Baseball: impossible to predict, always to love.

The author and his brother (1957)

Baseball, more so than any other team game, is a skills game that relies on the skills of individuals apart from one’s teammates, and yet is at the mercy of luck and contagion – which makes it impossible to predict (more so than other team games) which team will win. You place your bet and take your chances. Like the ad says, it makes nervous wrecks out of otherwise stable people.

There’s no clock, just twenty-seven outs. Time doesn’t matter … “Take me out to the ballgame. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, I don’t care if I ever get back. For it’s root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame. For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out in the old ball game.

This Year’s Playoffs

This October the MLB playoffs, to determine the World Champion, are now set – with four teams from each league competing. The Los Angeles Dodgers are the favorite to represent the National League, while the Houston Astros are the American League favorite – based upon the fact that those two teams each had the best record in their league over the course of the 162 game regular season. And then, the Astros are the betting favorite (Vegas) to triumph over Dodgers in the World Series. I’m rooting for the New York Yankees.

My History With Baseball

Here’s the story. We, my family, hail from New York. Both my parents were born there and my brother and I grew up listening to the World Series broadcast on the USA Radio Network while living in England and France. At the time, New York state had three major league teams: The Giants, featuring Willie Mays, the Brooklyn Dodgers, featuring Duke Snider, and the Yankees, featuring Mickey Mantle. Being brothers, we were naturally in constant competition with each other – so we had to root for a different team. My older brother, for whatever reason, chose the Dodgers, which left me with the Yankees. The Dodgers and Yankees were fierce rivals, meeting in the 1955 and 1956 fall classic, which timed out perfectly with our learning to play the game.

I know of no one, no one, who has ever switched teams once they become a fan in childhood. It just does not happen. Once a Cubs fan, always a Cubs fan, even if the team never wins. Boston Red Sox fans hate the Yankees! It’s been that way ever since the BoSox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920. That’s ninety-nine years! Doesn’t matter when you were born. It’s tradition. Just the way things are. A person is far more likely to change religions, even political parties or countries, than to abandon their childhood favorite baseball team. The players change, even sometimes the cities where the team plays; but once a Yankee fan, always a Yankee fan. And so it goes. Why?

People are irrational and we (humans) always will be. We are driven by our emotions (love and hate) and personality, not reason. We are also superstitious – especially baseball players. Why? Because the game is unpredictable, emotional, contagious; and the outcome is often determined by the smallest of fractions. It’s a game of inches, bad bounces, luck, confidence, and emotional contagion.

[True story. My mom would let me stay home from school and watch the games (back then they were often played in the day light), writing the teacher a note to excuse my absence.]

It’s a Crazy Game

Success batting – hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely doesn’t even guarantee success – reaching base safely, or “a hit”. Hits are often “flukes”: a duck snort, dying quail, blooper, dribbler, squibbler; but that can be enough to turn one’s luck, which then boosts one’s confidence, which in turn can ignite a “hot streak”. Good hitters, more often than lesser ones, can go on a “tear” – ripping the cover off the ball; and that can have the effect of getting the whole team going. It’s illogical but true. Until it stops for no reason whatsoever, or a starting picture has got his “good stuff” working, which when he does is nearly un-hitable, which is rare. Why? Why can’t they do it every time?

The game is crazy. Take, for example, the 1960 World Series, the Yankees versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Yankees were heavy favorites, with Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. Their lineup was stacked with all-stars. In fact, the Bronx Bombers outscored the Pirates 55 to 27, outhit them 91 to 60 and Ford tossed two complete game shutouts. But, the Pirates won the series 4 games to 3, beating the Yanks in game seven 10 to 9 on a ninth-inning homer by light-hitting Bill Mazeroski, called “the greatest homer ever”. I was heartbroken.

Yogi Berra, the Yankee’s all-star catcher and famous philosopher said, “We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Who Am I Rooting For?

Now, sixty-some years after I donned my first Yankee uniform, a million miles traveled and far from home, and by-golly can’t even name all their players – I’m rooting for my team. The one team I’ll never bet against. Ever!

I still have that first uniform, with hand-sewn letters. So tiny.

Childhood decides. Whattaya gonna do?

4 thoughts on “Baseball: impossible to predict, always to love.

  1. Well, well, well. Despite that the Yankees got bounced in the ALCS, the World Series turned out to be historic – an all time classic with the Washington Nationals coming from behind in the seventh game to win. Congrats to them! And I was right – baseball is definitely impossible to predict. A game of inches, luck, and superstition. Amazing game!

  2. I didn’t realize your devotion to the Yankees was so random. Why not the Giants? Of course, I picked the Dodgers because of a baseball card I had in my collection.

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