Saturday, December 15, 2007

Capitalism 101: Fuck the Yankees

Putting together dominant teams by luring in the best performing players with enormous salaries creates an incentive for players to enhance their performance through any means necessary? No shit?

I'm mystified by all the Sturm und Drang surrounding the impact, e.g., Roger Clemens' steroid use will have on "the kids," who are getting the message that it's okay to abase oneself
and risk one's physical health in pursuit of material reward. Yes, using steroids to improve your athletic performance is risky to your health and career prospects. You know what else is? Trying to make a living playing professional baseball.

In terms of eventual outcome, the aspiring pro ballplayer is probably better off washing out sometime early in college, hopefully not by an injury with a severe impact on quality of life. That way you've got your fond memories of high school stardom to look back on, you've got a couple years left to decide on something to study for real, you probably know a couple people who have a shot at the Show (valuable contacts regardless of your own personal future), and you're not staring at the prospect of toiling for years in the minors and never breaking out. True, you'll always wonder what coulda been; but realistically, it probably wouldna.

It's just another example of the US schizophrenia regarding economics and consumerism. Up to a certain point, the quest for material comforts at any cost is the very lifeblood of our nation. Past that, it's a dehumanizing corruption of all that is decent. It comes up in the eternal debates over whether rap music is a positive or negative force in our society (answer: rap music is our society).

"The kids" get the message: everyone's for sale, and your primary goal in life should be to make sure you get a good price when the time comes to sell out. Revelations like the Mitchell Report simply make explicit the tacit implications of our social order. It's no wonder they're so unsettling.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I had no idea.

I was out on my lunch break and stopped by the little tea shop by my house to pick up some key staples (while passing on some others that they also carry). The radio was on in the shop, but since it is my habit to tune out radio broadcasts of anything other than rap music, I wasn't listening to it. Then as the owner was ringing me up he commented that he was hoping listening to talk about baseball would warm him up.

Baseball! They were talking about baseball on the radio! It's the middle of winter! But of course, this is what's known as the "off season," when all sorts of trades happen. So I came right home and checked to see if my beloved Mets were up to anything. And they traded Lastings Milledge!

Reading some of the discussion, a lot of people seem to be concerned with the race angle. I think the notion that the owners or management want a completely non-black team is pretty far-fetched, but I do think it would be worth enduring insults from the slavering racists at the Post (seriously, when did it become common knowledge that Don Imus recorded the first rap record?) to have a shot at bringing up a homegrown African-American superstar.

The small number of blacks in baseball means that the ones who become great have that much more star power. The Mets would have done well to stick with Milledge and try to benefit from that potential, better representing the city and broadening the fan base as they have done with Latino players.

Anyway. Did not expect to be thinking about baseball other than in video games or drawings for several more months. But there you go.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Katie Casey was baseball mad

I finally got around to going by Peter's place to watch the third disc of Ken Burns' Baseball. This was a good one...I think we each only started nodding off once or twice. It started with Ty Cobb, continued on through World War I, and then wrapped up with the Black Sox. Pretty fascinating stuff.

After it was over, we looked up the full lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," sang a few rounds, and then played the trivia game that's part of the special features of each DVD. For the first time so far, we batted a perfect 1.000! I think we only had to guess on like one question.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Drawing

I got some new pens and paper the other day. The paper is just a cheap sketch pad, but at 11" x 14" it's big enough to draw a comic-sized page with bleed at 125% real size. I almost went for the 14" x 17", which would let me draw at 150% real size, but I don't really have the desk space to even use that, so I decided not to bother.

The pens include the Japanese Pentel brush pen that everyone loves. It's fun, but it does put down a ton of ink and I'm still pretty shaky with it. The bristles are really infinitely better than the crappy felt-tipped "brush" pen I was using before. I also got some smaller sizes of the regular Pigma pens, and then I stole a Sharpie from work.



I just wanted to block out and draw a full page on one sheet, and I think Peter inspired me to do a little baseball scene. I'm not working on a longer baseball story or anything: I just wanted to try out the format, and a squeeze play seemed like something I could portray on a single page that would cohere in the absence of a larger narrative context while also giving me a couple interesting backgrounds and figures to draw from a few different angles and positions (nh).

I'm not sure the three bottom panels really make sense the way they're drawn. It might work with color (panels brighter than the background?), or it might be something I'd have to do over.

Update: Those last three panels kept bugging me, so I went back and fixed them. I cut a piece of the same sketch book paper down to fit in my printer, blew the image back up to 125%, and just printed out the bottom part, landscape mode, in very light cyan. I only reinked the panel borders and the parts inside the old panels, then scanned it back in, lined up the new layer, and erased the unneeded lines.



I should have done this as a new post, rather than an update, just so I could title it "Back to the Old Drawing Board...Literally!" Oh well. I just noticed that I left the catcher as bare line art, and it looks kind of out of place. I'm not planning on fixing that, but if I do then I guess I have a title for the blog post.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Whee, baseball!

After brunch yesterday, a couple of my usual cronies went by to play with Gabe's Wii (nullus). Peter immediately noticed that the sports game had a baseball mode or level or whatever.

Andrew: Oh, Baseball's really boring.
Me: I know baseball's boring. That's why I like it.

Needless to say, Peter and I played at the first opportunity. He took an early lead with a single-run homer in the bottom of the first. I tied it up in the next inning and left a man stranded, but then fanned three batters to end the inning. I went scoreless in the third, and then Peter stepped up and won the game with a two-run walk-off home run. Pretty dramatic! I believe I hit for .222 and struck out five or six batters.

One funny thing was that Peter was striking me out throwing the same outside breaking balls that earned him so many K's in the wiffleball park.

I was also no good at Boxing. Video games!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

More Baseball, and other stuff

Peter came over on Tuesday night with the second disc of Ken Burns' Baseball and we enjoyed it alongside some beers and Middle Eastern food. The further hijinx of tremendous asshole John McGraw—on the one hand carrying a piece from a noose used in a lynching for good luck, on the other (?) hand trying to sneak a black player onto his team by calling him "Chief John Tokohama," supposedly an Indian—were of course entertaining, but the highlight for me were the clips from a DeWolf Hopper recitation of "Casey at the Bat," a poem whose charms have always eluded me.

The pictures in the Wikipedia entry show him as a young man, and it says he was only thirty when he first performed the poem. But given that that was well before the turn of the century, I suppose it isn't surprising that by the time the film used in the documentary was recorded, he was pretty creepily ancient. I wish I could find a YouTube of it, but his lipstick alone is spine-tingling, and that's before he even begins his Cryptkeeperly melodramatic delivery. Ugh. I can't tell if the repulsiveness of the performance indicates the wide gulf between what was then and what is now considered entertaining, or if rather it suggests an element of the freak show in vaudeville that modern audiences only look for in reality television.

Hm, Wikipedia also says Hopper had (at least, I suppose) six wives. Interesting that as I watched the clip, some of my thoughts were along the lines as "so sad that this is what gays once had to resort to to make a living."

On the topic of oldish film clips (and gays, and tremendous assholes), a blog discussion of a debate on 9/11 conspiracy theories led me to discover clips from one of a series of debates between William Buckley and Gore Vidal during the 1968 presidential election. So many awesome things about these.

First, I love the rhetoric. Buckley's intimations of treason are of course not so different from what we hear from the bloodthirsty right today, with standard issue red-baiting standing in for contemporary accusations of Saddam-loving and terrorist-loving. But Vidal's side, damn. I realize that this one debate, taking place as it did during the unrest of the Chicago Democratic Convention, is unique even for the time, but the idea that the whole issue of the debate is framed from the beginning as essentially "yes or no: we are now living in an authoritarian police state" speaks volumes. Coming from a world in which Russ Feingold's is a champion of the left for quietly opining that perhaps millionaires should not be able to buy their way into political office, it's refreshing (and depressing) to see that national television once made room for a genuinely left-wing point of view. Vidal is still around, but he's so old

Second, there is the part where the two "nearly come to blows," as it seems to always be described. It is basically just Gore Vidal calling William Buckley a "crypto-Nazi" and then Buckley calling Vidal a "queah" and threatening to punch him, but it is awesome. Again, you have to love the willingness to casually accuse someone of harboring fascist tendencies. Try to get a public intellectual (do such beasts still roam the world?) to apply the f-word today to even such a worthy target as, say, Rudy Giuliani. Here's the episode from YouTube:



Finally, it's fascinating to hear conservative cant from a source other than a faux cowboy jes' talkin' common sense. This predates the conservative movement's rebranding as an ideology of the working man. It's the same apologetics for the rich and powerful, but actually voiced by someone who is unabashedly rich and powerful. Which should be the most straightforward thing in the world, but because of how successful the right wing has been in burying the realities of the movement, it comes across almost as a put-on. Clearly this upper-class twit cannot really be a Nixon supporter.

Also while looking for those videos, I found a two-part debate from 1969, between Buckley and Noam Chomsky. The subject was US imperialism and interventionism, and how the two might be distinguished, if indeed they can be. Again, you have to love Buckley's shameless effete upper-classness. Chomsky comes across, appropriately enough, as a real professor type just trying to get down to the hard facts of the matter, in stark contrast with Buckley's high-flown rhetoric. It's in two parts:





The old-fashioned days, guys. So awesome.

Monday, October 29, 2007

All the rest of baseball

I forgot to post about watching game deuce, which we also did at Floyd. It was much more exciting than the first, of course. I didn't see any of the last two games, just overhearing some TV viewers' cheers during a party on Saturday and then catching only the final pitch as I came home last night from another. Would have been nice to have had more of a contest, I think, but at least the sad, misguided Yankees fans of the world will be upset. The Red Sox are now beating them 2-0 in World Series this century.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Red Sox vs. Rockies

Peter and I enjoyed a viewing of the baseball starting in the fourth or so...I remember Varitek had just driven in two runs on a ground-rule double as Peter arrived.

I had the idea that Jason Varitek might be a bit on the tall side for a catcher, but none of the baseball stats sites had a search by height. Then google provided me with only a handful of players thus described, all measuring in at 6'4" or 6'5", so I guess Varitek's 6'2" is considered within normal parameters. Ah well.

Not really too exciting of a game. Seeing all those Boston runs scored with two already out brought back some painful wiffleball memories, as Peter helped me remember. I did enjoy Matt Herges's relief pitching (nullus). He seemed to be throwing a lot of dramatical curves.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Do I have to support my League?

So this is hilarious that Rudy[eez-nutz] Giuliani[eez-nutz] is now claiming to be a Red Sox fan. I like also that the Republican fascists at his hate rally applauded him for it. Or, more likely, they applauded the (again, hilarious) spectacle of a Yankee[z-nutz] fan shaming himself. Beautiful.

But in the TalkLeft thread there is this idea I have never heard about before, that when your team fails to make or gets eliminated from the playoffs, you're then supposed to support whoever wins your league, the exception being crossing the lines of the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry.

But I don't want to root for the National League, because a) I don't really care about the Rockies, b) I have lots of friends from Boston, c) I also like the Mariners, so I can choose which league I root for in the Series, and d) a Red Sox win would piss off Yankees fans and force them to throw away their "1918 - 2004 - 2090" t-shirts, which event must be considered a universal Good.

So, go Red Socks.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Red Sox vs. Indians

Some friends and I managed to watch most of Boston's ALCS win on the big screen at Floyd's. The Cleveland fans sitting in front of us made themselves scarce around the seventh inning, I believe.

We had a good discussion about the Indians' horribly racist "Chief Wahoo" emblem, and this morning Peter came across a good blog post on that topic.

I was also going to post an update to my last entry, but I think the embedded map has confounded Blogger and I can't seem to edit the post. I wanted to note that my defeat in wiffleball yesterday was not as bad as the 22-0 drubbing the New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club experienced at the hands of a bunch of cricket players in the first officially recorded baseball game in history. Thank you, Ken Burns, for providing me with some historical perspective.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More Wiffleball, Baseball

Peter and I played a seven-inning wiffleball rematch yesterday. Cadman Plaza was full of people, so we headed down to DUMBO and found a great spot in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.


View Larger Map

Somewhere around the fourth inning, Peter figured out how to hit my high faster pitches, and I just fell apart. With the wind at the batter's back, fly balls were more often doubles and triples than anything catchable, and I was only able to get swinging strikes off my changeup. Meanwhile, no sooner had I learned to stop chasing the high and away sliders Peter had relied on for K's last week, than he started fanning me on the inside breaking balls, plus a wicked off-speed pitch of his own. It was brutal. If I don't start getting some more movement on my full-speed pitches, I don't think I'll be able to compete. When the carnage was complete, I believe it stood at 23 runs to only 3. Though, understandably, I may have missed one or two in there. Ouch.

Afterwards we took up some food from Rice and went over to Peter's to watch the first disc of Ken Burns' Baseball, which was so awesome. I thought it would be dull, but of course it was just hilarious and actually really informative. The labor stuff is fascinating. I love the implicit critique of state capitalism in the history of America's pasttime. I was disappointed to hear about the National League's puritan bourgeois history: the American "beer and whiskey" League sounded like much more my speed. The first disc only got us through the turn of the century, so I don't know what would eventually lead the AL to stray to evils such as the DH rule, not to mention the hated Yankees.

Meanwhile, there was apparently some actual baseball being played yesterday. Sounds like it was dramatical!

Oh, and I did a little illustration of a character I came up with called The Umpire. He's a villain or antihero type who casts judgment on people and vigilantifies their asses with a chest protector. SO AWESOME RIGHT. I wasn't sure how to show someone wielding a shield-type implement, so I did an image search and did the pose after this still from Captain America. Lines need some cleaning up, but I think you get the idea:

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wiffleball!

On Saturday Peter and I hit up the new artificial turf at Cadman Plaza for a little wiffleball:


View Larger Map

Or that was the plan, anyway. We traded one- and two-run innings for a bit until I broke out and took a 9-4 lead in the top of the fourth. A scoreless fifth, and then Peter came back with nine runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, a 13-9 lead. We hadn't decided on an official game length beforehand, so I kept asking for just one more chance to come back, and before we knew it we had played through the top of the ninth, with Peter taking it 16-9.

We were playing with no strike zone and no balls, and no strikeouts on fouls. So aside from a few short at-bats where the ball was put into play early, most of them were easily going to ten or fifteen pitches. I think we probably each must have thrown around 250 pitches.

You don't really think "physically exhausting" when you think of wiffleball (or I didn't), but after more than three hours of playing I was spent. I crashed pretty early, and was really sore yesterday. Not just my entire arm and shoulder (which still hurt today), but even my legs and "core." I had no idea.

It was super fun, though. We were both getting a bit of movement on our pitches, and Peter got me to chase his riser many times (nullus). I did benefit from his tendency to look way too sneaky and then crack up whenever he tried a knuckleball.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ouch

That was ugly. RIP 2007 Mets.

I will never believe in anything again.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Mets vs. Marlins

So painful. A rare treat really, as recently we've only been able to watch a single Mets starting pitcher blow it in each game. Perez was unbelievable. Really, though, that 7-4 score was up there a long time, and our bullpen held it down while the offense failed to deliver. It's always one or the other.

Hats off to the Phillies. I mean, screw them one level, but it also sucks to have it come to a point where a team that's worked so hard needs to fuck up for my poor, hapless Mets to succeed. That's just the way of things, I suppose.

Dallas Penn had some good video clips from his birthday at Shea, where he sold his "Vote For Pedro" t-shirts to get money for a ticket. Bummer about the game.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mets vs. Nationals

Oh man, what a brutal game. Once again, solid-looking offense that still fails to deliver while our pitching falls apart. Pelfrey was looking so good at the beginning. It just seems weird that the Mets could outhit Washington and yet end up nine runs down. I mean, we had a bunch of walks, but nine runs' worth? I guess we were making hits when they didn't matter, while the Nats made theirs count. And how is Ronnie Belliard so good against the Mets defense?

One of the viewer questions answered by the broadcast team was about the OPS offensive stat, which I hadn't heard of before. At first it sounded pretty reasonable from a math standpoint—a sum of two percentages, which isn't extremely rigorous as far as quantifying events, but comes pretty close for disjoint events (e.g., the percentage of days in which I play tennis plus the percentage of days in which I play squash is very close to the percentage of days in which I play racquet sports, since I don't play other racquet sports and very rarely play both in the same day) and is very easy to calculate.

(I don't have a problem with the loose application of terms like "average" and "percentage" in baseball stats. Bad assumptions about what these kinds of terms say about the underlying data is already a huge problem in the general population's understanding of things like economic data ("the median income is rising!"), so the more we can encourage people to think about what dynamic is actually driving a given number, whether it's called "average" or "percentage" or something else, the better.)

But if you actually start to think about what the two stats that are added together to get OPS, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, actually stand for, the meaningfulness of it starts looking a little questionable.

Slugging percentage is pretty straightforward: it's a hitter's total number of bases gained on hits, divided by their at-bats. As a predictive metric, that's easy to understand: we should expect a player slugging .500 to get about five bases in ten at-bats. The stat appears to say something very simple about a player's hitting ability, and only their hitting ability. In statistical terms, it's the expected value of bases a runner will hit for in an official at-bat.

On-base percentage is a little more subtle. It's a ratio between two multiple-term expressions, but basically what it boils down to is, absent any mistakes or decisions made by a manager or a defensive player other than the pitcher, how likely is it that a given batter currently at the plate will end up on base? This means that on-base percentage incorporates some offensively valuable metrics—the ability to draw a walk, for example—that are not accounted for by slugging percentage. But note also that, statistically, on-base percentage is a probability, not an expected value.

So what do these things say about a player when they're added together? By the admission of the people who came up with OPS, nothing real. But the OPS does represent something like "offensive value" that neither on-base nor slugging percentage captures on its own: a given player may get more extra base hits than another, but their greater ability to draw walks means that in the end they bring a similar offensive value to the team.

Is there a more meaningful way of calculating that same information? I'm not sure. Wikipedia makes it sound as though OPS was conceived as a more easily calculated alternative to SLOB (the product of the two stats instead of the sum) and "runs created" (the product of SLOB and at-bats). Simple addition "works" as an alternative because the two statistics are of the same order of magnitude. But neither SLOB nor runs created deals with the problem of trying to combine an expected value and a probability.

I might prefer instead to replace the "hits" term in the numerator of the on-base percentage with the "total bases" value used to measure slugging. The resulting figure would be a valid expected value, but taking into account plate appearances, such as walks, that are excluded from official at-bats. At the very least, we should no longer allow difficulty of calculation to limit the statistics used for comparing aspects of play. There may be any number of reasons for eschewing SLOB, but the fact that it requires a sliderule to determine should not be among them.

Anyway, all of that aside, OPS as a measure of offensive value reminds me of IQ as a measure of human intelligence. Indeed, there is even a statistic called OPS+, which measures on-base and slugging percentages against the park-adjusted totals for the league, and then scales them so the league average is at 100. A player with an OPS+ over 150 could be said to have a genius-level offense, while one with an OPS+ of 50 might be considered an offensive imbecile.

In fact, the original purpose of OPS+ was to identify challenged players who required extra instruction during batting practice. Then later it was misapplied in an attempt to demonstrate that Negro League batters were innately inferior to their Major League counterparts. (Okay, this paragraph is made up.)

OPS and OPS+ are useful metrics for comparing the offensive abilities of different players. OPS+ probably correlates pretty well with RBI and does a fair job of predicting career runs, not to mention player salary. A pocket calculator with access to the statistics could be programmed to organize starting batting orders strictly by OPS+ and probably come pretty close to making the same decisions as a Major League manager. If you had to guess which non-pitchers (nullus) on an A-class rookie squad would go on to make the big leagues, you could probably do worse than to pick the group of players whose OPS+ figures are over, say, 125.

And yet, OPS is not something unknown that we've managed to measure with some sort of test and then stuck with because it's just so damn useful. There's no mystery behind what OPS "is": it's just something we've defined arbitrarily, this formula of different well-understood concrete statistics cobbled together, and which we know for a fact has no intrinsic meaning except as an abstraction. It's a convenience, a tool for making comparisons without having to get into the fine details of the fundamental attributes (both inborn and learned) like upper body strength, mental reaction time, experience at the game of baseball, and sprinting ability, many of which might prove difficult to measure, if not impossible. We would be mistaken to take the utility of OPS as evidence of an underlying phenomenon of the baseball player body, some organ the fitness of which determines offensive ability.

Implicit in our OPS-centered discussion of "offensive value" is the knowledge that no single figure can hope to sum up all of what makes a given player valuable in an offense, and that real offensive value is only truly meaningful in the context of an actual in-game situation. We have no reason to consider the existence of "general offensive ability" anything other than a statistical abstraction; and certainly not as the product of some "general offensive ability factor" behind all the various quantifiable and non-quantifiable aspects that figure into offensive value.

With one exception, everything that I've stated about OPS and OPS+ applies analogously to IQ. Both can be useful metrics for making comparisons, can be used to estimate or predict more concrete information to which we may not have access, and can lead to poor decision-making when misapplied or taken out of context. The exception is that whereas we can say exactly how we determine OPS, how the actual figure, devoid of intrinsic meaning though it may be, is calculated from raw data. In contrast, we have no real idea what an IQ test measures. We call it "intelligence," but there's no breakdown in terms of rates of neural activity, or brain volume, or anything measurable beyond the fact that it correlates with a bunch of other things to an extent that we find it useful in making comparisons and predictions. We give it extrinsic meaning, but there is still nothing at all to believe that IQ "is" anything, that it comes from anywhere, that it is anything other than a statistical abstraction, like OPS+, useful to us only because our limited minds cannot deal with the whole array of information, some of it perhaps not even quantifiable, that lurks behind that single figure.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mets @ Marlins

Some great baseball this weekend! Yesterday's game wasn't particularly suspenseful, but Oliver Perez was incredible and it was just fun to watch. Today's contest was exactly the opposite. What did the Mets go through, nine pitchers? Crazy. Great game, great win.

In other sporting news, Peter and I picked up a wiffleball set after brunch today. We got to throw the ball a round a little bit before he had to take off for his hockey game. I'm at about 50% with some shoulder pain, and as a result the ball and I were not matching on the issue of control. Other than that, we were both (me and Peter, not me and the ball) able to get some movement. Can't wait to find some time and space to play a bit of a game!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mets @ Nationals

I watched through the top of the fifth, so I got to see my Mets playing solid baseball and taking the 4-2 lead.

At that point I went over to S     's to watch not just Top Chef this time, but also Gossip Girl, which was premiering the hour before and which I think she will also be recapping each week. This time, in addition to a bowl of delicious guac, she had also prepared a tasty peach sals. Friends Kate and Peter were also there, and everyone brought beer, so it was a fun evening.

Gossip Girl was pretty terrible, and not in the way that I think it could become a guilty pleasure of mine, but just in the way that I do not want to see any more of it. I don't really understand the appeal of stories about the lives of the ultrarich, except as targets of satire (that may be going over my head in this case), but I guess there has always been a solid demand for this kind of thing. I was sort of hoping that the cultural milieu might have been shifting in favor of the class-conscious Veronica Mars type of show, but it looks like not.

The paper-thin conceit of making the omniscient narrator a blogger is an embarrassingly transparent grasp for relevance that is already dated. Likewise the "kids these days, with their texting!" gags (does that count as satire?): the current crop of college kids are of the constantly texting and blogging and IMing cohort, so this gee-whizziness is about half a decade late. The depiction of the kids' hedonistic partying somehow manages to be simultaneously hysterical (will there be a rainbow party this season? I wouldn't put it past them) and naïve (drinking champagne and casually abusing...marijuana?).

Anyway, it irritated me. I'm sure it will be a hit.

Top Chef was pretty awesome, at least. I think it's interesting how the regular judges and the single-episode guest judges differ in how they evaluate the dishes. Really I think it's just the difference between having some idea of how each chef approaches different challenges, versus the guest judges coming at it with a blank slate as far as expectations. I don't really have a specific example, but it seems like the guests are more likely to issue judgments that come as a surprise to repeat viewers and regular judges.

There is also an interesting dynamic where Tom looks like he's holding off on saying anything concrete, lest he be contradicted by a guest judge that the show has already established as a voice of authority. It then seems like he'll try to massage the guest's opinion to match up with his own. Again, no really hard example, and I'm just interpreting facial expressions and stuff at various points.

It's been a couple years since I've watched Project Runway, which I think was the loose model for this show, but as I remember it, all the judges would score entries numerically on secret ballots beforehand, and only then would they hold a verbal discussion and then take a final vote. I may be wrong about that, but either way it would be a better mechanism, I think. Also making the entries anonymous would be a more fair approach, as I think it's pretty unavoidable that the regular judges establish attitudes towards different competitors that cannot help but color their subsequent judgments. I understand that these changes would reduce the producers' ability to direct the competition for maximal dramatic effect, but I would hope that the added credibility of the competition would make up for that, especially among regular viewers and fans.

But again, what do I know about television.

Wow, it has been several paragraphs since I typed anything about baseball. So I will bring it home by noting that I have finished "sharing" the episode of Little House on the Prairie that Peter told me about, where the plot centers around playing old-timey baseball. It's called "In the Big Inning" (groan). Not sure when I'll get around to watching it, but there you go.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mets @ Nationals

Wuuuugh. John Maine. Can't believe it. When he shows up with his A game the rest of the team can't hold it together, and when the offense is delivering he blows up. Nuts! Fun ninth, though...so close. Big psychological hit though, this one, I'd think.

Wiffleball

I've been feeling like I want to play some wiffleball lately. I had been thinking that it might not be very fun without any baserunning, which I think is one of the most interesting parts of baseball. But as I thought about more, the level of any baseball I would conceivably be playing is not such that anyone would be executing a hit and run. So something like wiffleball actually makes a lot of sense. Yes, I'm a genius.

So I've been reading about different junk pitches one can throw with a wiffleball, and it sounds super fun. I found this ridiculous video of a dude throwing knuckleballs:

I also found this product for sale, the Junk Ball. I'm not even really sure what the thing is, but the customer testimonials there are incredible. This is from the very first one on the page:
I can beat my dad and friend all the time with junk ball! I'm the BIG DOG and I'm gonna hit a Doggy Ding Dong Bomb!!!!!!!!!!
You cannot argue with that. Actually it sounds awesome.

Yes, I am looking at YouTube videos of wiffleball junk pitches to distract me from the Mets game. Come on, guys!

Uh, Mets?

The Nationals? What? Don't make me nervous.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Red Sox vs. Yankees

Last night some friends and I went over to Max's place to watch the hated Yankees play at Fenway. Sachar brought delicious sandwiches from the unfortunately named Columbine, and as the Red Sox saw their lead crumble before their eyes, we turned to paper airplanes to soothe our pain. What started as a challenge in aeronautical engineering quickly became a fashion shoot, as we all tried to get our likenesses captured in mid-throw. Hopefully the photos will all be available on the internets soon.

Also the Cyclones lost, so my tickets to what would have been today's deciding game will be refunded. And I believe my Mets lost as well, though I don't think that really matters at this point. And the Mariners appear to have won, but I'm pretty sure they need Yankees losses more than their own victories, so that's thin gruel.

Baseball!

Update: Max posted the pictures. Amazing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Cyclones @ Doubledays

I listened to most of the first game of the New York–Penn League championship series via internets radio last night. What's to be said, we just pretty much got out-pitched. Dillon Gee pitched an awesome start, but when you aren't scoring runners then that's a lot of pressure to leave to your bullpen.

Friends came over for a TV watching party, so I only heard part of the carnage in the eighth. Hopefully we'll do better tonight at home!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Where's my Cyclones at?

Why is SNY not showing game one of the NYPL championship series tonight? Sure it's just single-A, but there's no Mets game tonight, no live coverage of anything in the 7-10 slot, and they're playing for the freaking championship. I realize the 'clones don't have a camera crew and broadcast team that travels around with them everywhere, but they do televise the odd game so it's not like they can't work something out. Ah well.

Also, I've had so much going on lately, I never got to see them play with Ramon Castro on rehab assignment. I'm not sure if he's still going to be playing with them even.

Mets vs. Braves

I caught the first half of the Mets game on TV. It was good to see John Maine get in trouble but then recover for a change. He didn't get the win, but just seeing him have such a bad run in the fourth, and then be able to rein it in and settle down was reassuring. Shawn Green's hitting against Smoltz was pretty entertaining, and then it was pretty funny when he caught Smoltz's hit to add insult to injury. It's too bad I missed his game-winning RBI in the eighth. He's a good egg.

During the game, the broadcasters also mentioned that the Phillies had started their game off with a triple play, so this morning I looked around to find out what happened. Story here, video worth checking out.

I cut my viewing short to grab a burrito and head over to S     's house to watch Top Chef. Social interaction must always trump TV, even baseball on TV, and watching TV with another living human being counts as social. These are my rules. Not only did she have beers for me to consume, but she even whipped up a badass guac for my burrito (that is not a euphemism for anything, it was literally guacamole that I put on my chicken burrito). So now I owe her for Mets tickets and guac. The debt mounts! And here's her recap. I liked the show a lot, but her recaps are probably better.

And one final thing, which I don't know why I didn't link to this earlier, but Dallas Penn has made "Vote For Pedro" shirts. Awesome idea.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mets vs. Braves

S      did indeed hook me up with tickets to last night's game, so I got to enjoy my poor, hapless Mets going down in defeat, 78-2. Sachar came along and the seats were really good! I snapped this picture before the game got underway, as El Duque came to take the mound (nh).



The cloud-obscured sunset provided a nice backdrop for this view of the construction equipment for Citi Field:



About halfway through the fifth inning people began leaving in droves. Friend Lee had even better seats from work and had spotted some empty ones nearby, so we moved down closer to the field to watch the massacre continue:



Pretty awesome! In this picture you can just make out Gary Cohen's shiny dome:



Sachar and Lee react to another brill Mets play:



Reading the game coverage today, I realize that I'm an idiot. I had been referring to this as Hernandez's second post-injury start, whereas it was actually his first. It sounds like everyone is taking his performance in stride, but I still would have liked to see him get a win.

Other than the actual game, it was a totally fun first visit to Shea. Sachar and Lee grew up going to Mets games and know their baseball. I always have fun trying to speculate about stuff that doesn't make sense when I've gone to games with Peter (how can the broadcasters tell what pitch he just threw?) or Kate (what's "BB" mean?), but people who actually know what they are talking about are good resources to have available.

On a related note, did you know that a bag of peanuts is supposed to be six servings? Ugh. I pretty much eat a whole bag every time I attend a game. And the ones at the Mets and Cyclones games are really salty and delicious (nullus). Ugh ugh. I had enough salt that my calf cramped up painfully in the middle of the night. That's a salt thing, right? Maybe in the future I will try to smuggle my own, smaller sack of nuts into the game.

Anyway, mad propers to S      for the tickets and to Sachar and Lee for the entertaining company. I will never forget my first time to a Mets game.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mets vs. Astros

I got home from a weekend biking in Chicago (a 10-person century ride on Saturday) just as the game was starting, so I tuned in with my television set to watch Pedro's first post-injury start at Shea. He shut out Houston for five innings for the win (ftw?) and the final game of the sweep. I did end up leaving to meet friends at the park during the seventh, but I caught all the runs. Which I always say are not the important part, but dammit, sometimes they are.

During a snack break near the U of Chicago campus on Saturday's ride, I checked in with MLB-GO for a score update and announced to all present my Mets' victory over the Astros on that day. Friend Andrew was quick to berate me for distributing this information to an audience even less interested in Mets scores than I would have had back in NY. But our friend Nate (originally from Cleveland, schooled in Cincinnati, currently residing in Chicago) chimed in to say that he was a Mets fan and was glad to hear the game outcome! Mets Nation, everybody!

Friend S      has come into possession of a pair of tickets to Tuesday's game against Atlanta, so hopefully I will be attending that. Very psyched!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mariners @ Yankees

Andrew and Peter came over to finish boxing up Andrew's and my bikes for our journey to Chicago this weekend. We had the Wankees game on in the background, and I despaired as I watched what appeared to be a repeat of the exact same shit that happened the night before: a perfectly reasonable starting performance, and then just when our offense is about to kick in, the guys start streaming out of the clown-car that appears to have replaced Seattle's bullpen and we are awash in their zany antics. Balls fly hither and thither, batters run in endless circles, scores climb ever upward.

Reading the post-game coverage, I hadn't realized (though I'm sure even the pathetic Yankees broadcasters would have mentioned it) that Molina had caught for Washburn for like three seasons. I hadn't considered that dynamic before. Playing against former teammates always introduces an interesting dynamic (though is anyone who played for the Mariners last night old enough to have been burning A-Rod in effigy in the dugout?), but I had not considered the unique circumstances when a catcher goes up against a former batterymate. I liked Washburn's response, that if anyone has to homer off him, he's glad that it's Molina. Nullus on all of this, of course.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mets @ Reds

John Maine! You let me down again! How's the televised day game supposed to help get me through my work day like that? Joey Votto's first big league hit being a home run was pretty neat, though. I also thought Humber looked good when he first came to relieve, but then he also gave up a couple. The Mets' fielding was pretty disappointing all round, actually. Bah. Two running sweeps was a lot to hope for, I suppose.

And as I type this I'm watching my Mariners having another go at the hated Yankees. GO EMS!

Mariners @ Yankees

It sucks to watch a game slip away like that. I don't know that I agree with the post-game coverage that puts the blame on the M's's third-base coach Carlos Garcia waving Beltre home on Johjima's single, which should have loaded the bases with no out in the fifth. The out at home was disappointing, but you're still left only one run back with two on and one out, and Wang is still "on the ropes" having put three men on base in three plate appearances. Lopez's hitting into the double play seems like it should bear at least equal responsibility for the failure to capitalize.

And the bullpen was just embarrassing. So frustrating. Fuck the Yankees.

At least the Mets dominated.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cyclones vs. Yankees

Our friend Sachar hooked us up with free tickets to Monday's day game against the Yankees, so Peter and I roused ourselves in the early light of morn (I was still reeling from a late night of partying the night before) to bike down to KeySpan. It was a beautiful day, and our last chance to catch the Cyclones hosting Staten Island in the regular season.

At some point during the game, Peter noted that the two umpires both adopted a wide stance before each pitch. As the pitcher began his motion they would squat down, but for a few seconds they'd just stand there in their wide stances:

Umpires in wide stances

Here are some details:

Infield umpire Plate umpire

Pretty impressive! I tried to watch some of the game in a similar wide stance, but was not able to hold it for very long at all.

The game was really good...there were lots of weird errors by the Yankees and awesome plays by the Cyclones. I was buying hot dogs and missed the 3-6-3 double play that finished the top of the first. I did catch the DP to end the top of the third, when second baseman J.R. Voyles fielded a grounder, tagged out the runner with an awesome spin move and then threw it to first in the same motion. And the Cyclones caught two runners trying to steal second. Pretty sweet.

There was also a weird disputed call. Looking at the game log, I think it had to have been in the bottom of the second. I believe what happened was that Bouchard tried to check his swing on a 3-2 pitch that wasn't in the strike zone, and the plate umpire called him out while the infield ump said he had not come all the way around and it was ball four. So Bouchard took his base and Voyles advanced to second, there was a little discussion, and Bouchard was called out. The Cyclones' manager came out to argue the point, to no avail. Then the Yankees' manager came out to argue that Voyles should have to return to first, since there was no walk. The umpire let Voyles keep second, scoring it a stolen base. Weird!

Towards the end of the game, Peter enjoyed a helmetful of ice cream:

Peter eating ice cream

After the game we went to the beach to fly Peter's kite. I fashioned a parachute device out of some paper clips, rubber bands, and a couple napkins, and we were able to send it up the kite string and have it come drifting gently down onto the beach. Really cool. I didn't get a picture of the parachute, but here's Peter flying the kite:

Peter flies his kite

Update: I put together a little web page about the parachutes we made for the kite.

Update: So Sachar made a video of one of the parachute launches, and I had linked it here because I was drunk and forgot that one could just embed that shit. Check it:

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Disappearance of .400 Hitting

I've been reading this Stephen Jay Gould book, Full House, which is all about how various things in the world that we usually describe as "trends" are in actuality better understood as side effects of changes in statistical variation. One of the two main examples he uses throughout the book is the disappearance of batting averages over .400 over the last century. This "trend" does not represent a decline in hitting ability over time, but rather a narrowing of variation in hitting ability.

As the excellence of play in professional baseball has increased over the years, the difference in ability between the best and worst batters and the best and worst fielders has become smaller. In addition, MLB management has occasionally tweaked the rules to keep the mean batting average essentially constant from season to season. Also, the fact that .000 represents a hard lower limit (you can't have a negative batting average) means that the distribution of averages will skew right. As a consequence of these three factors, the right-hand tail of the batting average distribution curve has been brought in closer: whereas a century or so ago, the handful of batters out on the end of that curve were hitting above .400, that narrower curve now puts them significantly below .400. Here's some graphs showing how the curve has changed shape over the years:



So I've pretty much been thinking of all sorts of trends that may or may not be understood better with this sort of model. One that came to mind this morning was the stock market. It is sort of a general rule that market indexes and averages march ever upward. There are corrections and recessions and stuff, but the overall trend seems to be one of continuous increase. Does this represent a miracle of capitalism, that all firms will tend to gain in value over time, or is it merely a side effect of a widening variation among firms?

I didn't look for historical data—I know that the mean value of publicly traded firms has increased, so all I'm really interested in is the shape of the distribution of firms' values at a single point in time—but I was able to find the current values of all the US corporations listed on the NASDAQ. Here's the histogram showing how many firms are valued in each range (Y-axis is number of companies, X-axis is value in millions of dollars as of market close on 8/31):



It's the same kind of right-skewed curve as with batting averages, which makes sense: $0 represents another hard lower limit on firm value, because a company can't have negative worth without disappearing from the market. Gould talked about the idea of a "drunkard's walk": if a drunk leaves a bar, and is staggering back and forth on a sidewalk between the bar on one side a ditch on the other, then even if he staggers completely randomly (even chance of staggering towards the wall or towards the ditch) then he will still always end up in the ditch.

In the same way, it could be completely random whether a given company increases or decreases in value each day: some firms will move to the right in the distribution curve, some will move left, but the left limit will never drop below zero, and some very few (Microsoft) will inch the right limit further out. There needs be no general tendency for company values to increase, just variation increasing in the only direction it can over time.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the value of a company is random. Just that the shape of the curve could be explained by randomness. To actually demonstrate that it's all random you'd need to track individual firms over time. And in fact I would expect there to actually be tendency to increase in value as a result of the steadily increasing labor pool. But it is interesting that the growing mean value of corporations is not indicative of anything greater than an increase in variability.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mets @ Phillies

What a ridiculous game. Four hours of emotional roller-coastery. So sad to see David Wright have such a great game and have it all slip through their fingers, but I guess that's part of what it means to play on a team. Sometimes one player's transcendent play can make up the difference, and sometimes it can't. And credit to the Phillies, they played excellent baseball up until their bullpen fell apart in the eighth. The Mets took their best shot, but in the end they did not step up as a team. A tough loss.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mets @ Phillies

It's the bottom of the sixth now as I watch some baseball on TV. I do enjoy watching Jamie Moyer pitch (nullus).

Speaking of nullus, on this installment of "Baseball is Gay," someone earlier was talking about Merkle's Boner, and just now Keith Hernandez told us about how much he loves The Rose with Bette Midler.

Update: Specifically, he was talking about when he was in high school and went to see The Rose at the Ziegfeld theater because they had the best sound system.

I haven't been watching baseball!

Looking at my blog posts, it appears that it's been eleven days since I've even caught a game on TV! I have been txting up a storm when I remember that a game is on, but there's just been so many social things going on, and in such good weather, that I haven't sat down to enjoy a broadcast in almost two weeks. I think hanging out with real people in real life has got to trump watching imaginary people play a game on television, so no regrets.

Maybe I will try to view the Mets/Phillies game this evening, perhaps after visiting the gym or going for a post-work bike ride (I'm supposed to be training for a century ride that's coming up). And it looks like I will at least get to see the Cyclones host the Yankees in a day game on Labor Day. The NY-Penn season is almost over! I wonder if playoff tickets will be gettable...it looks like Staten Island is going to take the Wild Card.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Checking Scores via Text

Last night I was having dinner at friend Dorothy's house. Her and Robert had cooked up some amazing medallions of pork in a Tuscan style (I think), served with a salad of asparagus (both colors!), anchovy, and poached egg. It was so awesome.

Anyway, because I am a ridiculous boor, at
one pointseveral points I checked the score of the Mets game, using a service I found out about a couple weeks ago where you text "score Mets" to GOOGL and they text back the current box score a few seconds later. I reported the score to all those who were interested (nobody) and Robert asked how I'd checked it. Robert works for MLB and Dorothy for Google, so I told him that Dorothy was eating his lunch.

So he told me to try texting "Mets" (no "score" required! Think of the time I'll save!) to MLB-GO. I tried it, and damn! It was so much better! Not only do they give you the box score, but you get the names of the pitcher and batter and the current count. And the response fits in a single text message, whereas Google always seems to send me two-page responses.

So there's my plug. It's for a free product of a monopoly, so I don't think my endorsement matters one way or the other. Oh, and my poor Mets fell to the dastardly Padres.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pitching (nullus)

Last night Peter and I had a small bite to eat at the sports bar around the block from my house. Peter had a copy of the latest Times' "Play" magazine, which is like a sports insert they do on Sundays. But it had this cool little article on pitching where Mike Mussina laid out how he pitches in different situations, which pitches he throws and how they work, and how the strike zone has been affected by computer-aided umpire evaluation. The online version is not nearly as cool, because the really neat part of it were the illustrations of the strike zone, where the pitches were thrown in the different batter examples, and the different grips for pitches. Worth checking out, especially if you have the hard copy lying around.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mets @ Nationals

The game is still ongoing. Indeed, it is even at a dramatic point where it is the bottom of the seventh with one out and the tying run at bat (is that how you say it? Dude on base is not the tying run). So I guess this qualifies as "live" blogging, except that instead of talking about what is actually happening in the game—because that information is available on television and radio and the internet—I am going to talk about the broadcasters. Again.

Okay, now the tying runs are on base.

Alright, broadcasters. Are they allowed to drink on Saturdies or something? They seem unusually punchy. I didn't catch how it started, but there have been like nonstop cracks about Gary Cohen's alma mater being Columbia. I guess it's a hippie baiting thing. He was probably an actual Marxist at that time, so I guess it's fair.

And then there was this conversation about what the best kind of stirrups are. "Hey, bet you like those stirrups?" "Those are the ugliest stirrups! We always hated those." I love how often they "dish" on uniforms. Baseball, so gay.

And then there was this part where for some reason (playing in DC?) they showed an Abraham Lincoln bobblehead (I heart USA), and one of them was like "wow, he looks grumpy" or something along those lines. Which, granted, not extremely clever observation. But homeboy's response was: "well, you would have looked like that if you'd been president at that time. Really tough presidency!" Uh, yeah. I guess the worst time to be president is, by definition, the time when the president is being assassinated.

The tying runs were left stranded!

I don't know, maybe I'm misreading the Lincoln thing. The comment only really makes sense as being humorously understated, but it still seemed off. Anyway, those stirrups, don't get me started. And I love the way this guy swings!

Little League World Series

I'm watching Saudia Arabia and Canada on ESPN right now. No pedo. The just had a funny bit where they caught Canada's first-base coach telling the runner on first that, with the bases loaded and two out, he should "run on anything except an infield fly." D'oh.

Williamsport seems like a good place for baseball fans, with the LLWS and a Phillies affiliate in the NY-Penn League.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mets @ Nationals

I watched the Mets play on my TV. Some friends went to the Yankees game to see them play Detroit, so in between innings I'd switch over to that to see if I could catch a glimpse of them. I haven't so far, but the game was rain delayed so it's still ongoing, and maybe I'll luck out. Sadly, the Tiges are not faring as well as my Mets did down in Washington. One more inning, guys, you can do it!

Update: They didn't do it, sadly. Not sure what happened, they just seemed to collapse in the later innings. The effects of that flu, perhaps? But afterwards I did go to karaoke and dedicate a Pearl Jam song to the M's, who pulled out a win as a result. All in all, a victorious day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mets @ Pirates

I watched the first six or seven innings at home, then met up with some of the gang for Brunch Club: Nights and saw the last bit there. My dear New York Mets were I think a run or two behind for most of the game, but they were always putting guys in scoring position, so it was just a matter of time. Well executed.

I was surprised to see El Duque's visible irritation with his play. I guess I haven't seen him run into trouble like that before, and I would have guessed he'd remain stony-faced about it, as part of his whole thing is how intimidating and aloof he seems.

PNC Park looks really cool. Too bad the pinball championships that are held in Pittsburgh don't happen until after regular season play.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Mets vs. Braves

I guess I forgot to post about the game I watched on TV yesterday afternoon. Do I really need to post about each game I watch or listen to? I do. But yeah, my Mets were defeated, I was so sad. Current mood: so sad.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mets vs. Braves and Women Sports Fans

What a game, right? I actually missed the top of the sixth in the transition from living room to the sports bar around the corner, so I don't even know how they got their three runs over on what seemed to be a tight Mets defense throughout. Or until the ninth, anyway. Still, awesome game. No homo on this, but does it count as small ball when the winning run is a homer? Whatever it's called, it's fun baseball to watch.

Unrelated, but a blog post that was somewhat tangentially baseball-related prompted a user comment linking to an older discussion on a (booooo) Yankees fan blog that is more or less about what sexist boors Yankees fans are. No surprise there.

Anyway, I read this several days ago, and aside from thinking that I probably know more women baseball fans than men (and that Peter and I are more likely to discuss the history of uniforms than statistics), I didn't give it much thought. But when I woke up this morning, the phrase the Bronx Banter guy used to characterize the sexist conversation happening around him—"[l]et's make fun of women because they don't have a clue when it comes to sports"—came back to me. What a hilarious thought! And my favorite defense (offered by multiple commenters in the original blog post) is that, well, for at least some sports, most of the knowledgeable fans really are men, so what's sexist about saying so? Even more hilarious!

Grant that the premise is true: women, in general, don't know or care anything about baseball. Well, we could say the same thing about, say, Dungeons and Dragons, or prog rock. Sure, there are dozens of women who play tabletop RPGs or listen to King Crimson, but they are scattered across the population and therefore sparsely represented. These pursuits are hugely male-dominated. But what would we say about a 14th-level paladin who sought to "make fun of women because they don't have a clue when it comes to" rolling for initiative? We would quite rightly identify the speaker as an insufferable dork, a hopeless geek who probably has a chip on his shoulder from not getting laid.

Not only that, but if we perceive that kind of attitude as widespread in the worlds of tabletop gaming, then that perception functions as an indictment of the entire hobby, and women's lack of participation is completely justified, a rational reaction to an environment hostile to women. It's like making fun of black people for not playing golf: this kind of inequity can not only not be made light of, it must actively be lamented, lest the male prog rock aficionado or white golfer immediately be suspected of getting into a hobby because of who it excludes.

But anyway, I don't grant the premise, as men don't at all appear to be overrepresented in the population of sports fans, but merely in the population of people who can only talk about or form relationships over sports. I.e., the population of geeks. Which, yeah, we've had a lock on since probably while most of the cavepeople were out bringing down a mammoth, these two cavedudes were out looking for specimens, making fun of women who didn't know the first thing about stone collecting.

Update: I forgot to mention something I noticed at the bar as I checked out the scores across the rest of baseball. First, watching the Yankees get whooped as my Mets came back to win was a treat. But then Seattle also won while Detroit lost, putting the M's ahead in the AL wild card race. So all my teams won and all my anti-teams lost. Awesome.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Glavine

Managed to catch some of the game at a restaurant. My friends ordered food, but I took my sustenance from nonstop baseball action with a side of sweet, sweet victory. Cool!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mets @ Cubs

Great game. I was really looking forward to this, just from reading about the pitching matchup, and I wasn't disappointed. Zambrano was erratic but fun to watch, and El Duque was great. All around, both defenses seemed to play pretty tight for most of the game. The cracks that started showing in the eighth opened right up in the final inning, and for a minute it seemed like every pitch was another Mets hit. The Cubs seemed like they might be starting a rally in the bottom of the inning, with some sloppy fielding on the part of the Mets, until a double play took the wind out of their sails. A really satisfying and dramatic 6-2 victory for my dear New York Mets.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Unprecedented

Here at work, in my living room, I had the Yankees game on while I was waiting for first pitch in Milwaukee. Haha, the hated Yankees, down eight in the top of the second! And they were bringing on ex- and sub-[M]ariner Mike Myers for one batter! And then they tied it up in the bottom of the second! What!

As the inning came to a close, one of the announcers confirmed that coming back in the second inning after trailing 8-0 was unprecedented in MLB history. Andrew and I were talking about this on Sunday while debating the relative merits of baseball and soccer. Even as I made the argument that something extremely rare or even unprecedented happened in the course of almost every baseball game—and hence, baseball is interesting—I realized that, while true, it was sort of a foolish point.

Baseball is a game of discrete events: there's no timer, you always bat or pitch from the same place, and run from one of three places. This is fundamentally unlike basketball, soccer, or football, which are mostly games of continuous times and distances. Great quarterbacks complete lots of yards of passes, whereas great batters bat in lots of runs. I think this is one aspect of baseball that makes it so uniquely ripe for statistical summary and analysis (another is the sheer amount of gameplay in a season, which provides such a great sample size for statistical measurement).

This essential discreteness is also the reason for the number of unusual events in the game. Or rather, the reason said events are recognized when they happen. To use the sport of the original discussion in an example, a certain sequence of passes in a soccer game, with the participating players in certain places and striking the ball in certain ways, may be highly unusual, or even unprecedented, but spectators are unlikely to identify it as such because there is no system for recording that kind of sequence in an abstract way for later reference.

There is no analogue in most sports for the baseball scoresheet, a succinct account of every important thing that happened in the game. You can report the number of goals scored, the time spent by each team in possession of the ball, and the substitutions made and cards given, but this doesn't convey a complete picture of the game as it was played. Baseball box scores don't either, of course, not completely, but they come a damn sight closer. A detailed pitch-by-pitch scorecard portrays a baseball game nearly as well as a move-by-move written record does a chess match.

The key events of a baseball game can be abstracted, which means they can be recorded, which means they can be remembered. In the end, I don't think it's an unqualified strength of the sport: "chesslike" is not an objectively desirable quality in an athletic competition. But it does distinguish baseball from anything else, and I for one do take pleasure in seeing the unusual happen in nearly every game.

Update: Easley just hit a two-run inside-the-parker. Don't see that every day.

Baseball Buddy

Waiting for friends in the city last night, I decided to look for a place to eat that was showing baseball but wasn't too crowded. I had sort of resigned myself to a bar-n-grill type establishment, so I sort of lucked out when I stumbled across a sort of a hippie fusion place. They were out of the ostrich curry, but the catfish tacos proved a fine choice.

The Yankees were on, and I was sort of annoyingly asking the bartender to change it to the Mets game, forgetting that of course A-Rod was shooting for number 300. But the bartender, himself a Yankees fan, was very accommodating and changed it back and forth throughout the evening. The only other person interested in either game was this guy sitting next to me, who was very friendly. He was also a Yankees fan, and talked a bit of anti-Mets trash, but with both New York teams winning, nobody was really upset. He was from Belize, told me he was a sports fan, an alcoholic, and a marijuana dealer, and he showed me pictures of his 7-day-old daughter on his ESPN-branded phone.

Anyway, no real point to this story. I guess I've had plenty of similar conversations with total strangers...you're hanging out alone and you just start talking to someone about something. Sports is just another hook on which to hang a temporary hat of friendship. Which is fine. And the Mets won.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

More Mets vs. Nationals

I actually watched a fair amount of the rest of Washington's series in Queens. On Saturday, Andrew and Peter and I saw the beginning over brunch at the alehouse, and then Peter and I watched the rest at my house while we threw a little wheel truing party. El Duque! Fun game.

I only saw the first three innings of the night game, but that included Hanrahan's triple in his first big league at-bat, so no complaints. I also only caught the first three innings of Sunday's game, but I guess that was more than half the game. Maine was looking good.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mets vs. Nationals

Moises Alou was back in the lineup, and did okay. My boy Joe Smith has got his ass sent down to New Orleans. And Jorge Sosa had a lot of trouble. 6-2 to the Nationals, not a good look.

The announcers on SNY were hilarious. I guess one of the regular dudes is on vacation, and the fill-in guy seemed fine, but he and the other regular announcer were just sort of sniping at one another the whole time. I mean, sort of subtle stuff, like "Ron would know this," "I know I'm not Ron, but..." So good.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mets vs. Pirates

First pitch at noon, and I was all set to spend a couple hours working in my living room while watching my Mets finish their sweep of Pittsburgh in the background. No such luck! Oliver Perez was doing so good, but then it all went to hell, and there was nowt to be done. My man Joe Smith pitches so cool, but he sure does seem to give up hits whenever he comes in to relieve (nullus). What was it, 8-4 by the end? Bummer.

I liked the shots of the Citi Park construction crew watching the game from the work site. I didn't so much enjoy the shots of John Travolta and Robin Williams, who I guess were actually shooting some crappy scene there and not just enjoying the game. Actually, that could explain the loss...I can't think of a better pair of harbingers of doom than those two.

Monday, July 23, 2007

World Cup Image

I had this idea for my Softball World Cup post, but after dicking around in Gimp for a few minutes, couldn't figure out how to realize my awesome vision. After describing the concept to Peter, who is some sort of Photoshop genious, he recommended using a layer in "Multiply" mode. I gave it another shot today, and now behold, the World Cup:

World Cup

Yes, I'm hilarious. Extra laffs since none of the players in the event that inspired it even wear cups. Maybe the umpires or coaches do. I was also initially a little distressed by the US-centric Earth shot, with America front and center. But actually, that's perfectly appropriate for the event, which has always been completely dominated by the US.

Cyclones vs. ValleyCats

Yesterday my friends Peter and Jen had tickets to the Cyclones, and Peter and I went down separately and met them to watch Brooklyn defeat the Tri-City ValleyCats, 7-3.

I was there early, so I enjoyed a beer in the bar out in front of the ballpark, and watched the end of the Yankees 21-4 victory against Tampa Bay. What the fuck.

When Peter and Jen got there and we went to find our seats, I was still hungry from the bike ride, so I immediately chomped down on a foot-long:

Footlong hot dog with mustard.

Other friend Peter met us a short while later.

The game was cool. Moises Alou started, on rehab assignment from my New York Mets, and played I think eight innings. He got at least one RBI...can you get an RBI while hitting into a double play? So that was cool. I decided to root for reliever Greg Mullens on discovering that he's Canadian and a Columbia alumnus (nullumnus), but then he gave up the first run. Ah well.

Also during the game, they periodically announced our Mets' progress in their extra-innings game at Los Angeles. They managed a win, ending the three-game series 2-1.

After the game we rode the Cyclone, which is insane. I don't do a lot of roller coasters, but this one seems exceptionally violent. Or maybe I'm just getting old. But it was fun. And then Peter and I biked back.

The best way of getting between Coney Island and South Brooklyn by bicycle is sort of an open question, and so we're always trying new routes. Peter's innovation this time was to use the quiet residential streets just East of Ocean Parkway, and it was very fast and safe, so I think we're getting close to nailing down the ideal route.

Back in the neighborhood, we met Andrew at the bar. When I left, my front tire was flat. I should have time to change it before I need to go anywhere else.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mets vs. Dodgers

Last night we hung out at friend Max's house after watching the new Harry Potter. I was so sure they'd be watching the baseball game that when I came in and they weren't, I sort of demanded it be turned on. Then I missed the three winning runs because I was out on the deck talking about the time I watched all three Lord of the Rings extended editions back-to-back and ate like a Hobbit (breakfast before the first disc, second breakfast before the second, elevenses before the third, &c.). I'm all sorts of stupid. But it was fun and my dear Mets of New York got their win.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Video Games

I actually have sort of liked baseball video games longer than I've liked baseball. Which is to say, just slightly, and more in theory than in practice. When my parents got an Apple deuce computer, one of my dad's friends gave him this whole box full of pirated games, and one of them was called like "Ultimate Realistic Baseball Simulator" which for some reason (I was and am retarted) sounded so awesome to 10-year-old me. And it was one of these games where you select the teams and press "enter" repeatedly and there's these primitive graphics and text showing you what's happening, but you don't actually do anything other than make substitutions and call for bunts. Like, no action, just statistics. Horrible. It's not at all like playing baseball, it's like watching baseball, but you can't see the awesome plays and it's not even real baseball.

But then eventually I had a Nintendo and there was that awesome softball game where one of the players was a witch and used a broom instead of a bat. And also Base Wars. Basically I liked any baseball video game aimed at the crucial gay sports fan audience.

So now that I am a baseball fan, and I own a computer, I thought I'd get a read on the current state of baseball video gaming. The first thing I found was that the most popular baseball game on the PC was something called Baseball Mogul. And so I shared it from the internet and it was exactly like the stupid Apple game. The graphics weren't even much improved! What is it with baseball fans? I have a theory about this, but I'll save it for another post. In any case, it was terrible.

And then I did some more research and found out that there are no action-oriented baseball games for the PC because the team and player info is all licensed exclusively to some company that only makes, like, Play-station games. (Which is a ridiculous business move since, duh, baseball dorks do not have Play-station, they have fucking Windows.) So the last game before that deal went down was called MVP and was for 2005, so I shared that and it's pretty cool. The mod to update the rosters to 2007 broke it, but then I reinstalled and it doesn't even matter since I don't know all those players anyway.

But yeah, it's really hard. I can swing but have never got on base (nullus), and I can pitch into the strike zone but have never gotten a strike. I don't think I've even tagged anyone out: all my outs are from when the computer team hits a fly ball and the computer moves the appropriate fielder underneath it. All the instructions I can find for the game are for the Play-station version, so they're all talking about analog sticks (nullus) and whatnot, so I have no idea what I'm doing.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yankees vs. Blue Jays

I just had the game on while I worked this afternoon. Mostly I ignored the game, but it got pretty dramatic at the end there. See how quickly the hated New York Yankees lose their lead!

Mets @ Padres

I've been staying up pretty late this week and needed to crash early, so with first pitch at 10:05, I didn't make it past the end of the 6th, going to sleep with the Mets down by four. I didn't have much to complain about, really, because they were just getting shut down by Greg Maddux. Homeboy can really toss it (nullus), nothing to be done about that.

The rally and loss would have been exciting, but ah well. Also kind of sad to see the winning run scored off of Joe Smith, who is really fun to watch (again, nullus).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Softball World Cup

One nice benefit of working from home is that while (read: instead of) working, I can watch TV all day. I actually don't really do this, but today I noticed that there was a fastpitch softball game on ESPN, so I watched that. The USA beat Canada 7-0, putting them in the championship for the World Cup. It was pretty neat, and while I got the sense that the announcers were deliberately avoiding the word "baseball," they also did a good job of pointing out differences between the sports for those who aren't familiar with softball.

Some aspects of the game seem a little goofy to me (the double first base is a good example), but other details are really appealing. Because the softball pitch is a "natural" motion that doesn't stress the joints, pitchers only need to recover from muscle fatigue, so it's much more feasible for pitchers to play for a full seven-inning game: the US national team only needs five pitchers on staff! I also like the symmetry to the types of pitches: a curve goes one way and a screwball the other, there's a riser and a sinker, and there's a changeup. So simple.

ESPN is also hilarious. Why are half the commercials for home security systems? Because watching sports on television correlates inversely with the ability to achieve erection, is my guess.

Update: This game was a rerun, and was actually played on Sunday. The US had already gone on to win the whole "World Cup" (actually the "KFC World Cup," so I'm not sure how legit it is) by the time I watched them beat Canada.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mets vs. Reds

I caught the first couple innings of the Mets game on TV before social obligations drew me away. I think I've got scorekeeping figured out at this point. The stupid thing about it is that the plays that require the most documentation are also the ones where you really want to just put your snacks down, stand up, and watch the play, and instead you're hunched over writing it all down. And then during the pauses in the action, you don't really have much to do, so your mind wanders.

I said before that keeping score reminded me of rolling up stats for an RPG character, but after spending a little more time at it, it's actually more like filling out a tax return: I think it's sort of fun and satisfying in a way, but I wouldn't want to do it every day, and probably wouldn't at all unless someone was making me. And any anxiety you might have about missing a play while in the bathroom or whatnot is just compounded when you feel like you have to be there to document every single (literally!) thing, or you'll be audited.

It was tied at deuces going into the bottom (nullus) of the third when I left to meet my friends for The Day the Earth Stood Still in the park. It was fun, and then we had some beers, and then I was pleased to come home and find that my much-celebrated New York Mets had triumphed over the Red Communists of Cincinnati.

Update: My Seattle Mariners stepped up against the Tigers last night as well. The video of that play is worth watching. Not even sure how I'd score that one on paper.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Midsummer Classic

I started watching the All-Star Game at home, and was going to keep score until it was time to meet friends for dinner. I hadn't planned on the thing not even starting until nine, so here's the half inning I was able to record:



Notice how I've omitted who was actually involved in the double play.

And actually, I wouldn't have been able to score the whole thing anyway, with all the substitutions. Dumb idea, Travis!

Cartoon Baseball

When we were growing up, my brother Nate would always talk about a funny cartoon he'd seen when he was really little, where someone had thrown a "slow-poe ball." He specifically remembered the boast, "I'll get 'im with my slow-poe ball."

At some point, we caught a Woody Woodpecker cartoon where he's at a baseball game, and we were sure it must have been the one he remembered. Someone did throw a sneaky slow pitch, but there was no line about a "slow-poe ball." Mysterious!

A couple weeks ago, I happened to come across a blog post about a Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Baseball Bugs." So while we were on vacation in tropical New Jersey, I found it on YourTube, then located a torrent for a Woody Woodpecker anthology from which I downloaded just "The Screwball," and we watched them both. Mystery solved: the line is Bugs's, and what he actually does is "perplex 'im with [his] slowball."

Anyway, here's the videos:



Interestingly, Bugs and Woody seem to have studied some of the same tactics.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Wrecking Crew

Last Friday, one of the political bloggers I read mentioned and recommended John Albert's memoir, The Wrecking Crew, about being an LA heroin junkie getting his life together, playing amateur baseball with a bunch of similarly troubled thirtysomethings. It was a quick read, and reasonably engaging if not actually very well written. I wish there had been more baseball and less name-dropping, but maybe at least the latter just comes with the LA territory. The emotional content is also pretty trite. I wouldn't really recommend it, and comparisons to Trainspotting are really overstating the book's quality.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Cyclones on TV!

I wasn't interested in the home run derby, so I'd planned on reading my book while I had dinner at a local Mexican joint. To my pleasant surprise, the Cyclones were on TV! I guess with no big league games, SNY had decided to show some local ball. I caught the last three innings in their loss to the Jamestown Jammers (nullus!). For some reason my beloved Brooklyn Cyclones were wearing what appeared to be St. Patrick's Day–themed uniforms. Maybe their regular ones were at the cleaners?

One thing I noticed on the close-up shots that I hadn't seen at the live game was that when these kids put someone out, they're visibly happy. You can tell they're just totally psyched to be playing pro ball, and they can't help but break into a huge grin after making a catch or striking out a batter. Great stuff.

Also, I noted at least three very questionable calls in Brooklyn's favor. Really hope it was a coincidence rather than conspiracy. I looked up the standings and the Cyclones are above .700, so they really don't need the aid of any biased umperialism.

Later, I went to the bar and met up with Peter, who'd seen part of the home run derby on the TV at the gym. I guess the participants chilled out on recliners between rounds...on the field! Weird. We ran into our friend Francis and talked baseball.

Scorekeeping

At Sunday's game, Kate and I had tried to figure out what the shorthand used to report on batters' previous at-bats meant. We figured out HBP and 1B easily enough, but BB and FC? So I spent my Monday morning reading about scorekeeping and the afternoon trying it out, watching the archived TV broadcast of the Mets' Sunday loss in Houston and following along on paper.

I used the scorecards and tutorial at Christopher Swingley's site, more or less following his conventions. It was kind of difficult to pay attention to every little pitch, so my pitch and strike counts were always a bit off, but otherwise I think it was an alright first attempt.

There were some tricky moments, too, like when Dave Williams gave Carlos Lee a 3-0 count with two outs and a runner on second, and then decided to intentionally walk him. I recorded this as an IBB, but I'm not sure if it technically was, since only the fourth ball was intentional. Then in the eighth, Scott Schoeneweis threw a wild pitch on his fourth intentional ball to Lee, advancing the runner on second. I recorded IBB on Lee's line and the WP on runner Hunter Pence's, which makes sense to me.

I wouldn't say the whole process is fun, exactly, as much as sort of stressful and annoying. And filling in little boxes totally flashed me back to my (non-sexual) role-playing days. I completely don't get how you're supposed to be able to handle this while also participating in the other requisite activities such as beer drinking, eating peanuts, and making fun of the people in nearby seats.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Yankees vs. Angels

Kate got her boss's tickets again, and we went with our friend Ryan to see them play the Angels once more. This time I brought my camera, so I can explain to people how nice the seats are. Here's Derek Jeter up in the bottom of the first:

Yankees vs. Astros

It was so incredibly hot, I can't even explain it...I made the right choice taking the train rather than riding my bike, even though it meant spending the time getting my clock cleaned by Kate in Scrabble. J/k, it was trill fun.

This time round, the Yankees fared a lot better, though there wasn't a lot of tension after they established their 10-run lead in the fourth. Wang really is fun to watch (nullus), and there were plenty of cool home runs. I think in the eighth, some guys near us started The Wave and it went around the whole park, both decks, three whole revolutions. Pretty damned impressive.