Friday, April 27, 2007

The A/V Club Will Save Us from Ourselves

The anger and melancholy that this blog is lately fomenting reminds me of a comment war that flared last year on the Tigers blog I frequent. People were posting thousand-word diatribes at 3 AM about the relative merits of Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames, and in the end the administrator had to ban some of the commenters for vulgar and threatening language. It was like witnessing road rage in an adjacent lane of the highway.

After a Tigers game, that same blog occasionally reproduces the game’s FanGraph. These show how likelihood of victory varied over the course of the game:
I can’t think of anything that’s less like a baseball game than one of these graphs. Of course, some future human who grows up poring over these graphs in the e-paper every morning might say the same thing about box scores.

The graphs remind me of Kurt Vonnegut’s unsuccessful anthropology dissertation at the University of Chicago, where he tried to graph stories in order to compare and contrast them. That didn’t work, but I do think that the guys at FanGraphs could make a positive difference in the world. Maybe we could graph political campaigns. Or international conflicts. Or romantic relationships. Then, when you break up with someone, you can find out if it’s fairest to compare your two months together to the 1984 Democratic primaries, Mark Buehrle’s no-hitter, or the Galveston Flood. We will put an end to bad analogies. No one will be unfairly smeared, and my boss’s secretary Hannah will have to stop telling our coworkers that my innocent invitation to coffee was “reminiscent of the Bay of Pigs invasion.”

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lance Schulters Did Not Enjoy Match Point Either

A few months ago, I had a dream. I rarely dream, or at least never remember them. On average, I wake up remembering a dream about once every two or three months. It stands to reason that the dreams I do remember should be of great importance, but they rarely are. Most involve my parking my car and walking with a large group to some event and then realizing that I have no idea how to get back to my parked car once the event has ended or I have decided to leave early. But a few months ago, I had a dream about Lance Schulters, who once played safety for the Tennessee Titans. I was at a charity basketball game and he happened to be playing and we talked about movies and he seemed like an okay guy and I remember telling him that I wished the Titans hadn't released him and he said it was just business. He went back into the game and I sat back on the bleachers and I remember thinking, in the dream, that this would certainly go over very well on the blog. And I woke up and I decided that maybe I needed to spend a little less time with the Sinkholes.
But then I got an email from a college friend, Dave "Angry!" Schultz, telling me that Dr. Gravitee was writing posts that were too long and would I come back to write something about sports (or not sports as it were. Angry! said, and I quote, "Anson, can you please go back on the blog and get to the bottom of this hamburger thing?"...oh, in college, "getting to the bottom of this hamburger thing" was slang for getting your business in also meant, sometimes, wrestling on the lawn). So, here is, in honor of the first Charlotte basketball team, a little excerpt from Tony Earley's incredible "Charlotte":
"Now we have the Hornets. They wear uniforms designed by Alexander Julian, and play hard and lose, and make us look into our souls."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sinkhole Superstars: Joey Renard Gathright jumps over a car

Even if Joey Gathright, the former starting center fielder for the KC Royals, never makes it back to the majors, if he gets stuck in Triple-A Omaha for the next fifteen years, he is already a superstar in my book for accomplishing this feat: jumping over a parked car.

UPDATE: Judging by the angry emails I've been receiving for this post, some of our readers disapprove my decision to "laud" Joey's "reckless act." To those people, I say simply this: watch the video. It doesn't have the feel of a bunch of kids doing stupid stuff so that they can get their own MTV show. In fact, I find the video oddly soothing. He's in a polo shirt. He's wearing reading glasses. There is no pre-jump gritting of teeth or pounding of chest. He just jogs up and jumps. Like jumping over a puddle. And after jumping over the parked car with ease, Joey seems mostly embarrassed to have agreed to show off his trick for the camera. Joey, you ARE the man.

SECOND UPDATE: An angry commenter named "Angry!" just posted the following: "Joey Gathright is a Sinkhole Superstar for jumping over a Mitsubishi Galant while dressed like Carlton Banks? The true Sinkhole Superstar is Renjis Empati!"

So, my retort to "Angry!" is...good point.

Perhaps what would be most productive at this point would be to take a step back and define what a "sinkhole superstars" is. For me, it is someone who reaches the Pinnacle Of Greatness' waiting room (and is generally considered a superstar) in a narrow field and then, through no real fault of his own, is absorbed back into the normally-skilled world (which is where the "sinkhole" part comes in). Joey was a very highly-rated prospect for the Devil Rays. Now he's a Triple-A outfielder for the Royals who isn't considered an especially good base runner or fielder despite his amazing speed (and, as the video suggests, leaping ability). Same player, same skills. The only difference is that he is two years older and now People Who Matter In Baseball are suddenly down on his ability to, well, not swing at a too-high fastball.

I have a fondness for these sorts of of players. And while I do not make dolls of these players and pet them (that would be creepy), I do recognize my own dreams of superstardom as well as my own moments of sinkholedom in them. Eileen Shea was the Main Woman at MSU, and now she is, say, a normal mom living in East Lansing. Steve Logan was an incredible college player, but now he is struggling to find a job in Europe. And Joey is a formerly-hyped OF who might never get another chance to play in the majors.

Buy hey, at least he can jump over a car. I'd put that skill just above being competitive at ping pong and just below being able to play a Bach piano concierto passably well.

As for Renjis Empati, that's an entirely different story. I am ready, in all seriousness, to dedicate this blog to him and his efforts. He, after all, saw his kitchen going into a sinkhole while going to the bathroom in an outhouse at 2am and had the wherewithal to go Paul Revere on his neighbors and save their lives.

Renjis Empati, I emphatically salute you!

THIRD UPDATE: The Cubs signed Gathright to a one-year contract on December 16th, 2008. He'll be fighting for playing time with Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson and maybe So Taguchi. Also: here is the video of Joey jumping over that Dodgers pitcher in spring training last year.

Malaysian saves 100 from sinkhole

By Steve Jackson
BBC News

A Malaysian man paying a late-night visit to the toilet has saved about 100 people from being buried in the rubble of their homes, reports say.

Renjis Empati was visiting an outside lavatory when he noticed part of his communal longhouse collapsing.

He shouted to alert his sleeping neighbours to the danger. Shortly after, the entire building gave way.

Longhouses are large communal buildings used by indigenous groups in the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

It was about 0200 when Mr Empati left the communal longhouse he lived in to answer a call of nature.

Lost possessions

According to reports in the New Straits Times newspaper, he felt the ground slowly moving and noticed part of his kitchen sliding into a sinkhole.

He ran along the side of the building shouting to alert his sleeping neighbours to the danger.

The residents, the occupants of 14 family apartments, managed to get out and shortly afterwards the building collapsed.

Pictures in the newspaper show people climbing through a huge pile of splintered wood and corrugated iron trying to retrieve their possessions.

The local authorities have given the homeless community around $4,000 (£2,000) to help with the rebuilding.

Many people have expressed gratitude to Mr Empati for helping to get them out before it was too late.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The sunsets in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea are pretty

In December of 2006, I made the following statement:

“I also publicly predict that the Bobcats will end the 2006-2007 season with a better record than the Knicks.”

With one game remaining in the regular season, the Bobcats have a one-game lead over the Knicks. And guess who the Bobcats play for their final game of the season? The Knicks.

I once met Bill James, that baseball stat guy that every baseball blog writes about. I have a friend whose mother is lead engineer on the Hubble telescope, and through her work she is able to get tickets in one of those baseball luxury boxes. I sometimes join them for a game when they have an extra seat. One night, Bill James was in our box. I introduced myself while we were standing over the ballpark frank bin at the buffet line in the back of the luxury box. After exchanging pleasantries, I said, “I’m currently creating a model that predicts the winners of NASCAR races. It has been successful so far (a .56 correlation rate), but I wondered if you could help me take it to the next level.”

He glanced at me, selected a hotdog from the bin, looked back at me and then said, “what is your math background?” I told him. He said, “You are math deficient. After you improve your math skills, I’d be happy to go over it with you.”

And that’s Bill, as far as I can tell: blunt to the bone, maybe to the point of being arrogant, but ultimately willing to be generous with his time.

Switching gears, I have been eating larger quantities of fruit and vegetables. The effect on my bowel movements has been marked. They now feel more like they are being squeezed from a tube. Previously, each episode was like giving birth to a small collection of miniature hairless bear cubs. My latest movements are more like the healthy droppings of a nervous greyhound before he’s pushed into a dog track’s starting gate.

Friday, April 13, 2007

"I don't even try to figure out this game anymore”

Brandon Inge said that the other day. He’d started off the season 0 for 20.

I should not have left Bill James off my list of people who would enjoy World War Z. I grew up reading his books, and I think he’s one of the most influential people in the past quarter-century of sports. His Historical Baseball Abstract is the best sports book ever written. I still remember that in his 1990 Abstract he predicted John Smoltz would win 200 games in his career (he had 14 wins at the time, he now has 194).

James was recently interviewed by a Mets blog, and some of his answers were exquisitely left-brained. When asked if he might start his own blog or web site, he replied, “Not a blog, no, but a web site, yes. Based around information.” He got a question about player development that rambled a little and informed the interviewer, “You're mixing up several issues in a jumbled question.” When asked about Mark McGwire’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame: “He isn't being judged by the standard that I would choose for him, but then, it isn't my choice, and there is no logic to admiring athletes, anyway. It's just arbitrary. It's like admiring people who won the lottery.”

Beep-boop. Beep-boop-bop.

But he’s right, as always, and, more impressively, unafraid to reveal an unsightly truth about the underpinnings of his life’s work.

James works for the Red Sox now, and he was asked about how that’s changed his perspective. “A lot of decisions in baseball are made on the basis of things that you never think about as a fan,” he said. “The internal discussion of the front office is vastly more sophisticated than the discussion that takes place in the public arena, more subtle, more layered, more complex, and with hundreds of times more information.” This from a guy who’s charted types and locations of pitches at hundreds of games, just so he could better understand what was happening on the field and why.

This brought to mind a conversation I once had with a friend whose father was a coach for the Michigan State football team. I asked her about the coaching changes that took place in the nineties. “The real reason [one assistant coach] didn’t get the job,” she said, “is that he was sleeping with the head coach’s wife.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

If I were coach...

Of a MLB baseball team:

* I’d use my closer to maximize my team’s wins, not my closer’s saves total. This would require me to use my closer in all 1-run and tie games regardless of save situation. I wouldn’t use my closer in a three-run-lead save situation.

* I’d never intentionally walk a hitter. Giving out IBBs is like taking on credit card debt.

* I would not pitch a #5 starting pitcher. Instead, I would pitch nine one-inning Zumaya-types. Or Broxton-types. Or Howry-types. Or Wheeler-types. Or Duchscherer-types. (Set-up men.)

* In fact, I might not have any starting pitchers. Instead, I’d pitch a fifteen-man rotation that was a grab bag of underappreciated (and underpaid) closers, set-up men, and knuckleballers.

* On my bench I would only have one backup catcher and one utility guy who could come in if there was an injury. I would have no pinch hitters. The concept of pitch hitting is entirely stupid. If a pinch hitter were a good hitter, he’d be a starter. So why, in a baseball game's most crucial point, would you have a bad hitter come in cold off the bench, not at all in the rhythm of the game, and face the opposing team's toughest pitcher? It doesn’t make sense. No pinch hitters. The only thing I dislike more than pinch hitters are bad pitchers that people defend by calling them "Inning Eaters." Neither Livan Hernandez nor Lenny Harris will be on my team.

Of a football team:

* I’d never punt when in opposition territory.

Of a basketball team:

* I’d press for all 40 (or 48) minutes. If you aren’t in shape enough to play 40 hard basketball minutes, you need to get off the couch and increase your metabolic rate.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Frequency of Sinkhole Activity Decreasing

Another thing that's been decreasing is my metabolic rate. I think I've determined the contributing factors:
  • Watching 5.5 seasons of The Sopranos in a two-month span.
  • Leaving my bicycle locked to the bike rack behind the Thomas Community Center in Gainesville, FL, two years ago.
  • Leaving my baseball glove in Africa, where I'm sure it's collecting dust. (Having one baseball glove is as pointless as having one tennis racquet. Having both one glove and one racquet is equally pointless. Having both or either is even more pointless in an African village, where there are no solid, large, horizontal or vertical flat surfaces, and no balls.)
Those 5.5 seasons of The Sopranos have caused me:
  • A ten-lb. weight gain.
  • Handgun fantasies.
  • Worse posture.
  • To use foul language around my grandmother, though she didn't hear me.
  • To refer to paying my taxes this year as "kicking up to my uncle."
  • To have a sit-down at work with Bill the mailroom guy about having him clip Harold from Accounts Payable.
Vanity Fair and I agree that The Sopranos is the most influential show of all time.