Let’s all hop on board the SPORTS PHILOSOPHER Time Machine….

October 24, 2011
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     I’m old-fashioned.   I’m a sucker for nostalgia.   I love outdated.   And I tend to resist change.

     No no, it’s okay.   I’m proud of it.   I have as many faults as anyone else, but one of the things I like best about myself is that I like exactly the same things now I liked twenty, thirty, or forty years ago.   I am not a faddist.   Clarity and consistency are my true twin gods.   Black-and-white movies, 60s music, well-done red meat, creative drinking mugs, toothpicks, elephants, American History, dark beer, red wine, whole milk, clotted cream, baseball, the Civil War, the Chicago Bears, molasses cookies, T-shirts with pictures or logos, Coffee-Mate@ brand in my coffee, coffee shops before dawn or after midnight, legs & asses more than boobs, I’m tellin’ ya; once I decide I like something I’m down with that something for life.

Elvis was truly The King last Thursday night.

Elvis was truly The King last Thursday night.

     Take the telephone.   I miss the old-fashioned “finger wheel” telephone.   The push-button phone has always felt a little too Star-Trek for me.   I used to love running my index finger around the wheel, clockwise, then letting it go and hearing that pleasant humming, clicking, whirring sound as the phone spun back counterclockwise to record the number, it took time, and I really liked how long it took to place a call.   It made each call seem more important somehow.   But alas, the finger wheel phone has gone the way of the 99-cent burger.   Vanished into history.    I bet you don’t know a single person who still has a finger wheel dial plate on their phone.   Or do you.   Do you?   Well, I do.


     That’s right.   This cute little place I moved into about four years ago, here in the Monrovia foothills, is sort of like a cabin resort, a brick-and-wood little house ensconced deep within tall trees and heavy vegetation teeming of wildlife.   Bears, coyotes, snakes, opossums, raccoons, hawks and magpies, even the occasional mountain lion, we got it all up here.   And the house itself, in addition to such cozy creature comforts as a brick fireplace and a spa, came with—of all things—a wall phone with an old-fashioned finger wheel dialer.   Once I saw that cool old phone I figured it was fate, and I moved in two days later.

     They played a baseball game last Thursday night in St. Louis that reminded me of the old finger wheel phone.   Old-school, antiquated, pleasant to look at.   A game that smacked of a simpler time and a bygone era.

     It was the 2nd game of the 2011 World Series.

     For one thing, the game was refreshingly low scoring.   In this day and age we are used to ballgames resembling video games, with high scores and tons of hitting and waves of long home runs launched deep into the night like so many scud missiles.   Well, I am happy to report that there was not a single home run struck in this game.   Not one.   And guess what?   The sky did not fall, the market did not crash, and the world did not come to an end.   In fact there was only one extra-base it in the game, a double, and it did not even factor in the scoring.

     No, on this cold and damp October night they played some old-fashioned “little ball”.   The way they played the game in nineteen-eleven, not twenty-eleven.   Base-to-base.   Station-to-station.   A game featuring the bunt, the hit-and-run, the stolen base, hitting (or missing) the cut-off man, strategy over strength, all concepts absent all too often from baseball games in this prevailing century, but all center-stage in this wonderful contest last Thursday between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals.   This game also featured perhaps my favorite thing about this most wonderful of all sports, a glaring look at what I call “the mathematics of baseball”.   I’ll explain as I go….

     The game was as close as can be throughout (in fact it was scoreless into the 7th inning), and it turned on just a couple of pitches, a couple of great defensive plays, a couple of poor defensive plays, a couple of managerial decisions, and some good old-fashioned luck.   Good and bad luck, depending on who you were rooting for.

     As I say it was scoreless into the 7th but in the bottom half of that inning the home-town Cardinals finally pushed across a run.   The announcers immediately declared that in the long and storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals, spanning more than a century and 107 playoff games, they had never played in a 1-to-nothing post season game before.   I love stats like that!   But saying it out loud jinxes it, so I knew it would not hold up.

     It didn’t .   The top of the 9th was one of those fascinating half-innings that reminds a baseball historian like the Sports Philosopher how deeply ingrained this game is in our national consciousness, how a baseball game can be great even if absent the long ball as long as it’s tense, and close, and how the greatest games in history are the ones which showcase the aforementioned mathematics of baseball.   It truly is a game of inches.

     The two stars of this game were the first two hitters in Texas’ batting order, 2nd-baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus.   Ian and Elvis had already distinguished themselves earlier, turning a truly marvelous double-play n the 4th, and teaming up on a key final-out force-out in the 5th.   On the force-out, Elvis dove into the hole to snare a vicious two-hopper, then scooped it with his glove to Kinsler who beat the runner to the bag by a millisecond.   On the double play, Elvis gobbled up a grounder, then backhanded the ball to Kinsler, who barehanded it, whirled, and fired to first to nip the runner.   It was as pretty a double-play as you will ever see.   Pure ballet.   Two great plays.   Think about it: You’re supposed to throw a ball with your bare hand but Elvis was forced to throw one with his glove, and you’re supposed to catch a ball with a glove but Ian was forced to catch one with his bare hand.   Only baseball gives you neat flip-flopped stuff like that.   And now these two fellows were due up one-two in the 9th, Texas still down by a run….

     Kinsler led off with a single, but no ordinary single.   It was a “Texas Leaguer”, a little shallow fly ball that dropped neatly over the shortstop’s glove and agonizingly in front of the in-rushing left fielder.   The left-fielder, Matt Holliday, was playing very deep, as they often do in the 9th inning to guard against two-base hits, but this time it cost the Cardinals dearly.   Normally that ball would have been caught.   But it fell to earth just out of reach of both men, a perfect illustration of the mathematics of baseball.

     Now Andrus is up.   The count is 1-and-1, one ball and one strike.   The Cardinals pitcher, closer Jason Motte, forgets to keep an eye on Kinsler, a glaring, cardinal mistake (necessary pun), and so frisky Ian steals second, despite a great cannon-throw by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.   It was a bang-bang play, Kinsler beating the tag by a couple inches.   Had Motte held him on tighter, if he had paid Kinsler even a tad more attention, if he had just glanced at him, his jump would have been less and he would have been out.   The mathematics of baseball again.   A game of inches.   A game of centimeters even.   Or even millimeters.

     Here’s where it gets weird.   On that pitch to Andrus where Kinsler stole second, Andrus had squared to bunt but didn’t, allowing Kinsler to straight-steal, and the pitch was called a strike.   But it wasn’t a strike!   I hit the TiVo 6-second re-wind button six times to make sure!   The pitch was high by practically a foot!   A terrible call!   But nobody noticed, including the announcers.   I’m convinced it was called a strike because umpires just hate it when batters crouch down right during or just after a pitch to make the pitch seem high, which Elvis did, but that shouldn’t matter, a ball is a ball and a strike is a strike, and this pitch was a ball.   Period.   No matter, nobody called me up to make sure they got it right, nobody even argued, not even Elvis, and now the count is 1-and-2.   If I were Elvis, I would have yelled at that ump to mark that bad call return-to-sender (oh, dear…).   Anyway, this development should have favored the Cardinals, because now Elvis is not only in a 1-and-2 hole but also he can no longer be asked to bunt because he has two strikes on him.   And so poor Mr. Andrus, a poor hitter, is forced to swing away.   I repeat: It should be 2-and-1 and he should be bunting, but due to a poor call by the ump its 1-and-2 and he’s forced to swing away.   And he’s a lousy hitter.   He almost certainly will make an out.   Got it?

     He promptly singles to right-center field.   It’s a blooper, but a hit nonetheless.   Don’t’cha just love it?

     And the only reason Elvis even gets the hit, or is even hitting at all, is due to the ump’s bad call.   They hold Kinsler at 3rd, but things get worse for the Cardinals when the throw from the outfield is dropped by the cut-off man, Albert Pujols, and this allows Elvis to advance to 2nd base.   It is a gigantic mistake by baseball’s best player.   When the ball kicks off of El Hombre’s glove it prevents Molina, backing him up, to get his throw to 2nd in time and Elvis is safe by a whisker—all of which is about to spell heartbreak hotel for the Cardinals (ugh…sorry).   And had Pujols actually caught the ball, Elvis would not have even tried to go to 2nd.   More mathematics of baseball.   (Pujols is not even charged with an error on the play, which is hard to believe.   He can take it.   Heck, he’ll still be the best player in the game, even if they do charge him appropriately for one miscue.   Even announcer Tim McCarver points out Pujols deserves an error.   It is by far the key play of the game, and apparently nobody cares except Tim and me….)  

     Anyway, so now instead of a man on 2nd and one out (assuming they don’t let Kinsler steal and they simply allow Elvis to get his bunt down, which is all Texas really expected in the first place) it is runners on 2nd and 3rd with none out.   It’s a baseball fan’s dream.

     You can guess the rest.   Josh Hamilton and Michael Young deliver back-to-back sacrifice flies to tie the score and then put Texas ahead 2-1, which is how it ends.   Motte doesn’t even get to pitch to Hamilton.   The Cards’ closer must wonder if his manager, Tony LaRussa, has any confidence in him, because after only two batters (both of whose weak base-hits were pure bloop luck) he is removed in favor of left-hander Arthur Rhodes whose job is to pitch to one batter, the lefty Hamilton.   LaRussa is known as a master strategist, but I think he blew this one.   Motte is a flamethrower, hard to hit, who, like most nasty closers, specializes in getting strikeouts and inducing pop-ups.   Rhodes is a good pitcher, but his left-handed offerings are lollipops by comparison, and he is about 206 years old (actually he’s 42, but seems 206).   The point is he’s far easier to make contact against than Motte.   Which Hamilton does, on the first pitch, he hits a long fly to right to score the tying run, Elvis takes 3rd, Rhodes is then immediately taken out so LaRussa can use a right-hander to pitch to the right-handed Young, which doesn’t work either, and so therefore Rhodes has the ignominious distinction of throwing exactly one pitch the whole game and it is the pitch which allows both the tying run to score and also allows the winning run to advance to 3rd base.   All on one pitch.   Not exactly an exemplary, productive day’s work.  

     So, in review, Hamilton’s sac fly plates Kinsler while enabling Elvis Andrus to take 3rd which was only possible due to his being on 2nd base due to Pujols’ error that wasn’t an error and he scores the winning run only because he was on 3rd when Young hits the ball which he wouldn’t have even been on 3rd if he hadn’t been on 2nd when Hamilton hits his sac fly scoring Kinsler which wouldn’t have been possible were it not for Pujols’ error that wasn’t an error which has allowed him to take 2nd in the first place and to take it one step further Hamilton is able to pull the ball cleanly and comfortably to right field rather than left field to allow Elvis to scamper on over to 3rd like he was nuthin’ but a hound dog (couldn’t resist) primarily because Hamilton doesn’t have to face the flamethrowing Motte because LaRussa goes lefty-lefty and loses confidence in Motte and over-manages himself right out of the ballgame because he is put in a pickle by Pujols’ error that apparently wasn’t an error even though it obviously is!   Y’see?  

     From a philosophical standpoint, I think you can make an argument that Pujols deserved to be charged with THREE errors on that play, rather than of no errors.   Think about it.   Pujols’ error that wasn’t allowed Elvis to go to 2nd, 3rd, and home.   It caused three dominos to fall.   Just like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.   A perfect illustration of both the Domino Theory and the mathematics of baseball….

     So the Rangers win a game they most assuredly should have lost.   The Cardinals lose a game they most assuredly should have won.   In fact the Cardinals become the first team to blow a lead in a World Series game in the 9th inning in ten years, and only the third team in World Series history to ever blow a 1-0 lead in the 9th inning.   All of which (combined with all the game-of-inches mathematics described above) makes this a truly historic, epic, wonderful World Series game.   I wonder how many of you were aware of all this before you read this column.   If you were one of the chosen few, I say to you now ‘Bravo!’, and well done….  

     Texas’ victory tied the Series at a game apiece, instead of St. Louis assuming a nearly-insurmountable-2-games-to-0 lead.   Three days later, at this writing, the Series now stands at two games apiece.   All tied.   All of it because of a Texas Leaguer by a Texas hitter, a stolen base courtesy of a lazy pitcher, a blown cut-off, and a manager too much in love with his own reputation.  

     Here’s a thought: If Texas goes on to win a World Series they should have lost, ‘you suppose years from now, as part of the long lexicon of legendary baseball lore, they’ll come to call Game Two of the 2011 World Series “the finger wheel game”???



Note:   They finally did give Pujols an error.   The next day.   You get enough angry talking heads on TV yapping about the same damn thing, and politically-correct justice will usually prevail.   What was Pujols’ reaction?  ”It has to be an error, it hit my glove,” said baseball’s greatest player.  “You have to stand up for it.”   No wonder they call him ‘El Hombre’….

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0023

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered literary giant, and proud inventor of the term “the mathematics of baseball”, a term he acknowledges nobody cares about.   Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, of triumph, and of despair, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com.   it’s easy!    And he really appreciates it….





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