WAR is good for something

Grand Forks Herald columnist Eric Bergeson‘s latest piece stumbled into the sabermetric community on twitter. My timeline yesterday morning filled with jokes from Baseball Prospectus analysts, former MLB.com reporters and even Aaron Gleeman, the “analyst” in Bergeson’s column, were in on the joke. The joke, of course, were the awful arguments made in Bergeson’s column.

Now, Bergeson is not a baseball writer. He is not a sports columnist or reporter at all so I can forgive him for misstating (misremembering?) some things. He calls the 2010 and 2012 San Francisco Giants “pipsqueaks” because to the casual observer, or to a columnist who didn’t bother looking up the regular season statistics for those two teams, they may well have appeared as pipsqueaks. They weren’t, of course, scoring a commendable 4.43 runs per game while only giving up 4.01 runs in 2012, leading to a fourth best-in-the-MLB 94-68 record that year. Yes, they were dead last in team home run total and merely slightly above league average in runs and runs batted in, but their pitching staff dominated most teams they faced and their batters had one of the best-park adjusted on-base plus slugging rates in the majors. However, I am compelled to respond to Bergeson on the issue that analytics “changed the game of baseball, and not for the better.”

I don’t want to talk about obscure facts or numbers. I want to talk about baseball.

Bergeson’s column, the latest I’ve seen in a string of pieces written by newspaper men across the country that flat attack sabermetrics with dubious arguments that we’ve ruined baseball with numbers. I thought I’d seen the height of these complaints with the AL MVP and WAR argument last year about Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, but we’re not even six or seven games into 2013 and here we are, not a step forward. To be fair, sports fandom begets argument. Arguments are fun.

“To [Oakland A's manager Billy] Beane, and to the statisticians, baseball isn’t beautiful until it starts to conform to the averages,” writes Bergeson, setting up the most common cliche that stat-head fans, sabermetricians and analysts only care about numbers. Obviously this is wholly untrue. If we only cared about numbers, we would just do pure math. We would open our math books and start doing rote calculations. Why worry about the fates of men in tights, the boys of summer?

We care deeply about the sport, so deeply have we have so honed our arguments about the game that we have developed methodology and glossaries full of well-documented terms to describe our arguments. At its core, sabermetrics isn’t in opposition to having fun, it is a sharpened edge with which smart and obsessive fans (and smart baseball executives, scouts, agents, players, etc.) can hone their arguments about our favorite sport. If part of the fun is having arguments like “Who is the best player of all time?” or “How will my favorite team do compared to your favorite team?” then sabermetrics as a school of thought, as a methodology, as a body of research lends itself to winning those arguments if for no other reason than it attempts to include rigor and logic in defense of those arguments.

If part of the fun is also watching your favorite team win games, then wouldn’t you want them to use any advancements in the sport to win those games? I, for one, am not a baseball fan because I like to see home runs (although I do enjoy seeing them), rather, I like to see my favorite teams win ball games.

The search for objective knowledge about baseball

I think we should have a fairer description of what sabermetrics actually is before we continue any further. From ‘The Sabermetric Manifesto‘ (1994):

Bill James defined sabermetrics as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.” Thus, sabermetrics attempts to answer objective questions about baseball, such as “which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the team’s offense?” or “How many home runs will Ken Griffey hit next year?” It cannot deal with the subjective judgments which are also important to the game, such as “Who is your favorite player?” or “That was a great game.”

Since statistics are the best objective record of the game available, sabermetricians often use them. Of course, a statistic is only useful if it is properly understood. Thus, a large part of sabermetrics involves understanding how to use statistics properly, which statistics are useful for what purposes, and similar things. This does not mean that you need to know a lot about mathematics to understand sabermetrics, only that you need to have some idea of how statistics can be used and misused.

If numbers have ruined baseball, then the father of baseball himself ruined baseball. Henry Chadwick devised the box score to describe game outcomes. Since then, fans, sportswriters and baseball men and women have added to these numbers. Some stats, like WHIP, come from fantasy baseball, but have found use in otherwise describing the game and player performance.

What sets “sabermetrics” apart, I think, is the complexity with which some statistics are created. Things like park factors, for example, are based on analysis of past performance of the various fields. Park factors, though, is merely an acknowledgment that some fields tend to have drastically different outcomes than other fields. Coors Field favors batters and hurts pitchers, while Target Field appears to favor pitchers. If we were to ignore this, we would be intellectually dishonest about comparing things like counting statistics like runs and runs batted in.

WAR, as another example, is particularly problematic from a lay point of view because there are two versions: Fangraphs WAR and Baseball Reference WAR, and both have minor differences such as how to count “replacement level” and what statistics to incorporate at what levels. Furthermore, both methods rely on proprietary data, so most of us can’t double check the math.

That said, the vast majority of sabermetrics measurements are clearly defined and relatively simple to calculate. One merely need to understand what each statistic measures and how it derives those measurements. If you graduated high school, you likely have enough background in mathematics to do 90% of these so-called “advanced analysis” techniques. Much of it is merely pre-algebra or different ways of doing the normal add this, subtract that and divide by this other thing that forms the basis for many “standard” statistics. In other words: arithmetic.

Analytics, on the other hand, has two outcomes. First, it is meant to describe the data. Second, it is meant to forecast and predict outcomes based on the data. This is generally where the mathematics in sabermetrics ramps up, but not to the point of great difficulty should you want to dive in and learn it.

With all due respect to Bergeson’s grandfather, there is no such law in mathematics as “the law of averages.” It is a common misconception of several theorem. I’m not going to get into the math too deeply in this space, but suffice it to say that when a person says a player “is due” for a hit, that person relies heavily on this misconception of probability.

A simple example would be flipping a fair coin. 50% of the time it will land on heads. 50% of the time it will land on tails. If I were to flip the coin once, half of the time it would land on heads, half of the time it would land on tails. If it lands on heads in this first flip, that outcome has no bearing on future flips of the coin. If I were to flip 10 heads in a row, the odds of my next flip would still be 50/50. There’s a phrase for this belief that independent events are a pattern called The Gambler’s Fallacy.

Bergeson: “Statistics say pitchers who consistently throw over 100 pitches wear out.” To which I ask, what makes such a nice, round number like 100 magical?

MATH ISN’T THE DAMN POINT

The point of all these newfangled numbers is their application. We use—we have always used—numbers to describe baseball. The numbers are a means to an end. When I read a box score or look at a scorecard or parse through data in Retrosheet files, or sort through the Play Index at Baseball Reference, I am doing so to apply the information in some way. Whether I want to recall a specific event from a game or project this season’s ERA for every pitcher for my fantasy baseball team, I used the numbers only for a useful purpose.

On the field, that purpose is winning baseball games. Winning teams get more butts in seats and hotdogs down gullets and jerseys on backs.

When I understand that a player is not necessarily “due” for a hit, I suddenly have a better understanding of the game that I love so much. Math is merely a tool for me to describe the game, the same way Casey At The Bat describes the game’s emotion through poetry, the same way Don DeLillo described nostalgia through the baseball from The Shot Heard ‘Round The World in Underworld, the same way that the smell of freshly cut grass, the taste of boiled hotdogs, the cheers of fans and the sun beating on my face describes a moment in the ballpark.

Rogers Hornsby: ”People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

I argue over the value of the Justin Upton trade. I wait for the Sean Lahman database to be finished sometime in early January. I wait for Marcel projections from Tom Tango. I read and re-read The Pitch That Killed. I stare out the window and I wait for spring.

Math is just another lens with which to understand and obsess over baseball.

In that respect, sabermetrics is not in opposition to “traditional” baseball any more than the Internet is in opposition to great writing. I would like to see these false dichotomies destroyed.

Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa

The one constant through all the years, Eric, has been America. Baseball has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But America has marked the time.

We progress, despite the messiness of progress. That is the story of baseball. That is the story of America. Since baseball was invented we have given women the vote and blacks better opportunities, we have created the designated hitter (for better or worse) and begun the destruction of those awful multi-purpose indoor stadiums. We have been to the moon and begun using instant replay in baseball.

The romance never left the game, Eric. You changed. You grew cynical about the game, as the game and America progressed. Rather than growing with the game, you chose to ignore the fact that today is the best day to be alive as a baseball fan.

Today you have access to every statistic imaginable (if you want them). Any question you would like answered is a heartbeat away. You can watch baseball games on your phone! Whatever you feel like talking about with regard to baseball, there is a group that feels the same way on the Internet. There’s probably a podcast out there, just for you.

I have seen this before. This attitude that everything is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m a journalist, by schooling, but a programmer by trade. I have seen newsrooms writhe and kick and scream in horrible fits during transition. These days may be horrible by comparison to the past to be a newspaper man or woman. These days are wonderful as a news consumer, though. Technology and telling stories are not mutually exclusive things, even though I know my fair share of reporters who ended up in the field precisely because a J-School degree meant doing the minimum math requirements. Things have changed, obviously.

nos·tal·gia, noun - a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.

As journalism is the search for objective knowledge about current events, sabermetrics are the search for objective knowledge about baseball. I struggle to see how, again and again, baseball journalists fail to acknowledge their nostalgic bias. It clouds their judgement.

Perhaps it is a fear that if baseball outcomes can be reduced to numbers, the role of the reporter is thus reduced. Reporters, remember, dominated the sport in its infancy. They were essentially the agents of the time. They wielded an amount of inbred power then that is considered unfathomable in a post-Watergate era of objective journalism, save for Hall of Fame ballots. However, they grow ever smaller in their usefulness to the sport.

If that is the case, then I would think we need to re-evaluate. We, as fans, as sports news consumers, are complex creatures. I want raw data. I want this, too:

The Ruth is mighty and shall prevail. He did yesterday. Babe made two home runs and the Yankees won from the Giants at the Polo Grounds by a score of 4 to 2. This evens up the World’s Series, with one game for each contender.

It was the first game the Yankees won from the Giants since Oct. 10, 1921, and it ended a string of eight successive victories for the latter, with one tie thrown in.

Victory came to the American League champions through a change in tactics. Miller Huggins could hardly fail to have observed Wednesday that terrible things were almost certain to happen to his men if they paused any place along the line from first to home.

In order to prevent blunders in base running he wisely decided to eliminate it. The batter who hits a ball into the stands cannot possibly be caught napping off any base.

-Heywood Broun, in the New York World, October 12, 1923

We call them stories for a reason.

The human element

When I talk about the “human element” in baseball, this is what I mean:

Joyce’s routine on game day is to be the last umpire to walk out of the tunnel. But today, he doesn’t want the focus of being last out. “I didn’t want it to appear like I was making an entrance,” he says. “I was kind of hoping I’d just blend in.”

On the way out, Joyce’s steps are a bit slower; he’s listening for the crowd reaction. He thinks he hears boos, he thinks he hears cheers. Tears are welling in his eyes. (Joyce likes to remind people that he’s Irish; he’s emotional and he can’t help it.)

He gets to home plate to exchange the lineup cards, and that’s when Galarraga appears out of the dugout. The crowd stands and applauds, and when Galarraga hands Joyce the lineup card, Joyce can’t even read it, the names a fuzzy blur through the tears. The images from that moment, captured live and broadcast across the country, will change how Galarraga and Joyce will be remembered.

When he arrives in Philly, he retrieves his luggage and discovers notes on the luggage tags: “We are all human — Good Luck” and “You gave your best God Bless.” They are signed: “DTW baggage.” Joyce carefully takes them off his bags and places them in his briefcase. He carries them with him for the rest of the season, careful not to check them in case his luggage gets lost.

That can’t happen with instant replay.

On baseball memorabilia

“And that is how childhood ends.”

- The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book

I stand in the aisle waiting to pay for diapers, staring at the box of card packages. My two-year-old daughter points and squeaks out the word “baseball.” I reply, “Yeah, kid. Those are baseball cards.”

Cards aren’t for kids anymore. These packages are wrapped in wax paper, with three or four color ink. No photographs, only drawings. I flip a package around in my hand. There is hard gum inside. They’re like I remembered them, but clearly packaged to exploit any nostalgia that may linger in me.

*    *     *

The highway split the town I grew up in into two halves. Most of my friends lived on the south side; I lived on the north. In the summer, when I wasn’t playing baseball or riding bike or thinking about girls (or thinking about baseball or bikes), I’d bring my box and binders of meticulously organized baseball cards to my friends’ houses to trade, or to merely admire the cards.

At the time, most kids my age primarily collected basketball cards. Basketball was flashy. The photos on the cards exuded a sense of movement, that something important was happening. Hell, I didn’t even like basketball, but I had a Micheal Jordan poster hanging in my room. Baseball cards were pretty stodgy. Usually mugshots or “action” shots of a batter completing his swing.

The Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner Card

The Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner Card was last sold for $2.8 million.

Then something happened. Wayne Gretzky bought a baseball card and sold it. The mint condition T206 Honus Wagner was one of the rarest in the world and it was shrouded in mystery. It was rare because Wagner, who chewed tobacco, didn’t want to force kids to buy it to get his card. Or he was holding out for more money from the tobacco company. It depends on who you ask. Regardless of the origin story, only about 50 of these cards survived time’s passage.

It sold for an obscene amount of money at the time: $451,000. Baseball cards hit a frenzy. You couldn’t throw a rock into a barn full of baby boomers without hearing someone say “If my mother hadn’t thrown out my shoebox of cards, I’d be rich.” But that’s the point: Their mothers had thrown out the cards. They were mass produced and only held any value because they’d become rarer. If mothers everywhere hadn’t thrown out the cards, nobody would have made ridiculous amounts of money flipping cardboard later.

Gretzky sold the card to Wal-Mart and Treat Entertainment, who went on tour around the country with the card. Some sort of baseball card revival, I guess. Some lucky person would win the card in a drawing on Larry King Live. I watched it with my parents. It was my first experience with Larry King’s Giant Head.

The effect of this hullabaloo was to turn children into hustlers. It wasn’t about the cards or the players or the sport. It was about the money. Cards were an investment that would make us all rich some day.  That never  came, of course, but how could anyone expect kids to understand economic supply and demand in the secondary market. Most cards lose their value, assuming they had any beyond the value of the paper they were printed on, as soon as the player stops being the flavor of the month among fans. It’s cutthroat, market timing is lightning quick and collectors are forced to wade through dozens of gimmicks.

One day, I held up traffic on the highway. A gust of wind had scattered my cards across the pavement. I scrambled to pick them up, knowing that every gust would send my perfectly mint condition cards down in value. Eventually I found them all and continued on to a friend’s house.

I left them at his house. I don’t remember why exactly, but I left my cards there. Maybe we decided to ride bikes or play baseball or talk about girls. And then I went home.

A few weeks later, he and his family moved; My cards moved with them, I assume. I didn’t care. It never even crossed my mind that I’d simply moved on (to better baseball leagues, cooler bikes and, of course, girls).

*     *     *

Some days, like today, I wonder how rich I’d be if my friend’s mother hadn’t thrown my cards out. Most days, I don’t care, doesn’t even cross my mind.

I set the pack down in its box. $4.99 for a pack of cards and a stick of tasteless, rock hard gum? Too rich for my blood. My daughter has lost interest and so have I. It’s time to move on.

I don’t own more than a Twins baseball hat and I didn’t even pay for it. It was given to me by a friend. Baseball is about memories; flawed, fuzzy and indulgent memories. You can’t purchase those. At best, memorabilia can only bring your mind somewhere in time.

And you know what? Box scores are free.

On the Cy Young award

With just a handful of games left this season, it’s time for not-so-wild-yet-somewhat-depressing speculations. First let’s look at some numbers:

AL Cy Young

Name              WAR W-L   ERA  ERA+ OOPS  K/9
CC Sabathia       5.3 20-6  3.05  142 .653  7.4
Felix Hernandez   5.3 12-11 2.35  166 .592  8.6
Jered Weaver      5.1 12-11 2.96  138 .611  9.6
Francisco Liriano 5.0 14-7  3.28  131 .644  9.5
Carl Pavano       4.7 17-11 3.60  119 .699  4.8
Jon Lester        4.7 17-8  3.17  138 .623  9.9
Clay Buchholz     4.7 16-7  2.48  176 .624  6.2

A case could be made for several players to win the American League Cy Young. Let’s look at the dumbest case:

I think it’s a joke to have that kind of debate. What Sabathia has done is be the best pitcher in the AL from opening day to this point. I don’t buy into the point that if Felix is pitching for someone else he’d have more wins. They said that about Cliff Lee when he left Seattle, but he’s lost more than he’s won since he left Seattle. The name of the game is to win and he’s won. And if you’re looking at a second guy, it has to be David Price. It’s amazing to me that we have let computers define him rather than performance. His job is to win the game, not just pitch 5-6 innings. I don’t think there should be a debate between Felix and Sabathia.

Can you guess who said that? No, it’s not a parody of Joe Morgan, complete with non-sequiturs and crippling, irrational fear of things he doesn’t understand. It’s actually a legitimate Joe Morgan quotation.

The obvious winner should be Felix Hernandez, who leads the league in laymen stats like ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts, not to mention leads the other front runners for the award in at least a half dozen or more stats. It shouldn’t matter that Seattle is set to lose 100 games this season, but we all know it weighs heavily on all the writers.

These aren’t men, you see. They’re myths. Sometimes, constructing a legend that fits into antiquated ideals of baseball writing (awesome as they were, but now destroyed by the robotic game recap prose of today’s sportswriters—ahem—sports  journalists) often means more to baseball writers than baseball itself. And if your editor won’t let you spin an interesting yarn, then why not simply vote for such antiquated notions?

So, now that there are 5 spots on the Cy Young ballots this year ( because a couple of stats nerds didn’t vote for Carpenter last year), here’s how it’ll shake down, unfortunately:

  1. Sabathia
  2. Price
  3. Hernandez
  4. Liriano
  5. Weaver

NL Cy Young

Name            WAR W-L   ERA  ERA+  OOPS K/9
Roy Halladay    6.7 19-10 2.49 165  .656  8.1
Josh Johnson    6.4 11-6  2.30 184  .607  9.1
Ubaldo Jimenez  6.4 19-6  2.84 166  .615  8.5
Adam Wainwright 5.2 18-11 2.50 158  .605  8.3
Tim Hudson      5.2 15-8  2.62 151  .623  5.4

At least the NL awards won’t be so dramatically skewed toward awful decision making. Halladay wins the media darling of the year award of this group, with Ubaldo close behind. The award should go to Johnson, but it won’t, and I’m not going to lose much sleep over it going to Halladay. Such is life, but at least in this case Halladay probably deserves the award almost as much as Johnson. That perfect game is pretty hard to ignore. One might be tempted to call it legendary.

Prediction:

  1. Halladay
  2. Johnson
  3. Jimenez
  4. Wainwright
  5. Hudson

On baseball-themed music

There are hundreds of baseball songs out there, here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order:

A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Wish by Steve Goodman

Glory Days by Bruce Springstreen

Say Hey by The Treiners

Center Field by John Fogerty

Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit that Ball by Woodrow Buddy Johnson

Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio by Les Brown & his Orchestra

Cheap Seats by Alabama

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VCQDbg7jPk

Tessie by Dropkick Murphys

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR4tTQVjHUI&ob

Talkin’ Baseball by Terry Cashman

http://video.yahoo.com/watch/456784/2533611

On the kiss cam, etc.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Baseball has its traditions, but the modern traditions seem so annoying.

Take for example, the mascot race. Put a few poor souls in sausage costumes and make them run down the baseline between innings.

It may make some kids and the intellectually-challenged adults happy, but it makes me cringe, in part because I know at least half the fans in the stadium just don’t care about the outcome. A quarter of the people watching the race are just drunk people yelling racial slurs during the sausage race. In Milwaukee, the Mexican Chorizo never wins. Figures. He’s like the Jackie Robinson of mascots and the fans treat him (or her) like garbage.

Speaking of traditions and stupid things at ball parks: Consider Cincinnati mascot race. It’s not even real! They put it on the big screen for fans to ignore, despite the fact that the Reds have 900 official mascots for the team and thousands more waiting in the wings. (Last time I was at a game at Great American Ballpark, I saw several terrifying baseball heads, a Philly Fanatic knock off and some kind of McGruff dog. It was like Disney World on acid.)

Cincy, like most ballparks, does the same with their shell game, another ballpark “favorite.” Fans yell numbers at the screen to determine which bowl of chili some object is under. Why do these fans yell? It’s like playing Wheel of Fortune at home. THERE’S NO PRIZE, PEOPLE!

I don’t know who came up with these dumb traditions, but I’d wager it was Bill Veeck. If he wasn’t dead, I’d like to punch him in the mouth if he didn’t also create two of the greatest traditions in major league baseball: The ivy in the outfield at Wrigley Field and the unofficial rule that midgets are banned from professional ball.

But the Kiss Cam. The Kiss Cam trumps all fan-centric ballpark traditions. It always catches couples (the old couple, the attractive couple, the uggos, the cousins) when they’re not paying attention. The crowd yells at the couple until they finally look up to see their mugs on the big board, awkwardly clank their teeth together in front of 15,000 to 35,000 other people (7 other people, if you’re at PNC Park in Pittsburgh).

It has a dark underbelly beyond the awkward moments it always seems to bring.

In an episode of The Simpsons, Lenny says, “Hey Carl, remember when we used to kiss like that…with our respective girlfriends?” I once saw a Kiss Cam point at a nice looking couple, but from off screen, another girl came into frame and kissed the girl, while the guy shrugged it off. It was a pretty standard kiss between two women–a peck, really–but the camera went wildly out of control, presumably as the operator collapsed into shock at such an unnatural event. Quickly, the next couple was brought up on the screen and the potentially family unfriendly crisis was averted.

At first, I thought it could have been just an accident. Maybe the camera operator was a clumsy buffoon. But this seems to be standard practice at ballparks. Back in 2008, a lesbian couple was nearly escorted from Safeco for breaking code of conduct rules after they pecked each other on the Kiss Cam.

I’ve never understood the family-friendly ideology at ball games. We go to games to watch men in tights scratch their junk for 2 hours. They spit and they swear and they (used to, but probably secretly still) do steroids. Games don’t play out like battles of good and evil. These are men, not gods. These are ballparks, not churches. Such is the absurd personality of this sport.

On the foodie language of baseball

“A hot dog at the ball park is better than steak at the Ritz.”

“A hot dog at the ball park is better than steak at the Ritz.”

First course:

With one already out, the table was set after Ace tossed a meatball to put a runner on first.

Second course:

For the next batter, Ace gave it extra mustard, gave it all the cheese he had…right over the dish to a good cut. That ball became a pea, but, alas: a can of corn. Two outs.

Dessert:

Ace uncorked a wild pitch, runner advances to second and Ace found himself in a jam. He spins to second, catches the runner napping. The table has turned. Runner’s in a pickle. Runner isn’t happy. There’s some rhubarb. Three outs.

On the best play in baseball

Last night’s clutch home run from Jim Thome to win the game was a great baseball moment, the type of moment most fans live for.

With one out, one runner on first, the home team down by one run, the big gun comes to the plate. On the first pitch, he takes a strike. The fans bite their fingernails and sit on the edge of their seats, every single one of them thinking “A home run would be a nice thing right about now.” The next pitch is at the letters and down the middle of the plate for a millisecond before every person in the ballpark knows the leather has been knocked off the pill and the game is over.

Double Play

The pitchers best friend

But personally, I live for more mundane things in the game. While I was happy to see the Twins win, I get a certain pleasure out of things nobody will remember. Thome’s walk-off will be remembered as the first walk-off home run at Target Field. But it could just as easily have ended in the ballet of baseball: The double play; And nobody would remember the game after a few days. Not even White Sox fans.

The double play is baseball’s sad lexicon, a poem by Franklin Pierce:

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

There’s a dark beauty in the saddest aspects of the game, even when they have names like ham and eggs.

Putting a 6-4-3 into the scorecard carries a weight that a routine fly doesn’t. In the hieroglyphics of scorecards, the double play denotes ballet, it denotes the poetry of the play. Think of 5-4-3 and imagine the ball whipping around the bags. 4-6-3 brings to mind flips of the wrist and leaping throws to first. The rare and brilliant DP-4U captures a moment of dread on the baserunner’s face as he misjudged a line drive and barreled into his own doom. Imagine the athleticism of an F7-2 double play or the humor of a surprise L1-5.

The Double Play, by Robert Wallace:

In his sea-lit
distance, the pitcher winding
like a clock about to chime comes down with

the ball, hit
sharply, under the artificial
bank of lights, bounds like a vanishing string

over the green
to the shortstop magically
scoops to his right whirling above his invisible

shadows
in the dust redirects
its flight to the running poised second baseman

pirouettes
leaping, above the slide, to throw
from mid-air, across the colored tightened interval,

to the leaning-
out first baseman ends the dance
drawing it disappearing into his long brown glove

stretches. What
is too swift for deception
is final, lost, among the loosened figures

jogging off the field
(the pitcher walks), casual
in the space where the poem has happened.