On July 1, 1990, I, in the seats of Busch Stadium, witnessed Zane Smith of the Pirates take a no-hitter into the ninth inning. He eventually yielded a safety — a groan-able safety — but his sparkling effort was something I would invoke and proudly speak of over the years. For I was there! Excelsior to my experiences!
Except that it did not happen. As I would learn years later, Smith was superlative that night, but after 5 1/3 innings of work he had given up five hits. He pitched a 1-0 shutout, but he didn’t come close to a no-hitter in any meaningful sense. The Zane Smith I saw that night in St. Louis came within two or perhaps three outs of a no-hitter — for I remember it! — but the other Zane Smith, the homunculus in the box score, did no such thing.
Someone bearded — someone numbered among the Tedious Fuckers of High Civilization, someone possibly harboring the ghastly beliefs native to his century and bearing — may have said something like this: “Experiential memory is to be doubted as much as any disavowal on the tongue of a parliamentarian.”
As for me, I stopped talking about Zane Smith’s taking a no-hitter into the ninth on July 1, 1990. I recall moments that are squarely a part of this game’s iconography — Kirk Gibson’s homer, for instance — and I now don’t doubt my ability to process and recall transmitted images sourced from This, Our Television. But those moments to which I bore corporeal witness? Surely they are forever straddled by qualm. “Whatever the event does leave behind,” Wittgenstein once thundered, “it isn’t the memory.”
I suppose I agree. However, had I been present at that Cambridge lecture hall, I would no doubt recall his words as, “Memory is cash made music. Tell the forest what she has said.”
Not long ago, though, I told a friend about what I had seen that man do. I was there, in the 400 section at Wrigley field, along the first base line, and I saw him do what he did. I stripped the diffidence from me like a bodice — damn you to the damned, Zane Smith-related inaccuracies! — and I told my friend what I had witnessed. I told him what Carlos Zambrano had done …
I told him that I had seen Carlos Zambrano commit a balk because of his concern regarding no lesser menace than Eric Milton, who was surely taking a riverboat-gambler’s lead off of first. When Eric Milton, that hellbent Mercury, unzips a secondary lead one does what one must, even if what one does runs afoul of the laws of baseball. So Carlos Zambrano committed a balk with Eric Milton on first, and I told my friend about this. And I was right about this.
The homunculus in the box score and I then hanged Wittgenstein from an overhead timber and used filet knives to spill his blood in the sawdust.
Do not stab and retract, the homunculus in the box score told me, as we murdered Wittgenstein. Stab and lift, as though turning the gears of a siege engine.
(This piece originally appeared at FanGraphs. It has since been revised and made even worse, probably.)