I used to feel bad about giving up on a book, but then I realized that life was too short to waste on mediocre books. Here's one I gave up on two-thirds of the way through.
So, Stephen Jay Gould is an ace writer when it comes to science. Apparently, he also wrote several essays about baseball. This book is a collection of those essays, published after his death. (Or, y'know, posthumously.) Alas, it's not very good.
There are several problems with it. First off is the posthumously nature. Gould had no opportunity to make sure that the various essays melded in any way into a full book, and so they don't. It's not just that there's no flow. There's also an aching amount of repetition. We have to hear over and over about particulars of his boyhood. We have to read the same jokes and snarky comments repeatedly. As separate essays, this isn't a problem. But it sure gets boring when you jam all those essays together.
A second problem is his fawning over players. There are several times when he simply gushes about how great Mark McGwire is, without even a glance at the obvious role steroids played. And, no, I'm not looking with 20/20 hindsight. If you looked at McGwire during his heyday and didn't think of steroids, you're just oblivious. Unfortunately, Gould was oblivious. More amusing was his blind faith that Chuck Knoblauch would soon conquer his tragic case of the
yips. (Not to suggest that what happened to Chuck was amusing. Make no mistake, Chuck was an ass, but he was also a damn fine ballplayer.)
The third problem is his wordiness. He takes far too long to explain simple concepts. The worst offender is his essay on why there will never be another .400 hitter. Want to know why? Here's why:
Baseball modifies the game itself to keep the average batting average at .260. As the sport continues to mature, average players get better while the very best hit a wall. This decreases the gap between the average and the very best. Because the game is continually modified to keep that average player at .260, even the very best players can no longer reach .400. In short, the game is graded on a curve and the improvement of average players blows the curve.
Now, that isn't a quote from the book. Oh, no. That's my quick paraphrase. The book contains a long essay to explain a fairly simple concept. Towards the end, there's some interesting statistics to back up the argument, but by then I was so bored I really didn't care.
Fourth is his overuse of religion. Jesus, the guy uses Christian religious examples all the goddamn time! It's not that I mind religious mentions, and, in fact, they often work great as baseball metaphors. But they're sprinkled everywhere, and the guy isn't even a Christian. It's not that he's making any fun of religion. He'sn't. (Double contraction of
He is not.) It's just that his frequent use seems, I dunno, weird? Disrespectful in its assumption of the culture of others? Maybe it's just me. I wasn't offended. I just found it weird. It detracted from the content.
The one time it really worked was in talking about Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame Museum, and the hybrid of cultural and historical artifacts. Admittedly, this one was a good essay.
Fifth, book reviews! Apparently, the last third of the book is just his reviews of other baseball books. I read the first one. It's not great; it's not horrible. It's, frankly, about on par with my book reviews. But mine are free. This was the point at which I decided to read something else.
A decade ago, I wrote up this little page and stuck it on the Obsolete Computer Museum. I'm handing the Museum over to more capable hands, so I'm preserving this page in this post.
What's the Magic Number in baseball? It's simply the number of games that the team leading a division needs to win to ensure winning the division. If you're leading the division with ten games remaining and your Magic Number is three, you only need to win three of those ten games to ensure winning the division. Each time you win, your Magic Number goes down by one. Each time your nearest divisional competitor loses, your Magic Number also goes down by one. When your Magic Number hits zero, you've clinched the division.
You calculate your Magic Number by looking at the number of games remaining in the season and assuming that your nearest competitor will win all of their remaining games. Then you see how many games you still need to win to ensure the division title even with your nearest competitor winning all their remaining games.
Since the mighty Minnesota Twins are still atop the AL Central, I thought I'd start tracking their Magic Number. So I searched around on the web and found two different methods of calculation.
One method, endorsed by Major League Baseball is to take the number of games remaining for the division leaders, add 1, then subtract the difference in the number of losses between the leaders and the second place team. In other words:
M = G1 + 1 - ( L2 - L1 )
Another method, which I read on the web here, starts with the number of games remaining for the second place team, again adds 1, then subtracts the difference in the wins between first and second place. Or:
M = G2 + 1 - ( W1 - W2 )
So, is either formula better than the other, or are they equivalent? And how am I just supposed to know how many games these teams have left to play? Well, we can replace the number of remaining games by the total number of games in the regular season (162) minus the number of games played so far, which is just wins plus losses.
For the Major League formula, this becomes:
M = ( 162 - ( W1 + L1 ) ) + 1 - ( L2 - L1 )
Which expands to:
M = 162 - W1 - L1 + 1 - L2 + L1
The L1 cancels out, and the 162 and 1 combine, to leave:
M = 163 - W1 - L2
For the second method, we get:
M = ( 162 - ( W2 + L2 ) + 1 - ( W1 - W2 )
Which expands to:
M = 162 - W2 - L2 + 1 - W1 + W2
In this case, the W2 cancels out. The 162 and 1 still combine, leaving us with:
M = 163 - L2 - W1
Which is exactly what we ended up with using the Major League formula.
In closing, the Magic Number for a division-leading Major League Baseball team is simply 163 minus the number of wins the first place team has, then minus the number of losses the second place team has:
(More detailed information about baseball standings and number is available from the RIOT Baseball Playoff Races.)
Baseball can be a weird business. As of this moment, the best all-around Minnesota Twin is Drew Butera. He leads the team in batting average with .360. But that's not all. During today's blowout loss, they let him pitch the 8th inning, which he managed to get through without allowing a run. So he also has the team's lowest ERA at 0.00.
And the second best Twin? Pitcher Scott Diamond has a 1.40 ERA, which trails only Butera. But he also had a hit during his three plate appearances courtesy of interleague play. His .333 batting average, again, trails only Butera.
Last season, position player Michael Cuddyer also pitched a scoreless inning, giving him a 0.00 ERA for the 2011 season.
So, the Yankees, the team I hate the most, is out of it. And so are the Rays, the AL team I like second best, after my beloved, yet awful, Minnesota Twins. So, for whom do I root now?
In the AL, we have the Tigers vs. the Rangers. One factor is always which team features more former Twins. The Tigers win easily here, since they now have Delmon Young. The trade to the Tigers evidentially triggered something that makes him hit more consistently. Well, good for him.
On the other hand, I've had a long hatred of the Tigers stemming from the 1987 playoffs, before which Sparky said something shitty about the Twins. It was something about the Twins not deserving to be in the playoffs. And then the Twins kicked their collective asses and went on to win the World Series.
On the Rangers' side, we have a complete lack of former Twins. Plus, we have a team once partially owned by George W. Bush. Double plus, they once paid A. Rod more than the entire Twins roster made at the time. (No, that's not an exaggeration. His yearly salary was actually more than the Twins' entire player payroll.)
I guess I'm willing to forgive the Tigers for Sparky talking out his ass. Plus, the fewer games we have to see Dubya sitting in the stands, the better.
On the NL side, things are tougher to decide. I've never really seen the Brewers as rivals to the Twins, despite attempts to portray their interleague play as such. Nor do I hold any ill will towards the Cards from 1987. After all, we beat them, too. And they weren't dicks about it.
So, let's look at former Twins. The Cards have Nick Punto, a favorite player of ours, despite his lack of hitting ability. I'm, frankly, a bigger fan of good defense than I am of good hitting. And Nicky has one hell of a glove. To counter him, the Brewers have Go Go Gomez. And I love watching him play with reckless abandon and unbridled enthusiasm. Dang, it's hard to choose.
So, let's drop down to former Twin pitchers. The Cards have Kyle Loshe, who was a bit of a cry-baby with the Twins. I never really liked him, but he's done well since leaving. I was stumped regarding the Brewers, until I remembered that they have LaTroy Hawkins. Holy crap! He's still playing? Yes. Yes he is. Again, he was a bit of a complainer while a Twin and I never warmed to him, either.
Crap! Still a tie.
Okay, I'll lean towards the Brewers, solely because Prince Fielder reminds me of Kent Hrbek. It's not just that both were/are chunky, power-hitting first basemen. It's because Fielder raises the same question that Hrbek always did. The question? If either of them had gotten in good shape, would that have improved their abilities to a much higher level? Or would it have just ruined their considerable natural ability?
It's kind of like having a kid who just has a knack for playing the piano. You want to encourage that. But will making her take lessons enhance that gift, or potentially ruin it?
So, there we go! I'm rooting for the Tigers and the Brewers!
Who will I take in the World Series? Beats me. That'll be another blog post. Frankly, I'm just happy the Yankees got kicked out in the first round!
We're well into Spring Training and the mighty Minnesota Twins currently have an 11-9 record. And that is damn near perfect!
What? Being a game over .500 is near-perfection? Yes it is.
I have a theory about Spring Training. I think you want your team to have a Spring Training record right around .500 because that's what you get when you're trying out new players.
Teams with really good Spring Training records do well in Spring Training because they lack enough new kids to fill out their roster. They're playing their regulars in a greater ratio than teams with better farm systems. So they're cleaning up in Spring Training against all the other teams' farm-system-laden rosters.
And the teams that do poorly in Spring Training? They're just stuck with minor league rosters who can't even compete against the farm-system-laden-but-not-dominated rosters.
An optimum ratio of regulars to kids results in a .500 performance in Spring Training. Doing better? That's because you don't have enough kids. Doing worse? That's because you don't have enough regulars.
So basically, by my theory, if you're in the top third of the standings in Spring Training, you'll be in the middle third during the season. If you're in the middle third in Spring Training, you'll be in the top third during the season. And if you suck in Spring Training, you'll suck all year.
(Of course, the Royals are 14-6 and are basically all new kids. Hey, it's the
half-assed guess sort of theory, not a scientific theory.)
My analysis of the the Phillies' acquisition of Cliff Lee is as follows:
Bwaa-ha-ha! Suck it, Yankees!
And I'm not even tangentially a Phillies fan.
Battling for the lead in this year's All-Star voting are the Twins' Justin Morneau and the Yankees' Mark Teixeira.
As you could probably guess, the hordes of uninformed Yankee fans are putting Teixeira on top. Just how stupid is this? Take a gander at their respective offensive stats:
|Category||Justin Morneau||Mark Teixeira|
Yeah, that's pretty fucking stupid.
Defensively, it's a wash. Neither has yet to commit an error.
Why is this even close? Because the Yankees are bad for baseball.
I'm so sick of ESPN guys gushing about security tasering that kid at the Phillies game. Look, assholes, tasers are alternatives to deadly force only. If you couldn't shoot 'em, you shouldn't be tasering 'em. End of story.
And then there's all this whining about how we don't know what he was going to do. Look, it's pretty fucking simple. If they run at a player, then worry. If they're just running around like a fucking loon, don't shit yourselves over it. And, if you watch the video, this kid was running around like a loon.
One of the ESPN assholes said
he deserves whatever he gets. Like, can we fuck him in the ass with a baseball bat, scar up his face with spikes, then decapitate him? Would he deserve that? For simple trespass? You fucking ESPN pretty-boy idiot.
And then they all mention Monica Seles getting stabbed in 1993 and the father/son duo running on-field at a Cubs game and attacking a guy in 2002. Yeah, that's two incidents over how many years and how many pro sports games? (Respectively: 17 and a shitload.)
Since the Cubs incident, there have been over 38 thousand regular season MLB games. Should we, based on that, always assume that any dweeb running onto the field is a deadly threat. Ummm, that would be fucking lunacy.
Stupid fucking jocks. Best thing that ever happened to me as a child was hurting my knee and switching from football to speech and debate.
Even the PTI guys blew this one. Although at least they weren't as gleeful.
My cousin Brian added
Tasering shouldn't be an option just because your fat doughnut-eating self can't catch the kid. And he's exactly correct. A taser is a non-lethal alternative to a gun. It's not a convenience tool.
Plus, if I was going to take out a player, I'd drop in front of the dugout and take 'em all out at once while they're sitting down. Or pop one off while he's signing an autograph for me. Or follow him home. I certainly wouldn't run around the outfield waving my arms like a loon.
And the thing is, if this kid had pre-planned harm, then he would have done it differently, too. And if he meant harm, but it was a spur of the moment bit of rage, then the taser wasn't going to be a disincentive anyway.
But it's more than just another overly-zealous use of a taser. The reaction is so typical of America today. When did we become such a nation of bed-wetters where we cheer tasering some kid who ran on the field? Oh yeah, 9/11.
And, as a result, today everyone freaks out too damn easily.
Oh noes! We don't know what he was going to do!
Well, yes, we do know. In all likelihood, he was going to run around like a loon. Stupid, yes. Harmless, nearly certainly so.
But we can't leave it at that. Oh no, not in today's America. Today, we all piss our pants in terror and cheer when security uses a taser.
Stupid fucking ESPN jocks and stupid fucking cowardly over-reacting America.
I was comparing Olympic medal counts today. Of course, we all know that the US has the most, followed by Germany, then Norway.
Feeling all proud about that, fellow Americans? Don't be. Adjust it for population first.
I grabbed the medal counts from the official site on Wednesday afternoon. They may have, of course, changed by then.
If you just look at the medal counts for the top ten countries, the good old USA looks pretty good. But if you take the population of each country and divide it by the medal counts, you get, basically the number of people in each country per medal. Which is a much truer look at how well countries are doing. And if we do that with the top ten, how do things look? Like this:
Wow! The USA gets its ass handed to it, doesn't it? Dead last out of the top ten. I'm guessing that if I included even more smaller countries, we would continue to plummet quite a ways.
The right-most column tells the real story. It's the ratio of how many more people each country needs to win each medal, compared to Norway.
Even second place Austria needs nearly three times as many folks than Norway for each medal it wins.
But look at the USA. We need over 40 times the people than Norway does for each of our medals. We need 11,874,808 people for each medal! That's nearly two and half Norways alone.
Man, we suck at this! And Norway fucking rocks!
Here's the same info as a graph, for the visually-oriented:
And all this doesn't even take into account the Norwegian Curling team's pants.
(A quick post for Matt, Diane, Andrew, and the Wege, while the series is still going on.)
Greta Christina had a clever Facebook status update last week in the wake of the Yankees' sole loss in the series so far:
Yay Phillies! I hope the employees of the corporation arbitrarily representing a city I've never been to continue to defeat the employees of the corporation arbitrarily representing a city I have been to and am very fond of, but where the corporation itself has a history that I have an irrational hostility towards. Go, team!
It led to a nice thread on why folks hate the Yankees. Contrary to popular opinion, it's not jealousy over wealth. (After all, the Pohlad family is much much richer than the Steinbrenners. Team wealth is pegged to TV income, not owner wealth.)
There are, of course, lots of reasons to hate the Yankees:
But the main reason does indeed deal with wealth. The problem is that there are multiple levels to baseball. First, there's individual skill. And the individual Yankees deserve major credit for being individually great. Jeter and A-Rod? Phenomenal players. No doubt about it.
But there are two other other levels that are important to true baseball fans. One level is the managerial level. Managing the Yankees requires no skill. You just throw slugger after slugger up to the plate until you score a shit-load of runs. That's all. Seriously, I could manage the Yankees.
The Yankees' wealth lets them basically avoid developing what is an important skill, team management. And that's bad for baseball and a good reason to hate the Yankees.
The other level is at the team building level. Building a team with limited resources is a skill and an art. The process is fascinating to watch. But, with the Yankees, it's just a matter of pulling out the checkbook and buying up players. Again, there's no skill demonstrated. It's mindless. And it's bad for baseball and, again, a good reason to hate the Yankees.
That's why I have such a hard time understanding folks who root for them. What is there for which to root? The Yankees, as a team, don't embody any of the skills that true baseball fans cherish. They're just a collection of individual talents. And yes, those talents are prodigious. But it's only one third of the game.
And if you're only interested in one third of the game, then you probably like the designated hitter, too.