William (not the stats guy) James and Baseball

I guess being a fan, that is, a fanatic, is in some ways much like having a religious faith. It's a common notion, even a cliché because often when invoked the analogy serves nothing more than to emphasize zealous devotion. But the comparison can be more interesting: fans implicate themselves emotionally (like small children? older children showing arrested development?) with a group in whose activities they have no part. (Well, in fact, I guess by showing enthusiastic support at a sports venue, sometimes fans can, in fact, impact the outcome, but if we're talking about baseball that is rarely the case.)  Fans care deeply about people they don't know personally. (Yes, there are exceptions). If the team screws up the fan may feel screwed. These are not all-powerful gods, so it's a very curious faith indeed. The willful submission to irrational behavior is fascinating, strange, sometimes depressing. (Fans, do you think the players care about you?) But also quite endearing. After all, we are familiar with the studies that suggest faith is good for your health. I chose the easier path: faith in baseball itself. And this seems to get me closer to that all-powerful god idea. The game never fails to provide transcendence.  I'm always waiting for that never-ending game, but meanwhile, the games we do have occasionally provide such unlikely and dramatic narratives they make me ask to which of James' varieties of religious experience they pertain.


Oh, the Winter that Awaits!

Just contemplating last night's cosmic shift will keep me busy all winter!

One more strike!

Mike Vacarro just wrote that last night's baseball events add up to the greatest day in baseball history. And it's quite possible that's no exaggeration. What transpired included both some fantastic baseball and without a doubt unexpected and unlikely events that kept getting stranger and more preposterous. Adrian Gonzalez's God does indeed have a plan. And an identity: author of baseball melodramas so far fetched no publisher will touch them. Now, if you're a Braves fan or a Red Sox fan, just cross out "greatest," pull out your dictionary and get to work. "Worst" doesn't come close to describing it. That goes without saying. Otherworldly. Ghoulish. Torturous. Simply unbelievable. Etc. (No uneasy sleep for me: in the wake of 1986, I opted out. From then on I vowed to become a mere observer of baseball. Some might say I lost the faith. True. But I prefer to think of it as a conversion: if it doesn't matter to me who wins, I win with every single game.)
With time the details fade and last night was tremendously rich with singular moments. Just in Baltimore, which is where my attention was: how about those double plays in the bottom of the 2nd and bottom of the 6th! (Pedroia: sterling defense and a 3 for 4 night, including go ahead homer in fifth!); Ortiz trying to reach 2nd in the top of the 7th (bone-headed!!); the rain-a splendidly extended seventh-inning stretch, allowing events down in Florida to catch up with events in Baltimore!; Scutaro stopping between second and third in the 8th (really bone-headed: Marco, if the ball is caught you're not making it back to first in any case... just keep running!! First man fired: Tim-go-stop-go-whatever-Bogar); Ellsbury stranded at third with no outs in ninth(!); Papelbon, Papelbon, Papelbon. (Gee, I wonder what he's going to throw?); Carl Crawford: catch it, no, not quite... Oh, did we ever blow it! Can it get any worse? YES: the Rays did the impossible and your season is over! Now. And of course we will always remember that when Papelbon struck out Jones and Reynolds to start the 9th and got two strikes on Davis, it really looked like the Sox were headed for Detroit or Dallas. One more strike!

In short, you get what you get. And we haven't even addressed the just as incredible events in Atlanta yet!


Wednesday's Executions

I doubt it's very often that we execute two people on the same day, indeed, within the space of a few hours. Last night Troy Davis was executed in Georgia. Davis was convicted of killing police officer Mark MacPhail many years ago. Several witnesses in the case retracted their testimony and the case received a great deal of international attention.  In Texas, white supremacist Lawrence Brewer was executed for the brutal 1998 murder of James Byrd. In the former case, given the retracted testimonies, claims of police coercion, and the lack of a murder weapon, reasonable doubts do exist. There's no going back now. The work of The Innocence Project (www.innocenceproject.org) has demonstrated beyond a doubt that the danger of executing innocent people is very real. The case of Brewer is very different, to say the least: after going to prison he joined a white supremacist group, wrote about the thrill of murder, and never showed any remorse. In fact, he seemed to revel in it.  And yet, in spite of the grotesque, hateful nature of Brewer's crime, he should not have been executed. We have a moral imperative to abolish the death penalty. In our system of injustice, it is inevitable that innocent people will be executed. When the state kills innocent people it loses all legitimacy and incarnates in that moment the most horrible kind of despotism.  Having the likes of Lawrence Brewer live out their days in jail is a very small price to pay for restoring some legitimacy to our government. (Above, Manet's "The Execution of Maximilian".)