Baseball Lifetime Memoir by Dave Baldwin, Snake Jazz
Dave Baldwin
Baseball Memoir by Dave Baldwin, Snake Jazz
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Introduction and excerpts of baseball memoir Snake Jazz by Dave Baldwin
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Why Nine Players on Each Team?

One day, three guys were lounging around ye olde tavern with nothing to do, so they decided to invent baseball.  Let’s call them Abner Doubleday, Alexander Cartwright, and Henry Chadwick because those were, in fact, their names.

They dithered about how many players would be in each team’s lineup.  Finally, Abner said, “I have a way to resolve this. We’ll take a random number, say, my birth date (6/26/1819) without the slashes and parentheses.  Then we’ll scramble the digits good and proper to make a second random number (e.g., 8619261) and subtract the smaller from the larger.  Like 8619261 minus 6261819 equals 2357442.  Am I going too fast?”

Alexander grunted and Henry groaned.  “Good,” Abner said.  “Now let’s sum the digits in that number: 2 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 4 + 4 + 2 = 27.  Next, we’ll sum those two digits: 2 + 7 = 9.  So that’s how many players we’ll have on each team.”

“Okay,” Alexander yipped.  “Now, I’ll figure out how many innings we’ll play.  But I’m going to use my birth date instead.  I was born on April 17, 1820.  I’ll shuffle that 4171820 to give me 2011874.  So 4171820 minus 2011874 gives me 2159946.  I add those digits to get 36 and add those to get 9.  Wow, we’re going to play nine innings.”

Henry scowled.  “Wait a minute.  I don’t trust you hornswogglers.  Let me calculate using my birth date—October 5, 1824.”  He whipped up a jumbled version of 1051824 and hammered out the math.

“Holy mongoose, Hank!”  Alexander shouted.  “You came up with 9, too.  That cinches it.  Nine it will be.”

We are fortunate that they stumbled onto nine as the number of players on a team because that is actually the correct number.  To demonstrate this, we’ll use the precise total number of players who have played in the majors and the Negro Leagues since that fateful tavern rendezvous: 19,623.  We’ll yank out the comma and rearrange that number (randomly, of course) to get 62193.  Now we’ll subtract: 62193 minus 19623 equals 42570.  Summing these digits gives us 4 + 2 + 5 + 7 + 0 = 18, and 1 + 8 = 9.  QED.

 

The Pitch that Never Got There

Once there was a pitcher who liked to play around with numbers.  We’ll call him Archimedes (Arky, for short).  Arky figured his figuring might lead to some new bafflements to torment batters.  He hoped to do a number on them.

One day, Arky’s cunning pitching coach Zeno said to him, “Arky, you might consider trying to pitch your curveball so the trajectory velocity is exactly equal to the spin velocity.  I think you might be surprised by the outcome.”

Arky was flushed with enthusiasm.  “I wonder how many revolutions per minute the ball would have to make if I threw the pitch with a forward velocity of, say, sixty miles per hour.”  He broke out the new slide rule his girlfriend Hypatia had given him for his birthday and calculated thusly: “The legal circumference of the ball is between 9 and 9.25 inches.  If we take the midpoint of that range, 9.125 inches, and . . . [mumble, mumble] . . .” He also grumbled because the device’s central slider kept sticking—you always find bugs when you break in new hardware.

Eventually, he came up with the answer: the pitch would have to spin at 6,943 revolutions per minute to have a spin velocity of 60 mph.  He frowned for that is an impossibly high angular rate (curveballs generally spin in the neighborhood of 2,000 rpm).  But his innate pluckiness carried him right past that moment of doubt.  The ugly frown segued into a high-spirited grin, and he began working on his new pitch immediately.  Before long, he was ready for the heat of battle.

Confident his clever curveball could not be smacked or smudged, Arky hurled it as the first pitch to the first batter he faced.  Then a strange thing happened.  Immediately after releasing the ball, Arky said to himself, “I threw that curveball with a forward velocity of 60 mph and a spin rate of 6,943 rpm.  Therefore, each point on the equator of the ball is traveling at 60 miles per hour toward the catcher and traveling at 60 mph around the circumference of the ball.  In this diagram that I am ingeniously drawing in my head and labeling figure A.1, I can see that as each point on the ball’s equatorial surface passes position A, the point will be stationary for an instant [relative to the catcher].  This is because the point will be spinning backward toward the pitcher at the same rate that it is moving forward toward the catcher.”

Figure A.1 Diagram of pitch traveling 60 mph toward the right and spinning with a topspin of 6,943 rpm.

At any instant, some point on the ball’s equator will be stationary.  If one point is stationary, the rest of the ball (being firmly attached to that point) must be stationary as well.  Thus, the pitch couldn’t possibly proceed toward the catcher.

The batter waited patiently in the batter’s box for a while, doing batter-type things like scratching and amusing himself with a simplified version of tic-tac-toe.  But eventually, he grew weary and gloom-ridden; assuming the worst, he trudged dejectedly back to the dugout like an old sack of potatoes.

NOTE: The ball’s shenanigans in our little tale is ridiculous, of course.  But now for a little known fact—from the viewpoint of a stationary observer (say, a fan sitting in the bleachers), the top of the ball moves faster than the bottom on an overhand curveball with a topspin, just as the top of a bicycle wheel (with topspin) moves faster than the bottom of the wheel.  And the opposite is true of an overhand fastball with backspin.  This is explained in terms of cycloid geometry by Martin Gardner on page 141 of his book aha! Gotcha, published by W.H. Freeman & Co., 1982.

How Sweet Toes Surprised the Experts

Once upon a time, there were identical twin brothers—Sweet Toes and Storkhips McGoogel—who wanted to become baseball players in the worst way.  They misspent their youths taking batting practice three times daily and became outstanding hitters.

They were such good hitters that they signed lucrative contracts and worked their way up to the majors.  Unfortunately, both were total klutzes and wanted to practice fielding about like an ostrich wants to play the kazoo.  Thus, they could man no other position than first base.  Fortunately, they swung the bat so well managers were eager to find a spot for them on their lineup cards.  Each was forgiven for playing first base like the other.

Strangely enough, year after year, Storkhips had the highest batting average in the league, and Sweet Toes always finished second.  This, in spite of being identical in every other aspect.  Each season, Storkhips took home a batting crown, and Sweet Toes went home crownless and disheartened.

Storkhips and Sweet Toes began their major league careers on the same day, and they retired ten years later (on the same day).  Except for some difficult spells of epiplosarcomphalocele (not an easy spell for anyone) and a few bouts with pig’s feet, Storkhips and Sweet Toes were steady day-in-day-out performers.

Here are the stats for their ten seasons in the majors (where AB = at bats, H = hits, and BA = batting average):

Sweet Toes’s Stats                                     Storkhips’s Stats

Season   AB         H           BA               Season       AB     H       BA

1                500        165       .330             1         556        184        .331 *

2                600        204       .340             2         680        232        .341 *

3                610        231       .379             3         510        194        .380 *

4                500        162       .324             4         640        208        .325 *

5                510        167       .327             5         610        202        .331 *

6                600        237       .395             6          500        199        .398 *

7                520        175       .337             7          590        200        .339 *

8                600        233       .388             8          500        195        .390 *

9                600        209       .348             9          620        217        .350 *

10             525        178       .339             10          625        213        .341 *

* Led league

The day they announced their retirements, Storkhips was given a tour of the baseball Hall of Fame and given his choice of profiles to be used on his upcoming bronze plaque (he chose one of Cary Grant’s).  And poor Sweet Toes slouched unnoticed back to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to his thirty-four-room mansion.

But the end of careers means it’s time for the stats guys to sum things up.  When they did, this is what they got:

Sweet Toes’s Career                                                Storkhips’s Career

AB          H            BA                                                AB         H            BA

5565       1961      .352                                              5831      2044      .351

Sweet Toes was elated when he saw this.  He was clearly the better batter, so he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at an elaborate ceremony in North Palm Springs.  He was so uplifted he even decided to manage the Mets.

Meanwhile, Storkhips was crestfallen.  Dejected, disheveled, and forlorn, he started hanging out with disgraced politicians and CEOs on the backstreets of Hollywood.  Nobody has seen him since.

Epilogue: This is an example of a phenomenon first described by statistician G. U. Yule in 1905.  It is sometimes called “Simpson’s paradox,” but it isn’t really a paradox, and Harry “Suitcase” Simpson would have nothing to do with it.

Not to Mention India

Willie Theodore was a great hitter in his day—maybe the best.  For good reason, then, he formulated this clever hypothesis:

1)         All pitchers are stupid.

Now, if that’s true, it follows that:

2)         Anyone who is not stupid is not a pitcher.

And

3)         If 2 is true, 1 must also be true.

Eventually Willie reached his middle years and became a big league manager.  Sportswriters and casters clustered around him daily to collect his extreme quotables, and this gave him the opportunity to expound his hypothesis to a wide, gullible audience.

One day, a maverick sportswriter, named Madison, pumped up his courage to ask Willie, “What evidence do you have that all pitchers are stupid?”  Willie semi-melted Madison with his steely-eyeball stare for a minute, and then replied, “You want evidence?  I’ll give you bleeping evidence!  First, Dimwitz Smoketosser, our star pitcher, is stupid.  No doubt about that.”  All the media mavens nodded earnestly.  Dimwitz had demonstrated his complete lack of noggin filling on many occasions.

“Therefore,” Willie continued, “Dimwitz is evidence supporting the hypothesis that all pitchers are stupid.”  Heads nodded again.  All sportswriters could understand that.

By now, the scribblers were on the edges of their seats, dropping their pens, fumbling with microphones, sweating uncontrollably.  Willie paused for a wholesome dramatic effect—then he said, “I happen to know Dr. Myelin Brainsnapper, a leading college professor at a leading Midwestern university.  He isn’t stupid at all and he isn’t a pitcher.  Therefore, he is evidence supporting the hypothesis that anyone who is not stupid is not a pitcher.  But since the truth of this hypothesis implies that ‘All pitchers are stupid’ is true, well…there you are, then.”

The journalists looked back at Willie blankly, indicating that there they weren’t, then.  Willie decided to fill in a little more of the picture for them.  “Look, each one of you is not stupid, and how many pitchers do we have in the room?”

Not a hand went up.  “See?  Right there is a lot more evidence that all pitchers are stupid.  We have a couple of dozen not stupid people here and not a single one of them is a pitcher.”

A few light bulbs were beginning to flicker over the heads of the writers, so Willie decided to go for the big one.  “Okay, China has well over a billion not stupid people and they don’t have a pitcher amongst them.  How’s that for a whole subcontinent full of overwhelming evidence?”

How much evidence does it take to be overwhelming?  Madison thought for a moment.  Then his lips curled into a demonic grin and an unearthly red glow emanated from his serpentine eyes.  And he took his first step in his Diogenes-like quest to prove Willie wrong—his great search for even one pitcher who is not stupid.  He’s still searching.

NOTE: This is a version of Carl Hempel’s raven paradox, which has been analyzed to near death by logicians.  This little tale should finish it off.

 

Baseball Memoir by Dave Baldwin, Snake Jazz