Neal Shaffer: Why we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace Orioles Magic in 2012

It’s hard to watch the Orioles’ success this year and not hearken back to the well-worn phrase that we, as fans, are fortunate to call our birthright: Orioles Magic.

True, it’s tinged with nostalgia, coming as it does from a bygone era. And equally true, it’s often been uttered with tongue planted firmly in cheek over the past 14 years of losing. But it’s a great phrase both because it’s ours and because it works. When baseball is as much fun as this, a word like magic doesn’t sound too silly.

Which begs the question: What is magic, anyway?

We can start by looking at this two ways.

On one hand, there’s the mystical view. We can think of magic as otherworldly, touched by the influence of something greater than our own flesh, bones, and tools. This is watching David Blaine throw a stack of playing cards at a window and then seeing the card someone else picked out of the deck stare back from the other side. There doesn’t seem to be any purely human explanation, and we like it that way.

Those of you who prefer this approach, whatever your reasons, will find no argument from me.

On the other hand, we can take a purely pragmatic view. We can think of magic as nothing more than trickery. A combination of skills, usually involving some highly specialized blend of psychology, dexterity, and marketing. All fully explainable if you just have access to the right knowledge.

This view is to my mind somewhat reductionist, but again I can’t quarrel with those who stick to it. You’re not wrong.

The truth - as with so many things - lies at some not-quite-fixed point in the middle.

Magic, at its core, is seemingly impossible things made real through human effort. When we see these things we’re given over to words like extraordinary. Fantastic. Amazing. These are all, you’ll note, imperfect and highly subjective terms. That subjectivity comes from where you fall on the mystical vs. purely pragmatic arc.

In baseball terms, a game-winning homer off the bat of Nate McLouth is magic. Adam Jones leaping over the wall to rob a home run is magic. The early successes of Manny Machado are all magic.

The 2012 Orioles are, well, magic.

Regardless of where the team goes from this point in the season with 34 games left, there really is no better word than magic for what they’ve accomplished. Their effort has made the seemingly impossible real. They’ve frustrated every statistician and poked a hundred holes in the worldviews of supposedly knowledgeable baseball observers from Boston to Los Angeles.

Houdini, a man who staunchly rejected mysticism but who we nonetheless think of as a magician, supposedly once said, “Magic is the sole science not accepted by scientists, because they can’t understand it.”

He’s right. Everything he did really could be chalked up to preparation, training, creativity and skill. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t magic.

Neal Shaffer regularly blogs about the Orioles at The Loss Column, and his work appears here as part of’s initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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