Powerball and Chess

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.”

“Justin Verlander

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.

“Old age confers a certain freedom to say what one thinks”

I usually spend a considerable part of each day reading, and writing. Since there are so many books I would like to read, and so little time, I now read many book reviews in lieu of actually reading the book. The following is part of a review recently read with the book now placed on my roundtoit list, as in, “If I live long enough I’ll get aroundtoit.”

Donald Hall

is a former poet laureate of the United States. Donald and I had in common a love of Baseball. The game has changed dramatically in recent years and watching Major League Baseball has become tediously boring, yet after reading the following review I reflected on something that has stuck in my memory. A dying man, when asked what he would miss, included in his answer, “Watching a meaningless regular season Baseball game.”

When young the Saturday Game of the Week was a highlight of my week. I can still hear the announcers, Dizzy Dean,

who would often sing the song Wabash Canonball, and Pee Wee Reese,

even though I have tinnitus. Yesterday the Saturday Game of the Week was on Fox, and I loathe everything Fox, but the game was between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves. If the Braves won the game they would clinch the eastern division of the National League. I decided to watch the game while holding my nose, if you get my drift…The Braves won. I realize we now root, root, root for the uniforms of the home team, but that uniform has Atlanta on it, and I am from the Atlanta area of the Great State of Georgia. Go Braves!

Sentiment Without Sentimentality

by John Wilson
9 . 14 . 18

A Carnival of Losses:
Notes Nearing Ninety

by donald hall
houghton mifflin harcourt, 224 pages, $25

Even in antiquity, some writers lived to a ripe old age. (Sophocles was ninety or ninety-one when he died.) Until recently, though, they were the exception rather than the rule. Today, many have continued writing into their eighties (Ursula K. Le Guin and P. D. James, for example) and even their nineties (Czesław Miłosz comes to mind). Readers are living longer too, of course. Maybe we’ll soon have a new literary category, Old Adult, to match Young Adult. A major publisher and a commercial enterprise with a vested interest in the elderly could work together to get this category off the ground, establishing a hefty annual prize for the best OA novel.

A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, Donald Hall’s splendid miscellany, was published in July, just a couple of weeks after his death at age eighty-nine. Although he was best known as a poet, I’ve always preferred his prose. There is no continuous narrative in A Carnival of Losses, and only a perfunctory gesture at organizing the contents: What we get is precisely what the subtitle promises, and I rejoice in it. Speaking from the vantage of a seventy-year-old, I am already familiar with the associative leaps and seeming arbitrariness of the aging mind: a nuisance in some respects but a boon in others.

Years ago in the Times Literary Supplement, Gore Vidal sneered at academics afraid to say what they really thought, and gloried in his own freedom. I didn’t care for Vidal, but what he said there was largely true: Old age confers a certain freedom to say what one thinks. Of course it matters whether what’s said is of any interest, and no points are awarded for boorish “plain speaking.” Handing out compliments, teasing, settling scores, relishing the sheer oddity of the individual human being, Hall is unfailingly interesting and rarely boorish, if occasionally a bit unkind.

When old people in America aren’t invisible, they tend to be sentimentalized or used as counters in this or that argument.

John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books.

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/09/sentiment-without-sentimentality

I urge you to read all of the review and also read the comments left by readers. In addition, please click on to reach the home page. You can thank me later…

http://www.southernhumanitiesreview.com/donald-hall-baseball-time.html

The Seventh Inning
By Donald Hall
1. Baseball, I warrant, is not the whole
occupation of the aging boy.
Far from it: There are cats and roses;
there is her water body. She fills
the skin of her legs up, like water;
under her blouse, water assembles,
swelling lukewarm; her mouth is water,
her cheekbones cool water; water flows
in her rapid hair. I drink water

2. from her body as she walks past me
to open a screen door, as she bends
to weed among herbs, or as she lies
beside me at five in the morning
in submarine light. Curt Davis threw
a submarine ball, terrifying
to right-handed batters. Another
pleasure, thoroughly underrated,
is micturition, which is even

3. commoner than baseball. It begins
by announcing itself more slowly
and less urgently than sexual
desire, but (confusingly) in the
identical place. Ignorant men
therefore on occasion confuse beer-
drinking with love; but I have discussed
adultery elsewhere. We allow
this sweet release to commence itself,

4. addressing a urinal perhaps,
perhaps poised over a white toilet
with feet spread wide and head tilted back:
oh, what’delicious permission! what
luxury of letting go! what luxe
yellow curve of mildest ecstasy!
Granted we may not compare it to
poignant and crimson bliss, it is as
voluptuous as rain all night long

5. after baseball in August’s parch. The
jade plant’s trunk, as thick as a man’s wrist,
urges upward thrusting from packed dirt,
with Chinese vigor spreading limbs out
that bear heavy leaves—palpable, dark,
juicy, green, profound: They suck, the way
bleacher fans claim inhabitants of
box seats do. The Fourth of July we
exhaust stars from sparklers in the late

6. twilight. We swoop ovals of white-gold
flame, making quick signatures against
an imploding dark. The five-year-old
girl kisses the young dog goodbye and
chases the quick erratic kitten.
When she returns in a few years as
a tall shy girl, she will come back to
a dignified spreading cat and a
dog ash-gray on the muzzle. Sparklers

7. expel quickly this night of farewell:
If they didn’t burn out, they wouldn’t
be beautiful. Kurt, may I hazard
an opinion on expansion? Last
winter meetings, the major leagues (al-
ready meager in ability,
scanty in starting pitchers) voted
to add two teams. Therefore minor league
players will advance all too quickly,

8. with boys in the bigs who wouldn’t have
made double-A forty years ago.
Directors of player personnel
will search like poets scrambling in old
notebooks for unused leftover lines,
but when was the last time anyone
cut back when he or she could expand?
Kurt, I get the notion that you were
another who never discarded

9. anything, a keeper from way back.
You smoked cigarettes, in inflation-
times rolled from chopped-up banknotes, billions
inhaled and exhaled as cancerous
smoke. When commerce woke, Men was awake.
If you smoked a cigar, the cigar
band discovered itself glued into
collage. Ongoing life became the
material of Kurtschwittersball.

Donald Hall, “The Seventh Inning” from The Museum of Clear Ideas. Copyright © 1993 by Donald Hall. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Source: The Museum of Clear Ideas (1993)

Donald Hall – “The Baseball Players”
Against the bright
grass the white-knickered
players tense, seize,
and attend. A moment
ago, outfielders
and infielders adjusted
their clothing, glanced
at the sun and settled
forward, hands on knees;
the pitcher walked back
of the hill, established
his cap and returned;
the catcher twitched
a forefinger; the batter
rotated his bat
in a slow circle. But now
they pause: wary,
exact, suspended while
abiding moonrise
lightens the angel
of the overgrown
garden, and Walter Blake
Adams, who died
at fourteen, waits
under the footbridge.

Poetry Foundation

This post is dedicated to my friend Dennis Fritzinger.