5-24-10: What Makes a Game Great?

Hello again everybody...

Welcome back from what I hope was another wonderful weekend.

Mine was pretty good. I got to see the Twins win on Saturday, and then spend a nice chunk of time with some family on Sunday as we got to wish my Aunt a happy (mumble, grumble)th birthday. Plus my mom came into town for a bit, so I got some quality time with her too.

Baseball and family. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The various descriptions of the Twins game, however, gave me pause. I heard a lot of comments afterward saying, “oh wow, you got to go to a great game”. That struck me as odd. While I'm happy that my favorite team won, I didn't think the game was all that “great”. “Exciting”, sure, but not “great”.

Naturally, that got me thinking. What exactly does make a game great?

And we all know what that means! Column time!

Right after the quote...

”I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education.”
- Wilson Mizner (1876 - 1933), American playwright, raconteur and entrepreneur

Faith is great and all, but if you don't say “gee, I wonder why that is?” now and again, you're not going to learn much.

So it's only natural that I wonder what exactly makes a “great game” right?

(I do love it when I can get a quote to connect!)

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Before I begin to try and break this down, let me say this: it's all subjective. What I think makes a game great may not be what you think makes a game great. But that's the beauty of it right? We can debate the points and nobody's necessarily wrong!

In no particular order, here are my 5 criteria that I feel need to be present in order for a game to be “great”.

1. The score must be close.

I'm fear I'm going to get some disagreement with this one, but I think it's absolutely essential.

I know there are people out there who thoroughly enjoy blowouts. When it comes to baseball, my dad has always contended that he'd rather see a 10-run Twins win rather than one-run nail-biter.

Me? I'll take the nail-biter seven days a week and twice on Sunday.

Look, baseball's a long game, and I'm not generally a patient person. (Insert shocked face here.) So to stay engaged, I want the game to be close. In close games, each at-bat becomes increasingly critical. One poor pitch, one defensive miscue, or one prodigious blast can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Witness last season's Game 163 between the Twins and the Tigers. If it had been a 10-0 white-wash, would it have been deemed an “instant classic”? Methinks not. Instead, the Twins 6-5 victory over the Tigers in 12 innings achieved classic status because it was closely contested throughout, and came down to a base-hit RBI in the 12th to decide who'd go to the playoffs.

Which leads me to my next point...

2. Something more than a simple win or loss has to be on the line.

I'm not saying that a playoff berth has to be on the line, or that it has to be a playoff game (although those certainly qualify here), but there has to be some sort of storyline drama involved for a game to really be “great”.

For instance, go back to the Twins/Yankee series in New York two weekends ago. The Twins had dropped 12-straight games to the Yankees and were trailing 3-2 in the 8th inning in what appeared was going to be loss number 13 in a row.

What was on the line, you ask? Ending “The Yankee Curse”. Would the Twins fail once again to beat the Bronx Bombers? Or would they finally get the New York monkey off their backs?

Jason Kubel answered that question with his grand slam in the bottom of the 8th to give the Twins their lone win in the past 13 games versus the Yankees, and finally end the curse.

3. The game must be well-played.

If we're sticking with baseball for the purposes of this discussion, then “well-played” means good defense, not a lot of walks, and clutch hitting.

In Criteria #1, I referenced Game 163 from last year. There was only one error in the game, and several defensive gems. Check.

There were a total of 12 walks between the two teams, but considering there were well over 100 plate appearances in that game, that number isn't as big as it seems. So, check.

And if I need to describe the clutch hitting that was involved in that game, then you clearly didn't watch and I'm not sure we can be friends any more! (Just kidding... mostly.) Also, check.

4. The best players have to be factors.

Let's use Game 163 as an example again. Sure it was Alexi Casilla that singled in Carlos Gomez to win the game. Nobody's going to call those two “great” players.

So who were the Twins best players coming into that game?

Joe Mauer was the AL MVP last season. He went 2-for-4 in the game including a double.

Michael Cuddyer was a big factor in the Twins' success last season, not only with his offense, but with his glove, taking over at first base once Justin Morneau was ruled “out for the year” with his back injury. He went 1-for-5 with a walk. Doesn't look great, right? But consider the fact that his one hit was a triple in the 10th inning which set up a season-saving run, since Detroit had scored in the top half of the 10th. He also made a productive out in the 12th, grounding out on a slow roller that allowed Carlos Gomez to get into scoring position from whence he ended up scoring the winning run.

Joe Nathan had 47 saves in 2009, ranking him second in the AL. Now, once a game goes to extra innings, the home team's closer can no longer earn a save. But that doesn't mean Nathan's contribution wasn't critical. He came on in the 8th inning with the go-ahead run on second and got two critical outs to preserve the tie. Then stayed out there for the entire ninth inning to hold Detroit off the scoreboard.

Put simply, the Twins best players were integral to their victory in that game.

And finally...

5. My team wins.

I know. It sounds totally homerish, right? But I think the result is definitely part of the equation. A game can be “good” if the team I'm rooting for loses. But “great”? Nope. I think my team needs to win for a game to achieve that status.

Note, this only applies if I have a direct rooting interest in the game. A game can still be “great” if I don't root for either team. But if one of the DFT's is playing, they have to win for the game to be “great” in my mind.

So let's break down Saturday's game using those criteria, shall we?

1. The score must be close - The Twins won 8-7, so yep, the score was close. That qualifies.

2. Something more than a simple win or a loss must be on the line - It was the “War on 94”. Twins/Brewers. Minnesota/Wisconsin. West of the Mississippi/East of the Mississippi. Yeah, that qualifies there too.

3. The game must be well-played - This is where Saturday's game fails to gain greatness for me.

Defense? There were some great plays (Corey Hart's catch was a doozy, and Justin Morneau started a couple of pretty double plays)... and then there was Carlos Gomez flat-out dropping a ball in center field. Plus, Prince Fielder didn't exactly have the most aesthetically-pleasing day at first base.

Walks? There were 14 free passes between the two teams, although again, given that the game went 12 innings, that number isn't an automatic disqualifier.

Clutch hitting? The Twins were 5-for-21 with runners in scoring position in that game. That's hardly what you can call “clutch”.

So even being generous with the walks, Criteria #3 fails on two out of three sub-points. Sorry, that doesn't qualify.

4. The best players have to be factors - I think this one's gonna be a push.

Joe Mauer: 4-for-7 with a double and three runs scored. Check.

Justin Morneau: 3-for-5 with a double and two runs scored. Check.

Michael Cuddyer: 3-for-6 with a double and one run scored. Check.

Denard Span: 0-for-7. Definitely not a “Check”.

Kevin Slowey: He only gave up two earned runs, but once again failed to get out of the sixth inning, which put the bullpen in a position where they could blow the game. I can't give this one a “Check”.

Jon Rauch: He was put in a tough spot - coming in with the bases loaded - but not only did he allow all three of Mahay's runners to score, he gave up two more runs of his own. Definitely not a “Check”.

So that's three “Checks”, and three non-”Checks”. And that, my friends, is what you call a “push”.

5. My team has to win. - In this case, one of the DFTs was absolutely involved, and ended up winning the game. So yes, this game qualifies on Criteria #5.

So the final tally is three “Qualifies”, one complete “Fail” and one “Push”.

60% doesn't get it done in my book, ergo, I can't call that game “Great”.

But it certainly was exciting. And maybe for some of you folks out there, that's enough. There's certainly nothing wrong with that.

Think I've left out a point, or that one of the points I highlighted shouldn't be necessary? Post a comment below and let's see what you all think!

That's going to wrap things up for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with more time-wasting goodness for you.

Until then, thanks for reading!


  1. I have two criteria for a great game, they are mutually exclusive (ie, either one of these makes a great game for me):

    1. My team totally embarrasses a rival. See Nebraska vs Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

    2. The game is undecided until the last second. There is no moment within the game where I think one team or the other has it "in the bag". In this instance, a 0-0 tie is the same as a 10-10 tie, as long as it was piecemeal getting to the 10-10. For example, if 10 runs were scored in the 1st inning (or 10 goals in the first period, whatever), I don't know that I could call it "great". Wait, now I've got a #3.

    3. A team surmounts an unbelievable deficit to win (or the other team chokes so bad that it snatched defeat from the jaws of victory). Generally, this carries the caveat that "My Team Didn't Lose", whereas #2 does not.

  2. By your criteria, I believe Saturday's Twins/Brewers game fails on all 3.

  3. A game where you have it in the bag, then blow it, then squeak out a victory is not a great game. It's just a W.

  4. Exciting finish, yes.

    But no, not a great game. Agreed.