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.

Chess and the JFK Assassination

Reading about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been a passion of mine since the late 1960’s. There was a time I could tell you the exact number of books I had read on the subject. Former Georgia State Chess Champion Michael Decker once exclaimed, “You have read EVERYTHING on the subject!” Not hardly…I did a search on the Gorilla the other day and saw there were over 2000 books on the subject. Because this year is the 50th anniversary of the assassination there is a plethora of books on the market, some of which I hope to read. I say “hope” because I have a bad ticker. The truth is I could go at any time. I realize there is limited time to pursue my interests and some must be dropped. This blog is one of them.
In all the books and articles I have read pertaining to the JFK assassination I do not recall ever coming across the subject of chess. It was therefore a surprise to see the word “chess” while reading, “Who Really Killed Kennedy?” by Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D. While making the point of how difficult a shot it would have been for an amateur like Oswald to have made the writer points out what a tiny percentage of athletes make it to the top of their game. “Typically the transition to world class involves a transformation where the pro learns to see the game differently than the amateur. Consider the game of chess. Studies have shown chess masters truly see no more moves ahead in a chess game than beginners. The difference is that where beginners see moves, chess masters see patterns.” This is on page 52 and there is a footnote, #106, which says, “Bill Wall, ‘The Cognitive Psychology of Chess,” Chess.com, June 21, 2010, http://www.chess.com/article/view/the-cognitive-psychology-of-chess.”
Imagine that, the word “chess’ used in relation to the most infamous unsolved crime in the history of the United States of America. Everything is cataloged on the internet so Bill Wall may be the only chess player to have had his name used in relation to the assassination.
I watched a program on the MLB channel yesterday, “Behind the Seams: The Stat Story.” Something John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, said struck me, so I wrote it down. “Henry Chadwick’s crusade was, first to make the American game of baseball a game that not only children played, but adults thought worthy of their attention.” Henry Chadwick was the original “stat-head.” Mr. Thorn went on to say, “One of the ways to make baseball seem more important was to attach to it the numbers that businessmen like to peruse and analyse, so as baseball acquired numeracy, it acquired importance.”
From the dwindling numbers of adults involved with chess-and I do not count the parents of the large numbers of children-it is obvious that the vast majority of adults do not find the Royal game worthy of their attention. I do not know what can be done to kindle interest for the great game of chess in adults, but I do know that if something is not done to do so, chess will not survive. I do not know if attaching numbers to chess in the way they were attached to baseball will do for chess what the numbers have done for baseball, but it may be a start. For example, each batter is really two batters, and each pitcher is really two pitchers. A right handed batter hits differently vs. a right handed pitcher as opposed to a left handed pitcher. Same for a right handed pitcher. Each chess player is really two players. One is the player with the White pieces, with the other being the player with the Black pieces. Each player has a different performance rating when playing each color. I have previously advocated showing each rating for every player. It has fallen on deaf ears and there does not seem to be any interest whatsoever in the idea, which I find a shame. The sad fact is that in most crosstables one cannot tell whether a player had white or black. I can think of many possibilities, such as a players performance rating for only the year 2012, or 2013, and so can you.
All the best in chess to you.
Michael Bacon