The Beauty of Almost

haddixFifty years ago yesterday, on May 26,1959, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Harvey Haddix pitched a perfectly crushing game of baseball.

            Haddix was a slightly built veteran lefthander who had a somewhat average career marks.  He was battling a cold when he took the mound against the Milwaukee Braves, two-time defending National League champions, whose strong line-up included one Hank Aaron.  In the years before specialized short-and-medium relievers and rocket-armed closers, Haddix simply pitched and pitched and pitched.  For 12 innings. And nobody got on base.

            It was 12 perfect innings. Thirty-six batters up, thirty-six batters down: 8 strikeouts, 12 ground outs and 16 fly outs.  Haddix later said, ”I’ve had a lot better stuff than I had that night.  But I never had control like that. I could have put a cup on either corner of the plate and hit it.”

            Of course, the Pirates couldn’t score off Lew Burdette either, so in the bottom of the 13th inning, the score was tied at zero. After a grounder, the third baseman threw wide at first, ending the perfect game. A sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk followed. Then a slider that rode a little high ended up in the seats.  The Pirates lost 1-0.

            Haddix’ response?  “Just another loss and that’s no good.” He kept a ball from every one of his victories and the box score—including a World Series win the next year.  He kept no ball from the only 12-inning perfect game in baseball history.

And yet that one loss—the almost perfect game- was his defining moment in his life.  It was the first line in his obituary when he died. His widow said there was not a day that went by without someone mentioning that game.

On the one hand, that is sad.  On the other hand, “there is something immortal about being unique.  Seventeen pitchers have thrown perfect games in major league baseball. None of them had to go more than nine innings. Haddix is not even included on the perfect game list on MLB.com. His feat stands alone.”   He once said, “It’s nice to have contributed something a little special.”

Now, here’s the thing. Harvey’s “almost” is closer to the way life works for most of us.  There are long stretches of hard work and sweat and relative success (though probably not perfection), in ordinary days.  But those are followed closely by moments of failure, surprising instants when defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory, when things almost worked out. Call it disappointment, a bad break, a rough patch, getting sucker-punched by life. Could be finances, the kids, work, school, a promotion, league play, a golf tourney or any one of a dozen other things that were right there and then slipped away, like dropping your glasses over the lookout at Niagra Falls.

‘Almost happens”. Not as snazzy as that other bumper sticker, but just as true. 

What do you do with that?  You could live with the dull ache of disappointment most of the time. That’s sort of a lousy way to live.

Or you could let the “almost” remind you that the moments, opportunities and relationships of this world –though they promise much –can never deliver.  “Almost”—the aching, whispy, just-through-my-fingers moments– can press us to our Father and His promises. 

‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us….this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all compare, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”   (Rom. 8:18; 2Cor. 4:17-18)

‘Almost” is where most of us live.  Your almost is unique, just like Harvey Haddix’ 12-inning perfect game and contributes something special, even if nobody ever knows or asks about that day.  It can make help you know God better and trust Him more, because someday He’ll make all our “almosts” complete.

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