Friday, August 01, 2014

Sports: The reason you're like this

A fresh off the boat immigrant I was quite some years ago, and with no prior exposure to the uniquely American sports of football and baseball.  No athlete I ever was, nor pretended to be one, yet, practically from the first day, I took to baseball and football, as the proverbial fish to water, which is a hilarious metaphor to employ given that I swim like a rock!

To follow baseball without ever having played it perhaps fits in well with how the game appeals to nerds.  As I would find later in the essays by Stephen Jay Gould--ah, I miss his writings--there was quite some poetry in the game and in the statistics.  Lord Kelvin famously declared that to measure is to know and anything that could not be measured was not worth knowing.  Baseball offered a gazillion measurements, but the beauty of the sport was how all that measurement often meant nothing.

I fell in love with baseball (A dangerous sport characterized by long periods of daydreaming, punctuated by intense bursts of unmanageable violence, panic, and people screaming at you.)   The love was cemented because the worthlessness of all those measurements was spectacularly demonstrated in my early, early years as a green graduate student.

I had picked up enough about baseball to follow the box scores in the Los Angeles Times as a daily ritual.  Even more exciting it was to scan through the detailed numbers in the Sunday edition.

And then came the 1988 season.  What glorious inning after inning! (The amount of time left before afternoon snack, divided by nine.)

Kirk Gibson was the story from the beginning.  The Dodgers signed him on and commentators worried that his attitude would not resonate with the team.  Surely enough, he had problems with his new teammates from the get go.

As the season progressed, the Dodgers  weren't picked by many to win it all.  The statistics did not favor them.

But, there was something happening.  Like Orel Hershiser's unhittable pitching.

The Dodgers won the division title.
The statistics favored the Mets in the league championship. Again, all the numbers pointing to the Mets' superiority became irrelevant.
And thus it was the ultimate all-California final, with that famous hitting duo, whose later drug-enhanced performances at the plate produced some towering home runs. (Something that you genuinely believe will happen when you swing. Every single time you swing. Even though it has never happened, you still think it will. You are so funny sometimes.)

All the numbers made it clear that the Dodgers were the underdogs among underdogs.

It couldn't have been any more of a Hollywood storytelling than that.  Nobody could have predicted that there was more Hollywood drama to come.

It was the bottom of the ninth.
The Dodgers were trailing with two outs.
One more out and the teams would meet again.
The injured and hobbling Gibson was sent in as a pinch-hitter.  (Something that you and your teammates request for you but cannot have.)

The rest, as they say, was history.

(The title of this post and the italics in parenthesis are all from this wonderfully humorous piece in the New Yorker on a glossary of baseball terms.)


Ramesh said...

I am reeling with shock. A sports post from youuuuuu ?

On second thoughts - who are you. And what have you done to my good friend, the Professor ??

Sriram Khé said...

Haha ... I can bullshit about sports, too, my friend!
You have been warned so that you don't fall off the chair with shocks when reading this blog ;)

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