Thursday, October 16, 2014

Spirit and Chance

It might just be that to see correctly great collective phenomena like Major League Baseball, one has to stay pretty ignorant of the sport and see it from a distance—and only now and then. The motto applicable here is to see the forest rather than the trees, branches, leaves, roots, etc., etc., and these sometimes at a microscopic resolution and with the help of a body of dynamically changing statistics so vast that they put the combined efforts of the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Bureau of Labor Statistics into the category of rank amateurs.

Now as for us, this is the baseball season. Always October, you might say. And then only in those years when we have what’s known as skin in the game. And though we do watch the playoffs, every other year or so, I always have to look up what a “wildcard” is; the first time the fielder’s choice is mentioned, about two seconds pass before I once more remember what that means. And Brigitte, who is as great a fan as I am this time of year, and generally has a much deeper grasp of things scientific than I do, is, however, even more deficient in understanding details as I am, so I have to explain fielder’s choice to her, over and over again.

Long introduction to saying that my impression of baseball—and its many charms—is that it is a artfully disguised game of pure chance. A few stats will make that plain. Thirty teams compete, each playing 162 games in the regular season—making for 2,430 games in all. This takes 180 days or just shy of half a year. Each game has minimally 9 innings, with a top and bottom half; each requires 3 outs to complete, each out constructed of dozens of thrown balls. You don’t make it into the Major Leagues unless you’re a very skillful player; therefore the teams are more or less on the same level of skill—skewed a little bit by money. Teams with the most  of the Green Stuff will have a slight advantage—but chance tends to smoothen than wrinkle over time. Still, the probabilities are skewed—so that the New York Yankees have more than twice as many World Series victories (27) than second-ranked Saint Louis Cardinals (10 — as of 2013). But in any particular year, the single toss of 2,430 dice produces unpredictable outcomes. True: this year’s final contenders for the World Series included second-ranked Cardinals and the fifth-ranked San Francisco Giants in the National League—but also the eleventh-ranked Baltimore Orioles and the twentieth-ranked Kansas City Royals in the American League. And it was that bottom-feeder, KC, which will compete for the World Series this year against (probably) the Giants: but betting on the Giants may prove to be hazardous to your purse. Chance rules when that other mysterious Something is missing. And that something is Spirit.

The Royals have it. Will they still have it? When the final series begins?

This year, as a family, we have plenty of skin in the game. Barbara, our daughter, lives in Kansas City. The Metro, anyway, not the political city. John, of Patioboat fame, was long a Giants fan. And when all else fails those of us who once lived or still live in Missouri would rather like an All-Missouri World Series. God willing and the crick don’t rise.

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