Friday, August 29, 2008
Be well, and have a nice weekend!
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
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
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.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
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.
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.
Yeah, I say 'phew'. Even to myself. And in private moments, no less.
Monday, August 18, 2008
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.
Friday, August 15, 2008
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.
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.
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
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Also, Youkilis is a badass.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
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.
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.
Monday, August 11, 2008
(Can you tell I wasn't able to watch the Sox games this weekend? No? Crap.)
Saturday, August 9, 2008
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.
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
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+).
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
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
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
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.
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!
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."
Saturday, August 2, 2008
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
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.
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.
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.
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.