How Do I Loathe Thee?

As they advanced, Joe ducked and fled into the dressing room; and although he knew his misery would be compounded now; although he knew he would be subjected to the rigors of hell without even the saving grace of youth and athletic prowess, even so the victory had been won, and he could not resist a glow of triumph. For this moment, at least, what did it matter that his personal punishment would be fearsome? Applegate, for once, had been foiled. The Senators had copped the pennant. The Yankees were finally a second-place team.

Nor could he resist a faint smile at the memory of Applegate’s enraged countenance as he confronted the umpire. For the afternoon had proved an axiom long known to baseball men, and known now even to Applegate.

And this was that not even the devil could force an umpire to change his decision.

“The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant”
Douglass Wallop

I’ve been holding off writing this post until I was reasonably sure MLB wouldn’t make it obsolete. The abhorrent “transfer rule”* has been revoked, but no changes have been made to the replay rules. Now that we’re into May, it seems likely that replay will stay the unchanged through the end of the season.

* That could have been a whole month’s worth of blog posts by itself. In the interest of not crowding out the food and cat posts, I’ve withheld my vitriol. You’re welcome.

For you folks who follow football instead of baseball (I’m looking at you, E.Z.), the transfer rule was much like your infamous “tuck rule”, except that it applied to multiple plays in every game, rather than once or twice a season.

Moving on.

Replay was introduced in the 2008 season and was limited to home run calls. Although Commissioner Selig (ptooie!) said at the time that instant replay was appropriate on “a very limited basis,” most observers were sure that its use would be expanded. Sure enough, this year it was expanded, and how! Here’s the official list of plays subject to review, courtesy of MLB’s website:

Home run
Ground rule double
Fan interference
Stadium boundary calls (e.g., fielder into stands, ball into stands triggering dead ball)
Force play (except the fielder’s touching of second base on a double play)
Tag play (including steals and pickoffs)
Fair/foul in outfield only
Trap play in outfield only
Batter hit by pitch
Timing play (whether a runner scores before a third out)
Touching a base (requires appeal)
Passing runners
Record keeping (Ball-strike count to a batter, outs, score, and substitutions)

Nothing like keeping the expansion gradual, right?

Wait, it gets even better. Not content with throwing all of the new reviewable plays at us, Commissioner Selig (ptooie!) also changed the way in which a replay is triggered. Under the old rule, only the head of umpire crew could call for a replay. Now the call comes from the team managers. Sure, it was usually a manager’s request that led the crew chief to call for a replay, but it was still the umpire’s decision.

Better yet, the new rules only apply to the new reviewable plays. Home run calls are still under the old rules!

Think that’s weird? It gets worse! Each manager is allowed to challenge one play in each game. If the challenge results in the call being changed (and yes, announcers are referring to that as “winning” the challenge), the manager gets a second challenge. Use up your challenges? No problem. You can “request” the umpire to review a call, but he “is not obligated to invoke instant replay.” Nice, huh?

One more piece of idiocy. Commissioner Selig (ptooie!) can’t allow the umpires to review their own calls. After all, officials review their own calls in football and basketball. By definition, that means there must be something wrong with the concept. In baseball, there’s a dedicated crew of “Replay Officials” in a “Replay Command Center” in the “MLB Advanced Media headquarters” in New York. The replay officials review the play, make their call, and deliver their decision to the on-field umpires. And that decision, by the way, is absolutely final. Any objection to the replay decision is grounds for ejection from the game. Joy.

OK, so now you know how replay works. You can probably even make an accurate guess how I feel about replay. But we’re not going to allow guessing. This is a post about replay, which is supposed to be precise so we have to be equally precise. Right? Right.

Moving on.

Let’s start with the most important problem.

  • Replay undermines the authority of the umpire. Back in the Good Old Days, the word of the umpire was final. A manager could argue the call. Once in a blue moon, the umpire might admit the manager had a point. Even more rarely, he might even change the call. It gave everyone somebody to hate. Now, with calls subject to a unarguable override from New York, how can the fan hate an umpire? From absolute ruler of his little nation, he’s been demoted to the level of a poor schlub doing an impossible job with his boss looking over his shoulder. Where’s the fun in hating him for that?

    Worse, the fact that the umpire can be overruled means that players and managers are going to be less willing to trust his judgement. If the ump can’t be trusted to call a tag correctly, why should a batter trust him to call balls and strikes correctly? The players are going to become more willing to complain, and more likely to be thrown out of the game for arguing.

  • Replay is arbitrary. We see that in several ways. Why only one challenge? Why can’t the umpires call for a review before the seventh inning? Why is the ball-strike count reviewable, but not individual pitches? Why isn’t the fielder touching second base on a double play reviewable when the runner touching second base on a steal is? Why are trap plays not reviewable on infield line drives? I could go on and on here, but you get the point. If we have to have review at all, make everything reviewable and do away with the “one challenge” rule.

    According to the Official Rules of Major League Baseball, umpires already have the ability to eject managers for “objecting to decisions or for unsportsmanlike conduct.” If any manager abuses the right to request reviews, give him a warning or toss him out of the game. A warning, followed by an ejection works well when pitchers persist in throwing at batters; it should work just as well to keep managers from abusing instant replay.

  • Replay introduces opportunities for bias. The rulebook states, “But remember! The first requisite is to get decisions correctly.” (emphasis in the original) But be realistic. If there’s a close call on the last out of a potential perfect game, how much are the participants going to be tempted to forgo the challenge to be part of history? Not much, I would hope, but still… More to the point, those replay officials aren’t as invested in the game as the officials on the spot. The early evidence suggests that they’re going to be reluctant to overturn the call on the field. In the first not-quite-three weeks of the season, two-thirds of the challenged calls were upheld. For comparison, in football, where officials review their own calls, they reverse themselves just about half the time.
  • Replay slows down the game. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not complaining about the strain on pitchers waiting through a three-to-five minute review. I’m not even complaining about managers gaming the review system to give a reliever a few more warm-up throws. I’m talking about the encouragement it gives to idiotic proposals to “speed up the game” by shortening games to seven innings. Yes, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, that’s a real proposal made by an anonymous MLB executive. The reason? A “younger audience might be more attracted to a shorter, more intense product.”

    Leaving aside the “damn kids with their eye phones and ex-boxies” attitude that quote betrays, this proposal would destroy every entry in the record book. Maybe that’s the idea. If you throw out the entire record book, you can start fresh and set a new record every day. That’ll attract those kiddies with their “badges” and “game achievements”, right? A word of warning to MLB: that line of thinking didn’t work for football. Remember the XFL? Yeah, neither does anyone else.

    Shortening games is unnecessary anyway. People with short attention spans are already doing it on their own. Those of you who know me have heard me complain endlessly about a couple who showed up for a game in the bottom of the third inning and left in the top of the sixth. No sick kids, no emergency phone calls; they just arrived late and left early. I guess if something historic had happened, they would be able to say they were at the game…

    Let me put this another way: If MLB reduces games to seven innings, I will not only fly to Cooperstown and burn my glove in protest, but I will never watch another game. I realize my $500/year in tickets, concessions, and streaming fees isn’t going to influence MLB much, but at least my honor would be intact.

Take a look back up at the quote I started this piece with. How moving would that scene be with replay? Joe’s triumph over the forces of evil (both the Yankees and the Devil!) is interrupted by a manager’s challenge. Joe scrambles for cover (for reasons of backstory I won’t go into here) as thirty thousand fans watch the umpires, who are standing quietly, listening to the phone. The officials watching the video in the Replay Command Center a few blocks away hear the Devil whispering in their ears to change the call and give the Yankees the pennant “for the good of baseball”. The reversal comes in, and thirty thousand cheer the destruction of one of the classic works of baseball literature. A triumph of human will and decades of tradition destroyed by one man (ptooie!) and his insatiable need to tinker with the rulebook. Yeah, OK, maybe there’s a book there, but it’s not one I want to read. Or write.

OK, enough downers. Let’s go out on a cheerier note. Going back to MLB’s page about the new replay rules, we do find one positive note. “Clubs will now have the right to show replays of all close plays on its ballpark scoreboard, regardless of whether the play is reviewed.” Yes! Now everyone in the park can see how badly the replay officials botch the review!

Season Liberally With Tears

Tears of sorrow, tears of joy.

Feel free to skip ahead to the playoff discussion if you want to avoid the depressing bits.

And so another season comes to an end. Ten of the 30 teams move on to the playoffs. Fans of the other 20 teams crawl into bed, pull their team-colors blankets over their heads and mutter darkly about what went wrong.

I’ve talked a lot about hope this year, and will again. Just not quite yet, thanks. First there’s that “crawl into bed” period to get through. For most fans, it’ll last a couple of days. Then there will be some news about their team that can be interpreted as hopeful, and they’ll emerge from under the covers in time to watch the World Series while talking up “next year”. For others, it’ll take a bit longer.

Let’s compare a couple of examples. Can I have some volunteers from the audience, please? Thank you. You, there, the San Francisco Giants and, let’s see, how about you, the Seattle Mariners. I want to assure all of you that I have in fact never met either of these teams, and they are most assuredly not shills planted in the audience.

The Giants won the World Series last year. This year, with essentially the same team, things didn’t go quite as well and the team finished with a less-than-stellar 76-86 record. That puts them in a tie with San Diego for the 18th best record in baseball, just a smidge below the middle of the pack. I won’t go into what went wrong — even if I could adequately summarize it in the space available, it would deprive the fans of a winter of argumentfriendly discussion. Let’s just note that the Giants have a reasonably solid core that needs some fortification. Sunday they announced that they had driven a truck loaded with dollar bills onto Hunter Pence’s front lawn, thereby preventing a major piece of that core from heading to free agency. They’ve also formally stated that they’re loading another truck and programming its GPS for Tim Lincecum’s front yard. In short, they’ve got money and they’re not afraid to spend it where they think it will do the most good. Perhaps even more importantly, ownership, the general manager, and the manager* are clearly aligned on what to do next. Giants fans can come out from under the covers in time for tonight’s first playoff game (Cincinnati at Pittsburgh).

* For the uninitiated, the general manager is a suit-wearing guy who sits in an office; his (well, it’s usually a him) responsibility is the team’s strategy, as expressed via (among other things) draft choices, free agent signings, and managerial hiring. The manager is a uniform-wearing guy who sits on the field with the players; his (it’s always a him) responsibility is the team’s tactics. In most other sports, he would be referred to as the “head coach”.

Meanwhile, back in Seattle, the team finished the season on the losing end of a 9-0 blowout. Their 71-91 record is the 25th best (or fifth worst, if you prefer a smaller number) in baseball. Management is clearly completely unaligned on what to do next. The manager last year rejected a one year contract extension for 2014. The front office did nothing to counter rumors during the season that the manager would be fired. The departing manager wanted (he says) to develop the team’s prospects while bringing in a core of players in their peak years via trade and free agency. The general manager and ownership have been quiet on what their plan is, but over the past few years they have brought in a large number of older players nearing retirement while the prospects have been rushed to the majors and forced to learn on the job.

The general manager was given a one year contract extension; that puts him squarely into “win or you’re history” territory. That encourages him to overspend for free agents and trade away the promising rookies and prospects in the hope of assembling a group of individuals that will overcome their lack of cohesion to win more games than they lose. Sort of the baseball equivalent of selling the car you use to get to work to put a down payment on a house — and then getting an ARM loan with a huge balloon payment. Even if he doesn’t fall into that trap, he has to find a new manager who will want to take what’s likely to be a one year position (if the general manager doesn’t come through and is not renewed, his replacement will want his own choice for manager) while simultaneously trying to convince useful free agents to come to a team in disarray.

Mariners fans may be staying under those covers until next August when the general manager is let go. Or maybe until the following Christmas, when a new one is hired, too late to do anything useful at the annual winter meetings.

Oh, who am I trying to kid? That would be the logical thing to do, but religion is rarely logical. Most of them will be out of their bed-caves by mid-February when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. (One more than half is “most”, right?)

OK, we’re done with the depressing bits, I think. Let’s talk about the playoffs.

This year the five teams in each league with the best records have actually made the playoffs* (although the AL had to extend the season by a game to give Tampa Bay the opportunity to beat Texas to make that true.) In the NL, we’ve got Atlanta, St. Louis, LA, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. The AL has Boston, Detroit, Oakland, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay.

* That doesn’t always happen: the winner of a weak division may have a worse record than the number two or three team in a strong division. Until last year, only four teams made the playoffs from each league; the addition of a second wild card team should help cut down on top teams not making the playoffs, but it’s not a guarantee. Even last year with the second wild card in place, Tampa Bay (90-72) and the LA Angels (89-73) didn’t make the playoffs, but Detroit did at 88-74. Mind you, Detroit won the American League Championship before losing the World Series to San Francisco, so having the best regular season record doesn’t exactly set you up for assured success in the playoffs. Maybe they should just hold a lottery for the last wild card spot? But I digress.

You have to root for someone: that’s part of the sporting experience, not something unique to the religion of baseball. So how does the poor, suffering fan of one of the other 20 teams choose who to root for? Allow me to propose a few simple rules to help out:

  1. You must not root for any team that has been promoted as “America’s Team” or otherwise held up by its owners and/or the media as the ultimate expression of the sport. (A universal rule. In football, that eliminates Dallas, Washington, and (IMNSHO) Oakland.) So that means Atlanta is off the list. (In other, less happy years, that would also eliminate the Yankees.) I’d also include Boston on this list (sorry, Maggie), given the worship ESPN has lavished on them in recent years.
  2. You should not root for a team from your own team’s division. This is a contentious rule. Note that it is expressed as a “should”, rather than a “must”. The thinking here is that overcoming your normal antipathy for a rival is likely to bring you into unsafe proximity to that team’s fans. See the recent mixing of Dodgers and Giants fans for an extreme example of why this is a bad idea.
  3. That said, you really ought to root for somebody from your own league. If nothing else, crossing from the NL to the AL would require you to accept the designated hitter; going the other way would force you to watch pitchers try to hit. Either way, it’s sure to induce nightmares and insomnia.
  4. Teams with a record of futility get bonus points in the decision process. Pittsburgh is the clear leader here, as they’re making their first playoff appearance since 1992. NL Central fans who can’t root for the Pirates can look to the Dodgers, making their first playoff trip since 2009. Over in the AL, your best bet is Cleveland, who haven’t seen the post-season since 2007. Royals, Twins, and White Sox fans have a problem. They can’t root for the division-rival Indians or Tigers, we’ve already eliminated the Red Sox from consideration by anyone outside of Boston, and Oakland made the playoffs last year. That leaves them with Tampa Bay, who made the playoffs the year before last, which is not exactly ancient history. Still, they’re better off than they would have been if Texas had beaten Tampa Bay last night. Since Texas made the playoffs last year, those AL Central fans wouldn’t have had anyone to root for, and would have been denied the privilege of attending services.

Me? By the rules, I should be rooting for Cleveland. Unfortunately, I can’t summon up any emotion in support of the Indians. That being the case, I’m going to invoke my secondary loyalties to the Giants and Mets (74-88, squarely between the Giants’ and Mariners’ records) to allow me to cross the Great Divide between the leagues and root for the Pirates.

Assuming I can even see the TV from under my blankets.

We’ll Never Know

What if they planned a baseball game and nobody came?

The official word is that the game would be played. MLB will sometimes not reschedule a game that gets canceled due to weather if it has no playoff implications, but the rule is that if a game can be played, it will be. I do have to wonder, though.

Monday night, the Mariners’ paid attendance was 9,808, the lowest in the fourteen years they’ve been playing in their current stadium (I can’t find attendance numbers prior to that, but the odds are good there were a few games where they drew fewer fans.) Keep in mind that “paid attendance” includes season ticket holders who don’t bother to show up, so the number of actual bodies in seats was undoubtedly lower.

Those who did show up got to see this year’s final start by one of the Mariners’ hottest pitching prospects, a close ballgame through eight innings, capped by rookie Abraham Almonte’s first major league home run — and a Mariners’ loss to Houston, the worst team in baseball, thanks to a ninth inning pitching meltdown.

Tuesday, the paid attendance improved to 10,245, but apparently the Mariners failed to show up to play that same Houston team. They were behind 1-0 after the first pitch of the game and 6-1 after three innings. It only got worse from there. By the eighth inning, the score was 10-2 and the estimated actual attendance was down to 2,000. By the time the Mariners came to bat in the ninth, it was 13-2, and reports suggest that less than a thousand spectators were still there to see the Mariners get the leadoff batter on base before going pop out, fly out, line out.

It makes one wonder if the game would be called on account of disinterest if the last fan left.

But you know what? We’ll never find out.

Despite all arguments on the side of sanity, people will continue to show up, and some of them will stick around until the final pitch is thrown.

Did any of those last thousand or so spectators really think the Mariners would score 12 in the ninth to win the game? Or 11 to go to extra innings? Or even one run? Probably not. I’d even be willing to bet that the majority of them winced when Zunino was hit by a pitch — not because they sympathized with his pain, but because it extended the game.

But they stayed anyway.

The Mariners are playing another game against Houston tonight, and I expect around 10,000 people will show up to watch at least part of the game. The game doesn’t matter in the standings. It probably won’t even have an impact on the draft (even with a win, Houston’s chances of giving up the first pick to the pathetic Marlins are almost nil.)

But they’ll show up anyway.


Some of them will show up for the chance that they might see a miracle (Giants fans almost got one last week, when Petit missed a perfect game by about 2 1/2 feet). Some of them will show up in the hope of seeing something they’ve never seen before (it happened Monday night, when a run scored on a foul ball after the fielder’s throw hit the batter). One or two of them will show up because they’re emigres from Houston and it was the only day they could get away to see their team. Hell, some of them will show up because it’s a chance to get outside in gorgeous weather.

And no matter how the game turns out, some of those people will be there from the beginning to the end.


Loyalty. Faith.

For the teams, baseball is a business. They have no loyalty to the fans or the city they’re in. If they think they can make more money by moving they will — just look at the current five-way battle between the As, MLB, the Giants, the city of Oakland, and the city of Fremont.

It doesn’t matter. As I’ve been saying all season, for the fans baseball isa religion. Services are held 162 times a year, and the faithful will come to worship. Their reward isn’t in the next life, it’s tonight, next week, next month, and next year.

Ite, missa est.

Play ball!

Independence Day

You knew it was coming, but you didn’t know exactly when. Now here it is, and it’s too late to hide. That’s right, it’s another baseball post!

We’ll be continuing our series of posts looking at the major religious holidays of the sport. The current one is Independence Day. Unlike the civil holiday of the same name, the baseball holiday lasts four days*. To the heathen, the holiday is known as “the All-Star Break”, the official mid-point of the religious year. Yes, “official” does not equal “actual”. Most teams played their 81st game two or three weeks ago, around the end of June. But who says religion has to be logical?

* This is actually a change in the scriptures. Until this year, the break was three days. This alteration seems unlikely to cause a religious crisis, unlike the previous one which grants home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game. Prior to that change, advantage alternated from year to year. It’s still a highly contentious debate ten years later.

“How can a day last four days?” I hear someone ask. Well, it just does. This is an allegory, after all, not a literal representation of mundane reality. If it really bothers you, petition MLB to expand the break to five days the next time they negotiate an agreement with the players’ union. If that happens, I’ll start calling it Independence Week (after I get done sulking, that is).

Why is it Independence Day?

This is the point at which fans are freed from a number of burdens.

  • Meaningful baseball – just as the civil holiday frees most workers from their jobs for a day, the religious holiday frees most fans from caring about the results of the baseball-related activities they see. (What about the home field advantage in the World Series? Isn’t that meaningful? Well, yes. Historically, the home team has won approximately 60% of World Series games, so there really is a home field advantage. But it’s only meaningful to the two teams that make it to the World Series. That means it’s only meaningful to the fans of two teams. Granted, we don’t know which two they are, but it’s hard to waste brain cycles on the chance that it will matter to your team: 19 of the 30 teams are still seriously in the hunt (I’m defining “seriously” as “odds of no worse than 20 to 1”). Worry about your team getting to the World Series before you start stressing about home field advantage.) And nobody really cares who wins the Home Run Derby.
  • Freedom from bandwagon fans – By now the “fans” who only show up when things are going well have departed for all of the teams who are under .500 (14 of 30 teams, 16 if you include those exactly at .500) and they’re starting to vanish from the teams over .500 but in third place or lower in their divisions (an additional three teams including the Yankees). OK, it doesn’t mean much–there are no fewer loudly expressed incorrect opinions or drunken idiots at the games–but it’s nice to know that almost everyone you see at the game is a co-coreligionist, there because they want to be there, not because it’s the hot place to be.
  • Freedom from unrealistic expectations – Fans of the bottom-dwelling teams are freed from the need to plan vacations around camping in line for playoff tickets. Instead, they have hope. Yes, this is when the cries of “Wait until next year!” begin. For the rest of July, the focus will be on trading current veterans to playoff hopefuls in return for hot prospects to beef up next year’s team. (We’ll talk about August and September in a couple of weeks.) Note that there’s always an exception to this rule. This year, it’s the National League West division, which has exactly one team over .500. The distance between top and bottom is 8.5 games, which means that even San Diego, currently at .438 can’t be totally counted out (odds makers have their chances of winning the division at 15 to 2, though their chances of making it through the playoffs to the World Series are currently at 40 to 1).

Hope? Seriously?

Yup. Isn’t that what religion is all about when you come right down to it? Hope for a better tomorrow/next life/afterlife?

Here’s how it works, using a randomly-selected* team:

The Mariners are currently hoping for respectability this season (a .500 record) and a realistic prospect for making the playoffs next year. The last (mumble) years have been marked by a significant lack of hitting; this past off-season’s acquisitions were intended largely to beef up the bats. For the first half of the year the new bats, mostly swung by older veterans, helped some but the effects were swamped by injuries and highly inconsistent pitching. On the other hand, in the past couple of weeks the rest of the team’s bats have been heating up. Some of those bats are being swung by rookies brought up earlier than planned to cover for injuries, others by younger veterans who had been expected to start hitting last year or the year before. And then there’s Raul Ibanez, one of those older veteran bats brought in during the off-season. He’s making a serious run at the records for home runs hit by a player over 41 and 40 (yes, heathens, the true faithful really do track that kind of statistic). He’s currently at 24; with the records at 29 and 34 respectively, he’s got a damn good shot at them both.

So here’s where the hope kicks in: Rauuuuuuuul (as it’s spelled in Seattle) and the young bats will carry the team the rest of the way this year. They’ll build on the pre-All-Star Break sweep of the Angels by pounding the Astros and Twins (two of the three American League teams with worse records than the Mariners) and hold their own against the Indians. That would bring them to the end of July no worse than four games short of respectability, leaving them well-placed to go just over .500 for the last two month to make it to .500 on the year. Towards the end of the month, they trade Ibanez to a team that wants a clutch bat off the bench in exchange for a decent outfield prospect. Next year the top pitching prospects in the minors come up to the majors, and the team, now with a nice balance of offense and defense vault past the Angels (crippled with expensive, non-performing players) and As (whose ability to get top performance out of unknowns will surely fade eventually, so why not next year) and go head-to-head with Texas for the division title.

Clearly that’s greatly oversimplified, but it gives you an idea of how hope works at the bottom of the standings. And it works, too. Just look at this year’s Pirates, who have put 20 consecutive losing seasons behind them and are currently at .602 with 13 to 2 odds of making the World Series. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone, right?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch the Home Run Derby. It may not mean anything, but it’s hard to find better entertainment than the crew of kids (8 to 15 years old) trying to catch the balls that don’t make it over the fence while not getting beaned.

* Not really random.

On Reincarnation

You may be aware of an old myth that Isaac Newton was born shortly after Galileo died. I’ve seen it stated as “the same day”, “the day after”, or (less aggressively) “the same calendar year”. This close proximity has been used as “evidence” of reincarnation. “Surely,” the argument goes, “there couldn’t be two such towering geniuses working in the same field by coincidence so close together. Obviously Galileo felt his work was of such importance that he had to come back for another life to complete it.”

It’s such a nice idea (though I do have to wonder why that same towering genius didn’t come back in 1727 after Newton died instead of making the world wait another 150 years for Einstein) that it’s a shame it’s based on a false premise: Newton was actually born almost a year later – the confusion derives from the fact that it took England 168 years to adopt the Gregorian calendar. There’s a nice little summary of the calendar issue here. Personally, I think that would actually strengthen the argument, as it doesn’t require us to assume that embryos are soulless until shortly before birth (or maybe that the soul can be evicted and replaced until birth [Hmm. Pardon me a moment while I make a note in my Story Ideas file… OK, I’m back.]), but it does seem to weaken the idea in the minds of people who take the notion seriously. People are strange that way.

But regardless of the specific dates, the idea of a genius coming back to finish work has enough appeal that I thought it might be interesting to look at a few other famous names and see if they too might have had more to do, and so come back for another round.

To keep it half-way reasonable, I’m setting the Galileo/Newton gap as the maximum, and only accepting a “reincarnation” if the successor was born within a year of the predecessor’s death.

Here’s a quickie to start things off:
Sun Yat-sen died 3/12/1925. Seven months later, on 10/13/1925, Margaret Thatcher was born. Maybe we’re onto something here…

Since I’m oriented more towards the arts than the sciences, let’s try a writer and a musician/composer.

Percy Bysshe Shelley died on 7/8/1822. Matthew Arnold (the British poet, not the television reporter) was born five months later on 12/24. He died 4/15/1888, and came back five months later on 9/26 as T.S. Eliot. Sounding reasonable? (I’ll risk derailing this particular thread by noting that Eliot died 1/4/1965 and I was born 6 months later on 7/8 – exactly 143 years after Shelley died. I’ll leave it to others to figure out if there’s some significance to the number 143.)
Johann Sebastian Bach died 7/28/1750. He clearly had more to say and came back a mere two weeks later as Antonio Salieri (who was far more respected than the play “Amadeus” would suggest – but that’s a discussion for another time) on 8/18. Salieri died 5/7/1825. Still with more to say, he came back again as Johann Strauss II (yes, the composer known as “The Waltz King”) on 9/25. Bach’s spirit refused to quit. After dying as Strauss on 6/3/1899, he came back as the Czech composer Pavel Haas on 6/21. With his work tragically cut short by the Holocaust (10/17/1944), he came back again. As Strauss, he had focused on more popular musical forms; as Haas, he had been working with folk and jazz motifs, so clearly a change of style was in order, and thus Bob Marley was born on 2/6/1945. Marley died 5/11/1981 – another career cut short – and six months later on 12/2, the next link in the chain of reincarnation arived in the form of Britney Spears.

Never mind. I think it’s pretty clear that this isn’t going to serve as evidence of reincarnation.

In an effort to avoid a law suit from Ms. Spears (or maybe the Marley Estate), I’ll note that this exercise was totally tongue-in-cheek. There were a few other directions I could have taken the Bach line after Strauss. Note that Hoagy Carmichael was born 11/22/1899, which could have been a fun chain to justify. He even died in 1981, but unfortunately not until three weeks after Britney was born, which would have blocked that link in the chain.

Even sticking with Pavel Haas, I could have gone in other directions. 1945 was a good year for musician/composer births: instead of Bob Marley, I could have gone from Haas to Stephen Stills (1/3), Rod Stewart (1/10), Eric Clapton (3/30), Bjorn Ulvaeus (4/25), Pete Townshend (5/19), Carly Simon (6/25), Debbie Harry (7/1), David Bromberg (9/19), Don McLean (10/2), Keith Emerson (11/2), or Dennis Wilson (12/4). Unfortunately, most of them are still alive, or died too recently for an obvious successor to have arisen – and then there’s that little matter of lawsuits…  I would hope most of them would like to think they could trace themselves back to Bach, but given today’s litigious society, I’d hate to be responsible for Bob Seger (born 5/6/1945) claiming the copyright for “The Well-Tempered Clavier”!