Author Archive

A Shocking and Disheartening Infographic

As feelings of mortality and transience plague the average NotGraphs reader’s psyche, allow me to provide the following examination on the dying flame that is baseball. When last we convened we examined some of baseball’s smaller deaths, like the loss of some of its dear follicles. Today we engage in the pre-post-mortem itself, and look at when major league baseball, in its current (and, for comedic purposes, unchangeable) state of being, expires.

The cause of death for baseball might surprise you: it is not steroids, or zombies, or steroid-ridden zombies. Instead, it’s a far more subtle disease, almost a tooth decay, wrought by our own vainglory that brings down the sport. The horrible, unspoken truth is this: someday, because of our love for pomp, circumstance, and the archaic need to identify players from 500 feet away using only opera glasses and programs, we will run out of numbers. Teams are retiring numbers constantly, as if one-to-two-digit numerals were some sort of renewable resource. In time, each team will run out, and without the necessary digits to compose a roster, will have to disband and forfeit immediately.

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Ironic Jersey Omnibus: Pittsburgh Pirates

Welcome to the latest installment of the Ironic Jersey Omnibus. The mission of the Omnibus remains constant: to catalogue the jersey choices available to fans and discuss which, when worn, convey unspoken sentiment to one’s fellow man. Today, we venture into the Steel City to discuss the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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Being a baseball fan can make a person feel helpless. We’re so vital in our own lives: we get people to fall in love with us and kill each other in automobile accidents and learn how to skydive and quilt. But when we go to a game, we become a smudge of color, a tiny fraction of the din, an unformed emotion in the periphery. We devote our energy and emotion to the game of baseball and it scarcely knows we exist. It knocks us down and never apologizes, again and again.

Such is particularly the case for the baseball fans of Pittsburgh, whose team seems to roll and pound like the tide. After twenty years drowning in the undertow, the modern incarnation of the Pirates seems to be teetering on the crest, trying to maintain their balance. After a magical 2013, this year the team has managed to maintain some playoff aspirations despite early prognostications and performance. For their fans, a fall into the familiar depths would be more painful than most; who knows when they might resurface next time.

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Lenny Randle is a Ballplayer

It pains me to confess that as a member of the hallowed NotGraphs brand, I find the straight curation of baseball ephemera somewhat distasteful. Despite the fact that I am a spiritual vulture, picking off the scraps of other people’s lives and accomplishments for my own (extremely) limited fame, I find it difficult to subsume my ego and present, without illustration, something that I cannot in some way be lauded for. It’s a perpetual conflict.

Then, from nowhere, Lenny Randle emerges, and sweeps the I out of the I and Thou.

Lenny Randle once punched his manager in the face for calling him a punk. He tried to blow a ball foul. He went to Italy and hit .477 one season. He came back to America and attempted a comeback among the strikebreakers in 1995, at the age of 46. He created a sports academy and mentorship program.

All of these facets of Lenny Randle, past and future, are combined in a single glorious three minutes of what can only, by the necessary reduction of the English language, be described as music. It is music in the sense that the bloodstream is music. It is driving over traffic cones. It is a protest against death. It is the 1982 B-side, “I’m a Ballplayer”.

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Using Statistics to Forecast the Death of Baseball

In the idyllic indie film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, director James Cameron tells the story of Skynet, a computer which has been created to ease the tedious labor of a shambling, bone-weary humanity. Skynet is doing great, fixing routine traffic congestion and playing Zaxxon, until it attains self-awareness on August 29, 1997 and proceeds to nearly eradicate all life (if not for a couple of meddling humans). Though much of the film was realistic, particularly in its depiction of how cool mercury looks, this particular plot point was hard to swallow. After all, computers have been ruining things long before 1997.

Take chess, for example. Chess has beguiled and tormented the great figures of history since it evolved from shatranj in the thirteenth century. For seven hundred years, people played chess according to various “styles”, having “fun” by playing risky gambits and discovering breathtaking and unforeseen combinations. This means they were playing suboptimally. Once the computer arrived, it took only a handful of decades to distill the game down to the memorization of thirty-five move opening books and a demand for a heartless positional struggle slithering toward an inevitable rook-and-pawn endgame.

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Deep Blue and his pals aren’t necessarily killing baseball, because baseball is doing that itself, with its three true outcomes and five-hour games. But they do open up the possibilities of statistical calculation, which previously demanded far more arithmetic than the average person could do by candlelight. Now we can dump all the numbers of existence into a single spreadsheet, spend half an hour formatting the data, and arrive at the horrible truths that await us in a previously mystifying and vaguely interesting future.

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Revise a Rule: 4.10 and the Vindication of Andy Hawkins

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July 1, 1990: Andy Hawkins is somehow the starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. He’d been fired a month ago, only to find reprieve in an injury to Mike Witt. Despite pitching well in June, his ERA still floats at 6.49, his record at 1-4.

A different man took the hill that day. After five innings, neither he nor his opponent Greg Hibbard has allowed a hit, and after each third out Hawkins wandered back to the dugout, his jaw aimlessly working a wad of gum, his eyes dull. By the bottom of the eighth, the game still scoreless, Hawkins had conjured two infield pop-ups. Then, the fates cut the string:

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The Long Narrow Road to Felix Pie’s Apartment

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(Editor’s note: Felix Pie is a professional baseball player currently employed by the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization. He is walking home from the stadium after a game.)

 

The phantoms surge past and across and through the streets.
The moon hides in shame behind a lachrymose black veil
An oily candle, burnt too short, lapping cheap tallow.
Headlights roar and shudder, blood-drunk wet lions
Thrashing like dying fireflies in the puddles of soju underfoot.
The summer wind licks like a consumptive’s warm sigh.

This is a place where the flying birds do not reach.
Bamboo and grasses grew wild where they tread,
Long since crushed into gray powder lining the roads
Their colors boiled, wrought into neon, pumped into the signs
Calling the chirping moths, their only direction toward.
This world bears no names, offers no constellations.

Hidden in shadow, scattered along the littered sidewalks
The old men cry out hoarse laughter from the pojangmachas
Huddled motionless under tent flaps, gripping small green bottles,
Scraping their scarred beards with the backs of their hands
The crust of crimson sauce outlining lopsided grins.
When the hour comes they will sink into the asphalt.

The way is difficult to find, among all the dead ends.
Life pours into the drains in the abyssal alleyways behind every corner.
The serpents and the courtiers and the chrysanthemums have long since vanished.
There are no dew-teared blossoms to mourn the pilgrimage of the exile.
Felix Pie squints at the symbols, hunting for some willowisp
To illuminate the path and lure him home.


Poor Fundamentals Displayed by 1990 Upper Deck Cards

On behalf of the Upper Deck Company LLC, we at NotGraphs would like to apologize for the harmful influence of its 1990 edition of baseball cards. At a time when America was already enthralled by the siren songs of Wilson Phillips, and being told that King’s Quest V was a really good video game, our nation’s youth was already reeling on the edge of credulity. Then came these images, undoing three decades of helpful short films about how to act, groom, and play baseball, forever sealing off any hope of universal truth or beauty. One might protest that it was Crystal Pepsi that killed the last spark of resistance and laid an entire generation prostrate before the towering menace of American propaganda, and one may be correct. There are no simple answers. For now, we can only offer this meager apologia to the long-vacant souls of our generation.

Delinquent as this notice may be, we would like to offer the following corrections, in hopes that those affected might salvage a fraction of the lesser years of their lives.

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This is not how to bat.

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Little Giants

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The year was 1991, and Americans needed more sports cards. They’d ripped open all the Upper Deck foil they could find, pressed down on the translucent plastic of the Score packaging to read the faint name of the bottom card of each pack. They filled three-ring binders with Jeff George’s mustache and Dikembe Mutombo’s teeth, and even attempted to figure out what a Pavel Bure was.

Still, it wasn’t enough. Impatient to sell the next big rookie card, companies followed the concept to its natural limit and invented the pre-rookie. They released thousand-card sets full of players no one had ever heard of. The process had been distilled to the point where a collector need only buy a pack of unrecognizable players, put them in the closet, and wait. It’s no small irony that an increasingly cynical hobby turned to youth for its speculation.

In truth, there have always been minor league cards. These were generally confined to the merchandise booths of the local team stadium or the local gas station, a stack of grainy photographs sold as team sets. They were little more than a glorified program that kids could play with after they got sick of the game four innings in. It was one such set I found a while back, in an old familiar thrift store baggy, memorializing the nearby 1991 Everett Giants.

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My Daughter is Not Impressed by You, Jack Daugherty

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My daughter is not impressed by you, Jack Daugherty.
She creases the cardboard in her clumsy hands
While you gaze upward at a future, long since past.
To her, we are all undrafted free agents.
She doesn’t understand how it feels to have a baseball card.
She doesn’t understand how it feels to be young.

A million photographs of you languish in plastic tubs,
In garages and attics, wedged between Weedles and basic lands
Protesting to an uncaring, amnesiac world
That you made it, when so many failed, when so many
Assumed you’d fail. You drew 10 walks in 1989.
You, a propaganda poster for the Protestant ethic, a piece of history.

But history is a tyranny of the old upon the young
Of implicit values, adages and limitations,
The insipid morality of sugarless breakfast cereals
Strained carrots, quiet lies, living for tomorrow.
There is no American Dream for the children
Who cry through their naptimes.

My daughter rejects your truths, Jack Daugherty.
She cannot read your name and would not care to.
The accomplishments summed on the back of the card
Are not even numbers, betray no intelligence
A feral, flimsy, and fleeting cuneiform
Good only for being eaten.

As my daughter gnaws apart your effigy,
Destroys one small fraction
Of your existence in this world
She coos to herself, softly.


The NotGraphs Quiz

Studies I don’t feel like citing show that numbers are irresistible. The real world, with all its relative values and subjectivity, is undeniably terrifying. Put a number on something, however, and all your problems are solved.

That 90 bestowed on your bottle of pinot noir will tell you exactly how much you’re going to enjoy its tones of cherry and sandalwood. That 4.2 rating you saw on the internet will inform you exactly how competent you’ll find your sweater-clad Lit professor. A quick trip to his player page will demonstrate exactly what it feels like to watch Luis Valbuena play baseball. All these draining uncertainties in life, all this tiresome effort of developing your own opinions and feelings, get stripped away in a couple of digits. Truly, this is the best of all possible worlds.

Now I offer you an opportunity to quantify your love for our very own site, via this arbitrary and ridiculous Sporcle quiz. Prove to the world your appreciation for the NotGraphs #brand. Escape the soul-shearing ennui of your daily experience for up to six minutes, and then compare yourself to your peers through a number that, as well as anything else, represents your value to society and to the people you love. Select a question and answer each with open eyes and pure heart. And don’t cheat, or Banknotes Harper will turn you into shitty burgers.

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