Perfect is the Price of Greatness: Goodbye Tulowitzki

Baseball has one measure for perfect, a perfect game. To retire 27 batters in a row over nine innings is a measurable mark that’s happened only 23 times in the history of Major League Baseball. For the rest of us—the hitters, fielders, writers and fans—perfection is an immeasurable quality. No one’s career is perfect.

 Perfection is the creation of something that is above criticism, where everyone agrees that it is without flaws. It’s an unachievable standard.

I’ve never seen the perfect baseball player. I have seen many great players. The difference between perfection and greatness has been on my mind with the retirement of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo was a player who chased perfection, did great things and did not achieve greatness.

The Hall of Fame will not be calling Tulowitzki. His career stats tell the story of a very good player who had too many injuries. He was on a Hall of Fame trajectory that fell apart because his body never kept up with his intensity.

Tulowitzki built a career chasing perfection. He defined perfection as what happened between the foul lines of a baseball field. Perfection was in hitting, fielding and playmaking, which he pushed his body to meet at an unattainable level.

Marathon runners don’t run 26.2 miles every day to improve. They modify the way they practice and the way they rest. There was never rest for Tulowitzki. He ran marathons with his intensity every day.

We won’t know if rest would have saved him from injuries, but maybe it would have given him time to do more with baseball. Off the field, the Rockies could have used an ambassador to the fans and a leader in the clubhouse.

As a teammate, Tulo was the intense one. He expected a level of perfection from everyone. Nolan Arenado said that while Tulo could be mean in his criticism, it was helpful as a young player to be pushed to higher levels of achievement. However, most players weren’t talented enough to come close to the playing levels of Arenado and Tulo.

Tulo was never the public face for the team. He was not as ingratiating as Matt Holliday, Arenado or even the stoic Todd Helton. He’s not beloved like Carlos Gonzalez or grown-up Rockies mascot Ryan Spilborghs.

When General Manager Jeff Bridich mishandled Tulo’s trade out of Denver, Tulo renounced the organization. There isn’t a person around the Rockies who completely backs Bridich, but for Tulo, it was enough to end his loyalty to the team. Because of this, he’s unlikely to be enshrined at Coors Field in the near future. When he’s remembered, it will be by moments, not markers.

I miss watching him hit and field. I’m sad that his career didn’t end in greatness. But I most hope  that he can give up the pursuit of perfection going forward and find contentment in his post-professional career.

 The most impactful marker of Tulowitzki is a silent ghost around the Rockies home games. The iconic chant:

Clap clap, clap-clap-clap, clap-clap, clap-clap “TU-LO.”

It’s a taboo chant that now haunts the sound systems of Denver stadiums.  When it’s played at Denver sporting events, fans yell “Let’s Go” and strain to not yell “TULO.” The Rockies don’t play the classic sports chant at all.

Now we settle for Fitz and the Tantrum’s “I Can Make Your Hands Clap,” which can no longer be said about Tulo.