The Baseball Desert

Friday, November 21, 2003

Baseball, the Internet & me (Part IV)

I think it’s in the movie Major League where the manager of the hopeless Cleveland Indians gathers his players together in the locker room to give them a lecture about the game of baseball, and at one point he says this: “It’s a simple game - you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball”… [Update: it's actually in the movie Bull Durham. Thanks to Matt at Just Another Mariners Blog for setting the record straight...] In a sense, he’s right, because it is a very simple game, but, within that simple framework of run + hit + catch, there are endless permutations. I had an interesting e-mail exchange earlier this year with my good friend Tim, who is the inspiration behind The Baseball Desert (see post of Oct 23) and who asked me if games (especially the long, drawn-out, 6-hour, 16-inning ones) are exciting or not. My answer was more or less as follows:

They can be exciting, whether they're over 9 innings or more. I've actually seldom seen a boring game of baseball. I'm possibly biased, but I think – certainly if you compare it to soccer, for example – that the rhythm of the game is different and makes for a different approach. In soccer, there's a lot of team build-up, and sometimes, in those terrible, dull matches, it all goes to waste when the team loses the ball, and that kind of thing can go on for 90 minutes. It's not necessarily 'bad' play, just fruitless. However, in baseball, there is the constant confrontation between pitcher and hitter: whatever the game, whatever the final result, you're going to see that particular confrontation at least 54 times (or 51 if the home team is ahead after eight-and-a-half innings). And each time, there's the same set of questions, but with an infinite variety of answers. Is the pitcher throwing strikes or does he not have his control? Is he going to throw a fastball up around the hitter's ears or is he going to go with the knee-high curve? Is the hitter on a streak? Is he just looking to make contact? Does the situation call for a hit or will he take the walk? Is the hitter going to try to bunt? If he swings, will it be a home run or a strikeout? What about the guy on first - is he going to steal? If there's a hit, is the runner on first going to try to go to third base or maybe even score? If it's a ground ball, is the fielder going to make the play? If he makes the play, can he get get two outs? Can the runner beat the play? If it's a fly-ball, is the fielder going to make the catch? If he makes the catch, can the runner tag up and still advance one base? If the base-runner is trying to score, is he going to get around the catcher's tag? Well, you get the picture... ;-) The point is, though, that with all these different situations occurring all the time, there are obviously going to be situations and plays that you’ve seen hundreds of times before, but there is also the very real possibility that you might see something you've never seen before, so 'boring' is rarely an option. Roger Angell mentioned a great example in his postseason wrapup: Boston’s Bill Mueller hitting two grand slams in the same game, from different sides of the plate, in consecutive innings – never been done before, ever

To come full circle, there's also the fact that baseball doesn't have a time limit - you play the nine innings (or however many it takes), but the inning goes on until you've got the three outs. This means that there's always a chance you can come back into a game, as long as you can keep sending guys to the plate: a couple of seasons back, the Indians beat the Mariners by scoring something ridiculous like 12 runs in the ninth inning; then you have Games 4 and 5 of the 2001 World Series, in which the Yankees – on consecutive nights in New York – hit game-tying home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning with two men out, and ended up winning both games; and, of course, Game 7 of this year’s ALCS, when the Yankees rallied against the invincible Pedro Martinez in the now infamous eighth inning and then won the game with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the eleventh inning (from Aaron Boone, of all people, who had been hitting worse than
me up to that point…). The stuff of legends...

Yogi was right (and it’s one of the real beauties of this wonderfully simple yet complex game): it ain't over 'til it's over…

Part V