Friday, August 29, 2008

After a word from our etc.

When Obama went on vacation, his 4 point lead in the polls disappeared. And so just because I'm going to be vacationing this Labor Day weekend, without computer access, that doesn't mean you should, uh, decide to vote for whoever I'm running against.

Be well, and have a nice weekend!

Hope Stick

Everyone's got that warm heartfelt emotional meaningful vs. cold logical mathematical dispassionate dichotomy going. So while the numbers assure us- the Sox lead the Yankees by 6 games in the wild card race with only 29 games remaining, and according to some metric listed on the ESPN standings page, the Sox have an 87.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, whereas the Yankees have a minuscule 2.3, this 3-2 Yankees come from behind win gives the Yankees warm heartfelt emotional hope.

And when there's hope, the numbers be damned. Hope, optimism, determination yielding the miraculous, spring in your step joy in tomorrow. Yankee fans shouldn't have that. Though the odds are against them, they're not dead yet. The Sox missed their chance to put the nail in the coffin, to bury the Yanks along with their stadium. Though the numbers may hold up, for one day, at least, the Yanks get to transcend the numbers, to feel, to hope, to dream, to revel in the alleged meaning of their legacy, to ignore the cold hard numerical financial reality of leaving their traditional home.

Yet somehow the YES network got the whole emotional heartful meaningful vs. cold numbers thing wrong. During the 8th inning, they played a promo for Yankee stadiums' final hurrah with maudlin music and clips of Yankees legends with angelic auras gazing meaningfully into the distance, towards the end of which Kay's voiceover says 'come celebrate the final season of Yankee Stadium with Yankees calculator day. The first 15, 000 fans get a Yankees team calculator...'

Nothing says 'meaning and sentiment' like a calculator. And of course, they'd need one to calculate the astronomical discrepancy between the payrolls of the yanks and rays, the team taking their place in the postseason.

But I bristle. I can't get over Francona giving them hope; you just can't pitch to Giambi as a pinch hitter with two outs as the tying run in the 7th with first base open. Walk Giambi, you put the tying run on base, yes, but it's Damon up with two down, and then potentially Jeter, and neither home run hitters. Against the Yankees, I'm always defensive. Minimize the catastrophe; avoid the agony. Don't gamble on getting Giambi to pop out, even if that's the likely scenario. Against the Yankees, do whatever you can possibly do to avoid the worst case scenario, the humiliation. If your OBP is less than .500, the number says you're more likely to get out than not. But you can't give them hope, the hope that goes over and above the numbers. It's the Yankees, goddam it. I just can't stand to let them have a hero, to be dramatic, to beat the odds, to put dollar bills in the thongs of Mystique and Aura. Those women should put on reasonable clothes and take a nice desk job, by the book. Maybe some number crunching. Nothing too exciting.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Something To Believe In

Karl Popper thought Marxism and Freudianism weren't genuine scientific theories, as they were often believed to be, because proponents of those systems did everything they could to interpret whatever they saw as confirmation of their -ist beliefs. For Popper, what made a belief scientific was the willingness to see that belief falsified, and not clinging to a belief despite evidence to the contrary.

Former catcher and current Yankees color commentator John Flaherty started with the simplistic belief that when Wakefield's knuckleball is up, it's hittable, and when it's down, it's not, and implied this hypothesis had predictive power- it looks like a good night for the Yanks, he suggested in the top of the 2nd.

In the 5th inning, after many high knuckleballs weren't hit, and some low one's were, Flaherty amended his statement, slightly, analyzing that now Wake's knuckleballs were hittable because they were falling down into the lefthanded hitters' zone, and they had no lateral movement. Ahh. How scientific.

Many philosophers think booing doesn't state a belief so much as express emotion. Yankee fans, no scientists they, expressed their displeasure, much to my satisfaction, booing A-Rod after he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to end the 7th inning, keeping the Yankees down 7-3, and just moments after they had given a standing ovation, anticipating a heroic moment. But this theory was proven wrong. Clinging to their belief in A-Rod's talent, they were disappointed. Yankees play by play jerk Michael Kay said something to the effect of 'it looked like the crowd had the electricity pulled out of it', and that they were 'stunned' and filled with 'incredulity.'

Incredulity- disbelief-, the not-so-scientific response to reality contradicting expectation, theory, and prediction. I don't suppose scientists boo the petri dish when their cells don't culture. Though maybe they should. Or perhaps they could reinterpret the recalcitrant evidence; 'it's not the wrong enzyme, it just doesn't catalyze in the clutch.'

Man, A-Rod played such a shitty game. That's awesome. A K looking in the 1st, an inning ending double play in the 3rd, as the tying run in the 5th with 2 runners on- a fly out, as the tying run in the 7th with the bases loaded- an inning ending double play, and a K swinging to end the game. That's an 0-5, with 0 bases gained and 7 outs made. And he also committed an error. He was booed mercilessly in the 7th, 8th, and 9th. During the broadcast, Kay said that in the 8th and 9th innings in 2008, A-Rod has 2 RBI, contrasted with 31 in '07. ESPN said A-Rod is 0-7 this year with the bases loaded and 2 outs. David Ortiz, naturally, had 2 walks and 2 doubles. Ortizism is empirically sound; Rodriguezism is bunk.

Meanwhile, Michael Kay was looking forward to Wednesdays' starter Sidney Ponson coming to believe that his was a big game, a necessary game, a season saving game, and that he should prepare accordingly. Al Leiter strongly disagreed, and said that that kind of stuff doesn't enter the players' mind; a player can't have such different beliefs and attitudes about a big game than a regular one. Instead, he's got to keep it out of his head, clear his mind of beliefs about his place in the game, the season, the context. Kay challenged Leiter, in disbelief, asking that when Leiter started Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, he really wasn't believing it was such a huge deal? When Leiter said 'no', he had to stay in the zone, or some such, Kay responded, disappointed and a little afraid, that it sounded "robotic." Kay's theory of humans as nervous meaning-sensitive clutch warriors remained unaffected.

The inning ended. And after the commercial break, Kay returned to the subject with one of the greatest not great lines I've ever heard. He said to Al Leiter, "Al, it's not that I don't believe you. I'm just incredulous."

I can't say I know what Popper would say about that.

Monday, August 25, 2008

For Those Of You Scoring At Home

So it turns out the game is less pixely sitting 5 rows behind the first base dugout than at a desktop computer via windows media player. Who knew? The shock was only slightly less, I imagine, than when my Dad went to his first game, and saw what had hitherto been a black and white field look green.

But on an grad student's salary, this was 5 rows behind the dugout of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets' single A farm team. On Saturday, the Cyclones, who play with the eponymous roller coaster at Coney Island visible over the left field fence, were taking on your very own Lowell Spinners.

The bush leagues do not rely on baseball to fill the seats, and the Cyclones absorb the amusement park atmosphere; no moment between innings is not imbued with a carnival attraction- a ketchup and mustard race, multiple mascots dancing, t-shirt guns, a "wacky" mc introducing costumed weirdos, video clips and blaring obnoxious music, and even a cracker jack vendor who donned a sequined tuxedo and rode a unicycle on the dugout while juggling bowling pins.

And in between they manage to squeeze in a baseball game.

My girlfriend Rebecca has been a fantastic sport for learning about The Game from me. When I met her, she wasn't sure what direction the batter ran; these days, it's 'Ellsbury hasn't been hitting well lately'. (I count my stars, as they say.) But she's been going to the Cyclones for years, as her parents are avid fans. Rebecca's favorite thing about the Cyclones? The ketchup and mustard race. Of course.

But not this day; I was determined to further wisdomize her by teaching her to score the game. As someone who studies the boundaries of knowledge in his not-spare time, I think I know about limits, so I didn't try to get her started on keeping score until the 6th inning. But first, naturally, I explained the virtues of scoring- "what you have is a semi-graphic and symbolic representation of the ballgame, which allows for it's reconstruction after the fact. See, each plate appearance is a discrete event, an individual, but also an inseparable part of the larger whole that is the baseball game. The numerical symbolism allows for the tracking of individual plays, and the graphic layout of the lineup by inning and the diamond within each square allows the gestalt qualities to be read off at a glance. Basically, the synthesis of distinct part and seamless whole in one cognized perception yields the pleasing aesthetic of keeping score." Yup, I make things fun.

So out came the pen, and I got the ball rolling, but Rebecca quickly insisted that she get to do it, and from there the scorecard is legible. Which is nice.

She immediately took to it, but that there wasn't a baserunner for the first 2 2/3 innings she scored helped out. Brooklyn even took a 1-0 lead into the 9th inning, only allowing Lowell 2 hits thus far. But the Brooklyn pitcher walked the first Lowell hitter in the top of the 9th, and the next batter bunted him over to second. After a ground out to third, Lowell was down to its last out, with the tying run remaining at second. The next hitter, Mitch Dening, Lowell's whisker thin number 3 hitter, grounded to the left side. The Brooklyn third baseman dove to his left, and deflected the now trickling ball to shortstop. With no chance to the make the play, it should have been first and third, two down. But the shortstop forced the throw, and the ball got a lot closer to us in our 1st base dugout-adjacent seats than perhaps he would have liked; infield hit, E6, tie ball game, go-ahead run on second. The crowd, up to this point sated by t shirts and jugglers, groaned in collective scorn for the headstrong actions of the young shortstop.

Meanwhile, Rebecca has gone from enjoying the placid, pastoral pursuit of keeping score at a ballgame to frantically trying to render the transpirings semi-graphically and symbolically. Meanwhile, the cleanup hitter Luis Sumoza was intentionally walked- that's 'I' BB, Rebecca, 'I' BB!

So here we are, tied 1-1 on an unearned run, first and second for Lowell, two outs. The 5th place hitter then bounces to third, and the third baseman, opting for the force out at second, flips an easy chest high toss in plenty of time for the out. But the second baseman missed the ball!, and it rolls into shallow right field. One run scores, it's 2-1 Lowell, Sumoza rounds third, the second baseman recovers the ball, Sumoza is trying to score all the way from first, here's the throw to the plate, he's out! The inning's over, but Lowell scores 2 on 1 infield hit and 2 errors, two walks, one intentional, and a sacrifice. What an exciting inning! "I hate scoring!" wails Rebecca, "I don't want to do it anymore!" But it's just an FC 5-4, E4, with the previous batter out at the plate 5-4-2, and the one before him scoring on the E4, no RBI. What's so complicated about that?

Brooklyn went quietly in the 9th, yielding a clean and simple scorecard on their side of the program. That was a relief. It was such an easy inning I figured Rebecca was ready to relive her anxiety, so I reconstructed the wacky events of that bush league 9th inning, according to her scorecard. It's the only way to learn.

P.S. I now owe Rebecca many dinners. And flowers. And whatever else men have to buy on sitcoms when they've been too stereotypically male at their ladies.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Oniontalogical Argument

In philosophy land, beliefs have to be earned- beliefs have to survive criticism and meet challenges before you get to have them. That's how I look at it, anyway.

I don't think sports fandom should be any different. (I often tell people that even had I grown up in New York, I would have seen the light and been a Sox fan anyway.) The test for deserving to stay a sports fan? This Onion satire from January. If your dignity survives intact, you've earned the right to keep rooting.

And in honor of Friday's starting pitcher, another old Onion piece.

Ah, off-days.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Grammatical Denigration of the Week

I have long been distressed that my favorite novelist, Kurt Vonnegut, called semicolons "transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing." Others have suggested that real men don't use semicolons.

And according to today's Globe, semicolon use is way down. How is all this relevant to Soxlosophy? Good question. I use semicolons all the time; in my last post, I used 5 semicolons; in the previous post, 3. Right there, in that last sentence, 2 friggin semicolons; only a real man would be ballsy enough to do that!


Periods imply abrupt stops, discontinuity; semicolons introduce distinctions yet maintain continuity. Commas separate mere words; semicolons ideas. Sometimes thoughts need to be modified by entire thoughts; thoughts are amplified, not diminished, by such qualification. Independent clauses don't require each other, it's true, but then how they are to be related is left unsaid; distinct ideas can holistically combine via the alchemical link of the semicolon.

The semicolon is suited to baseball. Baseball isn't just one damn thing after another. This. Then that. And then this. The period is such a Humean punctuation mark, severing the connection between clauses. It's also mechanistic, lifeless. And commas are just for breathing, required for life, yes, but of itself a lowest form of living; the vegetable state of punctuation. But the semicolon is the punctuation mark of the robust, meaningful life; anywhere there's narrative structure, nuance and modification, individual thoughts organically integrated into a larger whole, a semicolon is appropriate. It's the punctuation for the story of baseball; it should be in the scorecard. DP 6-4-3; didn't hustle. Sox humiliate New York; Yankees suck. And with apologies to Mr. Updike, he should have said "the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now; Gods do not answer letters."

I imagine that if Gods did answer letters, they'd use a lot of exclamation marks; Gods bark orders. But for those of us who do nuance, not imperatives, we have a plucky little overlooked Dustin Pedroia-esque punctuation mark to help out.

Hitting From the Bottom of the Deck

When the skills decline, what's a player to do? Cheat, of course. Varitek continues to get beat on fastballs fair and square, so what other recourse does he have?

Tek, in the 2nd inning of Monday night's 6-3 Sox victory over Baltimore, pulled a 94 mph fastball for a homer to right field, just his third in 64 games. And then in the 7th, he pulled a grounder down the first base line on a 92 mph fastball.

How does such a slow bat get around so early on fastballs? What's the ace up his sleeve? Simple. A 2-0 count in both cases. A hitter's count. A fastball count. A count where Varitek can cheat.

I've noticed this for a few weeks now; Varitek is cheating in fastball counts, looking fastball, and starting his swing early, so he can get around on the predictable pitch. This is a last ditch effort to survive, using brains over that other quality, the one that fades earlier than brains.

Of course, cheating risks getting pinched; it's the price for living dangerously. And if Tek gets an offspeed or breaking pitch in a fastball count, he's apt to get caught redhanded. In the 8th, against stupidly named Rocky Cherry, Tek was ahead in the count 2-1. A count where one is to be selective, waiting for that perfect pitch, and only then making a move. But Tek tipped his hand; gearing up for a fastball, Tek starting his swing early, and had no choice but to chase a slider down and out of the zone. And then guessing fastball again on 2-2, he chased another slider down and out of the zone, for the whiff. In the 9th, Tek had another 2-1 count, and this time was well ahead of a changeup, fouling it off, only to then take a belt high fastball for a called third strike.

Tek was caught cheating on the basepaths last week, too. On Thursday, he tried to get an early start on a stolen base, and left before the pitcher delivered. The pitcher stepped off the rubber, and caught Tek in a rundown, the result of which was not in doubt.

Of course, I can't help concluding that all this cheating business relates to mortality; wishing to stave off infirmity, Tek is looking to cheat death any way he can, to get whatever edge he can muster before old age catches him in a run down. But of course death catches everyone in a pickle of inevitability; it's just a question of staying in it long enough for the other runners to advance.

Anywho, in cheerier news, Bay slammed two dongs, and Lester continued to be the my-subjective-ace, defined as the guy who prompts me to say to myself 'phew, he's pitching tonight.'

Yeah, I say 'phew'. Even to myself. And in private moments, no less.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lookout! Archetypes Everywhere!

Paul Byrd is 37 years old. Manny Ramirez, 36. Brian Giles, 37. Three ballplayers, each in the, ahem, autumn of his career, and during this year's trading season, three different archetypal responses to the inevitable.

Giles, on a last-place ballclub, vetoed a trade to the pennant contending Sox, citing his wish to remain near to his family in temperate San Diego. Giles' is the bourgeois response; seeking not to improve but to maintain, content with mediocrity, domesticity, and a steady paycheck as an everyday player.

Manny, it has become increasingly clear, is exclusively focused on maximizing his earnings. His is the capitalist denial of death response; just because we end doesn't mean profits have to, get whatever you can while you can because you can. So even though you can't take it with you, accumulation gets you a bigger tombstone.

And then there's Byrd. Remy, talking on Thursday about Byrd's excitement at being dealt to a winner, noted that though winning is always important for a ballplayer, first establishing oneself as a deserving big leaguer, and then getting a long-term contract, are priorities in the early years of a career. But when a player reaches a certain age, Remy waxed, and "those years pile up, and there aren't many left for you," the "more important winning becomes". This is the religious response; in old age, as the years draw to a close, Byrd eschews further personal gain, and discovers meaning and completion in a collective seeking something larger than themselves.

Remy quickly transitioned to discussing underage female Chinese gymnasts.

The cycle of life continues.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Logical Fallacy of the Week: Sox Sweep Texas

How can the Sox whooping Texas be a logical fallacy, you ask? (You do ask.)

Suppose someone props up a straw man, stabs and burns it, and declares victory in battle. If this ersatz man is an idea that nobody actually believes, you have what's called a "straw man" argument. So if someone argues "I hate them thar moneyball teams, always sayin' weez shud never bunt and never steel and never swing and allways walk. Well, I seen a guy take three right over the plate, just lookin' for the walk, but he struck out, and theyze lost, so airgo moneyball duzn’t work."

That’s a "straw man" argument. It’s not a good argument, of course.

And Texas is not a good pitching team. They're last in the majors with a 5.41 ERA, and they have allowed- but allowed isn't the right word; encouraged, perhaps?- 62 runs over their last six games.

In the last three games, the Sox slapped around Rangers "pitching" for 37 runs, 42 hits- 20 of which were for extra bases- and worked 19 walks.

That’s a straw man rotation if you ask me (you do ask), a fake pitching staff I tell you, existing simply for the purpose of having the shit beat out of them. That's not really a staff that anyone believes in, but a misconception of a general manager.

Sure, like any straw man, it might be decent practice for the real thing, sparring with one's logic muscle and all, and it goes without saying it's fun to beat stuff up, straw or not. (And a win's a win, as the poets say.)

But Roy Halladay is next up. The Sox will need to rub up the bats with extra sticky validity for this one.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Texas is a AAA Battery; Sox' Energy Outlasts Rangers, 8-4

With the Sox up 8-0 in the 8th inning a day after giving up 17 runs, Orsillo cited "the old adage" that 'momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher', suggesting, in so many words, that Lester's performance corroborated it.

Lester, pitching brilliantly through 7, had stopped the velocity, the forward motion of the Texas lineup. But I think I recall that momentum is mass times velocity. And the Texas' heavy hitters were still massive. And mass, among other things, is involved with (in some way I don't remember) potential energy. The Texas momentum, in an ill defined sense, was still there, latent, dormant, waiting to be unleashed.

So one batter after Don's hitherto accurate pronouncement, Kinsler rocketed a dong over the monster on a 3-2 fastball, making it 8-1, and then Young shot a liner to right on a cutter down and in. After Ellison's high chopper back to the mound yielded an Ellsbury single, Francona went to the ultimate momentum stopper, the immovable force, Mike Timlin (and his 5.23 ERA.)

Even Timlin's two championship rings didn't save him from boos after Bradley's 3 run blast and then Byrd's double employed some of the previous days' inexhaustible supply of latent momentum. Potential energy became kinetic, and the crowd became frantic, anxious, fearing the hidden potent forces that animate the universe might manifest, vengefully and angrily. And Timlin seemed as good a lightning rod as any.

(By the way, Benjamin Franklin was awesome.)

But Youkilis was a badass again, and the Sox offense generated its own force, and picked up another game in the WC race- now up 6- on the suddenly impotent Yankees.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Non-Random Run Distribution; All 19 Are Meaningful

In the narrative of the season, I can't tell if this one was a stark juxtaposition, an ironic reversal, a clever commentary, or a bizarre non-sequitur.

Just one day after the Sox were no-hit into the 7th against Chicago, and then brought a 2-1 lead into the 9th, the Sox and Rangers combined for 36 runs, tying an A.L. record, and 47 hits. The Sox blew leads of 10-0 (after 1) and 12-2, but came back from a 16-14 deficit in the 8th to win 19-17.

The universe is just crazy sometimes, I guess. Narratives imply authors, but the authors intent, which might help to make sense of things, is notoriously inscrutable.

I should have believed myself that it'd be one of those Hamlet typing monkey nights. My girlfriend Rebecca, empath that she is, wished that baseball had a mercy rule upon the Sox taking a 10-0 lead. I warned her that Texas has a strong offense, and it's early, plus they deserve to get their asses kicked if they do. Get them kicked, that is. But no, instead I figured it was in the bag, and I went to the local park to see Bob Dylan in concert. Well, we didn't have tickets, so we played frisbee in the dark with a Dylan soundtrack.

Goddam hippies.

But then it turned out the game was all crazy, teaching me another lesson about unpredictability and chaos, a lesson I continue not to learn, relying, as I do, on coherent narrative structures. The temptingly familiar emotional categories of the game- humiliation at losing the lead, determination and refusal to quit, obscure the sheer oddity and randomness of the events; determination involves control, randomness is at the behest of the cosmos. In a pitcher's duel, every pitch has meaning, each sequence hand-crafted and unique, implying intent and design. In the slugfest, hits are mass-produced, aggregate copies, and individual events become mere statistics, without obvious meaning. Baseball becomes pinball, a violent, jarring series of projectiles.

Or maybe I just identify with pitchers, and cringe when they can't get anybody out.

Also, Youkilis is a badass.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wishing Upon a Star Pitcher; Sox Really Win 5-1

One of the White Sox announcers- since they're so obnoxious I won't do them the honor of distinguishing them- said, after the Red Sox broke the game open in the 9th, that this game had "turned into one of those nights you wish hadn't happened."

That's false, of course, if the second person pronoun is referring to me. But I wasn't about to let this instance of moral relativism or grammatical ambiguity vanquish the joy of this aesthetically pleasing victory.

Monday's finale of the 4 game series with Chicago had a purity, a good ol' solid baseball game-ness to it. One pitcher- Danks- took a no-hitter into the 7th, expertly moving his fastball in and out, working his slider in on righties, and keeping the changeup away. The other- Beckett- dotted fastballs around the corners of the strike zone without filling in the area, striking out 8 in 8 innings, walking none, and allowing just one extra base hit (a double.) Lest such a game be too picturesque, butts played a key role; Ellsbury's getting hit by a pitch on the butt broke up a perfect game in the top of the 6th, and Crisp fell on his whilst snagging a potential RBI double to end the bottom-pun is there, whether intended or not is immaterial- of the 6th, holding the Sox deficit at just 1-0.

Close, well pitched games tend to turn on a single sequence; after a cutter down and away that Drew missed, the next pitch was a fastball in the same spot, and Drew shot it into the gap in leftcenter for a 2 run double, putting the Sox up 2-1 in the 7th. There's often a point in aesthetically pleasing games where the competitive element creeps back in and this was it; the appreciation of an opponents' game, even while we're losing, is broken by the 'fuck yeah' of a 2 run go ahead double. This tends not to happen in art museums, and is just another reason why baseball is better than everything. Take that, art.

Part of baseball's betterness involves the contingency and luck, the element of absent design that must be admitted on pain of reality. Up 2-1 in the 8th, Cabrera's liner couldn't have been closer to the left field foul line, just missing a lead off double which would have put the tying run into scoring position. Instead, he flew out to left. The kind of thing that one- one- might wish never happened. But one- me- doesn't.

And Jed Lowrie continued to show why the concept of Lugo should no longer be instantiated. With 2 out in the 7th, Drew on second and Lowrie down in the count 0-2, the kid calmly took a changeup away, the pitch (and location) that Danks had masterfully used for the bulk of his K's that evening. Lowrie took another, and then another, running the count full; Lowrie was able to flip the pressure from him to the pitcher, (can pressure be flipped?) who was now responsible to make the perfect pitch, rather than Lowrie having to hit whatever he got. Danks didn't, and Lowrie earned the walk. In his next AB in the 9th, Lowrie turned on an inside fastball on a 2-0 count, driving a 2 run double to left, turning a 2-1 nail biter into a 4-1 nail filer, breaking open the game, revealing it's juicy series-splitting insides.

This had turned into one of those nights you wish hadn't happened, I guess, if you are Julio Lugo. Which you are probably not. But if you are, well, sorry.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Daily Equivocation; Giles is a Family Guy

Last week, San Diego outfielder Brian Giles rejected a trade to the Sox after being claimed on waivers, citing his desire to stay near his family.

Speaking of families, the book to which I contributed a chapter- Family Guy and Philosophy, published last year- has finally added the 'see inside this book' feature on amazon dot com. So now you can see inside this book, and see my name! (you can also see it here!)

As an academic, I'm pretty sure this is the closest I'm going to get to seeing my name in lights, after all.

(Can you tell I wasn't able to watch the Sox games this weekend? No? Crap.)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Creating Nothing From Something; Chicago Pokes Holes, Plugs Sox 5-3

Holes don't really exist; they're a privation, a lack, an absence, a nothing. Yet holes can be created- thereby bringing nonexistence into existence. How fun.

Orlando Cabrera pulled this metaphysical trick on Nonbeing twice in Chicago's 5-3 victory over the Sox on Friday night.

With a runner on first in the 3rd inning, Ozzie Guillen had the hit and run on on the first pitch Cabrera saw from Lester, a cutter in, and Cabrera encouraged a 6 hopper through the newly created bit of nothingness on the right side of the infield, sending the runner to third, and resulting in a sac fly to put the ChiSox up 1-0.

In the 5th, with runners on second and third and one out, Cabrera again swung at the first pitch, a two seamer in. Youkilis was playing in, and way over towards second in an attempt to put the Nonbeing Cabrera had created back in it's place- nowhere. But this time, Cabrera lined sharply to the new hole typically made nonexistent by the physical presence of the 1st baseman. And this hole, being a nonexistent thing, and as a result causally inefficacious, was unable to stop the liner from reaching the right field corner and knocking in both runners, which put Chicago up 3 to nothing.

Lester, who lost for the first time since May 25, didn't pitch badly, of course. But with holes, we're on the border of being and non-being, and it's a fine line indeed. Walking Swisher to lead off the 5th after getting ahead of him 0-2, and then a circle of Bay, Lowrie and Crisp letting a blooper fall in negative space, put one foot in the grave, and led to the Cabrera double.

Would that there been a hole in Sean Casey's bat, who as a pinch hitter up representing the tying run in the 9th, checked his swing on a 3-1 count, only to tap out weekly to a portion of space occupied by a physical object wearing a baseball mitt.

If you don't watch where your swing is going, you might fall into a... well.

Monism Cups

The last time this came up, the problem was duality. Now, dualism's longtime philosophical opponent, monism, seems to be exposing itself.

Thanks again to Marc for the pic.

(And for a guy with a lot of, uh, chest, this Ziegler sure doesn't get scored on too often. Sorry. I couldn't help it.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Numbers Tell You Everything, Except For What They Leave Out; 756*

Rob Neyer brought up the 756* thing again. No game Thursday, so, why not?

Some people go around all the time thinking that numbers can't capture meaning. 'Cold' and 'calculating' are associatively and alliteratively linked, and cliched images of emotionless logical number crunching robots are so common as to be... cliches. Religions decry the scientific worldview that wishes to 'reduce' meaning and quality to 'mere' quantity. People complain about not wanting to be a statistic (before participating in a focus group.) Some people laud qualities that defy quantitation- sometimes called 'intangibles'- as if this defiance were a mark of greatness, rather than non-existence.

So for these folks, what's the big deal about 756*? Numbers never determined meaning before, why should they in this case? These people are free to see meaning, greatness, and intangibility wherever they want, without the constraints of numbers. They shouldn't need an asterisk to tell them about the meaning of a record. 762 happened, so what? They can always tell tale tales about whoever they once saw play the game.

But of course some may be more scientific in their temperament. They may suppose that greatness, for instance, is a function of the numbers, and so is entirely determined by them.

For these folks, there's two ways to go. Either greatness is a function of old fashioned tally count-em stats which aren't context (i.e. ballpark, era, league difficulty) sensitive, like homers and wins, or greatness is a function of new fangled more sophisticated metrics that do compare players to their league or across eras (VORP, win shares, OPS+).

For folks who go the second way of the second way, home runs don't figure especially prominently anyway; not all home runs are created equal, after all, for a home run by itself doesn't tell you if it was hit in whiffleball, the no-splitter-no-slider-no-ethnicity 1920's, or in 1968.

It remains, then, that 756* should only be a problem for those who want the relative greatness of all those players who played at different times to be entirely determined by numbers that fail to present meaningful standards of comparison of players at different times. In short, 756* should only be a problem if you want greatness determined by the wrong numbers.

So the solution, then, is not asterisks, or divided categories- most homeruns for a player who only played against white people, most homeruns for someone with backne- but realizing why context-insensitive numbers have never been valuable for comparing different players at different times anyway, and so seeing why many records are superficial to begin with.

The only problem with the steroids, then, for this way of looking at things, is that only some people used them. But on the assumption that steroid use was widespread in this era, such that there's a relatively level playing field, even if a rampaging roider broke a count 'em record, they might not stand out in their own era, and it'll take that much more for the OPS+ to go up a tick.

Though perhaps a truism, by itself, a record is just another instance of one person getting more somethings than another person. Which records matter, and why, vary greatly, and for many different reasons. Some symbolize something beyond the sport- 715 could mean that it only took black players one generation to break an old white man's record, but that's sociological, not strictly about baseball, and most records don't have such meanings. And as far as baseball goes, few individual record breaking moments are as memorable or meaningful as moments of a team's victory or defeat; Dave Roberts vs. Barry Bonds, steroids or not? Please.

The idea that records symbolize some sort of purity, the good old days of baseball is- and always has been- a myth. Steroids happened, racism happened, crappy gloves and dirty dead balls that only went 250 feet happened; no number remains unscuffed by its times. Sure, there's a sentimental attraction in remembering what you read on baseball cards, but these numbers as indicators of reality or predictors of the future are inaccurate, and they probably never determined meaning anyway. If so, they fail as science, and they fail as religion.

Numbers are everywhere. If we like baseball numbers, I think it's the baseball, not the numbers, that really matters. The numbers are just there to help. They're not everything. Except for two numbers. 2004 and 2007. I like those.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Metaphysical Impossibility of the Week

Ok, this will not be a regular Soxlosophy feature. (I hope.) But the following problem isn't quite a logical fallacy, more of a two-impenetrable-objects-can't-exist-in-the-same-place-at-the-same-time sort of thing.

See if you think that even with Pedroia having the day off, this is a particularly offense-minded lineup the Sox put out there Wednesday night, according to the KC broadcast.

That One Kid With The Mustache in Little League

I think Ellsbury got mad that I called him a little leaguer in yesterday's post. How else to explain his big league swings tonight?

Jacoby's had some luck with the Jeter Leaguer flares to the opposite field over the course of his short career, and rarely squares up on the ball. But in Wednesday's second consecutive 8-2 compression of the Royals, Ellsbury hit the ball solid three times, going 3-4. So solid, even, this phase change from gassy, diluted bloopers to solid line drives skipped right over the liquid phase, in a reverse sublimation.

Of course, three-run dongs to put the game away in the 7th are sublime.

The Royals announcers either jinxed this one, or used solid science to predict the outcome (I forget which is which); they repeatedly showed a graphic detailing starter Hochevar's opponent's batting average by time through the order: Well, sure, enough, that 5th inning of a 0-0 game rolled around, and the Sox, under too much pressure contained in a small volume, exploded for 8 runs in the 5th-7th innings.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It's Some Relative

If motion's all relative, you don't know if its moving, or you. In little league, someone might try to score from second base on a wild pitch or an infield ground ball; weak arms make little legs fast. But Ellsbury's fast legs make strong arms look slow, and so he plays a distinctly little league style.

But many big leaguers believe in absolute space, and so it doesn't always work; in Tuesday's victory over the Royals, Ellsbury, enamored of his speediness, was thrown out trying to score from second Jake Taylor/Willie Mays Hayes style on an infield hit to third, 5-3-2.

In other parts of the universe, though, the principle of relative motion held. In the 7th, Bay's drive bounced off Royals' centerfielder Mitch Maier's glove and sat atop the leftcenterfield fence. The earth then moved quickly under it, making the ball appear to roll along the top of the fence towards leftfielder Ross Gload, who leaped and knocked the ball back onto the yet again relatively stationary earth.

Some things aren't relative, of course. Like the Sox runners orbiting the bases 8 times, to KC's 2.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Occam's Razor- Giambi's Slump Not Due To, But Despite, Mustache

I have to admit it. There was one thing about the Yankees I could not bring myself to hate, not in a million cliches.

Jason Giambi's mustache.

Even when Giambi's weak glove rode the bench, that 'stache could never take a day off. It was business all over. All the time.

But now, alas, it's gone. Giambi, in a bit of superstition, has shaved off that gruff, solid 'stache, and gone back to his plain old thong-wearing self.
As a philosopher, I have a special affection for mustaches. Here's me around two years ago, being all wisdomy, broody and mysterious-looking at a Barnes N Noble cafe, where all the world's serious thinking gets done.
Notice how in touch with the profound truths of the universe I am? Can't you tell I'm cogitating nature's most abstract secrets?

And here's me, sans 'stache, more recently, a normal, not especially philosophical regular guy, still in front of books, but now less sure he comprehends them, and mostly thinking about which dry cleaner to go to.

I didn't treat my mustache with the respect it deserved, and now it's gone. And now I have even more reason to hope Giambi's slump continues; he lost faith in the power of the mustache, and the cosmos should let him know this is no small transgression, as it did with me.

I'm sad now. I'll leave you with two great philosopher mustaches- Nietzsche and a young Bertrand Russell.

And a ballplayer.

Logical Fallacy of the Week: Summer Re-Run

It's tempting to let the story drive the characters. The characters, though, tend not to think their fates are being written by an author other than themselves.

Fans like stories, and fans like repetition. Baseball is pretty much the same game everyday, played over and over again. And of course each game, each season, has it's own little narrative, it's unique story to tell, but they are often just variations on a theme.

So, as Boston Herald writer Jeff Horrigan points out, "the comparisons to 2004 were inevitable when the Red Sox finally parted ways at the nonwaivers trading deadline with a disgruntled superstar and retooled with two months remaining."

Well, we liked this story so much the first time, we bought the DVD. And now seems as good as any to watch it again, maybe with commentary and bonus features of Orlando Cabrera handshakes.

Nothing wrong with that. But the sportswriter, and many a fan, like to push and stretch, to make the story drive the events, when maybe that's not what's really going on. We do like our causality in storybook form, with pictures if possible. But whether the book of nature is in fact telling a familiar story, or the similarities are added to the margins at the expense of the text, is, well, something to wonder about.

Horrigan continues, writing "Four years ago, the jettisoning of Nomar Garciaparra in a four-team, blockbuster deal shook the Sox from the malaise of a lackluster July and jump-started them for a 42-18 finish and the eventual end of 86 years of frustration. Thursday’s three-team deal that sent Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles and brought in Jason Bay from Pittsburgh involved fewer teams and players but is beginning to have the same effect."

Horrigan's blurb is filled with causation-attributing terms: "shook", "jump-started", "effect."

Horrigan, like many of us, looks to the jumble of events, the blooming buzzing confusion of the world, and tries to see a pattern, a meanginful causal sequence that brings order and predictability to events.

But of course just because two sequences of events are similar in some ways doesn't mean they'll be similar in all ways. In short, the "argument by analogy" is not valid, and this is our logical fallacy of the week, sponsored by W.B. Mason. Who else but etc?

Imagine, for a moment, that this similarity that Horrigan reads into involved 2008 and 1904, not 2004. Would anyone suppose that just because it happened that way in 1904, it would have to happen that way in 2008? Of course not. And, among other reasons, that's because the characters in this story, the ones whose actions cause victory and defeat, aren't able to come out and play today.

Of course, not many remain from the championship squad of '04 (2004. The A.L. champs of 1904 were McGraw-blocked from winning it all.) But even if we still had Curtis Leskanic the Shirtless Mechanic and our other old favorites, the everyday stuff of causality- seeing the ball, hitting the ball, catching the ball, and, in Manny's case, lollygagging- are inevitably different; every game, every inning, every pitch, is new and unique. Just as Luddites and intellegiphobes say the players play the games, not the numbers on paper, well, the story doesn't play the game either.

Horrigan compounds the fallacy by pointing to a respect in which the two seasons are not analogous- that the trades this time around involve fewer teams and players- as if THIS, rather than a billion other things that are actually relevant, was the potentially disruptive element, the reason that 2008 might not play out the same as 2004. Oh, Theo, if only you'd have gotten more players involved with this trade! Then, surely, we'd beat the Cardinals and get George W. re-elected! If only!

(Excuse me. I just threw up a little.)

Right. As earlier, the characters in stories tend not to think of themselves as in a story, and so don't see their fates as written by authors not themselves. Naturally, Kevin Youkilis resists the storybook interpretation, and attributes the recent victories to "putting together good at-bats."

The sportstwriter sees narrative, meaningful similarities. Youkilis just sees one damn good at bat after another. We'll have to see how this one plays out.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Across the Universe; Manny Finds a Wormhole, Dodgers lose 2-1

There's an old old paradox about sand. (You heard me.) Take one grain of sand, that's not a heap. Add another, that's not a heap. And so on. Adding just one grain never gets you a heap, but, presumably, eventually a bunch of sand is a heap. What seems like a simple continuum reemerges as a mysterious discontinuity.

One might think that walking, jogging, and running lie on a continuum, that there's a difference in degree, not in kind. But the sand paradox applies here too.

On Friday, Los Angeles Dodgers leftfielder Manny Ramirez proved both that there is an infinite, unbridgeable chasm between jogging, and running, and that if a man continues to put one foot in front of the other, a man can run.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, with the Dodgers up 1-0, Manny Ramirez checked his swing, rolling a slow grounder to the right side of the infield. Arizona first baseman Tony Clark ranged to his right, and flipped to Randy Johnson covering. Too late. Manny legged out an infield single. That's right. Manny Ramirez legged out an infield single.

Yes, Manny really beat it out. He tore down that line like it was the Berlin wall. Like there were bulls after him. He hustled like it was 3 card monte. He hauled ass like an interstate sex trafficker.

I've never seen Manny Ramirez run so fast. Sprinting down that line, showing a lean physique in his tailored pants, he conclusively proved that there's a universe of difference between jogging and running, a cosmic gulf, an infinite divide, an unbridgeable chasm, a you-can't-get-there-from-here abyss that can be crossed simply by trying.

Manny, in Dodger blue, showed his true colors, on the other side of the country, a universe apart. The knees were strong and chipper, they made him go. He didn't just walk, or jog, and then go one step faster, and one step faster, and then one step faster. He ran. Like a ballplayer. He legged out an infield single in a one-run game.

Now, the universe being what it is, he wasn't rewarded for his act of apparent good faith. As the potential winning run at the plate with the tying run on first, down 2-1 in the 9th with former Sox closer Brandon Lyon on the hill, Manny bounced into a 6-4-3 double play. He was thrown out by just a step.

He almost made it. There's a universe in between out and safe, and Manny tried his hardest to cross that chasm.

How about that?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Manny Existing Manny

Time doesn't flow the same way for all parties concerned. Fans are fans for life. Businessmen have careers that span generations. But ballplayers can only be ballplayers for a very short period of time.

After the age of 32, every second of every day sees a ballplayer dwindle and decay, and become less and less himself. Not so for the other parties. Businessmen perhaps become more savvy in middle age. Fans become more experienced, have longer memories. They grow into their skins, develop their identities over the years.

Not ballplayers. They just get shittier and shittier until they can't be ballplayers anymore, at an age where other professions are just getting started. And then there's a whole lot of life left.

They can't all go into broadcasting; too many already do.

Some ballplayers are lucky and develop other careers, and form new identities for themselves. Others live off their name, selling white wall tires or family friendly restaurants.

But every player knows their window is short, their skills are ephemeral, and what and who they are will die long before they do.

Manny may or may not know, believe, or agree with any of this. But it's in the back of my mind anytime I feel the urge to blame a player for wanting to be paid whatever he can get for the superhero talents he knows aren't long for this world, before he turns into Clark Kent forever. And it's in the back of my mind when I try to figure out who to side with in a dispute- the rare baseball talent who we pay to see, and whose life expectancy is just about up, or the front office business men, who I don't pay to see, and who can go on being front office business men for 50 more years (in Theo's case, at least), or me, who will keep on watching the games and going about my business.

That's not to say that Manny is absolved; by all accounts, Manny was a Grade A asshole. I'm not denying that. But I don't doubt that there's at least a half-truth in one of Manny's statements, because the Front Office probably did make Nomar and Pedro and Manny all feel one particular way, and whether it was intentional or not is immaterial. I suspect they were all made to feel that they no longer were who they had always thought they were.

Nobody wants to feel replaceable. Interchangeable. Everybody wants to feel unique. I bet guys like Pedro, Nomar and Manny have spent a good part of their lives feeling unique, and deservedly so, because they have been blessed with talent that millions of people would do unspeakable things for. Who they were, why they were loved, why they were the gods of Yawkey Way, was to be found in the arm, the legs, the hands, and the subtle harmonies only they could play.

Of course, superstars age, their skills wither. But to them, from their own point of view, they're still the same unique divinity they've always been, ever since that first scout raved about their tools or wheels or gun at their 13th birthday. But that age of 32 or so rolls around, and that OPS or ERA starts to regress to the mean, and suddenly, these guys are one thing they've never been. Replaceable. They can be substituted; after their prime, the front office can find someone else to put up those same numbers they will. The person goes, the numbers stay the same. Oh right. And the salary shrinks. Profits go up.

That's fine, that's business. But I don't blame the players for wanting "respect", or "mental peace", as Manny put it, which they always say they want instead of money, though of course they want the money. But they don't even need to be shrewd in their investments with the money they already have in order to stay rich for life. No, the money is a symbol. A symbol of being desired. A symbol of being that guy that everyone wants, and pays, to see. That's respect to them- respecting them as The Man they are. The money says that they're wanted, to a quantifiable degree that much more than everyone else. What they want is to still be treated like the stars they were, not thrown out and replaced for an cheaper model. Manny will have mental peace when he's desired the way Manny Ramirez should be desired. And Manny's now getting that. The Dodgers are raving about the Hall of Fame slugger they acquired. Manny can strut into Joe Torre's locker room and Be what he's always Been: Manny.

You can call it 'ego', and it probably is. But the sense of 'self' applies as much as 'conceit'. This is all they've been, this is all they know. All that lies ahead is decay and death. Yes, for all of us too, unfortunately- you heard it here first- but the rest of us still have a narrative, and not just the epilogue that a former ballplayer has. Sure, people will always want their autograph, and they'll always eat for free in the local joints, but any player will tell you, it's not the same. They're never really themselves ever again.

Do you know what the moral of Field of Dreams is? Heaven is where you get to be yourself. (spoiler alert.) Shoeless Joe gets to be a ballplayer again. Doc Graham gets his the one major league plate appearance, the one he should have had. And then, because he really was a doctor, not a ballplayer ('Son, if I'd never gotten to be a doctor, that would have been a tragedy'), he gets to be that again too. Terrence Mann, after years of public silence, gets to be a writer again- he promises to give a full account of what it's like out in the corn field. Ray Kinsella and his estranged father get to be an American Boy and his Dad, by having a game of catch.

But that's Hollywood. Ballplayers can never again be themselves. When Manny learned that he wasn't going to get the 4 year $100 million dollar contract extension that the great Manny Ramirez deserved, he shut down. Undoubtedly, Manny's response was immature and hurtful to those that knew him, and he let his teammates down, and he disappointed fans who cheered for him and paid to see him be himself.

But nonetheless, I find it hard to be mad at Manny. I love baseball, and I know The Game and The Team are bigger than Manny, and Manny didn't do right by The Game, or The Team. I don't condone his actions, but The Game and The Team are idealizations, not real people. They don't have to stare death in the face before they reach middle age. They go on. Ideals are forever, Plato taught us.

Yes, Manny needs to 'grow up.' He should learn to leave an identity behind, and learn to face one reality that he agreed to- his contract to finish out this year- and one he didn't- that who we are must change. He's blameworthy for the first, but not the second, of course. And I can't help suspect that behind the inflammatory statements and the knees and the jogging to first and the wanting his option to be picked up when the team has no reason to do so because he's a Hall of Famer worth $20 million which everyone should recognize NOW, dammit, is the idea that the only self Manny has ever known is dissolving, and that Manny won't be being Manny for very much longer.