Friday, February 29, 2008

Ah, spring

As someone--maybe me, I no longer remember--once said, news means paying attention to the boring because it's important, and sports means paying attention to the unimportant because it's exciting.

Do you realize that they are already playing Spring Training games?

Every year around this time, anyone and everyone who writes about sports seems to feel compelled to put forth his or her annual paean to the glories of the game of baseball in terms both philosophical and poetic. OK, been there, done that (check "In Spring, A Young Man's Fancy Lightly Turns" from The Sinister First Baseman & Other Observations), and don't feel a need to repeat it.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Spring Training is that teams actually base roster decisions on what they see there. Amazing. A man spends months and years playing the game at the professional level, typically after some years at an academic level, all of which results are neatly recorded and available for inspection, in an activity in which experience has taught in an unsubtle manner that the leopard changeth not his spots, and these clowns decide who will play--at least for a few roster opening--on a few hours of performance. No wonder the handful of teams that know better typically run away with everything.

For all the things that the people who own and run baseball try to do to ruin the sport, it is so naturally delightful that they can never quite manage to do it in. I suppose that now that baseball scoring is approaching parity with football scoring, the next goal will be to approach parity with basketball scoring. It never seems to dawn on these dunces that there is clearly such a thing as an optimum score.

Score totals in baseball ought to be such that on the one hand, the observer does not spend most of the game waiting to see if there is going to be a run or two scored, but also does not yawn when two or three runs score, on the theory that there's always more where that came from. Runs, that is, should be scarce enough to be individually treasured without being actually rare.

What that translates to in numbers is to some extent subjective, but by no means wholly so. My sense is that a combined runs total between the two teams--speaking always of the average per game--needs to be no less than 6 and no more than 10; I myself feel that 7 or 8 is about right. (That means scores like 5-3 or 4-3 or 6-2--scores in which, as a rule, even the losing team in the bottom of the ninth is not comically without hope.) Naturally, if that's the average, we will still see 1-0 and 12-9 games, but they will be outliers, just enough of each to satisfy, on an occasional basis, our desire for a real pitchers' duel, or a real sock-em blowout.

And that is a matter easily controlled, merely by specifying more exactly the resilience of the actual baseball itself. It could easily be implemented with the stroke of a pen. But it will not be.

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