08 September 2011
BASEBALL ENDURES: With professional football kicking off tonight, I'm reminded that baseball's marathon draws towards its inevitable end. For six months, the promise of more summer days beguiled us, beginning when pitchers and catchers reported in February. But now with days visibly shorter and cooler air enveloping us, we turn our eyes towards autumnal pursuits. Teams that thrilled in the early going have wilted down the stretch. In a shock, last year's champion has been unseated by a pack of upstarts.
I think that baseball becomes a game that we collectively follow more as years pile up on our internal odometers. Time passes. Such is the nature of baseball where change (and Red Sox-Yankee games) moves at a glacier's pace, slowly reworking the landscape incrementally. Football is more an earthquake - violently jarring us to full attention. Not to say that the young can't enjoy baseball and those not so young loathe football, but that we tend to relate more to the former as we examine the marathon of our lives and pace ourselves after our all-out sprint.
So, the baseball blogosphere found itself in a snarling contest, thanks in no small part to the work of a writer at a blog I regularly follow and one time even wrote for. The Sporting Hippeaux dropped a bomb on the acolytes of WAR and ruffled the feathers of the great Rob Neyer and Tangotiger, who followed up with a functional defense of WAR later. But his comments most recently illustrated the point of what makes Hippeaux' post great. Hippeaux researched and revealed a germ of truth in his analysis that will expand our knowledge of the game. Hats off to him.
Sabermetrics has been and remains a quest to understand the game of baseball more completely than mere observation allows. No other sport devotes such attention to minutiae in such a pursuit. Because all other sports center on one of three aspects. The ball. The chase. The fight. This is why gymnastics, diving and figure skating, while remarkable athletic competitions are not sports. The ball, the chase, the fight provide objective understanding that clarifies the nature of the contest. Usain Bolt is the fastest man on the planet, because he is. Mike Tyson was a devastating fighter because for one amazing stretch, he pummeled all who stood in his path. Whether its football, basketball, soccer, hockey, or whatever ball-centric sport you follow (Congrats to the Boston Cannons adding to the Best. Decade. Evah.) the games that use the ball to tally points have a defined and objectively measured results.
But not baseball.
Baseball uses incremental progression to mark its results. In football a few unlucky bounces can doom a team that has dominated its opponent. In baseball, a masterful, dominant pitching performance can end with one swing of the bat piercing the night. Nine batters take their turn against each pitcher, trying to evade outs and add runs. Our understanding is enhanced by delving deeper into the underlying aspects of the game. What players get on base, enabling their teammates the opportunity to drive them home? And which when presented that opportunity succeed? Which pitchers understand the mechanics of what they control and benefit from slick fielders backing them up? We understand this and more through unpacking the component parts and more thoroughly consuming the games themselves. Is WAR perfect? Hardly. Nothing created by man shall be. Not baseball, and certainly not the metrics we use. But we can strive to make them more perfect, a cause Hippeaux has aided.
As did Michael Lewis when he published Moneyball in 2003. And now, eight years later, when we have seen ample evidence that Billy Beane's stuff (I'm paraphrasing) could be copied and perfected by others, a major motion picture arrives to rehash (and rewrite) the tale of the little Oakland that could. I'm immersing myself in sports dramas this month, with the excellent Warrior fresh in my mind, I await another attempt at baseball on the big screen. But knowing how the story ends will undeniably spoil the show.
Let's talk Warrior for a second. Opening wide tomorrow, I snuck into a screening with Mrs. TetreaultVision to enjoy the first really great MMA drama. A tale streaked with dysfunction and dedicated to the proposition that sometimes wounds heal only when there is a bloodletting. Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) are the focus, but the overriding specter of their father (Nick Nolte) haunts both men. The notes are somewhat melodramatic. Brendan fights to save his home. Tommy fights because his heart is filled with rage from the way his father, brother and country abandoned him and his compatriots. Consequences pile up as Brendan gets suspended from his job for his side job and Tommy faces punishment for his own act of abandonment. Nolte's Paddy Conlon suffers most for his years of drinking, isolated, alone, left with meetings and 12 steps and no connection to either son. You root for healing and triumph, but only one fighter can win. Back top that idea above of the clarifying nature of fights. And in the end you are left to make your choice. Which Warrior would you choose? Good stuff all around.
Ach, nearly 1000 words later and I'm still rambling. Quickly then: The Zealots have the results of the Bloguin Heisman poll up, and I'm pleased to participate. More loquacious breakdowns will arrive next week. Peyton Manning may be done. And that leaves the great Nate Dunlevy filled with sorrow not only at the prospect that an era is over, but that he must stoically bear the pall in the procession. His reporting has been top notch. And worthy of your attention and respect.
I like the Saints tonight. And Oklahoma St. I doubt Tim Wakefield will ever win #200. I think the NBA Lockout is dragging through November. I await the New Years Eve visit of the Stanley Cup Champion Bruins to the Metroplex. I miss Woody Durham. I applaud Maury Brown's fantastic reporting on the story of Jim Crane. Back to back seasons with Texas based teams in contentious sales. Thankfully the state is out of MLB teams. Full slate of college top 25 picks tomorrow. Headlines, if time permits.
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