That’s How They Make Diamonds

A quick note on yesterday’s Mariners’ game: apparently the kid, better known as Andrew Moore, doesn’t have a problem with pressure. Seven innings, six hits, three runs, four strikeouts, and no walks. Not bad. Not bad at all. Welcome to the big leagues.

Not so much so for Max Povse who also made his MLB debut last night, coming on in relief for Moore: two-thirds of an inning, four hits, three runs, one strikeout. At least he didn’t walk anyone either. Hopefully he’s got that out of his system and he’ll settle down in his next appearance.

Anyway, the Ms are a game over .500 for the first time this season, in sole possession of second place in the AL West–12.5 games behind Houston.

The Mariners had excellent baseball weather. Really. IMNSO, a high in the low seventies and clear skies is just about perfect.

It wasn’t that nice here. Our high was 99. That was outside. Inside, upstairs where I hang out–because that’s where my computer is–it was hotter.

You know who else hangs out upstairs? Rufus.

Do you know what happens to cats when it’s hot?

Their bones turn into jelly, and you wind up with furry puddles of feline scattered around the floor.

Rufus, he’s no dummy. He found a spot directly in front of the air conditioner, and he spent the day like this:
23-1

Yes, I made sure he was breathing before I took the picture. Just to be certain.

Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler. I can’t wait.

Neither can Rufus.

Should We Be Happy?

Weird game, baseball.

In what other sport would doing something legal–something that players do multiple times every day–provoke so much condemnation?

Yeah, I’m talking about last night’s Mariners’ game. Through the first five innings, the Ms looked a lot like my nephew’s Little League team at the plate. All credit to Justin Verlander of the Tigers; he had everything clicking, and he had a perfect game going.

Granted, there was a lot of game left. The chances that he would have stayed perfect the rest of the way were slim. Remember, there have only been 23 perfect games in MLB’s century-plus history.

Not to unduly prolong the suspense, with one out in the sixth inning and four runs behind, the Mariners’ Jarrod Dyson bunted himself aboard. No more perfect game. Five batters after that, the Mariners were only one run down, and Verlander was out of the game. The Ms picked up four more runs the next inning, and won the game.

Pretty smart move by Dyson, huh?

Well…see, baseball has this thing called the “unwritten rules”. That’s no different than any group, really. There’s no law forbidding you to pick your nose in public, but you probably don’t, fearing the scorn of society. Same thing here. The unwritten rules say you don’t bunt to break up a perfect game.

So, Dyson was violating the rules?

Maybe not. The problem with unwritten rules is that they’re unwritten. There’s no Moses carrying a carved tablet down from Cooperstown, New York after his interview with Abner Doubleday.

Some people say the rule only applies in the eighth and ninth innings. Others say it applies all the time–unless you’re down by less than three runs. Still others say “What the hell are you talking about? The only rule is ‘do what you have to to win’!”

Take your pick.

As far as the Mariners and their fans are concerned, though, the most important result of Dyson’s bunt and the team’s subsequent rally is that the Mariners are at .500.

Yeah, 37-37. The last time they were respectable was May 10, when they were 17-17. Before that? 0-0.

The All-Star Break is approaching. The actual midpoint of the season is even closer. And the Mariners have a chance to go over .500 for the first time all season.

That’s big, folks. Really big. Right now, they’re only a game and a half out of the Wild Card. Seriously. The American League sucks this year. It’s quite possible that the final playoff spot could go to a team with a losing record. Not likely, but possible. But in any case, the next few games will be a big factor in whether the Ms decide to sell off players to be better next year, or buy to improve now.

And there are the Mariners, winners of four in a row, looking to extend the streak. They’re going to do everything they can to get past that psychological barrier at .500 and turn themselves into winners, right? Go with their best pitcher and everything.

Well…

Actually, tonight’s starting pitcher is a rookie making his major league debut.

The Mariners’ pitchers have been injury-prone this year*, and part of their less-than-stellar record has been the inconsistent performance of the guys who’ve filled in. Making it back to .500 is a minor miracle, all things considered.

* To be fair, it’s not just the pitchers. At times it’s seemed like the entire team’s been on the disabled list–all at once.

But rather than working with the known quantity that’s gotten them this far, they’re going to take a step into the unknown. In a game that, in a very real sense, will determine the direction of the entire rest of the season for the Mariners.

No pressure, Kid.

Weird game, baseball.

Limping Into Summer

Before I get into today’s real subject, let me take just a moment to remind you that The RagTime Traveler will be released June 6, exactly two weeks from today. June 7, I’ll be signing copies from noon to 1pm at Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Spread the word!

Moving on.

I haven’t written much about baseball this season, largely because it’s been a rather painful year for Seattle–no pun intended. The season has been marred by injuries, bad play, and an overall failure to live up to expectations.

But I can’t keep pulling the covers over my head and hoping the team will improve. So I’m going to pick at the scab a little.

The Mariners are among the youngest teams in Major League Baseball. Only the Rockies and Marlins (founded 1993) and Diamondbacks and Rays (founded 1998) are younger. The Mariners and Blue Jays both joined the league in 1977. I don’t know what, if anything, Toronto is doing to celebrate their team’s 40th anniversary, but Seattle’s advertising theirs fairly heavily.

Apparently, fortieth birthdays can be as depressing for baseball teams as for individuals. As I write this–before any teams take the field on May 23–the Mariners are 20-25, having lost three straight, and sit ten games behind Houston in the AL West. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays won their last game to pull to 19-26, eight and a half games behind New York in the AL East (and one game behind the Mariners in the Wild Card chase, not that either team is showing any sign of contending for those playoff slots).

At least I can take some consolation in the fact that the Mariners aren’t alone in their struggles.

It’s got nothing to do with youth, by the way. Colorado and Arizona are currently first and second in the NL West. Tampa Bay is three games ahead of Toronto, flirting with respectability. Only Miami, at 15-28, is making the middle-aged couple look good.

In case you’re curious, by the way, the next-oldest teams are the Kansas City Royals (18-26), San Diego Padres (16-30), Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos, 26-17), and Milwaukee Brewers (formerly the Seattle Pilots, 25-19). The evidence suggests that teams who indulge their mid-life crises by moving to another city do well for themselves. But let’s note that the Pilots’ mid-life crisis was when they were a year old. Don’t read too much into the raw numbers.

Anyway, given the fortieth anniversary hype around the Mariners, I started wondering how this year’s team compared to the 1977 team.

For starters, going into play on May 23, the Mariners had won two in a row, raising their record to 16-28. That put them eleven and a half games behind the first place Twins–but a mere four and a half games behind Oakland.

I haven’t found a way to look at player stats as of a particular date, but over the course of the season, Seattle’s leading hitters (based on OPS*) were Leroy Stanton (.852), Ruppert Jones (.778), and Dan Meyer (.762).

* OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging. Today’s statisticians consider it a better measure of a hitter’s value than batting average, which was the stat of choice in 1977. An OPS between .700 and .766 is considered average; an elite hitter will have an OPS above .900.)

Doesn’t sound too hot, does it? If you look at the team as a whole, the Mariners’ batters ranked twenty-first out of twenty-six teams. (The Blue Jays, by the way, ranked twenty-fifth.)

Nor did the numbers look much better defensively. Seattle’s pitchers, led by Enrique Romo and Glenn Abbott, collectively ranked twenty-fifth. (Amusingly, the Blue Jays’ pitchers came in twenty-first.)

The bright side, if you can call it that, was the Mariners’ fielding. Showing off the defensive emphasis that served them so well in the early two-thousand teens*, they came in twelfth in baseball. The Blue Jays showed off their consistency, coming in twenty-fifth in fielding.

* Sarcasm alert.

Given those stats, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that the 1977 Mariners would finish the year at 64-98, thirty-eight games out of first. What might be more surprising is that they didn’t finish dead last in the AL West. Oakland slogged through a 63-98 year to take the West basement. Toronto, meanwhile, proved that consistency isn’t necessarily a virtue. Their 54-107 mark was the worst in baseball that year.

* If you need a dose of schadenfreude, the worst record in MLB’s modern era belongs to the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, whose 36-117 (.235) sets a standard of futility that will hopefully never be matched. By comparison, the 1977 Blue Jays’ .335 is merely the twenty-third worst, tied with the 1988 Baltimore Orioles (sorry, Jackie).

By comparison with all that doom and gloom, today’s Mariners seem positively respectable. Nelson Cruz has a .947 OPS, twenty-second best in baseball. As of this writing, the team is eleventh in hitting, twenty-fifth in pitching, and eleventh in fielding. Get a few of their starting pitchers off the disabled list, and the Ms could be middle-of-the-pack Wild Card contenders.

OK, that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s all about setting attainable goals. And, lest we forget, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals finished the regular season 83-78 and won the World Series.

Goin’ All the Way 2017

Trust the Tigers to sow confusion. After all, they are cats, and you can count on a cat confuse matters given even a microscopic sliver of a chance. Detroit beat the White Sox 6-3, and that three-run difference is enough to bump the Red Sox out of the Wild Card game.

Here, for easy reference, are our playoff teams. I’ve included their current Won/Loss records for your amusement.
National League

Team

Won/Loss

Run Diff.

Mets

4-3

25-25 (0)

Cardinals

2-5

25-39 (-14)

Dodgers

4-4

42-25 (17)

Rockies

5-3 31-35 (-4)
Nationals 4-3

40-43 (-3)

 
American League

Team

Won/Loss

Run Diff.

Rays

5-3

34-34 (0)

Twins

5-1

30-13 (17)

Astros

4-4 21-30 (-9)
Indians 3-3

28-35 (-7)

Tigers

4-2

25-28 (-3)

As Eric pointed out on Facebook, one game is a very small sample size. I agree, but that’s what makes this exercise amusing. That said, if I were to use the results of Opening Week instead of Opening Day, our playoff teams would change just a bit.

National League: Phillies (+9), Reds (+14), Dodgers (+17), Diamondbacks (+16), Cubs (+9)

American League: Yankees (+7), Twins (+17), Angels (+6), White Sox (+5), Red Sox (+2)

That’s not any more appealing. Yes, it gets the Cubs into the playoffs, but it also lets the Yankees and Red Sox in. Worse, it still doesn’t help the Mariners, Orioles, or Giants. Feh.

So I’ll stick with the original, one game, predictions and see how the playoffs will run.

The first thing I see is that we’re going to have some really close games. The Cardinals will get slaughtered while the Twins and Dodgers are slaughtering, but all the other games are going to be tight, defensive battles as the teams struggle to score.

That ought to make Commissioner Manfred happy. After all, low-scoring games are typically short. Unless they run to extra innings. But in the playoffs, extra innings draw viewers. So, again, a win.

The bottom line is that the Twins are going all the way to the World Series. They’ll breeze through the AL, probably in something close to the minimum number of games, and there will be much rejoicing in Minnesota–it’s been a quarter of a century since the Twins were in the World Series.

Meanwhile, the NL playoffs are going to play out as a mirror of the AL with the Dodgers playing the part of the Twins. It’s been even longer since the Dodgers played for the championship–granted, only three years, but it still counts–so the cheers in LA will be even louder.

Based strictly on run differential, the World Series won’t ever end. Clearly, that’s a low-probability outcome. The Dodgers have those additional three years of futility on their side. But I think it’s a mistake to overlook the teams’ won/loss records. Despite a +17 run differentials, the Dodgers are 4-4. They’re clearly scoring their runs in bunches. The Twins have turned that same +17 into a 5-1 record–obviously scoring just enough to win comfortably.

So after a tight, high scoring, seven game World Series, the Twins are going to be the champions. You heard it here first.

And the Mariners will just have to wait until next year. Again.

Happy New Year (2017)

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Of course Solomon was a baseball fan.

I compare you, my love,
  to a well-turned 6-4-3 double play.
Your cheeks bulge with chewing tobacco,
  your neck with ire over a missed tag.

Something like that, anyway.

The point is that we’ve once again arrived at the beginning of the baseball season, and that means it’s time for predictions.

Over at her blog, Jackie has called on a panel of experts to help her select this year’s playoff teams and eventual World Series winner. I’m pleased and honored that she asked me to be a member of the panel.

But such predictions, made before the season even begins, are a matter of guesswork. And so, once again, I’m turning to SCIENCE! to make my own.

For the past two seasons, I’ve used a formula based primarily on margin of victory in the first games of the season. In 2015, I achieved 40% accuracy in picking the playoff teams; last year I upped that to 70%. I’ve made further tweaks to my methodology this year, and I’m aiming for 90% or better.

Until now, I’ve been vexed by having to deal with pre-Opening Day games giving some teams a longer track record than others, while other teams have had their first games rained out. That’s definitely hurt my accuracy.

Fortunately, this year all of the teams that played Sunday had Monday off, so nobody’s played their second game yet. Unfortunately, Monday’s Tigers/White Sox game was rained out. So we’ll use the results of today’s game instead. Assuming, of course, that it doesn’t get rained out too.

So, enough background. What are the predictions?

Let’s start with the National League this year:

  • East – The New York Mets are the clear leaders, thanks to their six run victory over Atlanta.
  • Central – The St. Louis Cardinals are the only NL Central team to win, and that was only by one run. Clearly, it’s going to be a slow year in this division.
  • West – The LA Dodgers are going to build on their 14-3 shellacking of San Diego and run away with the NL West.
  • Wild Cards – This prediction system loves the Colorado Rockies. For the second year in a row, it thinks they’ll grab a wild card, while the other slot goes to the Washington Nationals.

As for the American League, it looks like this:

  • East – Who would have thought it would be the Tampa Bay Rays taking the division? But a convincing 7-3 victory over the Yankees can’t be dismissed.
  • Central – The Minnesota Twins‘ 7-1 victory over Kansas City puts them in the driver’s seat. But with no games played by Detroit and Chicago, we could have a quick change of predicted victors here.
  • West – Many of the conventional predictions have the Houston Astros winning the West, and some have even penciled them in for the World Series. Thanks to their 3-0 clobbering of Seattle, my system also has them taking their division.
  • Wild Cards – The Cleveland Indians will take the first slot on the strength of their 8-5 win against Texas. Both Boston and Oakland had two-run victories; as in the past, we’ll use their preseason records as the tiebreaker. That means it’ll be the Boston Red Sox on the strength of an 18-14 record. Unless, of course, Detroit or Chicago rearrange matters to their liking.

Interesting, wouldn’t you say? The Cubs won’t get a chance to defend their title, the Giants won’t win the World Series* either, the Orioles will be on the outside looking in, and the Mariners will extend their “missed the playoffs” streak to 16 seasons.

* Not that anyone expected them to: the last time the Giants won a World Series in an odd year was 1933.

Forget that “aiming for 90%” thing. This year I’m in the peculiar position of hoping my system implodes spectacularly.

But I’ll go with the predictions as they stand, subject to correction once the White Sox and Tigers actually play a game.

Who’ll be the World Series winner? It’s too early to tell. Last year I took a week’s games as my baseline and that worked well, so I’ll do the same this time. Thursday, I’ll have something of interest for the hereticsnon-baseball fans, and my playoff predictions will go up next Tuesday.

Almost There

We’re almost there. The MLB preseason is just about over. Opening Day is Monday, though as usual, we’ve got Scheduled For TV games on Sunday–three of ’em this year.

As we all know, the beginning of the season means two things: cats are making predictions and this year’s baseball video games hit the shelves.

Let’s start with the bad news.

Check out this commercial for MLB The Show 17.

Assuming you haven’t fled, screaming in horror, let’s talk about what’s wrong with this.

For starters, did you notice that every single person in the commercial is “this guy” and “he”? I’m not sure whether Sony thinks that women don’t play video games or that there aren’t female baseball fans, but either way it’s a damned offensive assumption.

Then there’s the celebration of Manfred’s Kool-Aid. “Quick three inning games”? Are you kidding me?

And speaking of that guy–four jobs and twelve kids? Come on! As Groucho Marx once didn’t say, “I love my cigar, too, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while!” Maybe if the dude hadn’t dropped $300 on a PS4 and $60 on the game, he could afford to quit one of those jobs.

I don’t play video games–not even baseball games–but I’m tempted to buy a PS4 just so I can boycott MLB The Show 17. The only thing stopping me is that Sony makes the console too.

Moving on.

Of course we’ve begun indoctrinating Rufus into the household traditions. He’s seen some baseball on TV (about ten seconds worth of highlights), so we figured he was qualified to make predictions for the 2017 season.

On the other hand, he is new to the concept, so we decided to start him off with something straightforward: predicting the final standings for the American League West. We’ll keep working with him during the season, and if his predictions pan out, we’ll give him a shot at the playoffs.

He used a treat-based methodology to make his selections.

The final prediction:

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Houston Astros
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Oakland Athletics
  5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

It’s not the order I’d have liked to see, but it’s not completely unreasonable, based on the preseason predictions. For comparison, FiveThirtyEight has Houston, Seattle, Texas, LA, and Oakland.

Rufus definitely enjoyed making his picks.

He was, however, rather less enthusiastic about the obligatory Wearing of the Cap that followed.

SAST 3

More short notes, not because I have a short attention span*, but because I’ve collected a few items that just don’t warrant a whole post to themselves.

* Well, no shorter than usual, anyway. Yes, the flu is mostly gone. Despite the ongoing coughs, my lungs are still inside my chest, rather than splattered across the keyboard, and my temperature has been normal for more than a week.

Last June, NASA announced the discovery of a small asteroid, 2016 HO3, which orbits the sun on a path that keeps it near the Earth. Near in astrophysical terms, that is: it never gets closer than about thirty-eight times as far away as the moon.

The animation at that link is a little deceptive. It seems to show the asteroid orbiting Earth, but if I’m reading the story correctly, that’s not really true. It’s on a separate orbit around the sun, but because it’s sometimes closer to the sun than we are and sometimes further, it appears to be circling us.

What I find most interesting about 2016 HO3, though, is that I’m starting to see tweets suggesting that it’s existence means that Earth should no longer be considered a planet.

You remember the fuss a few years ago when the IAU redefined the word “planet” and demoted Pluto to a “dwarf planet”? If you don’t, pick up a copy of How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown–actually, pick up a copy even if you do remember; it’s an entertaining read–to refresh your memory.

Part of the new definition is that to be a planet, a celestial body has to “clear the neighborhood” around its orbit, meaning that in the late stages of planet formation, it should either sweep up the smaller bodies near its orbit, incorporating them into itself; capture them as satellites; or shove them into orbits away from its own.

However, such neighborhood clearance is never perfect. The presence of 2016 HO3 is not going to get Earth demoted to “dwarf planet”. Sorry, Pluto-lovers.

Moving on.

A story out of Maine has been popular with those who feel strongly about grammar and punctuation. There’s a good writeup at Quartz; briefly, a court based its ruling on the lack of an Oxford comma.

Long-time readers know I love me some Oxford comma. But, happy as I am to see the question get some judicial notice, I’m well aware that one court decision isn’t going to make any difference. The AP isn’t going to change its stance on the use of commas. Neither is Maine’s style guide for legislation. But I can–and will–dream.

And finally.

One of the proposals being considered for speeding up baseball games is to start extra innings with men on base. I was dubious when I first heard about the notion. After seeing it in “action” last night, I’m completely revolted.

Yeah, it shortened the game. In an aesthetically impoverished way that sucked all of the joy out of what should have been a thrilling conclusion to the Netherlands/Puerto Rico World Baseball Classic game.

Consider how both halves of the eleventh inning started. Runners were plopped down on first and second. The first batter laid down a sacrifice bunt. The second batter was intentionally walked–yes, that same intentional walk that MLB is killing off this year because it’s boring. That brings it down to one less-than-thrilling question: will the next batter hit into a double play, or manage a sacrifice fly.

Sure, there are other possible outcomes. Never assume the double play–the throw to first could go sailing into the seats. The batter could get a base hit, even a grand slam. He could strike out. But those are all low-probability events.

Where’s the fun in watching where the strategic choices are so constrained that neither manager could justify a different approach?

If Commissioner Manfred forces this rule change down our throats next year, as seems likely, I predict a major dropoff in attendance.

SAST 2

That’s Short Attention Span Theater, by the way.

So the highly-anticipated battle for sidewalk dominance between the Wild Turkeys and the Jehovah’s Witnesses fizzled out. Tension was building nicely, with the two groups staring at each other across the intersection. And then the turkeys turned into chickens.

No, not literally. I may be coughing and feverish, but the fever isn’t that high.

The birds dressed their ranks, forming into four files of five birds behind their leader… You know, I’m not even convincing myself here. Actually, the whole flock milled around for a few minutes, then made a sharp right turn into a side street, avoiding conflict entirely.

Just as well. Had the turkeys not backed down, things would have gotten messy. Call it a victory for moral principle (you do know that Jehovah’s Witnesses are conscientious objectors, right?)

Also not happening: despite all the coughs I’ve left under my pillow, the Lung Fairy hasn’t left me a cent. Maybe I should try putting my head under the pillow?

No, the brain reboot hasn’t happened either. You might have guessed.

I did watch some baseball Tuesday. I hadn’t expected it to be educational. Foul balls flying into the seats have been part of the game since its beginning, but with bats–and fragments of shattered bats–finding the seats more often, there’s a good argument for putting up protective netting.

Turns out the Japanese have come up with an approach that satisfies both fans seeking protection and fans who prefer the traditional mode. There’s netting running dugout to dugout, giving protection to fans in the highest risk area. But there are also seats in front of the netting: seats that come with a helmet, a glove, and a warning card describing the risks of sitting in the section.

Try that in the US and half the helmets would be broken and three-quarters of the gloves stolen by the All-Star Break.

In the sections beyond the netting, where there’s typically more time to react to a foul ball, the ushers are equipped with whistles, which they blow when a ball is headed toward their section. Imagine the lawsuits arguing that either the whistle wasn’t blown soon enough, or that the constant whistle blowing ruins fans’ enjoyment of the game.

A shame, really. That’s the kind of compromise I could support.

What I can’t support is the term “extra bases” for a double. I heard that a lot Tuesday. A double isn’t extra bases. At most, it’s extra base. Singular. And even that’s arguable.

Do the math, people. Yeah, right. I did the math for you. Blame any errors on my cough syrup.

Anyway.

According to MLB’s statistics, there were 42,276 hits during the 2016 regular season. 27,539 of those, just over 65%, were singles. So yes, singles were arguably the default hit, and a double would be “extra base”.

But there’s another way to look at it, one just as valid. Throw in the 8,254 doubles, 5,610 home runs, and 873 triples, and we find that the average hit in 2016 was worth a smidge over 1.6 bases. So that double? Yeah.

“Looks like an extra four-tenths of a base for Ortiz.”

Sure, it sounds a little odd. But we’ll get used to it, and it does far less violence to the English language than awarding multiple extra bases to a guy who’s clearly not even going to try to stretch his line drive off the wall into a triple.

Faster, Faster!

A quick housekeeping note first: you’ve still got time to sign up for my newsletter before the first issue goes out. I’ll be experimenting with the content for several months at least, but my plan is to give subscribers exclusive content not found on the blog.

This month it’ll include a bit about teasing the FBI and a sneak peek at the first draft of my current Work-in-Progress.

If you haven’t signed up already, just click here. You’ll be asked for your e-mail address and name, but only the address is mandatory. And, of course, I’ll never sell you out to advertisers or the feds.

Moving on.

As has become the new normal, we’ve got a rule change in baseball this season aimed at streamlining the game, speeding it up and making it more exciting.

And, of course, there’s been a lot of discussion about it. Jackie had a good piece on it a few days ago. But honestly, I think her comments on the pace of the game from a few years ago make the point much more strongly.

The rule change, for those of you not of the faith, is that it’s no longer necessary to actually walk somebody intentionally. Don’t want to pitch to him? Just give the sign and let him go straight to first.

As Jackie and many others have pointed out, this isn’t going to save much time, it’s not going to appreciably speed up the game, and it eliminates a bit of suspense–the chance of something going wrong.

I agree that it’s not a change for the better, but I’m more annoyed by the fact that they’re going ahead with a change that has so little impact on the game. Why bother?

The rule change–and some of the other proposals that won’t be introduced this year, such as shrinking the strike zone–has resulted in a few interesting ideas for speeding up the game and (Goddess help us) making it “more exciting”.

Patrick Dubuque, for example, has an article over at Baseball Prospectus suggesting that baseball should de-emphasize the strikeout. That’ll encourage players to put the ball in play more often (a much more exciting end to an at bat) and shorten games (fewer pitches thrown).

I kind of like the idea, actually, but the problem with the proposal, and most such notions, is that they fundamentally change the nature of the game.

There’s actually a very simple way to shorten ballgames that doesn’t require altering the game itself. Just add a time limit to the reasons for calling a game.

Don’t laugh.

We already end games at less than nine innings in the event of inclement weather. And if at least five innings* have been played, the game is considered played and counts in the standings just like a nine-inning game.

* Yes, that’s slightly simplified. Doesn’t affect the argument I’m making here.

There’s certainly precedent for using considerations beside the weather to cut a game short. Before 1947, for example, a game that began without artificial lighting could not be finished under the lights. Yes, even if the stadium had lights–and almost all the major league parks did by then–the game had to be called on account of darkness if the teams were still playing at sunset.

We’ll never get back to the length of a game in the 1940s (somewhere between an hour and 55 minutes and 2 hours and 20 minutes). The necessity for a specified number of TV commercials, and the concomitant need for in-park, between-innings entertainment (dot races, mascot races, etc.) means we’re consuming something on the order of three-quarters of an hour on TV breaks alone. But 2:45? That’s doable.

So we treat the 2:30 mark (since our target is 2:45, but we have to play out the half-inning, we need to have the trigger a bit earlier) the same way we do a sudden rain: finish the current half-inning (or full inning if the visitors are batting and have a lead) and end the game right there. If the game is tied or didn’t go four and a half innings, treat it the same way as in a rainout, and reschedule or finish it the next day.

Problem solved.

OK, I’ll grant you the transition might be a little awkward, with games ending after five or six innings, but players and managers will adjust. Time management will take on a whole new level of strategic importance, with the team in the lead trying to slow the game down and the trailer trying to speed it up. But again, it’s the same thing we already see when there’s a prediction of unfavorable weather.

Again: we already deal with the issue multiple times every season. Now we’ll make it part of every game. No big deal.

Games will be shorter and–by virtue of packing the same amount of action into a smaller amount of time–more exciting. We won’t need to change any of our existing statistics. And the additional pressure might just increase the number of intentional walks where something goes wrong.

Buy Me Some Alka-Seltzer and…

I trust you all–at least those of you in the US–had a pleasant Presidents’ Day holiday. I did, though I’ll admit that I accomplished the feat by completely insulating myself from any information about the current possessor of that office.

It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I skipped a large chunk of the front section of the newspaper, stayed off Facebook and Twitter, and left the TV and radio off. The result was quite relaxing: exactly what a holiday is supposed to accomplish.

Look, no matter how you feel about the current administration, following what’s going on in the world today is stressful. And nobody can run at full throttle all the time–that way lies burnout. So take a day off here and there. Unplug, tune out, and drop off the radar.

Moving on.

One newspaper article I did read was (no surprise) in the sports section. It seems the Oakland As have finally realized that the food choices at the Coliseum are offal. Pardon me. Despite the occasional flow of raw sewage through the stands and dugouts, the correct word is actually “awful”.

So they’ve spent something on the order of $1.7 million upgrading the “West Side Club”–now the “Shibe Park Tavern”*–and the food stands. It’s now possible for food to be prepared at the stands instead of in kitchens buried deep in the bowels of the stadium. Since we all know what else lies deep in the Coliseum’s bowels, this is unquestionably a change for the better.

* The changes at the Club/Tavern don’t have much to do with food, apparently. They’re largely to commemorate the Athletics’ glory days in Philadelphia with memorabilia, photos, and 24 beers on tap.

But the bigger change is that the plaza between the Coliseum and Oracle Arena will now host “eight to 16 gourmet food trucks”. And yes, there will be vegetarian and gluten-free choices. There will also be bocce ball courts and a “big video board”.

While I applaud the As for finding a way to bring higher quality (and, one hopes, safer) food to the fans, I can’t help but think that promoting bocce ball is a misstep. Why would I pay the outrageous price to go to a baseball game and then spend my time playing bocce ball and watching the game on TV?

To be fair, the As’ ticket prices aren’t as bad as many other clubs. Depending on the day of the week, the opponent, and the seat location, single game tickets can be as cheap as $14. But still. I’d be willing to bet that few bars offering big screen TVs and bocce ball courts have cover charges higher than the price of a baseball game.

I also worry a bit about crowd flow. The lines for beer and hot dogs on the stadium concourse are bad enough. If the food truck lines bottleneck through a single set of doors, the lines could easily get so slow that getting your gluten-free barbequed tofu wrap and GutBuster Pepperoni Pizza Burger* would take several innings. And, since the plaza is outside the stadium, they’re going to need to figure out how to handle re-admissions. With poor organization you might go out for your food before the third inning and not make it back until after the seventh inning stretch.

* Not real products. I think.

Mind you, this is all of theoretical concern to me. For the past several years, I’ve brought food with me to the Coliseum. While many parks have rules against fans carrying food in, the As have resisted that trend, and I don’t see anything on their website suggesting that’s going to change. Though, to be pessimistic, I don’t see anything about the food trucks either, so it’s possible that a rule change is in the works, and the website just hasn’t been updated yet. We’ll see.