Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

October surprises

In Baseball, Long form on October 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

I remember the balls that sailed off into the night. I remember Molina rounding the bases, struggling to contain his excitement before touching home plate. I remember Wainwright throwing the greatest curveball I’ve ever seen — twice. I remember bright stadium lights illuminating 45,000 fans on a dark October night in St. Louis.

I didn’t really follow baseball until 2004. I was 16 and a sophomore in high school, which I suppose made me a latecomer in terms of sports awareness. I also suppose that many in St. Louis would call it sacrilegious. For them, the Cardinals are Whitey and Ozzie, the Runnin’ Redbirds and the Clydesdales, Jack Buck and Gussie Busch.

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Rally ’round

In Culture, William & Mary on October 24, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I was wearing my William and Mary sweatshirt on a plane the other day, and when I stood up to grab my bag from the overhead bin, the older man sitting behind me asked, “Did you win this weekend?”

Excuse me? Win what? Wracking my brain, I realized he was probably referencing the football game the Tribe played two days before. I wiped the clueless look off my face.

“I don’t know, sir,” I said cheerfully, “I was out of town!”

He looked stunned.

“You don’t know?”

“Uh, no, I was gone –”

“Well who were you playing?” he asked impatiently.

Shoot. I knew this. What were the initials? Please stop looking at me like that, sir, um, it was N and H, but it wasn’t New Hampshire….

“New Haven?” I squeaked.

He smiled smugly. “You mean Yale? It certainly wasn’t Yale.”

“No, no, um, I don’t, no…” I trailed off, mortified. Read the rest of this entry »

Machine Maintenance

In Baseball on October 19, 2011 at 8:27 pm

“The only two certainties in life are death and taxes,” Benjamin Franklin said (maybe). Had he stuck around through the first decade of the 21st century, Franklin could have added “and Albert Pujols hitting .300/30/100” to Poor Richard’s Almanack.

Baseball is a game of streaks. Whether it’s Joe DiMaggio hitting in 56-straight games, or the Atlanta Braves’s run of 14 consecutive playoff appearances, sustained excellence in a sport that can, at times, be unpredictable — even fickle — and captivate even the most casual of fans. In fact, the only things we love more than streaks of success are arbitrary numbers: A 100-win team, a 20-win pitcher, a .300 hitter — each has a certain aura that suggests baseball excellence without much credence, like a gut feeling using numerals. It’s understandable, then, why fans and media alike have pointed out that one of the greatest streaks in baseball history — Albert Pujols’s run of 10 straight seasons with a batting average over .300, at least 30 home runs and at least 100 runs batted in — came to an end this season.

Reactions have varied from indifference (How long could you expect that kind of brilliance to last?) to criticism (Clearly, he let his contract situation go to his head) to utter panic (He’s mortal after all [sobs]) for the Cardinal faithful. True, Pujols’s Triple Crown numbers for 2011 were lower than his 162 game averages, and his OPS+, was at its lowest point since his sophomore season in 2002. He also set a career low in WAR. And walks. And had a marked rise in double plays and outs made. According to most armchair GMs, 2011 was the worst season of Pujols’s career.

But was it really that bad? As sabermetric statistics continue to gain acceptance as accurate indicators of a player’s performance, batting average and RBI are becoming that much more trivial. They’re still part of the record books — and really, RBI looks nicer than VORP as an acronym — but we’re getting back to gut feelings. Pujols’s numbers should speak for themselves. Read the rest of this entry »

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