Author Archive

Birds Effectively Satirize Baseball Through Existence

In the first inning of the 3,543rd regular season baseball game of the 2014 season, two of the three billion birds on earth settled onto the infield grass at Comerica Park.

“Everybody’s acting like this is normal,” muses the announcer as men in brightly colored clothes and high socks stand watching a man throw a ball at another man, while another man holds a stick and swats at it.

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Dangerous Experiment: A Roster of 25 Adam Dunns


One of the things we tend to love about baseball is when the game breaks, and a player ends up doing something they’re not supposed to be doing. Don Mattingly playing second base to finish off the Pine Tar Game, Randy Johnson manning left field on a double switch, Skip Schumaker firing fastballs that would make Tommy Milone jealous: these are the images of incongruity and improvisation that stick to us. We wait for the situations not because we want our heroes to fail, necessarily, but because throwing them out of their element makes them resemble us, just for a moment.

But why wait for the planets to align in real life, when we can simulate our dreams right now?

Thus I began this mad, stupid experiment. The premise is simple: using everyone’s favorite realistic baseball simulation, Out of the Park 2015, I created teams of baseball players by cloning a single player until they filled the active roster, and set them against each other in 162 games of gory combat. The results exceeded my wildest expectations.

The four teams in the CBL (Clone Baseball League) are:
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How Gambling Could Improve Baseball


Baseball is pretty great. It’s a particularly great, from the spectator’s standpoint, because its ridiculous amount of luck allows even the most putrid of teams to win around a third of the time. And, because of those fixed outs every team must accrue, a loss never becomes a mathematical certainty, as those obnoxious people who keep retweeting the Indians’ 2001 comeback against the Mariners like to keep reminding me.

Still, there are certainly times, particularly when you’re cursed with an affiliation with the Padres, when a particular two-run deficit may seem insurmountable. And there are those late inning game states where the losing team would love nothing more than to run out the clock, but are bound by individual fiscal incentive to keep hurling themselves off the proverbial cliff. It’s grisly, like an ant that’s been stepped on but keeps crawling around.

How do we kindle the competitive flame in these expanses of tundra? I was struck with an idea when Friend of the Site and champion dramaturge Michael Clair threw this cry out into the void:

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Knowing Bo


“Yes, sweetheart,” you answer, glancing up from FanGraphs.

“Daddy, what was 1990 like?”

You study her for a bit, searching her eyes for sarcasm. Is she old enough to have developed sarcasm by now? You’ve forgotten your Piaget, or at least the first chapter of Piaget your father-in-law gave you during your wife’s pregnancy. There was a timeline in there, a schedule for everything: vomiting, crawling, speaking, tying shoes, sarcasm, refusing to sit next to you in movie theaters. She seems sincere, looking up at you with those big brown eyes and that milk mustache. But she’s gotten good at being sincere, at looking earnest when she has to. You wish you knew how she did it, not because you want her to stop, but because you wish you could learn. You’ve raised her too well, and someday she’ll see what a fraud you are.

You sip your coffee, cold, and fold down the cover of your laptop. How could you explain? 1990 was Saturday morning soccer games on cold fall days, orange wedges and shin guards and swollen knees. It was walking home from the bus unsupervised, tiptoeing on curbs and avoiding cracks in the pavement. It was summer afternoons watching television shows you didn’t like because there were only ten channels, Dialing for Dollars, a nation’s temporary obsession with non-alcoholic beer, of Hypercolor shirts and Wayne’s World and Vanilla Ice, and unilateral American world power. It was the inability to look up answers to questions on the Internet, and a time when a list of pop culture references wasn’t a substitute for humor.

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John Smiley Is Not

The authors of the little-known pamphlet Freakonomics noted that a person’s name can have a momentous effect on their socioeconomic and personal well being. As someone whose last name has often been rhymed with the act of regurgitation, I can attest to this unfortunate reality.  Though perhaps both the psychological trauma and hilarity of the ritualistic substitute teacher roll call is overrated, the sins of the parent can certainly be borne by the child, at least in terms of getting beat up in middle school.

One’s moniker can also bestow counter-intuitive outcomes. A well-known example of this is the brothers, Winner and Loser Lane, who grew up to become a repeat convict and a detective, respectively. Though we are dabbling in the softest, coziest of sciences, the conjecture is that both Lanes were treated, and therefore shaped, differently by their environment. Baseball, for its part, reinforces this lazy postulation: Win Remmerswaal fulfilled his destiny a mere three times, Bob Walk relinquished an uninteresting 3.27 per nine, and figures like Prince Fielder, Homer Bush and Josh Outman have provided equally false advertising.

So, too, seems to be the case for John Smiley, who in his tender youth, and at the height of his powers and optimism, appears already bracing for the approaching jest.


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Shin-Soo Choo Probably Endorses My Choice of Meals

Just a stone’s throw north of the city of Seattle, on picturesque Aurora Avenue, dwells a little restaurant by the name of Maru. Inside the tables are made of inconspicuous marble, the free dish of mints are the chocolate-mint kind, and the beer is bottled and fulfills brand expectations. Earnest, weepy K-pop floods through invisible speakers while teenagers pretend to be pre-teens on flat-screen televisions overhead. The atmosphere is peaceful, because families eat in near-silence, bent prostrate over their phones.

I like this place. I order the same meal every time, dolsot bibimbap, which I then drown in hot sauce to hide the taste of the copious and healthy vegetables. I recall the candy they made from the flavor of the burnt rice at the bottom of the stone pots. I use my words of perfect Korean, which include hello, goodbye, thank you, and “where are you going” to my one-year old daughter as she marches laps around the seating area. I drink my Hite beer, crisp as a glass of seltzer water and nearly as flavorful, and feel homesick for the time, ten years ago, when I used to be homesick.

I think of the crowded streets of Busan, a maze of twisty passages, all alike. I think of the ajummas, sweeping the pavement with miniature brooms, or elbowing me in the ribs in subway stations. I think of a market with a plastic bucket full of overturned tiny turtles, some still pitifully waving their limbs in the seaside air. I think of street meat and cicadas and drunken businessmen on morning trains, testing out their English in uncertain terms. I think of a couple, late at night, playing go on the floor of their convenience store, the light behind their profiles spilling out into the midnight blackness, waiting for the last trickle of customers from the bars. I think of street children pointing at my voluntarily-bald head, crying bakbagi, and laughing in fits.

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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.


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.


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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