Some Baseball History

American friends generally roll their eyes when I tell them that cricket is a much simpler game than baseball. Then I ask them to explain the Infield Fly Rule and their eyes glaze over. That, however, has a rational explanation. It is much harder to explain the Dropped Third Strike Rule. But, thanks to this article, I now know why it exists.

Two interesting things follow from this. Firstly it contains some fascinating history of baseball, including references to a German book dating from 1796 and referring to a sport known as “Englische Base-ball”. So much for baseball being an American invention, I think.

I’m pretty sure I remember the “must run on a third miss” rule from when I played rounders in school, if only because I never managed to hit a ball so that rule was always being applied to me.

Secondly the article provides a great example of how the rules of a sport evolve with time, and in reaction to tactics developed by players. There are silly people around, many of them in the UK, who think that the rules of sports were set in stone late in the 19th Century and should never be changed. However, there are few things more constant in the world than change, and sport is not immune.

Oh, and the article mentions the Dodgers losing a game, which is always likely to put me in a good mood.

County Cricket – Down to the Wire

County cricket and nail-biting excitement are not terms that are generally used together. The County Championship is old-fashioned cricket played the way God intended before she realized that T20 games could be a whole lot of fun. Matches are played over four days and often end in draws. It is enough to send your average American sports fan into a coma.

This year, however, is different. As we entered the final week of matches, three teams were in with a shot at the title. Excitingly the top two teams, Middlesex and Yorkshire, were due to play each other at the “Home of Cricket”, Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Lord’s is the home ground of Middlesex, and Yorkshire are the defending champions. It was a perfect set up.

Except that there was a joker in the pack. Way out in Taunton, tiny Somerset had a game against a hapless and already relegated Nottinghamshire side. It looked like an easy win for the cider boys, and if the two titans of the game slugging it out in London fought each other to a draw, then the cheeky West Country lads could sneak off with the title.

Today was day 3 of the matches. There was much excitement during the day regarding matters of bonus points, but I will spare you the neepery and cut to the chase.

As expected, Somerset wrapped up a victory easily — with a day to spare, in fact. They missed out on only a single bonus point and so racked up a lot of points. They now sit happily on top of the table.

Meanwhile in London fortunes swung back and fore. Yorkshire currently have the upper hand, but there’s a whole day to play and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Middlesex could get a win. Sides have come back from worse positions before. A win for either side will net enough points for the title.

Or it could rain all day. Who knows?

We’ll find out tomorrow. The bookmakers have Yorkshire as firm favorites. They are they reigning champions. They know how to win. And there is enough playing time for them to get there. But Somerset have points in the bag. If Yorkshire slip up tomorrow, something momentous might happen.

In thinking of how to explain this to Americans, my first thought was to talk about the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were founder members of Major League Baseball and have a history dating back to 1876. They haven’t won the World Series since 1908 (though this year they look to be hot favorites). But they have won, twice.

Somerset’s cricket club was founded in 1875. County cricket was started by Yorkshire and Gloucestershire in 1890, and Somerset was the third team to join the tournament in 1891. In all of that time they have never won the championship.

Tomorrow we could see a little bit of cricketing history being made.

Summer Has Arrived

The baseball season is already underway. The San Francisco Giants opened their season in the snows of Milwaukee last week, where they did OK. Now they are safely back home at Emperor Norton Field and have registered two spectacular come-back wins against the Hated Dodgers. It is a bit early to be confident, but we do only win the World Series in even-numbered years.

Meanwhile the opening match of this year’s IPL is underway. No Rajasthan Royals again — they’ll be back from suspension next year, hopefully with some wiser owners — so I’m kind of relaxed about who wins. Disastrous start for Mumbai though. I suspect that the pundits are right and Bangalore will win, so I shall cheer for someone else.

Now all I need is some decent weather, but of course it is raining here. Why is that? Because the English cricket season starts tomorrow.

Orange October – Mission Accomplished

World Series 2014
Three in five. Absolutely amazing.

Of course I remember all of those freezing cold nights with Kevin at Candlestick Park. I’d bring thermoses full of hot food and hot chocolate to keep us going. In those days the baseball media regularly predicted that the Giants would finish bottom of their division. We rarely did. These days we just get the best odds going into post-season, so winning the World Series has become a habit. I’m sure that die hard Giants fans who gamble have done quite well over the years.

Credit is due to the Kansas City Royals. Our previous two World Series wins have been wrapped up in 5 and 4 games respectively. This year we were taken all the way to the last out of game 7. It was a 2-2 count with the tying run on third base. I’m sure that all of the neutrals were hoping for extra innings. The Royals are an exceptional team — they were unbeaten in post-season until they came up against us. The Giants only win in odd-numbered years, so I hope they’ll get their turn next year.

It is also worth noting that we only won because Madison Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval both produced record-setting performances. Panda was MVP in 2012, so I’m pleased that this year it went to MadBum. I was also slightly surprised to find, checking the history, that Edgar RenterĂ­a got it in 2010. I guess we need to win again so Buster Posey can have one.

A Cricket Story for Americans

There is a one-day cricket match being played between England and Sri Lanka today in which an event took place that nicely illustrates some of the commonalities and differences between baseball and cricket.

What happened was that the English catcher, Jos Buttler, was out caught stealing. This is a very rare event in cricket. There are, after all, only two bases on a cricket pitch. The man in bat stands on one, and the pitcher runs past the other one on his way to delivery the ball. The non-striking batter has to be pretty daft to be caught off base when all that the pitcher has to do is stop and touch the stumps with the ball.

But this is cricket. It is a polite game. The assumption is that anyone who could be out caught stealing has left the base by accident, rather than because he’s trying to gain an advantage. It is therefore normal practice for the pitcher to give a warning first. This is what the Sri Lankan pitcher, Sachithra Senanayake, did. He stopped and said, “I say, old chap, you seem to have absent-mindedly wandered down the pitch. I could have put you out just then, you know. Please don’t do that again.” Or whatever the equivalent is in Sinhala.

As I said, you have to be pretty dim to get out like that, especially after you have been warned. However, Buttler was born in Darkest Somerset, not far from where I grew up. He did make the same mistake again, and this time was put out. The crowd didn’t like it, but the ex-players in the commentary team were adamant that is was his own stupid fault.

Karen & Karen on Napier’s Bones

The promised episode of SF Crossing the Gulf focusing on Derryl Murphy’s novel, Napier’s Bones is now available for download. It is deeply spoilerific, but as usual Karen Lord and Karen Burnham have a fascinating conversation and I’m delighted to hear that the book is as cool as I thought it would be. Go have a listen, or maybe buy the book. People who like Tim Powers’ more modern-day novels should love this too.

Towards the end of the podcast, for reasons that will be obvious once you know a bit about the story, our hosts get into a discussion of the relative merits of cricket and baseball from the point of view of a stats geek. They cast the Summon Cheryl spell, but Karen Lord did a good job of channeling me so I didn’t really need to respond. My basic point is that baseball, because of its limited field space and fairly fixed fielding positions, has a more simple set of statistics to work with, which probably makes those stats more powerful.

In Training

Kevin and I are on vacation in South Devon. The primary purpose is to allow Kevin to ride lots of trains that he has not been on before. There may also be history and good food involved. It is a little damp, and our digestive systems are not in the peak of fitness, but other than that things are going fine.

I have two important things to mention. One is that last night I noticed a problem with my blogs not sending updates to Twitter. Friends in Australia using the same WordPress plugin reported similar problems. I don’t have time to troubleshoot right now so I’ll try to work around it manually. The other is as follows:

Game 7: GO GIANTS!!!


San Francisco GiantsI am, of course, absolutely delighted for Matt Cain, and for all of my Giants fan friends. This is right up there with winning the World Series. I so wish I could have been there, or at least have been home watching it with Kevin.

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder what people (especially Americans) would say if I reported that a cricket match had taken place in which one side scored no runs. đŸ˜‰

Sports Documentaries

Over the weekend I finished watching a few DVDs I need to send to Kevin. Two of those were sports documentaries: Ken Burns’ Tenth Inning and Stevan Riley’s Fire in Babylon. Both are notable for using sport a a lens with which to examine social history.

There’s an interview with Burns in the extras for Tenth Inning in which he says he sees Baseball as a kind of sequel to his famous series about the American Civil War. Both of them are projects that examine American history. Tenth Inning fits right into that theory. Although it is fairly recent history, the Dot Com Boom and 9/11 are well worth historical examination, and once again baseball proves a fascinating lens through which to do so.

Fire in Babylon takes us to another part of the American continent, and another sport. It celebrates the creation and 15-year domination of the great West Indies test side. The stars of the show include Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Michael Holding and Bunny Wailer. I loved it, especially the extra that is made from a series of interviews with Sir Geoffrey, Lord Gower and Imran Khan where they talk about having to face up to the West Indies pace attack. If any of my American friends want to know why I think baseball players are a bit wussy (though I now understand the game much better than I did when I wrote this) they should watch this documentary.

A brief warning for my West Indian friends. There’s one extra that is an interview with cricket historian David Frith. He’s so smarmy and vile that you may end up wanting to punch your TV. I know I did. Thankfully the main film makes it very clear how West Indies developed their pace attack as a response to the physical battering they took from Lillee and Thomson, and the racist abuse they got from the Australian crowds, in 1975, and this exposes Frith’s comments beautifully.

An American At Lords

A couple of days ago I was pointed to this long essay by ESPN reporter, Wright Thompson. He’d been sent to cover the England-India test match at Lords last summer, and found the experience fascinating. There is much good in the article. Thompson is great at getting across how antiquated and stuffy Lords can be, and how ridiculous the MCC members look. He’s also spot on about the Tendulkar/Dravid phenomenon. He does get rather side-tracked at times, which is perhaps appropriate for anything that mentions Test Match Special and the inimitable Henry Blofeld. But the more I thought about what he wrote, the more I felt that he didn’t really understand test cricket, or baseball either.

Much of the article is, in fact, a standard piece of modern technophobia. Back in the 19th Century, journalists worked themselves into a frenzy over the possibility that people would die traveling in trains because our bodies simply weren’t designed to move that fast. Naturally they could find reputable doctors willing to attest that this was a very real danger. These days the favorite story is that the Internet and smart phones will make us dumb: if we use them too much we will never be able to concentrate on anything that lasts more than a few seconds again. As this manifestly isn’t true for most people, the current line is that it will only affect people who are born in the digital age. Naturally there are experts willing to swear that this is a very real danger. In a few years time no one will be able to read a novel, or watch a test match.

Well, I confess that I did spread my re-watch of The Lord of the Rings over three days because a whole twelve hour movie was a bit much, but I don’t think I’m a cabbage yet, despite my intensive use of Twitter. And I still follow test cricket, despite loving T20.

There’s a pervasive myth that baseball is a high-intensity, thrill-a-minute sport, whereas cricket is slower than watching paint dry. It doesn’t surprise me to hear British people trot this out, but I’m somewhat agog that an American who has watched both games could think this. As anyone who has seen more than a few games knows, much of the enjoyment of baseball comes from things not happening. Games in which one side doesn’t score any runs are common. Games in which one side is prevented from making any hits are celebrated. A game in which both pitchers got through nine innings without giving up a hit would probably be celebrated as the Best Game Ever, though this being baseball they’d play on until someone won, even if it took another three hours.

It is true that T20 was designed to last the same amount of time as a baseball game. But this wasn’t to replicate the energy of baseball, it was because it meant that you could stage the game in an evening, after work. The average baseball game sees 9 runs scored. The average T20 game sees around 300 runs scored. Which game sounds like it has more action?

The two sports have a number of similarities that become obvious if you watch Ken Burns’ fabulous documentaries (including the newly released 10th Inning). Both sports have a love of history. Both are absolutely obsessed with statistics, baseball probably more so because plays are called off the field rather than by the fielding captain so it is much easier to check stats before making a decision. And the frisson of horror that ran through baseball during the McGwire/Sosa home run fest was very similar to the panics that hard core cricket fans have over the six-hitting in T20, again possibly more so because of the open secret that performance-enhancing drugs were involved.

But what about this five-day thing. Americans would never watch a game that lasts that long, would they? Well, actually they do, it just doesn’t seem like it.

Almost all baseball games are played as part of a series. Mostly fans pay little attention to the outcome of series during the regular season because they are more focused on the overall record of their team, and its place in the standings. Once you get to the playoffs, however, it is the series, not the game, that matters.

A playoff series is played over several days, in both teams’ ballparks, with different starting pitchers each night. It is good to get the better of your opponents in an individual day’s play, but ultimately only the series result matters. The playoffs take place later in the year, at a time when the weather is most likely to affect games. Even the time of day matters, as anyone who has watched one of the idiotic 4:00pm start matches at Emperor Norton Field can attest. At that time of day the angle of the sun over the park, and the shadows it creates, makes batting almost impossible (which is reminiscent of the infamous “sun stops play” incident at Derby a few years ago). The World Series of Baseball is, in effect, a single game played over seven days (with breaks for travel).

Of course it doesn’t feel like that, because at the end of each day’s play one team or the other can say that it won. Also each day’s game (normally) only lasts about 3 hours, not 6 as in a day’s cricket. But the real attraction of both the World Series and test match is not what happens on an individual day, it is the developing story. It is the ebb and flow of fortunes, the changing conditions from day to day, the different individuals who come to the fore each day, the chance for redemption tomorrow if you mess up today.

Any writer will tell you that there is so much more that you can do in a novel than in a short story. The same is true of sport. Cricket has short forms, and baseball has regular season games, but for both sports the pinnacle of achievement comes in a contest that develops over several days. And in both cases the serious fans are glued to the developing story. I think that has always been the case, and always will be.

Private IDAHO?

Today is IDAHO, the International Day Against HOmophobia and transphobia. Those of you versed in queer politics can doubtless already see where I am going with this. A day that should be spent fighting for human rights for all sorts of people is, to a large extent, being spent instead on arguments between various parts of the Queer community as to who is actually included and whether they should have a letter in the acronym. There should be a T, because otherwise transphobia is not properly covered. There should be a B, because otherwise bisexuals are being made invisible. There should be an I, because intersex people resent being included under the trans umbrella. And so on. Sometimes I think that if we expended half as much energy on fighting external bigotry that we expended on fighting each other then there would be no need for things like IDAHO.

Still, as we have a day to celebrate, here are a few things to note.

Firstly ILGA Europe has produced a Rainbow Europe Index that shows how different European countries are doing in passing LGBT-friendly legislation. The good news is that the UK comes out top of the heap, with 12.5 out of 17 points, and it loses 2 for not having a constitution, which I suspect some people will see as unfair.

Digging deeper, however, I discover that the UK was awarded 2 points for having legislation about supply of goods & services discrimination on the grounds of gender identity. Well it does. It has legislation that specifically makes is legal to discriminate on the grounds of gender identity. That’s the infamous “Equality” Act, of course, which human rights lawyers are itching for an opportunity to challenge as it may well be contradicting other UK legislation such as the Gender Recognition Act. I’m not sure that the 2 points is warranted here.

And that half point? Hate crimes legislation for gender identity protection — a half point because it is Scotland only.

Unfortunately, while the UK is leading Europe in LGBT protection, it is setting a very bad example elsewhere. There is this thing called the Commonwealth (the political institution formerly known as the British Empire), and it is a festering bastion of homophobia and transphobia. Over at The Guardian, Peter Tatchell explains all. You would think that an organization headed by someone called “The Queen” could do better in this regard.

And finally, I am delighted to report that my beloved World Champion San Francisco Giants are to become the first sports team to record an “It Gets Better” video. Details from the San Francisco Chronicle.

World Series, Baby!

2010 World Series official logoIt appears I have a bunch of new readers thanks to a tweet by Cat Valente. Now I’m probably going to lose a bunch of them again by making a sports post.

You know, I really shouldn’t be watching the World Series (and I’m not watching it live as it is on in the middle of the night). Pictures of that beautiful City by the Bay inevitably make me sad, and I can’t listen to that Tony Bennett song these days without crying. But how can I not watch, when Kevin and I have spent so many happy evenings in that ballpark? (Not to mention so many happy evenings freezing our butts off in Candlestick Park before they built the new stadium at Emperor Norton Field.) We lived through the disaster of 2002 together. I can’t desert the Giants now.

I should add, also, that there’s a curse to be laid. English cricket has three major tournaments in the year, not just one. Somerset finished second in all three. It can’t happen to the Giants as well, can it?

And, like all great sporting events, there’s a story to this World Series. The Giants have come through a pretty bad period since 2002. For much of the last few years they have been held together by one guy: Bengie Molina. The catcher is always the heart of a baseball team, and up until recently Molina was also one of the few men that the Giants could rely upon to deliver runs. As a veteran catcher, he played a key role in developing two young players: Tim Lincecum, the ace pitcher who has won two Cy Young awards, and Buster Posey, the kid being groomed as Molina’s replacement.

In June this year the Giants’ management decided that it was finally time for Posey to take his place in the starting lineup, and Molina was traded to the Texas Rangers. One of the idiosyncrasies about baseball is that teams in the National League and American League very rarely play each other, and so rarely develop rivalries. Despite the Rangers having once been part-owned by George W. Bush, the Giants and the Rangers seem to have maintained friendly relations down the years. Will Clark, who helped take the Giants to the 1989 World Series (the one interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake), was also traded to the Rangers. Molina has apparently remained on good terms with his former teammates, even helping coach Lincecum through a bad patch earlier in the season.

Bengie is also, of course, in the unenviable position of going into the World Series knowing that he will be credited with being part of the winning side, no matter who wins. Though, like any professional sportsman, he’ll be trying his utmost to help the Rangers triumph.

Good sporting events also spring surprises. Last night’s matchup between Lincecum and Cliff Lee was billed as the pitching duel of the year, Lee also being a former Cy Young winner. Instead the Giants, a team that could not hit its way out of a paper bag at times this season, piled on the runs on the way to an 11-8 victory. Goodness only knows what will happen tonight. Maybe the Giants will actually score some runs behind Matt Cain for once. I hope so.

Another Long Day

It has been another very long day in front of the keyboard. This time I have been working on the Wizard’s Tower Press website and on Salon Futura #2. I think I have everything sorted now, but I am very disappointed with the quality of ecommerce plugins available for WordPress. It looks like I will have to sign up with one of the stand-alone ecommerce solutions, which will further add to my monthly expenses.

Still, I did need to be up late anyway. The San Francisco Giants are now just 2 innings away from a place in postseason play. This is little short of a miracle. Excuse me while I stop looking at computers and stare at the TV instead.

¡ Vamos Los Gigantes !

Kevin and I spent much of today up in The City at Emperor Norton Field. It was a good day to be there. They unveiled a new statue of Orlando Cepeda. Jose Feliciano performed the national anthem. And Los Gigantes won a tense game 7-6. We had Tony Bennett to serenade us on our way out of the ballpark, and a walk along the waterfront back to Embarcadero afterward. It was a lovely warm night in the beautiful City by the Bay. It is good to be occasionally reminded that, no matter how much our lives appear to be falling apart in other areas, we are still very lucky just to live here.

Take Me Out…

… to the ballgame. It has been quiet here today because Kevin and I have been in San Francisco. It was a lovely day, and we had superb seats – right next to the left field foul pole. Amongst other things it was a perfect place to watch the bullpen warm up. We were pretty much right behind them as they threw. It was almost a pity, therefore, that Barry Zito pitched eight efficient innings. Indeed, the whole Giants performance was very satisfying. They played in a close game against an opponent with a much better record and they showed that they know how to win.

Kevin has written up his report elsewhere, so Ill just confine myself to noticing something odd. I could not find anywhere in the park where you could buy a glove. Given that we were sat in a place where I’ve seen plenty of balls hit before now, we rather needed one, and it occurred to me that I could get one for Kevin as a surprise birthday present, but they were nowhere to be found. We even tried the main stadium shop after the game, but no gloves there either. Given how much fuss the commentators make about bringing your glove to the game, I have half a mind to write to Kruk and Kuip to complain.