According to Skip, the manager in the 1988 classic Bull Durham, baseball "is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball." The line is funny in context but it also sets the stage for the movie to make an argument that baseball is, in fact, far from simple. (I think it's like, a metaphor for life, or something, but this post is about baseball as a metaphor for baseball.)
The game is unfair and there are so many things that can go wrong despite your best efforts that a lot of the time, it's easiest to assume there's some sort of mystical, superstitious force at work. Hence Kevin Costner's Crash Davis later in the film explaining that "a player on a streak has to respect the streak:" whatever off-field activities (or lack thereof) a player believes to be supporting a hot streak, are supporting the hot streak. Crash also gives us a heartbreaking monologue about the difference between .250 and .300 (and thus between playing in AA and in the Majors) is 25 hits--or one hit per week during the season.
The point is: the most important thing to remember about the 2016 Texas Longhorns baseball team, Augie Garrido's last in the dugout, is that they never appeared to pack it in. Obviously there's only so much an outside observer can really know about the team's psyche, but from where I'm sitting the coaching staff never "lost" this team. Certainly, the level of coaching in terms of on-field production left plenty to be desired and we've made clear that we believe the University made the right decision in reassigning Garrido. But despite a tough road and a LOT of losses Crash Davis would consult Mr. Jim Beam about, the Longhorns played hard for their coach throughout.
Those losses I'm referring to are Texas' one-run losses: in 14 one-run games in the regular season, Texas went 3-11. Now, some of that is explained by strategic choices: -- when you play for one run in an inning by bunting over a man on first to get him in scoring position in exchange for an out, you're only going to get that one run most of the time. Some of those innings could have been big ones, and could have changed some outcomes.
But losing such a high percentage of one-run games is also emblematic of the fact that this team just didn't seem to have "it" -- whatever that means. Part of the issue, of course, is that the dominant pitching that Texas has relied on in the past was not there this season. With a staff ERA of 4.08, the Longhorns were fourth in a weak Big 12.
However, it isn't fair to rely on completely dominant pitching. What did this team in -- and, really, ended Augie's run at Texas -- was that the 'Horns continued to be unable to figure out a way to get any consistent offense. The team hit .268 on the season and sported an OBP of .351 -- both 9th in the conference. The only offensive stat that matters was also problematic: Texas scored only 298 runs on the season, once again coming in ninth in the nine-team Big 12. Compare that to conference tournament champ TCU, which scored 418.
During the Big 12 Tournament, someone on Twitter (I want to say Bitterwhiteguy but don't quote me) noted that Texas can't decide whether it's bad, snakebit, or both. But the statistical story of Texas' run production allows us to put some math behind the team's shortcomings, as Texas outscored its opponents 298-273 -- a figure that includes, of course, blowout wins over the likes of UNLV, Sam Houston State, UTSA, Kansas, and Prairie View A&M. Again, using TCU as the comparison, the Horned Frogs outscored opponents 418-219. So while Texas only managed 25 more runs than their opponents over the course of the season, an elite team outscores its opponents by closer to 200.
And that, ultimately, is why 2016 serves as an appropriate capstone/microcosm for the last five years of Texas baseball. It's axiomatic in any sport that you can't win if you can't score, and Texas' offense has just been too anemic to break into the conference's or the nation's elite over the past few seasons.
Back to the main takeaway. The on-field product was the same, only more so. But for a minute there in the middle of April, after many of us had given up on the season, Texas took back-to-back Big 12 series from Kansas and at Texas Tech. Having already beaten TCU two out of three, the series win against the eventual No. 5 national seed Red Raiders gave fans and the team reason to hope things might get turned around. Although the Longhorns were unable to finish strong after that, they once again showed real fight in the conference tournament by advancing through the losers' bracket all the way to the semifinals -- where they forced a a second, winner-take-all game against the winner's bracket's Frogs.
The recruiting and development of players is not where it needs to be, and that's why Texas will rightly have a new coach next season. But strictly in terms of motivation and relating to his players, even though they were some 60 years his junior, the 2016 Longhorns showed Augie Garrido retires at the top of his game.