Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pink Hat and Tails

Alright, fine. The pink hat thing.

This will require some credentials and caveats before I talk about it. I went to my first game in April of '86, cried when Buckner. I went to Rich Gedman All-American Baseball Camp for half a dozen summers, where I met Roger Clemens and Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell, and even saw Bob Stanley throw a ball at Mark Fidrych's moving truck. He missed. Many years later, I attended Game 7, at Yankee Stadium, of the 2003 ALCS- That's right, The Grady Game- and lived to tell about it.

The moral of the story is I'm a suffering Sox fan (or was, now that we can play a ring toss game) as much as anybody my age, in contrast to, apparently, a 'pink-hat.'

Now, a caveat. I don't live in Boston anymore; Brooklyn, in fact, so I don't make it to Fenway all that often (also, as a philosopher, a ticket is about a year's salary), and I don't see much of the Kenmore rabble, so I haven't had the visceral experience of walking amongst, and feeling superior to or annoyed by, the pink hats. In fact, that expression, starting with the definite article (as opposed to a definite article?), is mostly foreign to me.

Another caveat. Not having NESN, I watch the games streaming from So rather than the crisp, clean, shahp images of an HD broadcast, I get the wonders of a pixely Beckett and a blurry Manny, jumping discretely from stance to followthrough, leaving the swing merely implied, a subtle bit of subtext.

Basically, these third-world conditions have made me grateful, grateful I tell you, for whatever I can get.

So, that being said, I'm just not bothered by the pink hat thing.

But what's an opinion without a philosophical rationalization?

Notwithstanding the anachronism or meter, Its not 'take me out to the ballgame, take me to see how much the off-camera fielders cheat towards the opposite field when the hitters are behind in the count', its, well, 'take me out with (to?) the crowd'.

For many people, being a sports fan is about identification with others; feeling what the players feels, oohing and ahhing with the crowd, bonding over beers, chanting 'Yankees suck' (a metaphysical proposition, not a physical one, given their talent in previous years.) For Sox fans in particular, its about going through the drama, acting out that too familiar narrative of the team, living and dying with every pitch when none of them are even yours, physiologically speaking.

Religion is about collective bonding too; in fact, etymologically (yeah, i went there) 'religion' is related to 'ligament' or 'ligature', all of which means 'to tie together'; religion is about supernatural bonds. (perhaps a nickname for HGH Barry.) People who pray together stay together, I'm told, and this works for Sox fans as much as anybody. Maybe more.

Identifying with a collective, at least momentarily, involves taking on the traits of those others with whom you identify, blurring individuality, and allowing one, for example, to take pride in the accomplishments of others (as when I take pride in Kevin Youkilis, Gabe Kapler, and a Mr. Sandy Koufax.)

But what's the point of the group if you don't get to feel special? So one has to earn membership; initiation rites are as old as groups. For Sox fans, the initiation is suffering (as with fraternities and monasteries.) If not for this, and just anybody can get in, one risks taking on, through metaphysical osmosis, traits of those objectionable shouldn't-be members.

So to keep people out, groups define themselves in opposition to an Other which doesn't share their values or stories.

In the past, the suffering and oppressed Sox were contrasted with the tyrannical Yankees. Now that they actually suck, and we've whooped 'em good, Sox fans, as the article puts it, are having an identity crisis. Not willing to give up their identity as sufferers, they seek a new Other to define themselves in contrast to, now that vis-a-vis the Yankees, we are, at least temporarily, the ass whoopers, not the ass whoopees. (My old school Sox pessimism dies hard.)

So the pink hats are taken symbolically (whether any particular person who owns a pink hat is a 'real fan' or not is ignored- this is symbolism we're talking about), as playing the role of the Other, the fairweather fan who doesn't suffer through the storms and freezes and the being left out in the woods for a week to have a vision quest so that the 'real' Sox fans, who aren't yet comfortable in their new role as ass kickers (something with which I'm quite comfortable, I should point out. Also, I'm real- and as a philosopher, I'm an expert in existence), can maintain their traditional sense of collective self which is built around suffering. Cultures are intrinsically conservative and reactionary, Red Sox nation is no exception.

But its not an entirely symbolic attack; it's fair weather fans, presumably, that give that extra revenue bump that leads to big market victories, and so, to the extent that the Sox wins are a function of the market, the diehards can actually cite such fairweathers as a partial causes of their identity loss.

But what's with the massochism? (Bad pun intended.) The suffering is supposed to be redeemed through winning. And I like winning. I do, I admit it. I don't need another Grady Game. So the more fans, the better. They make it possible for Theo to give Julio friggin Lugo a 4 year contract and not have it sink the ship.

Also, I'm just not all that into the collective identity stuff. I'm more of a hermit monk type than a church picnic type of guy, so to speak. I watched the Sox win the Series in '04 with just one other friend. I typically watch games by myself. I enjoy a close, personal relationship with my Sox, (have you heard the good news?), unencumbered by sociality. I try to avoid thinking too much about those superfluous aspects- whether the players are really good people deep down inside or whether Wild Thing Vaughn slept with Dorn's wife last night. These get in the way of my spiritual whatever.

Look. People stink. Forget about them. I had standing room monster seats (an oxymoron) for Game 2 of the '04 World Series- Schilling pitched a gem, I recall. And who was sitting rows in front of me (in a seat, no less, the show-off) but Tom Hanks. People kept looking at him, not the game. Its the F'ing world series, I'd yell. Just watch the game. Jimmy Dugan would have told you the same thing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What is it Like to be a Bat...sketball Player?

From the Archive: June 18, 2008

Reporters ask dumb questions. And it is especially dumb to ask athletes what something feels like. 'What does top of the world feel like, Kevin,?' she says to a newly championed Kevin Garnett.

I don't even know what this means. Does she want to know what being on top of the world feels similar to? If so, and say, for example, it feels similar to having sex and eating ice cream and being commended for a job well done, do we then have to ask what that is similar to? Either this never ends, in which case its a stupid question, or else it ends with the feeling being similar to something we're unfamiliar with, in which case it's pointless to ask, or it ends with something that we're already familiar with, in which case we're not interested. After all, the question only seems appropriate to ask because one assumes that being on top of the world is unique, a sui generis nature that none of us will ever experience, and that even many elite athletes never experience. But of course if this rare moment is unique, then we can't possibly understand what it is like by comparing it to something else, which makes it a stupid question (q.e.d.)

But the question could just mean 'can you describe the feeling of being on top of the world'. And of course he can't. What is he, a poet? Only a brilliant writer can get someone to feel things that he actually hasn't done- eating ice cream and hearing about it are two different things- and only through the gift of wordsmithing, perhaps, can an audience get a taste of the real feelings involved. And athletes, from what I gather, do autographs, not monographs.

Though maybe KG should have responded to "whats on top of the world feel like?" with "that's real fucking original. I've been getting 'how's the weather up there?' since I was 7 years old."

Aramark it Zero

From the Archive: June 12, 2008

Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack... because they're made off the premises and stored in sealed containers...

Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Pitching But Were Afraid to Ask

From the Archive: June 9, 2008

Ok, ok.

So a few time units ago, some people either claimed they didn't know much about pitching or prodded me (you know, in the good alien way) to explain stuff, starting from first principles.

So I’ve actually gone ahead and done that- written an expository, pedagogically friendly essay on the basics of pitching. Find the link to the pdf. file below.

And yes, by normal people email standards, its very long. But in all honesty, if you don't know that much about pitching, you might get a lot out of it, and if you do get a lot out of it, you will understand baseball games a lot better, which will make them a lot more fun. So it might be worth a shot.

On the other hand, if you think I’m a pompous long winded grandiloquent jerk, you might not want to read it. Unless you simply want confirmation.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Clemens is sorry for everything he did, except for the everything

From the Archive: May 5, 2007

[Barry said:]
What the hell is Roger Clemens apologizing for? He claims he didn't use steroids or bang the 15 year old. So what did he admit to doing? As far as I can tell, he hasn't admitted to anything specific. So he's just sort of issuing a catch-all apology? Why?

[My response]

Barry, what sort of callous person are you? Don’t you care that Roger is sorry? Don’t you feel how sincere he is, how full of regret and shame and rue roger is? How can you not forgive a man after the deep and profound process of redemption the man has gone through?

It’s like when I got into a fight with Rebecca and hurt her feelings. I needed her to know how badly I felt, so I said, "look, honey, I’m sorry for what I did. Now, I’m not going to say what those things were that I’m apologizing for, and I completely deny having done the very things you are asking me to apologize for, and in fact I’ll sue you for defamation for alleging that I did those things, but can't you see how sorry I am? Good, we're made up. Lets have sex."

Apparently, she's the same sort of jerk as you are.


I love the new camera angle!

From the Archive: May 2 2008


I just want to say that I love the new straightaway center field camera angle! I've been hoping for years that NESN would adopt this.

If you would indulge me, I'd like to briefly explain why I think its so much better:

On the 2 dimensional TV screen, from the shortstop/ left center default camera angle that is the industry standard, the pitcher stands to the left of the hitter. So on the screen, the pitch appears to move from left to right as it approaches the hitter- no matter what kind of pitch it is. But in reality, of course, the pitcher is straight ahead of the hitter, not to the left, and moreover, in reality, any and all breaking balls, including cut fastballs, thrown by a righthanded pitcher move to the left, and not to the right; in reality, the ball moves in the opposite direction as seen on TV!! The shortstop/left center cam isn't just inaccurate, it’s actually completely deceptive.

I hope NESN continues with this straightaway center camera angle, and perhaps helps people who are uncomfortable with the change to adjust to the transition by way of a helpful explanation.

Thanks so much, and keep up the good work.

2008 Season Preview

From the Archive: March 12, 2008

In case anyone doubts my expertise, feast your eyes on the words describing the following representative anecdote.

I was flipping through the channels the other day, and came across a scrambled baseball game. For a brief instant, (as opposed to a lengthy one), the pitcher was visible only from the knees down. He then delivered a pitch to the plate.

'That’s Andy Pettitte!', I said.

'and Pettitte throws low, ball one', said the announcer.

Yes, that's right. I recognized Andy Pettitte just from how his calves look when he pitches. (No Clemens ass jokes please. well, ok, maybe three.)

Granted, I’m a bit of a specialist. More general knowledge, such as how to make money or where relevant body parts are, well, that eludes me.

Be that as it may, nonetheless, and regardless, per your request, here's my four cents (two cents with inflation, of course.)

The Sox rotation is in an enviable position. 4 starters at or below the age of 27. I feel good now, and for the long haul (assuming we can get some migrant workers to make such a long haul.)

Now I’m no doctor, nor do I go to them or do what they advise, but Beckett's back spasms don't seem like that big of a deal. He’s just coming into his prime years, and if last year was any indication, well, that'll be pretty sweet. His command of the two seamer and sinking fastball improved dramatically, he was able to take a couple of mph off his changeup, thereby increasing the differential, and it’s now a more effective pitch. He cut his homeruns in half last year. And, then, of course, was the playoffs. Where he owned like the landed gentry.

Some theorized that Dice-k will have an analogous development to Beckett, presumably on the supposition that Japan is quadruple-A like the National League, and that it takes such a bus league star a year to adjust to the show, where they hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, where the women have long legs and brains, and where even the players' wives are on roids.

However, his last spring start was more of the same- though big k's, far too high pitch counts for anybody's good, unless he gets paid by the pitch, which I don't think he does, except when he does commercials, unless I’m equivocating. But Dice K did have quite a debut last year- 200 IP and as many K's. Good stuff. I think he'll be ok. No reason to think he'll get worse, at least.

I very quickly became a Lester fan at the end of last year, after being quite doubtful for a while. (It was his last minute negative campaigning, and his ability to answer a phone that did the trick, methinks.) First I thought he was Casey Fossum, now he might be Andy Pettitte. (They have such similar calves, after all.) The key for Lester is fastball command. (I hope this isn't a McCarver esque truism, though I fear it be so.) He could probably benefit by taking an mph or two off, and going for movement, especially down in the zone. Even if he did, he'd still be throwing 90, 91, with some sink, and then he could amp it up to 92-94 with the four seamer up in the zone. Not many lefties throw hard enough to get away with that. And offset that with a Pettitte or Al Leiter type cutter in on righties, as he's started to do more successfully, particularly as he did in the last postseasons appearances, and that's an algorithm for victory. He was quite sharp the other day- and remember, before Papelbon emerged as a closer, Lester was the more highly tauted as a starter. He could really turn into a very good pitcher.

I want to love Bucholtz- his stuff is Mussina esque- big palmball like change, with huge separation from his fastball, great overhand curve. (Why am I comparing all these guys to Yankees? its eerie. I mean, I was even just about to say that Justin Mastersons's neck is as sweaty and appealing to disease-ridden flies as Joba Chamberlain's.) But he's a small guy, and clearly has durability issues, so hopefully he can figure out how to throw his fastball at less than maximum effort, like, say, Mussina does. I read this spring that his mechanics are out of whack, (whereas mine were in whack, at least, before I whacked them off...) which can happen if a guy is using too much effort, throwing too hard. But if we can treat him as a 5th starter, skipping a turn now and then, not expecting too much, and he gives us 25, 27 starts this year, he could be a real asset.

I think Colon has a chance to be good. (He has to be- for such a blob looking guy named colon, well, if his pitching starts to stink...) But (I wonder if parentheses tip off a joke (or if parentheses embedded within other parentheses do))... but his stats for the last few years are respectable; his defense independent stats- k, bb, hr- for the last two years are as good, if not better, as is the case of k's/ip, then they were in previous years. I’m not a doctor, but I do like Scrubs, so I'm going to say if he's healthy, he's not yet over the hill. Early reports on him are optimistic, though last I heard about his velocity it was barely up to 90. But he's never been a big strikeout guy, despite his reputation, and has a pretty heavy two seamer, so he can probably live there.

And Wake is Wake. Although this may prove false, if business isn't business anymore, or, more generally speaking, it no longer is what it is.

And who knows about Schilling? I think we were lucky to get 3 wins out of him in the playoffs last year. We got 2 championships out of that shithead. And I’m no doctor, nor do I believe their precious science, but he's a long shot. I don't think we can count on him coming back. But if so, he's a plus. A plus size, a 3 plus 3 more ERA. I kid, I kid. I have to, because the fucker is anti-choice.

At least, I think he is.

As I often say, comedy over truth, or more modestly, attempting comedy over looking something up. I do it with my students all the time.

I’m not entirely excited about the prospect of Julian Tavarez making starts, in the case of injury, but he wasn't always awful last year, and he gave some decent innings, and even though 4 runs in 6 innings is a 6.00 era, (and though I didn't major in math or miracles), that kind of performance keeps a team with a strong offense in the game, with a chance to win. And I do think Kyle Snyder actually has some potential as a spot starter. Anyone with a 47 mph John Burkett curveball and who's been called a poor man's Bronson Arroyo has got to get people excited.

So, uh, I think that's it for this installment of 'analysis of local baseball men do battle on the field of play'.

Free range shortstop

From the Archive: February 23, 2008

Its been known for some time that Jeter sucks in the field.

People have a hard time with this conclusion because he looks good at short, in that he's fluid and makes athletic plays, and because the scientific approach involves hypothesizing about plays he should have made, but didn't get to, and comparing him to others in similar situations that of course aren't observable at that moment from that same seat in the ballpark (or on the couch).

More generally, its another case of the battle between objective (observer-independent) detailed statistical analysis versus a subjective anecdotal perception, a.k.a science versus religion.

So that's always fun.

But I’ve often wondered why Jeter has such poor range- after all, he's a speedy baserunner, and an especially brilliant basestealer- check out his percentage of successful steals. One would think such things would translate into fielding range, but I guess they don't.

Sucks for him, that asshole.

Cont'd: Free trade: money and competition

From the Archive: 10/27/07
[continuation of]

I don't think anyone is going to dispute that few other teams could have made Theo’s mistakes, or that payroll can be statistically correlated (though causation is a whole other issue) with regular season victories. Unfortunately, this is all irrelevant.

The relevant issue is whether the causes of this scenario- payroll discrepancies- are such that they render the scenario unethical. That is to say, the issue is whether this situation has come about in such a manner that we should, in good conscience, not follow/patronize/enjoy the game; the issue is not that there are payroll discrepancies, but who bears responsibility for the payroll discrepancies.

I deny that the only object of blame is 'the system'. My basic point in the last email was that the individual franchises are to an important degree responsible because they are in fact rich, and by 'rich' I mean 'able to spend lots and lots of money on things.'

One might be inclined to make the following claims: a) that payroll is a function of a team's revenue stream, b) there are 'small market' teams that have less revenue, and so can't afford the same payroll, and c) that a team doesn't bear any responsibility for that revenue stream (and by extension, doesn't bear responsibility for its payroll, because of a)- that payroll is a function of revenue.)
But a), b), and c) are false.

Firstly, teams make a profit. That means they have more money then they're spending. Therefore, they could choose to spend more. Secondly, all teams are owned by companies or people with stakes in other companies, and so have revenue streams outside of their baseball franchises. A megacorporation like Coors, which owns the Rockies, could choose to use profits from any of its subsidiaries to invest in players if it wanted to. But it doesn't. So a) is false. That’s not my fault, nor The System's, nor Bud Selig's, that's theirs.

Is it bad business to do this? Maybe. But the point of the examples of Toronto and Cleveland is that fans everywhere, no matter the market, will pay to see winning baseball- there's no such thing as a small market when the team is winning. If a team puts a World Series caliber team on the field, guess what: the revenue will increase. If a team chooses to invest in its team, and it wins, it'll make money. A team can also choose to spend less money, and thereby make less money. In other words, a team does bear some responsibility for its revenue stream- c) is false.

But spending money isn't a sure thing- (the statistical correlation of payroll with wins is not causation; payroll does not determine with physical necessity the outcome of games.) the point about the Rockies in particular is they tried this strategy with Hampton and Neagle and it failed. They spent the money, it didn't work, and so they decided to not spend money anymore and be satisfied with a team with a lower payroll. (Granted, it was a different ownership group, so 'they' is a bit vague.) But Colorado had the money, just like Baltimore, or Toronto, or whomever, regardless of whether they are in a 'small market,' have money, and choose not to spend it. So b) is false.

Again, and generally speaking, if the team invested money in a winning team, they'd get more fans, more national attention, more advertising, etc.- they'd make more money, and then they could have a higher payroll. The System does not stop anyone or everyone from doing this, they way the system in the real world does require unemployment and low wages and such. All teams are rich enough to do this if they chose to take the risk. But some teams are run poorly, or cheaply. They either don't invest, or they invest poorly. Why do you assume its fault of the system that the pirates and royals don’t' succeed? What evidence do you have for this? They fail every year because they are poorly managed. The A's are well managed, and compete every year despite a comparability low payroll. Every year some or a few small market teams make the playoffs. The reason Pittsburgh and KC aren't on this list is because they suck and spend money on Gil Meche.

Look, the overall issue here is one of culpability. Teams bear some amount of responsibility for their payroll, their revenue, their choices in free agents or draft picks, in which case one need not boycott the whole thing. The system is not necessarily unjust. It can be lopsided at times, and yes, there do exist inequities. And by all means, as I’ve said before, I am in favor of various balancing measures. But just like the players on the field are responsible for their performances, so are the suits. But I don't pay to see the suits play, and when they choose poorly, I’m not going to not watch my boys on the field play well.

And Josh Fogg still sucks.

2007 World Series: A matter of course

From the Archive: 10/27/07
[2007 World Series Game 2: Sox vs. Rockies]

Ok, some baseball trivia.

Question: Who aren't Okajima and Papelbon?

Answer: Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi.

Oki came on with a one run lead, two men on, one out. It didn't even occur to me that he'd let those runners in. Aside from that hiccup in September, when he was as tired as a Conan monologue (what has he done for me lately?), Oki has just been astoundingly good. He stranded both inherited runners, and went 2 1/3 hitless scoreless, with 4 K's.

What’s happened to the Red Sox? Or me, for that matter? I’ve watched the playoffs with a sort of calm assurance that the superiority of the Red Sox would manifest itself. No panic. No fear. What an odd phenomenon. I mean, very little in this world of ours suggests that justice is an organizing principle. Yet I seem to assume that a Sox victory is inevitable, and that this is Good and Right. I feel this in a visceral sort of way, as a natural state, like how I feel comfortable in pajamas.

The following isn't off topic- you know why I don't like Kenneth Branaugh's version of Shakespeare’s Henry V? Because he's yelling the whole time. I guess this is supposed to show us that he means it, but really it makes it seem like Branaugh's Henry V is trying to convince himself of the truth of his own words, as if its not simply self-evident that he should be there, in France, staking his claim to the various dukedoms owed him though his royal lineage. Yelling and making a scene suggests he doesn't really deserve it. He is definitely not acting like he's been there before. In a word, what he's not is he's not regal. Henry V is supposed to be regal. Being regal is knowing that one deserves one's crown; a true king doesn't need to prove it all the time with yelling and beheadings. (I liked the BBC version of Henry v. and if you haven't seen the HBO/BBC 'Rome' series, the actor who plays Julius Caesar (the pagan J.C.)- That’s regal.)

The Red Sox act like they've been there before. There’s a calm, equanimity, a knowledge that they deserve to be there, and that they will triumph, without bluster and strain. Yes, there's sweat. But its Kevin Youkilis sweat of determination, not Calvin Schiraldi sweat of fear. There’s a Papelbon O-face, not a Derek Lowe face.

In this series, the patient sox hitters are positively regal, and do not deign to condescend. Pitches out of the strike zone are beneath them. (Yes, I went there.) Such meager offerings are an insult to our person; they offer, we refuse. We wait for what is pleasing to our royal person, and then deliver (posthaste) a crushing blow.

That sort of thing rubs off on the fan, or at least on me. I just don’t' feel nervous. Yes, I felt indignant a number of times during the Cleveland series, when physics and luck went against us; that's the thing about luck- its always out of character (as in the difference between essence and accident). and I’ll admit to losing my cool and screaming real real loud (and completely freaking out Rebecca) when, after the Lugo error on the pop up in game 7, with Lofton at third as the tying run, and Blake hit the grounder to Lowell, and I jumped off the couch, yelling, with ascending volume, 'turn it, turn it, turn it', and then thundered FUCK YEAH! Upon their so doing.

But other than that, we've been here before. We’re in our element. I can calmly watch the game, knowing that victory, not collapse, and not randomness, is inevitable. There’s no panic. There’s no 1918 bullshit that calls our character into question. We ascended to the throne through trying circumstances in '04, yes with the help of the wild card, but by now, our legitimacy is unquestioned (I’m tempted to pun on our closer and say its granted by papal bull, but I won't.) so with 9 wins down, we can look forward to games three and four, and say (with apologies) 'twice more unto the breach, dear friends, twice more'... then the day is ours.

Also, on the Boston dirt dogs sight, re: the Ellsbury stolen base which won everybody a free taco, it said 'tacoby bellsbury.' that's funny.

Also also, Josh Fogg sucks.

Free trade?: Money and competition

From the Archive: 10/25/07

[a friend wrote:]
Shame on all of you. Look at payroll discrepancy! Where would the Indians be if they had made the same trades Theo did over the last 3 years??

[my response]

If you're waiting for socialism before you let yourself have a good time, well, I’m not quite sure what to say to that.

I’m all in favor of luxury taxes and income re-distribution in the name of competitive balance. However, current inequities do not diminish my interest in nor my enjoyment of the game.

And I don't think they should.

I don't think they should for one simple reason. Baseball teams are not like poor people. The main reason for this is that poor people are poor, whereas baseball teams are rich. (They are also not people; of course. this is especially true of the Yankees.)

The idea that there are 'haves' and 'have nots' in baseball is simply not apt. Everyone who owns a baseball team is rich beyond our wildest dreams. The Rockies are owned by Coors. They don't have money? They couldn't choose to spend more on payroll if they wanted to?

There’s a manipulative capitalism way of saying people are free to choose, and a real way. Its wrong to say that people who are slowly starving to death 'choose' to work for 2 cents an hour because the alternative they're not 'choosing' is quickly starving to death at 0 cents an hour. This isn't a real choice, and it isn't right. But baseball teams are rich rich rich. And they really do choose not to spend on payroll.

Boston and Denver, and New England and the rocky mountain region, have comparable populations. If the Red Sox are a 'bigger market' team than the Rockies, and so have more money, then that's because people in new England care more about baseball than their rocky mountain counterparts. Good for us! And if people care more, and are willing to pay more, then they are more deserving of a better team. Why should the sox be penalized for having passionate fans?

This is not analogous to saying 'why should tycoons be penalized for their initiative and entrepreneurial spirit by paying taxes or a fair wage?' Tycoons have more power than their workers, and so workers can't negotiate fairly, and so need institutionalized assistance (like labor laws and unions). And corporations use and depend on government infrastructure and human resources and public education for future employees, for which they owe money. The Red Sox do not have more power than the Rockies- the Red Sox can't fire the Rockies or ship them off to China. And the Red Sox do in fact pay a heavy luxury tax, which is distributed among the other teams. They incur this penalty as a result of choosing to pay a lot of money for their team on the field. Good for them. That’s their choice.

If the Rockies spent more money, more fans would care and show up. Toronto sold out Skydome every day when they were great in the early 90's. Cleveland sold out every day when they were great in the mid and late 90's. These are 'small market' teams. Fans everywhere care, and show up and pay money, when their teams win. And when teams win, they make lots of money. And if teams bothered to spend that money on players, then they'd win more, and they'd get a return on their investment. But Pete Coors and the Coors brewing company would rather pocket the money, instead of reinvesting it and giving the fans a better team. or, when they tried that, they wasted it on mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, and decided it was safer to pocket the money than risk it on free agents.

I don't see why the jerks who run teams should be rewarded for being stingy.

So sure, luxury tax and such. But life is short, and in the meantime, I am going to enjoy a perfect game, played somewhat imperfectly, and in an imperfect world.

zinger protection

From the Archive: October 22, 2007
[Sox win ALCS vs. Cleveland, 4-3]

I thought this blog was hysterical. But who cares? Isn't it great that winning lets us be above it all?

See, losers always resort to ad hominem arguments, because they have to leave the domain of competition on the field, where they lost, and take it outside the lines, and talk about perceptions and style and 'class' and people's psychology.

Unfortunately, this reverses in politics, where there is no 'on the field', and the competition is over who can shape the perceptions of morons, and influence or pander to their views about syle and class and their own ludicrous psychology (Bush'll protect us because he talks like a moron so i feel safe). and because this is actually what matters in politics, ad hominem arguments always win. which is why politics is perverted.

That being said, I think this series wrapped up nicely. a good combination of physics and luck- manny's would be DP in the first taking a bad hop over Peralta for an RBI single, the bad call on Manny's strike to second to 'catch' Lofton, 3rd base coach holding Lofton at third- and of course moral character and clutch play for the Sox- Youkillis and Pedroia stepping it up- and being overwhelmed and pants-shitting for the Indians- dropping pop ups, walking leadoff hitters, giving up bombs. Over the last three games, the Sox won 30-5. which is pretty decisive, and goes beyond catching any one break.

I missed the Millar first pitch- I was in a sitcommy situation of having to balance the domesticated with the virile- I had to go to Rebecca's sister birthday dinner, which had the potential to interfere with my screaming at the TV and aggressively scratching myself. it didn't, but I missed Millar and the first hitter. apparently, though, Millar got permission from the Orioles suits. And since they always know what's best, I'm sure it was fine. I can imagine it being weird for the Sox players, though; didn't this guy used to ground into double plays for us? We already have Lugo- what's he doing here?

2007 ALCS: Physics and Luck vs. Character

From the Archive: October 17, 2007
[ALCS vs. Cleveland, Sox down 3-1]

I HATE LOSING!!!!!!!!! I HATE IT SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!

Tonight was unpleasant. I teach a class at 730, and I raced home afterwards. It was still 0-0. First pitch I saw, Blake homers. And then the floodgates. Ugh.

When watching the playoffs, I vacillate between the perception of the game as moral, as a manifestation of will and courage and tenacity- in a word, as a battle of character, on the one hand, and the perception of the game as physics and chance, void of meaning- an inch here, a bad call there.

It’s easier to see pitching as moral. In two postseason games, Beckett's gone 15 innings, with 15 K's and no walks. That’s aggression. Dominance. The imposition of will. Beckett is the champion, the ace, the man who will triumph.

Sabathia, in his two postseason starts, doesn't have it. In the regular season, he walked 37 in 240 innings. In the postseason, he's walked 10 or 11 in as many innings (give or take.) he's lost his nerve. He’s afraid of contact. He stops throwing the fastball. He has no killer instinct (watch him get ahead 0-2 and then walk the hitter.) he's weak.

So game 1 was a battle of morality and character, of meaning.

Since then, I’m not so sure. In game 3, a couple of terrible strike calls- for instance a 3-0 ball a foot off the plate inside on crisp turned a walk into an out, and killed an inning. Papi rips a ball to the right side for a dp, and lines out to right on a ball that took 1/3 second to get there. Nixon bloops the game winning hit off Lopez.

and game 4, Buck and McCarver were actually right to emphasize that had that ball either been caught by Wakefield for an out, or he missed entirely, Pedroia easily would have turned 2, inning over, only 1 run in. instead it trickled for an infield hit. and 6 more runs.

the Sox keep hitting sharply into double plays, the Indians hit grounders too softly to turn two. crisp and Pedroia both lined out in key spots late in game 4.

this is all physics and chance. No character. no morality. Hitting is about luck- Papi is imposing his will, but liners get caught. Bloopers fall in. but pitching is about morality. Beckett dominates. Sabathia's a pussy. but Wakefield and his knuckleball- with no pitch selection- is about physics and chance, and so we get beat by a trickler.

look. We got Beckett in Game 5. Quite possible to win that game. Then we're down 3-2. Someone's gotta be 3-2 after 5 games. no big deal. And then its two games at Fenway. Schilling acts like Schilling, and then its game 7, and anything can happen.

Physics and luck.

Sit. Stay. Fight.

From the Archive: August 17, 2007
[Michael Vick and dogfighting]

In the old days, the difference between royalty and subjects was that only the latter were subject to the law. And because royalty was above the law, there was nothing to say 'no' to a royal whim. Athletes and celebrities are treated like royalty, surrounded with fawners and flatterers, and of course that gives them the impression that they too are free to act on any royal whims. That dog beating is such a whim, though, seems like a new one.

I was just watching Shakespeare’s 'Richard 2' today, and when Richard denounces those who left him to support Henry, Richard calls them dogs, for they will be loyal to anybody.

Ok, I just googled the line. Richard II says: "Dogs, easily won to fawn on any man!"

Merriam Webster defines 'fawn' as

1 : to show affection -- used especially of a dog
2 : to court favor by a cringing or flattering manner

So it all comes together. Dogs and such.

Also, ever since ESPN incorporated the blog, Rob Neyer doesn't do real research anymore. He just quotes newspaper articles and writes 2 sentences of commentary. He has stopped going for it, even on fourth and short.

pretending not to know julio down by the schoolyard

From the Archive: June 30, 2007

You know how bad a season Julio Lugo is having? I felt sorry for him when he got thrown out at third. not angry, or disappointed. sorry.

For me to pity a ballplayer, they have to stink so badly that the decrease in dignity is greater than the increase in money, fame, and overall greatness of playing ball for a living.

that's pretty stinky.

Zinging San Diego

From the Archive: June 24, 2007

I like this team. I watched the San Diego broadcast on the internet, and when the final out was recorded, the broadcaster said something to the effect of 'this weekend, the Pads got a first hand look at why the Boston Red Sox have the best record in major league baseball.'

Damn motherf**king right, I said.

Until now, that was not broadcast on the internet.

This team has a swagger; they know they can win. Though some of the hitters (Papi, Youkillis) get a little cranky with the umps. If they were any bitchier they'd be on E!

I love winning close low scoring games. each pitch's importance is magnified, and each time its executed its just that much more impressive, and fosters an ever-increasing sense of dominance and control of the situation. the other night, the bullpen rocked. Delcarmen was throwing gas, and Okajima and Papelbon shut the Padres down like cops at a high school kegger.

damn motherf**king right.

The sox bullpen this year, as a whole, has an era under 3. the padres are at 2.5, which is absurd, but the next closest after the sox is someone or other, at 3.50. they just come in and shut it down like crooked health inspectors don't.

And Beckett is just nasty. with the tying run on and 2 outs in the 7th, he dialed it up. 94 mph fastball outside corner at the knees for strike one, 95 mph fastball outside corner at the letters for strike two, and he drops a nasty hook at the ankles for the whiff.

Damn motherf**king right.

Papelbon's whiff of kouzmanoff was ridunkulous. three straight fastballs, up and in, three straight whiffs. He gets hitters to wave like they were Queen Elizabeth.

Anyway, i'm just feeling pretty pumped up after this win. many things were in the face of various padres, and my feelings reflect as much. Young hard throwing pitchers who locate with late movement are cool. I know that's pretty controversial, and i'm going out on a limb, but its just the way I feel.

role model

From the Archive: June 2, 2007

[a yankee fan asked:]

Is there anyway to defend Manny's public questioning of the third base coach's decision not to send Youklis (maybe Ortiz) last night? it seems relatively classless and certainly not the actions of a person anyone wants as there kids' role model.

[my response:]

Are we living in Victorian England? Who cares about class?

I don't care if Manny farts every time he hits a homerun or uses the wrong fork for the salad. 'Class' and other notions that are derivative from a scheme of noble virtue ethics are irrelevant.

like any public figure, a third base coach's decisions are open to public scrutiny, but hurting the third base coach's feelings is a private matter, and is not my concern, and only matters to me to the extent that play on the field is affected.

Kids don't need role models, they need to learn how to think about things. It's imitation and conformity for its own sake that is problematic; imitating a good person is barely better than imitating a bad person. reliance on public figures for models of ideal behavior is a just step away from a cult of personality. children should be taught to respect the notion of a democracy in which citizens are free to decide things for themselves through rational deliberation, and not instructed which people to ape.

I won't remember that unwritten rule; I should write that down.

From the Archive: May 31, 2007
[Re: A-Rod's yell disrupts catching a popup]

I don't know how many of you, if any, watch the games on mlb dot com. but in lieu of commercials, they play a single promo for 'dick's sporting goods' at every inning break. the commercial consists of various fans in different team merchandise saying what its all about. a group of Sox fans, in their defective accents, say 'its about nevah giving up', to which a single Sox fan, a hip looking twenty something, adds 'nevah evah.'

while that is obnoxious, and is making me want to pull out my remaining hairs, the yankee fan in the promo is equally annoying. he's your friendly neighborhood wiseguy, who stares menacingly at the camera, and says, slowly, letting each word, and the latent threat they contain, sink in- 'its about doing.. what it takes.. to win."

this suggests, of course, that nothing, and certainly no code of ethics, will stand in the way of achieving the ultimate goal- the victory.

I do not mean to suggest that this is characteristic of the yankee fan, or of anyone, for that matter, except the marketers at dick's. frankly, I don't care if even that's true.

but I think my brother makes a good point, (even though my dad would call him a 'monist' for it- don't' worry about what that means), and I think it amounts to agreeing with the dicks wiseguy.

an important question to answer is whether there should be such a thing as unwritten rules at all. In response, I would ask: what's the harm in writing them? To say they should (and by 'should' I mean 'should') remain unwritten is, as far as I can tell, to desire some transcendent notion of ethics and honor in place of the rule of law.

why would one wish this? In a scenario where ethics, virtue, duty, and honor are norms rather than rules, there is no external check on one acting honorably or virtuously; there is just one's internal sense of it, and one owns subjective wish to act this way. but precisely for this reason, it can be skirted by those who do not have that wish, and what is worse, as a consequence, it is not enforced equitably, but instead is something that happens only whenever someone feels like it.

some may yell 'hah', or 'mine', if the desire arises, and some may not. steroids may be dishonorable, but not illegal (or treated as illegal by the relevant powers), and so some people do it, and some don't, in which case there arises inequality of opportunity for achievement- that is to say, unfairness.

it is cultures that define honor and other such values and virtues. but even in a 'clubhouse culture' that may act as a unifying force, human ballplayers come from different cultures, some were taught right from wrong, others weren't. but this shouldn't matter, precisely because when they are all playing baseball they play by the same rules.

one might say that an unwritten code is self-legislating, and does carry consequence's, and that a clubhouse culture provides all the enforcement one needs; a-rod, for example, will be beaned, and a player who slides dirty into second will see his teammate receive the same treatment. But this is just eye-for-an-eye vengeance, and not a legal penalty. why leave the enforcement of unwritten rules- and vengeance- to chance, or to culture, or to a teammate who may or may not like you and care about sticking up for you? (sometimes mike mussina forgets to throw inside, for example.) why leave up to culture and chance what can be codified, and then enforced equitably? if an act is considered something worthy of punishment, as my brother micah suggests, then what does it hurt to make it a rule which guarantees a penalty ? I dont know what soccer flopping is, but if its anything like soccer, i'm sure its bad (sorry. I had to go there.)

look. in iraq right now, what one has, among other things, are a bunch of cultures each trying to impose their values and their dubious and dangerously destructive notions of honor on each other, in lieu in living in a society ruled by law. I think a little law, and respect for fair and equal treatment, would go a long way.

is the goal of the sport to act honorably, or to win? i'm concerned that in much of the ahem, developing, ahem, pre-civilized world, the point of living is for one's culture to enjoy some cockamamie notion of honor and pride, (and so everything that any other country or culture does in its own interest becomes some sort of humiliation)

but the point of playing baseball games is not to bring honor to your team or your family or your ancestors, but to win. if honor happen as a result of winning, that's fine. but that's a consequence of the ends, not the end itself. if a ballplayer shouldn't do something, then make a law against it, and have it count against winning.

also, because its getting late in the day, I won't write my Nietzschean/ Spenglerian counterpoint to this dilly. suffice it to say that those teuton philosophers wouldn't agree. they like supermen who are above the law, who are thereby able to craft a new ethics and culture as they go, and who consider an abundance of legislation as stultifying and antithetical to the vital spirit that distinguishes the worthy and strong from the weak herd.

for them, law is the death of culture. I guess I just put a positive spin on that.

2/3 of the way to the moon is good enough, I guess

From the Archive: May 6, 2007
[the return of the Rocket]

I don't need, or mean, to start a whole trash talking yankee thing. but I do feel the need to explain why I'm not that concerned about the Clemens acquisition, even though I am admittedly annoyed by it (for historical reasons)

Last year, Clemens averaged less than 6 innings per start (113 IP, 19 GS)

He made only 5 starts with exactly 7 IP, and never more.

Of the remaining 14 starts, in 6 he went less than 6 IP; so he actually went fewer than 6 innings more frequently than he went 7 (and again, never more than 7)yet despite these low innings totals, he still averaged 97 pitches per start.

So what the yankees have gained is a 6 inning pitcher who throws 100 pitches. that is, a 6 inning 100 pitch pitcher in the national league, with no DH, and in a particularly weak division, (last year of his 7 wins- 2 vs milwaukee, 2 vs pittsburgh, 2 vs cubs)

And he is now another year older and has to face patient lineups like boston and toronto, who are far superior to those above mentioned clubs. i'd be pretty suprised if he ever goes more than 5 innings against the say hello to mr. vizcaino, bruney, and henn.

[yankee fan 1 replied:]

The fact that you actually felt the need to write a preemptive email is clearly indicative that this is already in your head jonah. always a bosox fan and always an inferiority complex. we'll talk about the merits of this signing in october.

[yankee fan 2 replied]

So it's the contention of the redsox nation that roger clemens is past his prime? rationalize much?

[My response:]

Hey hey. I admitted I was annoyed by the clemens signing. but just because of symbolism, history, etc., which is all essentially off the field stuff. on the field, you have what was described above; a guy who as often as not won't go 6 innings. is he better than igawa? I guess so, though the only game this year the yanks won vs the sox was when an injury forced torre to start igawa in a game he wasn't supposed to.

the basic point is that yankees are not adding a halladay or a santana, but a middle of the rotation, guy, and clemens will not help the yankees by taking away innings from their middle relief corps.

and its not about whether clemens is past his prime- whether he used to be roger clemens or jaret wright or smokey joe wood- all that matters is who and what he is now, on the field, apart from the marketability and name-brand value associated with his logo (I mean, his name.)

the numbers don't lie; clemens labored to get through 6 innings against n.l. central teams for half a season. he won't pitch for the yanks for a month, and then he's got to deal with the a.l. east. So yes, of course we'll see what happens. and what will happen, often enough, is mike myers pitching to david ortiz in the 6th inning.

[yankee fan 1 replied:]

and jonah, in response to everything you have said...statistics can always be used to prove a point, whatever that point may be. but more importantly you have no idea who roger clemens is now until he pitches THIS season. so let's can the talk of his numbers last year, because according to your own statements his numbers from last year ought to be irrelevant, as it is the here and now that matter most.

[my response:]

If the past is irrelevant, what makes you think the yankees are getting a good pitcher? why aren't the yankees signing me? if you ignore my past, which largely consists of 78 mph fastballs and sitting on the couch, maybe, for all they know, I could go spin a 2 hit shutout tomorrow.

last years stats are relevant because, presumably, they describe the abilities of a player physiologically similar to the player who is about to start pitching in a yankees uniform. his stats from toronto in 1997 or pawtucket from 1984 do not satisfy this criterion.

that being said, of course there is always an air of indeterminacy about the future- as they say, that's why they play the games. But players really do exhibit a great deal of consistency; the sheer sample size and extended duration of baseball virtually guarantees it. and players rarely, without illegal drugs, get better after the age of 32, let alone 45; at his age, the previous year's statistics are a reliable indicator of the following year's ceiling, and so suggest a certain degree of decline, as well.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

if you're scoring at home

From the Archive: May 2, 2007

remember that magic fastball I said papelbon had? well, he didn't have it tonight. no zip, as Remy pointed out, none of that last moment thwbbt, no command on any of his pitches, especially the slider, and predictable sequences. I hope he's not hurt.

and just to resurrect the broadcaster issue, I'd like to let everyone know how much Don Orsillo hurts my ears. I'm sure he's a nice guy, and he banters with Remy in a satisfactory manner, but he garbles English sentences like they were lottery ping pong balls. it hurts my ears. almost everything he says has some sort of absurd ambiguity or is a grammatical disaster.

I come replete, yes replete, with examples. tonight, for instance, he said that 'huston street is still just 23 years old'; what, he's still 23, despite turning 23 6 years ago? is he a slow ager? if what don meant was 'street's experience belies his age', he should say it in less dumb way.

also tonight, he said of mike lowell's uncharacteristically high error total that it 'is very un mike lowell like', when, i'm fairly sure, the more natural, and luckily, correct way to say that is to say 'its very unlike mike lowell.'

and he always says 'with which to work with', which, at the moment, strikes me like reading stage directions from a cue card out loud.

I mean, there's precision, and there's precision. (how's that for an epigram?) today, for example, I gave an exam in my class. a student walked in and saw that I was about to hand out the exams, and he said 'oh crap, we had a test today?' I said 'no, but we will have one shortly.'

maybe i'm getting a little pedantic on that one. but don is a broadcaster; he has an extremely high profile and desirable job, and he is paid to paint a verbal picture to complement the visual picture we see. I hardly think it is unwarranted for me to want someone to not speak the way johnny damon throws.

I have, with which I may see out-of market games. sometimes, at night, when the west coast games are on, I watch the dodgers, just to hear vin scully. he is a pure delight. he does the game alone- no color guy. He is a born storyteller and an aphorist, an astute observer of the game, with a radio voice and a sense for the dramatic. the guy has got to be in his 80s by now, and I can imagine him having been sharper calling the brooklyn dodgers, but he's still worth the price of admission alone.

and don't blame vin for saying 'behind the bag, it gets through buckner.' he just calls em how he sees em.

[Chris responded:]

Jonah, you as student of philosophy must be aware that people have been lamenting the degradation of english since before the days of Beowulf. I read a quote (which I looked for on google for about 15 minutes and couldn't find) from a philosopher several hundred years ago complaining about colloquial grammar. No one reads the king james translation now and says "these guys really had their language down!" So I choose to view don orsillo as an innovator, not deficient.

[My response:]

Although I had a fight with my dad on this issue a few weeks ago, wherein I mockingly sympathized with him by suggesting that its a profound disappointment that we still don't read cuneiform, or some other proto ur-language (I suppose that's redundant), there is something to the idea of correctness.

the back-and-forth, it seems, and I hope my brother the linguist will agree, is between whether language is normative or not; if language changes willy nilly with the times, then there's no such things as using language incorrectly. seeing it this way does, as you suggest, allow one to view Don as an innovator, an artist, really, who transforms the mundane workaday world of nouns and proper names- like 'mike lowell'- into magical adjectival flights of fancy, where how 'un-mike lowell-like' something is a quality of the events in our midst. this grammatical-cum-ontological transformation, like all great art, surely reflects the deeper reality that we in our quotidian stance fail to appreciate, unless provoked and prodded by the few great artists we are lucky enough to have among us.

sports blab, volume 21, issue 1

From the Archive: April 23, 2007

there are disadvantages to growing older, of course. there's less hair on my head than there used to be, for instance. and more hair other places. but I can gruffly use phrases like 'in all my years of such and such...' in a variety of contexts. in this case, I can even glibly refer to my 21 years of watching baseball, and expect the fact to command some sort of respect on its own.

so that being said, I don't think that in my 21 years of watching baseball i've seen a pitcher with such an explosive fastball as papelbon has. he really gets an elevation on the pitch that no one else has that i've ever seen. and that splitter- tonight clocking at 90 mph- is just absurd. (though damon put on an impressive at bat, almost taking the splitter for a hit the other way). and papelbon knows how to pitch- after walking abreu- who himself was just barely able to check his swing and lay off a high rising fastball on the 3-2 count- it is tempting to try and come back with a first pitch fastball to get ahead. that's what a-rod, the potential go ahead run, was thinking, and who then was rewarded by waiving at the first pitch slider- 83 mph- at the knees. this was a pitch papelbon hadn't yet used in the outing; there's just no way anyone could have seen that coming.

and that first outing of his, geezum crow- the 5 out save in texas- wow. striking out michael young- one of the league's top hitters- on 3 pitches; two fastballs up and in, and then freezing him with a fastball painting the outside corner at the knees for the called third strike.

and of course he's got a made for tv punim what with that wwf stare down.

now lots of closer have a short run of dominance, but few really last. and papelbon's fastball, as great as it is, may not ultimately measure up to mariano's cutter, which must be considered the single greatest pitch of all time, as he's a hall of famer who only throws the one pitch. but papelbon really has a chance to be historically great, and he's just so much fun to watch.

this weekend was great theater; so many dramatic moments. yes, the sox swept, but I hardly think this is reason to write off the yanks. They had two minor league starters going- no wang, mussina, or pavano, and posada and matsui were out, and damon had a day off, and is banged up, and we barely won each game. and the yankees hit well off our three aces; both dice k and beckett had their worst starts of the year, and schilling pretty much matched his stinker from opening day. so yeah, great theater, and it is always great to humiliate those jerks, but this thing ain't over, as i'm sure they probably say when at a loss for a more eloquent way to put it.

a horse is a horse of course of course

From the Archive: January 31, 2007

I think the public cares about death in two instances: where what dies is exactly like they are, or better than they are. your fellow whatevers will be mourned, as will great so and sos. people of different colors or places with less money and uglier faces are typically given little fanfare.

Apparently, the horse's membership in the 'better than they are' category, in virtue of his special "athleticism", gets him mourned, and trumps the common humanity of those people who don't fall into either 'your death matters' categories.



From the Archive: August 14, 2006

Inside A-Rod's head? Here’s what I think, in a paragraph or so.

I think a lot of people work with an implicit distinction, however ill gotten or tenuous, between what is 'God given' and what is had by one's own will power. People may admire what is God given, but they don't necessarily respect it.

A-Rod has plenty of God given talent, one might think. But what has 'he', the person, that bundle of will power and psychic forces, done with it? People love David Eckstein more than A-rod. It is because of Eckstein's drive and will in the face of less god given ability that he earn respect. Jeter and Tom Brady are a lot alike (yes) and are very easy to hate as pretty boy superstars who can get whatever they want. But instead they are admired and respected because of their poise and command and apparent inner strength; instead of wilting in the spotlight, they can impose their will at just the right moment, even over people with perhaps more God-given talent. People don't think A-rod can impose his will. He has god given talent, but who is he, really, independently of what god gave him, they ask? He’s weak, he's soft, he can't get it done. All those fans out there have the will, but they don't have the talent. How can they not resent someone with the talent but without that ability to impose it? God gives you the cards, but you have to play the hand. A-rod folds with 4 aces.


From the Archive: July 20, 2006

Remy apparently just got a fancy new big screen HDTV and sound system, and during the 5th inning he was telling Don how great it is. He asked Don if Don ever heard of a sub-woofer. Don said 'no'. Remy told him it was for extra bass, and he was watching CSI New York, and each time it made this great big 'whoof!', his dog ran away. 'It was great', said Remy, to which Don replied, 'so the whoofer didn't like the sub-woofer, huh?'

Sean Mcdonough, we hardly knew ye

Friday, June 20, 2008

Youkilis, Eucharist, Data, Stigmata. Close enough.

From the Archive: May 15, 2006

I awoke this morning, okay, this afternoon, to find a somewhat disturbing article in yesterday's Globe sports section. Yeah, my days and times are all messed up. Whatever.

The article is another anti-intellectual 'I liked things better when I didn't understand them' piece by longtime Red Sox columnist Bob Ryan. You may know him as a talking head on ESPN.

I wrote him a letter in response to his article. You might be surprised to learn that I talked about baseball as a way of understanding science and religion (and vice versa.) Even if you're not on top of the latest anti-intellectual trends in the wide world of sports, I hope you're able to follow along and enjoy his article and my response. I’ll let you know if he writes back.

Dear Mr. Ryan-

I am a longtime reader of your column, and I read your May 14 article “A feast of data, with a slight glaze” with considerable interest, but also with slight concern. There is much debate in our society today over how to understand our world, as both scientific knowledge and religious sentiment wax and wane in different quarters. I am writing to you as both a lifelong diehard Red Sox fan, and as a professor of Philosophy, to let you know I felt that your article represented, albeit implicitly, that very debate. Though I hope the length of this letter does not deter you, as I know you are a busy man, I hope you will indulge me as I try to suggest an interesting perspective on this very live issue concerning how to enjoy this great game of ours.

One of the greatest differences between the ‘old-school’ statistics like BA and RBI, and the ‘new school’ stats like VORP, is that the Old School stats are something anyone can count themselves from their own box score. At the end of a game, you can count up the hits and errors and know, from that one box score of that one game, just what went on that day, and without knowing anything else that happened across the league. But by contrast, in order to know the ‘New School’ stats like VORP even for the players in the game you just watched, you can’t just rely on your own box score. In order to know VORP, one has to know virtually everything about everything- New School stats include what every other player did that day, and on every other day, and in what ball park they did it- as you point out, the New School is “in love with equivalency”- and so it is impossible by definition for a fan to be able to track New School stats just from his own box score.

The box score, and the anecdotal evidence of which you are fond, are both stories about a particular time and particular place. Such stories are ‘local’; one can understand something local just by being there- by keeping a box store or hearing an anecdote. But on the other hand, New School stories of equivalency, for instance, are ‘global’; one can only understand what’s going on after one has related the event in question to virtually every other event on the globe.

But this is much more than just a problem of how many box scores one might have to read to know what is going on, and I hope you will continue with my letter.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the so-called ‘butterfly effect,’ where the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Africa, through an ever-increasing cascade of tiny events, may result in a hurricane here at home. If this sort of thing is happening all the time, such that any nearby or ‘local’ event is shaped and perhaps even brought about by innumerable events far distant, then it would be misleading to think a box score of your local hurricane told the whole story, and it would be misleading to think one could predict the weather very accurately on the basis of that local box score. And if one could only know the flapping of every butterfly, one could predict the weather better than by just watching the local weather report. The New School’s emphasis on including league averages and ballpark effects is their way of tracking butterflies in Africa. The New School thinks its global statistics are better at predicting the future than such local or box score statistics like ERA and RBI.

Prediction and science go hand in hand. Part of taking a scientific approach to something is trying to understand precisely how all things interact with all things, for the purpose of isolating variables and trying to predict the future. But there is another essential element to the art of prediction, which is that the scientific approach attempts to understand each event as being of a certain type. If the hitter about to step up the plate today against Jorge Julio is a red-head, and if we know that red-headed hitters hit .370 off Jorge Julio in day games, classifying this single event – this at bat- as of this kind allows one to say there’s a 37% chance of a hit in this at-bat. Classifying in this way is the basis of prediction. And because the New School records and charts everything, it can classify everything, and so any new event you please can be found to be just like a million others, and given how frequently it happened in the past, one can then say what the odds are of that event happening again in the present or future.

This scientific way of doing things may not be for everyone, and it might be less fun than other ways of looking at things, and it does seem like a lot of time to put in for often trivial results. But what’s wrong with it? What’s the big deal, one might ask? Why do so many people dislike the New School approach so strongly? I’ve suggested that science seems to view all events as interrelated, and so as interdependent, in some or many ways, and also that all events are of a certain kind or another. Now why should this be bothersome? Well, this scientific way of looking at things contradicts two important ideas that many people hold- that the event we see before us is localized and distinct from all others, but more importantly, that the event we see before us is unique. And here’s what this all might have to do with religion, as promised earlier. The reason science does not accept the religious notion of miracles is that science does not accept the notion of unique events at all. A miracle is a unique event, something entirely unlike, and independent of, all others. Miracles don’t rely on something like a ‘butterfly effect’ to happen, and miracles, in being unique, cannot be classified.

And what does this have to do with baseball, you are probably asking. The enjoyment of baseball is very often the enjoyment of what appears to be a unique event; one hopes for the thrill of seeing a miracle. Fisk in ’75 or Roberts in ’04 are unique events, and felt like miracles. They even played the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ as Fisk rounded the bases! Now, neither of those players are the greatest players of all time. But who cares? Is it not an anathema to ask whether given 100 such pitches, how many more times could Fisk or Roberts have duplicated their results, as opposed to a ‘better’ player? You point out that the New School has provided us with the information to find out the odds of the Sox winning Game 4 once Roberts stole the base. But why would we need such information- they did in fact win, didn’t they? It happened. We saw it. And it was great. The meaning of such events is not how frequently similar things could happen, but that they did happen, once, end of story. It is their uniqueness that makes them special, and the idea of reducing them to others of a type or dragging in what appear to be outside factors to explain them seems to ruin what is most special for many people about such moments in the great game of baseball.

But can one make any predictions based just on single events like Fisk or Roberts, for instance, about how those players will perform the following year? Clearly not. And so whether or not there really are such things as miracles, they don’t do a General Manager any good, because miracles are useless for the purposes of making predictions. A baseball miracle is a single square in a single box score for a single time and place. And although such box scores or miracles may have meaning for other times and places, as memories of history always do, they don’t have statistical or scientific relevance on their own. The New Statistics are not fans’ statistics, if by ‘fan’ one means someone who enjoys the game most when unexpected and seemingly miraculous events occur. The New School stats are really for general managers, (or fantasy general managers), who do need to watch the waiver wire and know how much a player is really worth over the long haul so he can know how much and whether to risk.

So insofar as he takes the GM’s and not the fan’s approach, you might not want to watch a game with a New School stat guy. But it’s funny. People in this country often times vote for their President on the basis of whether he’s the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with, even though you probably never will have that beer, and more importantly, even though being the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with isn’t the Presidents’ job. And being the kind of guy you want to watch the game with is not the General Managers job- his job is to try to predict the future of each player and use that as a basis to decide whether that player should or shouldn’t be on the team. So even if your GM or your President is the kind of guy who prefers the unique to the pattern, or who prefers the miracle to the law, or who prefers the religious to the scientific, to do his job he should use every resource and trust every fact available to him, even if that means losing the meaning of the present moment for the sake of a winning future.

Thank you for your time,


First Impressions of Josh Beckett

From the Archive:4/17/06

I watched Josh Beckett pitch today. First time I saw him pitch since game 6 of the 03 World Series, I think. This was, as you may recall, shortly after the Grady debacle. Speaking of that Greek philosopher Debacles... see, that gag doesn’t work as well in writing. You gotta say 'de-bah-clees'. Nothing like a little phonetic rendering to excite the ladies.

Anyway, Beckett. I gotta say I was quite impressed. Having only seen the stat line from his prior starts, I wasn't excited by the last one, because he only had 2 K's in 7 innings, and although he only had allowed 3 hits, K’s are more projectible than hits.

So at first I was a little surprised by how many fastballs he was throwing. Over the first 5 or 6 innings or so he had absolutely no command of his curveball, which he only attempted half a dozen times or so, most of which ended up high above the letters. I liked that split change dill he mixed in, but he only threw a couple, and the slider was tight the few times he threw it, but he didn't throw it much; it was really all fastballs. I liked how he'd go down the middle early in the count or on the first pitch, perhaps hoping for some quick contact and some quick outs, and then expand the zone and work off the corners with the fastball as he went deeper in the count. Generally a good strategy.

But this was no real test, as he was just relying on his gas, and I couldn't say I was learning all that much about his style and makeup guts and all that crap that working class people talk about, as of yet. But then I think it was Ibanez hit the triple in the 6th, and he was the tying run on 3rd with 1 out, with Sexson and Beltre coming up. So this is a huge situation. Schilling had k'ed Ichiro in a similar situation on Friday, with a great sequence of fastballs up and away then finishing with a split low and away, which was pretty cool. Now it was time to see how Beckett adapted to the situation. And after not having coming close to having thrown a decent curveball all day, and needing a big strikeout to prevent any contact- sac fly or whatnot- he went not once but twice with the old aunt sally, the deuce, the curveball, getting a called strike two down and away and a swinging strike 3 with two great breaking balls. That was really impressive- to trust that pitch that hadn't worked for him all day in that pressure need a k scenario, but knowing he had to use it to change up the sequence in this Sexson's 3rd or 4th AB, and to actually execute it against their best power threat. And then not losing focus and going right after Beltre, and setting him up with breaking stuff away before overpowering him inside for another k. it was awesome. That was post-season stuff. Real Deal Holyfield and whatnot.

And if you're not impressed by that sort of thing, watch matt clement pitch some time. That’ll teach you perspective.

On the other hand, I was slightly putt off by the number of times Beckett shook off Varitek, particularly given that he threw so many fastballs overall. But maybe that'll work itself out.

Also, Papelbon must have some crazy movement because he didn't change speeds or hit his spots consistently today, but he still gets outs.

Mike Lowell looks like he's 42 years old. I haven't seen Youkilis hit the ball hard yet. That lefty who struck out Ortiz in the 8th was impressive- he brushed him back with only 87 mph cheese, but it was enough to get Papi to wave at the next one outside instead of him leaning over and nailing it. He eventually whiffed.

[the next morning, after Mark Loretta's Patriot's Day walk-off]

…Get back, Loretter.

That’s what they say. 2-0 fastball right down the shoot, and he shot it.

Pretty neat, pretty neat.

I think Trot came to bat with Cash's 'I walk the line' playing. As in Trot walks the line between roster and disabled list.

He was clutch today, though.

I thought Foulke looked ok, could have had Beltre struck out on a flip a coin call. Bad luck.

Why was trot going flap-style, i.e. two earflaps on the helmet? Bellhorn didn't die, did he? I only caught the game from the 6th.

Maybe they explained it. Oh yeah. Did anybody catch in yesterday's game when a ball girl went to pick up an errant foul, and Remy says 'mm mm mmm', as if he were ogling her? It was awkward and weird. Maybe he was eating a donut or something.


From the Archive: March 20, 2006

Look, we've all watched baseball for a long time, and we've learned to accept the slapping on the 'backside' and the communal showering and all that without batting an eye, but there is a line that I think gets crossed in the following passage. See if you can spot it.... from today's Boston Globe...

Schilling faced Clemens in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series between the Diamondbacks and Yankees in a memorable duel of 20-game winners. Neither pitcher was involved in the decision, but the Diamondbacks won, 3-2.

Before that game, Schilling retold the story of Clemens pulling him aside when he was a young pitcher during an offseason workout in Houston.

''What I thought was going to be kind of a sit-down talk about pitching experience turned out to be an hour-and-half butt-chewing," Schilling said at the time. ''He felt at the time that I was someone who was not taking advantage of the gifts God had given me, that I didn't respect the game the way I should, that I didn't respect my teammates the way I should."

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park

From the Archive: March 1, 2006

A former commissioner of baseball, Bart Giamatti, was one of them wax poetic about baseball types. He often talked about baseball as the game of going home, as the cyclical journey of the necessity of leaving home (plate) and striving to ultimately return, only to leave again. Giamatti was also fond of pointing out that the word Greek word 'nostos' means 'returning home', as found in the word 'nostalgia,' which is literally a fondness for returning home, or homesickness.

What is even more amazing to me than the pigeon's ability to return home is that they want, or even need, to. I think the author, Susan Orlean (who was the writer featured in 'Adaptation',) may have been suggesting that the sense that pigeons have that seems to either defy measurement or scientific observation is not just a sense, but a desire, nostalgia, the overwhelming fondness for home. Maybe people like the pigeons for similar reasons for which they like baseball. Maybe pigeons, like good ballplayers, have that special sense that lets them lay off the bad pitches and only take cuts at those that are most likely to let them come back home again. Maybe pigeons watch Nike commercials and want it bad enough.

I dunno. Do pigeon's ever want to leave? Are they happier returning home than when they are home? Are they perpetually prodigal? The at-bat is valuable because of the prospect of ultimately returning- there can be no nostalgia without leaving, if you love something set it free.

I wonder if people will start keeping pigeon's on-base percentage. It wouldn't surprise me, what with the gambling and training and competitiveness of the races. Part of being at home is being somewhere where you're the best, the king of the castle and all that. They could award the most prodigal pigeon, or something.

Red Sox Acquire OF Adam Hyzdu; Embree Designated for Assignment


it's always sad when an embreeyo is aborted

My Herman T. Zweibel Is a Little Rusty- Perhaps Some Smeckler's Powder?

From the Archive: March 21, 2005

A friend of mine who works for the Sox and responds to emails written to Redsox dot com, likes to share his befuddlement caused by certain crazy letters, to which I suggested a reply.

so the friend wrote to me...

“is this fucking guy for real?

From: xxx
Posted At: Mon 3/21/2005 5:00 PM
Posted To: Fan Feedback
Subject: bos - Other - None - Mo Vaughn

E-mail From: xxx

I was looking through the Red Sox roster and the name Mo Vaughn did not appear. Did I overlook it or is it true that Mo Vaughn is no longer a part of the Boston Red Sox. If so where did he go?

And so i wrote to my friend:

“perhaps you should respond thusly:

Unfortunately, a base-ball "roster," which is a list of those eligible to play on the team, can include no more than 25 "base-ball men", or "players." Because there are many "positions" to fill, such rosters can include only so many players at each position. The Boston Americans, colloquially known as the "Pilgrims", the "Somersets", and just recently as the "Red Sox," already have two "first base-men" within their employ, which is typically the maximum number of "first base-men" carried by a ball club to meet the requirements of efficiency. You may be familiar with the concept of efficiency, as it has been popularized in recent demonstrations of that newly invented marvel, the steam engine. Mr. Vaughn, of whom you speak, exclusively mans the first base position, and so was deemed expendable by the club, who feel that the conjoined efforts of Abner Doubleday and Charlemagne is sufficient to satisfy the competitive needs of the ball-club on the field-of-play, and who also prove more "cost-effective" for the owners' coin-purses.

So in response to your second and conditional query, Mr. Vaughn is currently seeking work as a smithy in a gold-rush town on the oregon trail.

Thank you for your telegram, and we hope to see your horse and buggy hitched outside the ball-park sometime during the summer season.

Verily yours,

Ye Olde Towne Teame

i don't do fantasy


I don't do fantasy leagues. They're unethical, on two counts. first, it makes one root for players not on one's home team, and against those that are on one's hometeam (if your opponent has those players), and so presents a conflict of interest. secondly, and more philosophically, by simply considering only isolated statistical aggregates, one destroys the complexity and integration of the dynamic functioning elements which are constitutive of the organic unity that is a real team, and that is a real game- and it is these that are the foundation of the aesthetic of the sport in the first place. Fantasy leagues reduce baseball to horse racing

irony butterfly and the doug mentkiewiczes

From the Archive:

January 27, 2005
[Doug Mentkiewicz steals the 'Final Out of the World Series' ball]

Yuh know, its kinda funny. in that ironing kinda way.

Bill Buckner, the event, not the man, assuming, for the moment, that the stability of matter is not explained at a deeper level as the regular pulsation of event-like energy interactions, never would have happened if John Mcnamara wasn't concerned with the photo op and the symbolism of THE MOMENT, y'know, the one where the sox finally won it all.

Johnny Mac knew that if the Sox won in the 10th inning of game 6 in '86 that the image of the Stanley throwing a sinker, inducing a grounder to Owen who threw on over to first, to Billy Buc, the number 3 hitter with over 100 rbis on the year, would last forever. so, he didn't put in Dave Stapleton, because 100 years later, it didn't seem right that the photo would have, well, Dave Stapleton in it, not Billy Buc.

i sure as hell hope you know where this is going. because for the rest of forever, our image, looking back, is of Keith Foulke and Doug Mientk... (i no longer have any obligation whatsoever to try and spell that name), y'know, the perennial all star closer, and that guy who hit .230 and played 8 innings over 2 months, the guy who stole the ball and wouldn't give it back and was found floating in the Charles back in '07. the purity of that moment is tainted by what we know immediately followed, and how contingent and almost, now in retrosepct, degrading it is that Mentkayvich was there at all. the gall... the ball.

so the man who deserved the ball, Buckner, couldn't even catch it in the first place, and the man who sure as shit don't deserve it ran off and hid it in a fortress where even Mookie Wilson and Ray Knight can't get at it.

all in all, maybe Johnny Mac was right.

on the other hand, fuck that fucker. I mean, I aint' saving the pixels from the tv I watched it on that night. It's just a symbol.

in the words of a wise coconut cracking horse simulating peasant, 'its only a model.'

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Shroud of Schilling

From the Archive:

November 5, 2004

Last week we deified Curt Schilling for his miraculous and heroic performances against the Yankees and Cardinals. This week Curt was deifying the deity and stumping on his tattered ankle for Bush. Curt fears no hitter, but he fears god. Good for him?
Curt is quick to point to his finding god (yet he supports for pres. a man who couldn't find...) as a turning point in his career, a source of energy and motivation for his transcending his earthly constraints. Thanking the doctors seemed an afterthought, despite their having invented a new procedure in order for him to pitch.

Is our joy tarnished by Curt's beliefs? Can we no longer root for a religious Bush-supporting nut?

I really haven't had favorite players since I was a kid. This is one of the reasons why. As soon as one looks at a player as anything other than the sum of his past statistics, and as a disposition for future ones, we're screwed. What if he's a wife beater? What if he doesn't believe in dinosaurs? What if he's an anti-Semite? What if he wouldn't sign my ball? What if he honked his car horn at me and gave me the finger?

What we have to keep in mind is that these people, as ballplayers, are not people. They are baseball automatons. They are probably all jerks, they all picked on you in high school, they stole your girl because they were jocks, they spit on your loyalty and adoration for a few extra bucks that they will never need.

This does not lessen my joy. I learned long ago to think of the players as cogs, exactly as valuable as they facilitate the functioning of the machine, the team.

I've said before that 'most of the philosophers I like are dead. All of the baseball players I like are on the same team.'

You see, I use different criteria for the two. Not only are they all on the same team, but once they're not on the team, they can go fuck themselves (although for some reason I think I’ll always be fond of daubach.)

Viewing it this way makes one less inclined for hero-worship, and perhaps takes some of the fun out of pride and vicarious living. But I know I don't want to hang out with these players. I don't even want their memorabilia- manny's bat, the jock shilling wore at his first communion, or the condom for which Nomar thanked beautiful.

Athletes sometimes take it personally when fans boo. They sometimes don't get it that just because they were cheered before, they should always be. But of course we don't cheer them, we cheer their performance. Nomar was never able to distinguish Nomar the person from Nomar the player, and so was irrevocably hurt when he was deemed replaceable. A disposition for future statistics is replaceable.

Why are athletes republicans? Simple. They believe that hard work equals success. They don’t see why if they could do it, why can’t everyone? Everyone can’t because everyone is not equally talented. Some people have no talent, and some people have talent but can’t succeed because larger forces are too overwhelming, such that no amount of work can garner success. Josh Gibson had all the talent in the world, but that larger force of segregation prevented him from succeeding. It is very easy for the athlete to forget how special they are, and that ‘special’ only makes sense in contrast to those who are not. Liberals, quite simply, believe the government should help out the less fortunate, not hang them out to dry like a bloody sock.

As has been often mentioned, why don’t athletes who praise and thank god when they win, blame god when they lose? ‘That bitch ass Jesus made me drop that popup.’ Perhaps Bill Buckner’s a Satan worshipper. As I’ve noted before, God’s all time winning percentage seems to be .500

On the other hand, athletes do seem to realize their luck- their skills are ‘god given.’ It’s just very easy for them to translate that into a god given preference for them, that they are divinely special. And for those that are not, it is because God has seen fit for them to be mediocre and poor. And why should a government step in and try to reverse god’s plan?