draped over a rare marble sculpture. If beauty is truth, and truth is objective and eternal, then adoreableness is impermanent. The Venus de Milo is beautiful. A bride walking down the aisle at her wedding is beautiful. But when you think of adorable, its images of puppy’s shaking off the day’s rainstorm on the front step or little girls in pig tails dancing on their daddy’s feet. Adoreableness is only consistent in the winking nod it gives before one day evaporating away.

Adorable, it seems, walks the thin line between comic and tragic, and that’s the way Felix Pie played left field for the Orioles. His pie throwing act was always compelling because there was an equal chance the pie could slice itself land perfectly on the table, already sliced in equal quadrants and ready to eat, as it could come back and hit him in the face.

But when that was no longer the case, when the pie only seemed to go splat, he was no longer adorable. After his first 36 at-bats in 2010, Pie only OPS’d .678. He had a -1.8 UZR and a .5 WAR. This year was even worse. Not only was he a -2.1 WAR player, but he was a -37! UZR. That’s not just bad, that’s worst player in baseball type bad. It’s one thing to be eccentric and magical and spritely when hitting .250, but Pie hit .220 with a .264 on-base percentage this season.

What’s lost now is the fact that for maybe an nine-month stretch (August of 2009 until the end of April 2010), Pie was a pretty good ballplayer. Check the record of chat transcripts from the most popular Oriole websites—there was once a legitimate debate about whether the Orioles should trade Adam Jones in order to play Pie full-time in center. And it wasn’t that far-fetched a notion. Pie actually earned only a slightly lesser WAR than Jones in 2009 and was a much, much better fielder. There was once a time when Oriole fans railed against a potential Matt Holliday signing because it might block Pie in left field. Now that notion seems as quaint as an old photo album.

The sad part about it all is that Felix Pie never really changed. Yes, he was a worse ballplayer, but really he was the same ballplayer. He still swung too early at counts and he still took horrible routes to fly balls. He would still get picked off first at inopportune moments and would still gleefully seek out the helmet of the batter who hit a walk off home run after it was tossed in the air. All the things that made Felix Pie adorable were all still there. He was just no longer good. Which meant he was no longer adorable.

That’s why Felix Pie should have never gone to Norfolk, because it was never about him. It was about us. His faults and foibles, his tragedies and his triumphs, only mattered to Oriole fans in that they helped the ballclub. Seeing Pie in a setting removed from the overall success of the Orioles reminds us, as fans, of two semi-mortifying facts: there is life outside of our own little fandom and, for the most part, we really don’t care. Does that make us, as fans, essentially jerks? Are we so myopic as to only view our sporting world through the prism of our own narcissism and greed?

Yeah, probably. But the good part is that our world is limited. When a Felix Pie leaves, he no longer has to exist and when he’s here, he can be elevated to status above his normal existence. He is either adorable or he is gone.

At least that’s what makes me feel better.

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