Dennis Sarfate during better times with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks

When Being Great Isn’t Good Enough

I’ve often wanted to write about Dennis Sarfate, but the time has never been quite right. I wasn’t writing about baseball during his affiliated years, nor had I switched to mainly covering unaffiliated baseball when he finally found success in Nippon Professional Baseball. Once I realized that players like Sarfate were the ones I wanted to write about, he had entered the “too often injured to write about” phase of his unaffiliated career. Today, Sarfate has finally given me cause to write about him; the timing is right, but the reason feels all too wrong.

Last week the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks closer announced that he will be undergoing hip surgery and that his baseball career will be over as a result of said surgery. At first, my thoughts went to how much it sucked that Sarfarte wouldn’t be able to pitch again. I thought back to my first years of dabbling in watching unaffiliated baseball more frequently, 2016-2017, when he had been not just the dominant closer in NPB’s Pacific League, but in the running for best pitcher in the entire organization. If my mind had stayed in that place then I would have a much more feelgood article to present to you today.

The next place my thoughts flitted off to was the real-world present-day impact of him going under the knife while a pandemic rages across the globe. I have taken a fair number of patients who acquired Coronavirus either during a surgical procedure or in the hospital stay required following their surgery. It’s a different world we live in these days, a routine hip surgery isn’t just a routine hip surgery. Unfortunately, my thoughts on Sarfate didn’t end there.

No, the Coronavirus rattled around in my head and led me down the rabbit hole of the last couple of years of Safarte’s career. He spent all of 2019 and 2020 on NPB’s version of the injured list. Various injuries collected due to a declining body had kept him from seeing any game action since 2018. During that time an interesting, though expected thing happened, it became much easier to pay attention to the type of person Safarte was off of the baseball field.

I wish that had never happened, if it hadn’t I could be telling you all about his 2017 season. That year the Queens, New York native posted an ERA of 1.09, a WHIP of 0.667, and struck out 10 batters for every 1 that he walked. Across 66.0 innings, Sarfate was the dominant force out of the bullpen in NPB, maybe even in the entire world. Sadly, we’re a few years removed from 2017 and that is not what will stick in my brain when it comes to Sarfate. 

In the last couple of years, Sarfate became vocal about all kinds of issues. He weighed in on immigration, the economy, science, race, etc. He held deep conservative viewpoints that clashed with mine. That alone is not enough to resonate with me over his on the field accomplishments. It was when he started denying the science behind the Coronavirus that my lasting thoughts of Sarfate began to change for the worse. He followed that up with a hardline stance that the economy mattered more than human lives. At a time when people are dying of a virus that we still have yet to contain Sarfate said loudly and proudly that those people did not matter compared to the possible profits lost from an economic shutdown. Valuing profit and money over life is a sickening take, one which I will always fight against.

My chance to write about Sarfate has finally been granted to me. Instead of an article about how great he was out of the bullpen, I’m writing about how he spent his last couple of years indulging in QAnon conspiracy theories and a desire to make money while others died. It’s certainly not how I wanted to write about Sarfate or to remember him. Sports and politics are intertwined so deeply that we can no longer see the roots. That someone like Sarfate was able to so easily change his legacy based on what he did off of the field versus what he did on the field is proof of that fact.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Kyodo News

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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