I recently finished reading, Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game,
by Rob Neyer,
and decided to write about the book because of a couple of references to Chess.
“Baseball IS statistics!” – Former Georgia Chess Champion and head writer for the College Bowl Michael Decker, aka, “Lousiville Lefty” (Not from the book)
“I never keep a scorecard or the batting averages. I hate statistics. What I got to know, I keep in my head.” – Former Major League baseball player and announcer Dizzy Dean (1910-1974) (From the book)
Many years ago a fellow Chess player and I were at the Atlanta Public Library, located in downtown Atlanta, on one of the upper floors containing books about Baseball. We were discussing some of them when he asked, “How many Baseball books have you read?” I began pulling out the ones previously read while he watched. When finished I stood back to survey the racks and noticed a stunned look on his mug. “Bacon, if you had read that many Chess books you would have become a Master!” he said. “Probably not,” I replied. “To become a Master one must want to become a Master player, and I could have cared less. What I wanted was to become a Major League Baseball player.” He smiled knowingly.
Although continuing to read Baseball books they were becoming infrequent as my interest in Baseball waned this century. While in a bookstore I noticed the title, and the name of the author, a writer with whom I was familiar. Taking the book from the shelf I began reading the preface. For some time I had wanted to read a book concerning the recent changes made to MLB that has caused the game to become a boring version of home run derby.
“Inspired by Hano’s A Day in the Bleachers
and Okrent’s Nine Innings,
we’re going to explore today’s Baseball through the lens of a single game: Athletics vs. Astros in Oakland, September 8, 2017.” The next paragraph begins, “In many ways, this was a meaningless game.”
I knew at that moment the book would be read. This was because of having previously, somewhere, sometime, read about a dying man who had been asked what he would miss after departing. One of the things he mentioned was “Being able to watch a meaningless regular season Baseball game.”
“Once you train yourself to see it,” Ben Lindbergh
wrote a few years ago in Grantland, “it’s almost impossible to stop seeing it. Baseball is often described as a chess match between batter and pitcher. But it’s more like a chess match between batter and pitcher in which, once in a while, the catcher grabs the board and moves someone’s piece.” – pg 210
“With Marisnick aboard in a tie game, we’re treated to a small chess game that you can follow even from the cheap seats. ‘I’ve come up against him a lot,’ Hendriks will later say of Marisnick. ‘I know that he runs well, and he runs a lot off me.”
“Before throwing a pitch to Maybin, Hendricks pivots for a pickoff throw to first base. Once, twice, three times. Marisnick dives back safely once, twice, three times. But is that enough?” -pg 223
All the world is a stage…upon which a Chess game is played.
This book concerns Baseball but is about so much more than Baseball. It is about change, and not just about how Baseball has changed. For example, Mr. Neyer writes: “In Oliver Sack’s last book,
he wrote, “Nothing is more crucial to the survival and independence of organisms – be they elephants or protozoa – than the maintenance of a constant internal environment.” This constancy is called homeostasis.
“Further, Sacks writes, “It is especially when things are going wrong internally – when homeostasis is not being maintained, when the autonomic balance starts listing heavily to one side or the other – that this core consciousness, the feeling of how one is, takes on an intrusive, unpleasant quality, and now one will say, ‘I feel ill – something is amiss.’ At such time, one no longer looks well either.”
might not feel ill, but something is amiss; Baseball no longer looks well. When a team can go through an entire season and hit only five triples – as the Blue Jays did in 2017, setting a record low – it doesn’t look well. John Thorn,
MLB’s official historian, who loves baseball as much as anyone I’ve ever known, says of Two True Outcomes baseball, “We love surprises, since we were children. But this is a game I don’t like.” Because surprises – they’re disappearing.”
A month or so after the World Series, Steven Goldleaf wrote a long essay for Bill Jame’s website, titled “How Sabermetrics Has Ruined Baseball.”
That headline’s just a grabber, but Goldleaf’s central point is a good one: “Sabermetrics could ruin baseball, in that its goal is to create a type of game that optimizes winning, while fans want to see a type of game that is entertaining to watch.” (https://www.billjamesonline.com/how_sabermetrics_has_ruined_baseball/)
Having devoted so much time to playing, and writing about, Chess, it was simply impossible for me to not think about the current state of the Royal game while reading this wonderful book. For example, substitute the word “chess, and Chess” for “baseball, and Baseball” in the following sentence: “There would still be baseball without these millions of fans, but there would not be Baseball. And it’s worth mentioning that in the first half of the 2018 season, attendance is down significantly: something like 6 or 7 percent.” This was written in the very last part of the book, Extras: Future Ball, and was written in July of 2018. I will add that the ratings for the 2018 World Series tanked. See: Why World Series Ratings Took a Nose Dive in 2018 (https://www.si.com/mlb/video/2018/10/31/world-series-ratings-took-nose-dive-2018)
It was not just the World Series: Baseball Playoff Ratings Are Down (https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/baseball-playoff-ratings-are-down-blame-yankees-cubs-1153938)
Rob writes, “Media types tend to forget something, though: the baseball business is not a two-sided coin, with the players on one side and the owners on the other. They forget about the millions of baseball fans who pay for all these nice things. The business does not exist without the fans, just as Kellogg’s doesn’t exist without hungry kids and Southwest Airlines doesn’t exist without thrifty travelers. There would still be baseball without these millions of fans, but there would not be Baseball.”
The World Human Chess Championship is the Showcase Event of the Chess World. The recently finished 2018 WHCC, culminating with all the real games drawn, turned off many fans and left a sickening taste in the minds of many others, especially the “Media types.” This is not good because potential fans read what the “Media types” write. I have no idea how long, or even if, Chess will have any interest whatsoever in the minds of people. It is possible in the future chess will be played, but not Chess, as has been the fate of checkers.