Lies, damned lies, and Statcast

Baseball is my sport.

I enjoy watching or listening to it every chance I get. I also write about it a lot. Like here and here and here. Oh, yeah, and here and here. You get the point.

This year was particularly gratifying for me because I’m a diehard, lifelong Red Sox fan. Having grown up with Sox teams that couldn’t get out of their own way much of the time, I’ve reveled in the past 15 years of teams that often can’t lose. Especially this year. I’ve never seen a team like the 2018 Red Sox and I may never again.

The fact that I saw most of these guys when they were just kids playing pro ball for the first time with the Lowell Spinners in short season single-A ball (including all the killer B’s: Betts, Bradley, Benintendi, and Bogaerts) makes it that much sweeter.

Having said all that, this wouldn’t be a proper blog post if it weren’t full of griping. 🙂

My latest beef is with this goofy marketing tool disguised as meaningful data known as Statcast. It used to be we had to somehow manage baseball discussions with trivial stats: wins and losses, RBIs, average, ERA, triples, and the like. Thanks to Amazon Web Services, we can discuss crucial data such as exit velocity, launch angle, hard hit, and barrel, the last of which is a stat that takes an entire page of text to describe and is still as confusing as a knuckleball.

You’ll note one common thread connecting all these new statistics: None of them has anything to do with winning baseball games. Last time I checked, a home run is worth one run, regardless of its distance, launch angle, or exit velocity.

There are plenty of other more recently developed crazy stats like WAR and WHIP and OPS. I can live with these because, as convoluted as some of these numbers can be, at least they have something to do with scoring runs and winning and losing, which is what the game is all about, after all. Exit velocity is a stat for losers who need something tangible to back up their obscene contract demands. Sadly, this crap works.

Another one: Catch probability is just so much hooey. If a ball is caught, the probability is 100%, if not, it drops down to about, oh, zilch. I expect the probability of catching a ball depends mostly on the fielder. If it’s Jackie Bradley Jr. the catch probability is pretty darn high no matter where the ball goes. If Aaron Judge is plodding after it, not so much.

One final example: I read an article talking about how desirable a commodity Manny Machado will be as a free agent during this offseason’s hot stove league. Most of the argument was based on Manny’s Statcast “hard hit” data. Not surprisingly, there was no mention that this guy is likely to be poison to any baseball team. When a player doesn’t run out ground balls and stands to admire his “home run” that was actually a double but which he turned into a single through his arrogance, it doesn’t matter a rat’s turd how hard he hits the ball! That kind of player is an albatross on any team he plays for. Anyone who pays this prima donna big bucks deserves to be dragged down into the loser-gutter with him.

Which brings me to what might be the most tantalizing aspect of baseball. In spite of all the stats and data and computer models, it’s largely a game of hunches and gut feelings. That’s what makes it great. That’s how a journeyman like Steve Pearce ends up being World Series MVP. It’s how the ’67 Impossible Dream Red Sox won the pennant and almost the Series. It explains how a bunch of idiots won it all in 2004 and a band of bearded overachievers did the same in ’13.

I love this game. Let’s not ruin it in the name of Amazon corporate profits.

 


Note: For those in Eastern MA, I’ll be doing two “author appearances” at local venues. The first is at Chelmsford Public Library. The event is Saturday 11/3 from 1-3 PM, although I will only be there until about 2 PM. All the details can be found here.

The other is at a great little shop in Chelmsford center called Artisans Exchange. I’ll be hanging out there on Friday night, 11/16 from 7-8.

I hope some of you can come out to say hello and do some early local (author) holiday shopping.

Multiverse theory proved!

There’s tremendous controversy in scientific circles about “multiverse theory”, the contention that our universe is just one of many, possibly an infinite number of parallel or alternate universes. At first I was skeptical about this theory. While it makes for countless compelling science fiction plots, it seemed too far-fetched to be acceptable as scientific truth.

As a result of extensive and meticulous observation, my views have changed. It’s now obvious to me that there are indeed many, perhaps billions of parallel universes. Let me encourage you to use standard empirical methods to discover for yourself the undeniable truth that surrounds you every day.

Next time you are in heavy highway traffic, look around. The guy weaving in and out of lanes, endangering everyone around him? He’s clearly in his own universe. What other explanation could there be? His actions make no sense in this universe: He’s getting virtually nowhere and he’s merely aggravating an already miserable traffic situation. There is no other reason to drive so idiotically. There’s no connection with anyone else’s reality. He lives in a parallel, or maybe slightly skewed, universe.

More evidence? Take note of the following people:

  • The person with 15 items in the supermarket 6-or-less express lane.
  • The woman trying to stow a piece of luggage the size of North Dakota into a plane’s already cramped overhead luggage rack while the aisle fills with people waiting to get to their seats.
  • The fully able moron parked in a handicapped space right up against a van’s wheelchair entrance.
  • Donald Trump.
  • The kid yapping on his cell phone in the movie theater.
  • The motorcyclist revving his illegal exhaust system on a quiet street in the middle of the night.
  • The person at the front of a long line of customers, taking 15 minutes to decide what kind of cruller to have with a double latte.
  • The driver who considers the use of blinkers to be leaking information to the enemy.

All these people live in their own universes where they are the only inhabitants. They have no connection to or awareness of the reality other people occupy. It’s their universe, their laws, their morality, their “truth”, and no one is going to come from any other universe to interfere with their actions or disturb their complacency with meaningless concepts such as facts, civility, or selflessness.

Now that’s science.

Constraint-induced writing therapy

A few years back (here, to be specific) I wrote about how the tyranny of the urgent, a way of living that keeps us always running but never getting anywhere, gums up the writing process big time. Writing will always take a back seat to mundane but sometimes artificially urgent tasks such as dealing with insurance or cleaning the bathroom or cutting down the pile in the inbox or grocery shopping or catching up with old friends or…

You get the point. Again. The list is seemingly endless. So when to sit down and perform the arduous but not always pressing task of writing? It’s the easiest thing to blow off because it isn’t breathing down my neck.

Except it is.

I’ve come upon a possible solution to this problem. In medical rehab circles, there’s a concept called “learned non-use”. (Stay with me here; there’s a connection.) When a stroke victim loses control of a hand, for example, the brain “learns” not to use it or, more accurately, unlearns how to use it because the patient gives up on that hand and relies on the other. That process can be reversed through a technique known as “constraint-induced movement therapy”. With CIMT, the brain is re-taught to use the formerly abandoned hand by restricting (i.e. constraining) the use of the good hand, thus forcing the use of the previously unused hand. Through a process known as neuroplasticity, the therapy rewires the brain such that the hand can be used again.

So, is there such a thing as constraint-induced writing therapy that I can use to get moving again? Can I constrain the rest of my schedule and to-do list to force me to write? Not likely. The “urgent” tasks will be with me always, yea, unto the end of the world.

Getting away on a personal writing retreat solves the problem temporarily, removing the temptation to give up writing to do the urgent but often less important items weighing heavily on my mind. (Note: If you don’t consider your writing to be important, you’re probably in the wrong field.)

If anyone’s checking (half of me hopes no one is, the other half wishes someone were), this is my first blog post in… too long. The blog serves as both a barometer of my commitment to writing and as a motivator. If I’m not writing in it, chances are I’m not writing at all. If I post something, it builds inertia to keep me going. I’m rewiring my brain to write.

Let’s see if it works.

Feeling bad ain’t good enough

I have an inordinate affinity for little-known, minor musical artists from the late 60’s to early 70’s. Working for two record companies (you remember “record companies”, don’t you?) during that period only served to feed my obsession. I got to know bands who barely made it out of the warehouse. Most belonged there but some deserved a better fate.

Among my favorite obscurities are Stackridge (produced by the incomparable George Martin), Lindisfarne (pride of Newcastle), Emit Rhodes (the one-man Beatles), Roy Buchanan (the most soulful guitarist ever), and Ralph McTell (troubadour extraordinaire). Others, such as John Kongos, Seatrain, and Andrew Gold, are slightly better known but still vastly underappreciated. I exult in these musical phantoms.

The unfamiliar band that’s been in my brain of late is one McKendree Spring. (I’m not alone in my admiration. Legendary rock promoter/manager/impresario Bill Graham justifiably called them “one of the best unknown bands in the world.”) IMHO their third album, the aptly titled “McKendree Spring 3” is a masterpiece. What all this rambling is leading to is a song on that LP that has captured my attention and won’t let it go. Although included on the 1971 release, the song “Feeling Bad Ain’t Good Enough” couldn’t be more timely. It could have been triggered by yesterday’s news. Or today’s. Or tomorrow’s. Check out the chorus:

Feeling bad ain’t good enough now
For something you ain’t done.
Especially when the crazy man,
He’s reachin’ for his gun.

It has everything but the #enough. Feeling bad isn’t good enough. Nor are your thoughts and prayers, although I believe in the power of prayer.

The early date of the recording and certain lyrical references (“What was that voice from the tower; what was it trying to prove?”) indicate that the song could have been inspired by one of the early mass shootings in this country, that of the University of Texas Austin tower sniper. It’s sad to think that, in the 52 years since that tragedy, we’ve become inured to these events. In fact, we expect them now. A handful of people killed by a lone shooter barely makes a ripple in the mud puddle known as the evening news. In spite of the fact that mass shootings have escalated along with gun ownership, the powers-that-be continue to rant that more guns is the answer. Rather than fight back, our spineless lawmakers grovel before the nation’s largest terrorist organization, the NRA.

#enough

Ernestine’s new gig

Many moons ago, in the 70’s, the brilliant Lily Tomlin created one of the most memorable characters in comic history. Ernestine was an operator (remember them?) working for the long-lost but never lamented AT&T (remember them?) back when they held a monopoly on electronic communications in this country. Back in the day, they were known simply and unaffectionately as “the phone company”.

 

Ernestine had an annoying (but very funny) habit of telling her customers, “We’re AT&T. We don’t care. We don’t have to.” Indeed that was the case until the monolith was broken up into little “baby Bells” by a decree made on Jan 8, 1982. Yes, that was 36 years ago. Since then, they’ve shriveled into less than a shadow of their former selves, as an also-ran cell service.

But in their heyday, they held all the marbles while we, the phone using public, lost ours. Things have certainly changed…

Or have they?

The good news is that Ernestine is still at work. Having been laid off by the phone company, she now works for a new firm whose power and grip on our society makes it a perfect fit for her particular brand of customer service. If you had a chance to eavesdrop on her workday, you’d likely hear something like this:

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies. Gracious me, hello. Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking? This is Ernestine at Google. Are you the one with a problem with Gmail? Gmail is so much trouble, isn’t it? That’s why I always use the phone. <<snort, snort>> Goodness me, no, not an Android. They’re worse than email. <<snort, snort>> You want to know what’s wrong with Gmail? If you figure it out, let us know. <<snort, snort>> That’s what we call customer service. We let our customers do all the research and fix each others’ problems. <<snort, snort>> Better yet, once it’s working again, send the solution to a friend in an email. We’ll get it because we’re always monitoring your messages anyway. <<snort, snort>> What? Privacy? What’s that? <<snort, snort>> Oh, you’re a hoot, sir. In fact, we here at the office want to thank you. We all got such a charge out of the very colorful language you were using while you tried to get used to the buggy new calendar app we forced on you without your permission. What’s that? QA? Gracious me, who needs QA? What do you think we have customers for? <<snort, snort>> Oh, and we hope your UTI has cleared up. Don’t you hate it when streaming doesn’t work? <<snort, snort>> How did we know about that? What do you think that Google Home device you have on your counter is doing all day, meditating? <<snort, snort>> You don’t want us listening in to your personal conversations? We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re Google. Or Alphabet. Or whatever we want to call ourselves today. The stock will go up anyway. <<snort, snort>> What? You want to know how you can talk to my manager? Search me! <<snort, snort>> Get it? Search… Hello? Hello? Oh, my. Another satisfied customer.

Nice to know Ernestine’s core competency is still being effectively leveraged.

It happens every spring*

Every spring, my schedule gets too busy to maintain my typical blog schedule. The tasks that occupy my time are, not surprisingly, more important than my self-aggrandizing blog. This is the time of year I shamelessly beg for two of my favorite causes.

On April 6, 2018, I’ll be hosting a fundraiser to benefit an organization called Servants for Haiti, which is doing the right kind of work in the impoverished nation. All money will go to Biznis Pam, a small business training program for Haitian entrepreneurs, funded by SFH but administered entirely by Haitian nationals.

More information about Trivia Night can be found here.

On a recent trip to Haiti, I bought some supplies at this small store begun by a graduate of the Biznis Pam program. SFH is making a difference!

The other worthwhile event is a cycling fundraiser to fight Multiple Sclerosis. The idea is simple: I ride my bike 30 miles or so and you donate money to the National MS Society to help people suffering from the effects of MS. Simple, huh? But powerful, too.

To support my ride, visit my support page here. Or you can support my whole team, the Vineyard Square Wheelers by clicking on the team name.

Thank you for considering supporting these events. Please feel free to ask me anything you want about either one.


* Rabid movie and baseball and especially baseball movie fans will recognize this post shares a title with a classic, if rather cheesy but still great, movie about baseball starring Ray Milland. Watch it on opening day!

Meet Calandra

Hey, why write twice when I can recycle, reuse, regurgitate, oops, I mean repurpose a passage I’ve already written and in the process shamelessly promote one of my books? In the spirit of the aforementioned shameless self-(or, rather, self’s-book-)promotion, I hereby introduce you to someone who, despite her status as a fictional character inspired by a genuine human, is more real to me than many people I’ve met.

Meet Calandra, protagonist of my second book, A Song in the Storm:

ALTHOUGH CALANDRA KNEW the ancient walls surrounding her home city of Lucca had stood as they were for centuries, they seemed to be growing higher and closer, more constricting, more suffocating, with each passing day. She knew it was impossible—colossal earthen walls have a tendency to stay put—but she felt it all the same.

Barely 18, Calandra Agostini’s dark eyes burned with the intensity of her unfulfilled dreams. Lucca’s walls couldn’t contain those dreams. They were built to keep the city-state’s enemies out, but to her it felt as if the enemy had breached the ramparts and conspired to keep her in her place, a place in which she never felt completely at home.

Most people considered Calandra a beautiful girl. Indeed she was, but a photograph, had her family been able to afford one, could never have captured her beauty. In her presence, young men with smooth tongues stammered and suitors with shrewd tactics were forced to rethink their plans. Her allure was a revelation to those who knew her only from a distance. She was, in the most literal sense of the word, attractive, not because of her physical appearance alone, which was lovely in itself, but because of her strength and confidence tempered by an unaffected humility.

Then there was her voice.

The walls of Lucca today.

A Slippery S***hole

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I, as the author of a book about Haiti, am disgusted (but hardly surprised) at America’s racist-in-chief’s reference to Haiti as a “shithole”. In fact, the opening of my book implies a lack of knowledge that non-Haitians (“blans” as they call us) have about what in my eyes is a beautiful, if slippery, land.

I’ve reproduced the opening paragraphs of the book here, where we are introduced to the protagonist, Fania, and her country:

Fania lived in Hell.

Not that she was aware of it any more than the fish in nearby Baie de Port-au-Prince knew they lived in water. It was only to outside observers, none of whom Fania had ever met, that Haiti resembled a place of unending suffering and torment. They saw only crime, poverty, hunger, and homelessness in a recurring cycle of tumult. To them, it was an abyss of despair where nothing changed except the players in a tragic theater of misery.

To Fania, it was home.

And isn’t that the point? No matter how we view a nation from the outside, be it Kenya, Rwanda, El Salvador, Haiti, or any impoverished country, it is home to people, real people. Human beings no different than us. Like us, they try to live their lives, help their families, and contribute to their communities. This simple truth is beyond some people, but few miss the point with the profound ignorance and flagrant hate of the POTUS poser.

I’ve already written about this atrocity in my other blog. If you are so inclined you can read my diatribe here. Better yet, read the words of one who is infinitely more eloquent, the brilliant Haitian author Edwidge Danticat. You can read her assessment here. The intellectual, moral, and overall character gap between Ms. Danticat and the simple-minded bigot who runs this country is too wide to measure. The voice you and I listen to tells a great deal about our characters.

Start moving now!

The lazy way out of writing this post would have been to simply make a link to the latest post in my other blog because this is little more than a reiteration of what was written there. But that little more (buttressed by my overdeveloped sense of responsibility) is enough to justify a few original words.

Until the new year hit, I hadn’t written anything in months except these posts, and these were dwindling down to a precious few. (Did anyone notice?) As for more substantial written efforts—novels, screenplays, even short stories—that wasn’t happening. I was giving serious consideration to chucking the whole thing. (Who do I think I am to call myself a writer?) Motivation was MIA, but there was no A to speak of.

Then the fortune cookie crumbled. (q.v.)

On top of that, I’m reading a book called “The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life” by Erwin Raphael McManus. McManus, one of my favorite writers, has a way of getting under my skin and into my soul to inspire and challenge me like no one else. This book is no exception and the timing was perfect.

Bottom line (literally): I have to write something. In fact, a few things. Watch this space for updates.

Don’t Yank the beard!

It’s my blog. I can rant every now and then. I don’t do it that often, but sometimes the pressure gets to be too much.

I’m so grateful the New York Yankees aren’t in the World Series this year. I hate to see them there anyway, just on principle. (I’m a baseball fan. It stands to reason I’d dislike the Yankees because they ruined baseball with their extravagant spending habits.) But these days it means so much more. Why? Because Yankee players, a group of (mostly) adult professional athletes, must conform with the team’s asinine and childish “appearance policy”:

All players, coaches and male executives are forbidden to display any facial hair other than mustaches (except for religious reasons), and scalp hair may not be grown below the collar. Long sideburns and ‘mutton chops’ are not specifically banned.

What is this, a 1965 middle school??? What kind of pathetic excuse for an adult male (note that it says nothing about women’s facial hair) lets himself be suppressed like that? Oh yeah, this kind:

Nearly every player on both the Astros and Dodgers takes advantage of their freedom to express themselves creatively through their grooming or lack thereof. And they make the game that much more fun. If those teams had such an archaic and repressive rule, we’d miss out on these cool-looking dudes:

 

 

 

 

Even the relatively conservative Mr. Verlander would be persona non yanqui.

Instead we’d be subjected to the likes of these clones:

Yikes! They look like dropouts from a cut-rate accountancy school, where they could have been voted most likely to frighten small children. Do you suppose their straitjackets have pinstripes, too?

I’m not complaining. As long as the Yanks continue that nonsensical policy instituted by their former tyrannical psycho leader, George Steinbrenner (forerunner of the current tyrannical psycho leader of this country), many very good, self-respecting players will never play for them, thus keeping them out of the World Series for the foreseeable future.

And that is something to look forward to.