Baseball

Nov 10, 2017

I didn’t have a team to root for, or against, but the World Series held my interest pretty well last month; often I was just hoping the team that was behind would tie things up so the games wouldn’t end.

Baseball is the topic when my friend Tim and I tour diners for breakfast a few times a year.           

Sometimes, Tim will ask me to reflect on baseball when I call him to make our arrangements.           

“Sid,” he’ll say, “I want you to think about why players don’t seem to bunt, anymore.”           

Not bunting, I think, could have changed the outcome in one of the World Series games. I think the managers were too quick to remove their starting pitchers in the series, and in one case I surmise that it was connected to a player’s inability to bunt.           

The Astros wouldn’t let pitcher Justin Verlander even attempt a bunt that would have, as events unfolded, created a tying run and kept him in the game. The guy who followed him on the mound for Houston gave up a quick home run that put the Los Angeles Dodgers ahead, 3-1, the final score in game 6.           

“Why didn’t the manager send the pitcher up to bunt?” I can hear Tim say? It’s a question for me, not a challenge to the manager. As in, “There’s gotta be a reason.”           

“It’s an aspect the dictatorship of data we live under now,” I might say sarcastically, “the hitter’s bunt success percentage, divided by the base-advance-to-out ratio, multiplied by the score probability coefficient, leading a 25-year-old in the press box to decide that trading a base for an out in that situation is a bad idea. Why don’t players bunt? Maybe it’s algorithms. Algorithms.”                       

And Tim would say, “Sid, it’s hard to learn to do something that’s not being taught.           

“So why isn’t it being taught?”           

In baseball, the talk never ends. One thing leads to another. Tim’s breakfast questions are like a new game.           

He shakes my hand as I get into his car and he asks me if I’ve got a preference, and I don’t, and Tim says, “Whaddaya say we try….?” and that sounds good to me.           

We’ll head over to Allies on Mishawaka Avenue; or, the White House, caddy-corner from Adams High School, sometimes. Portage Café was a regular stop until it closed and we’ve also stopped in at Macadoo’s over on Lincoln Way East in Mishawaka and the Sunrise on Lincoln Way West in South Bend.           

It doesn’t make much difference. The coffee is quick and we know what we want to eat. As we wait for our bacon and eggs, and toast, Tim says, “What player do you have your eye on, these days, Sid?”           

I discovered a player this fall for the Houston ballclub who was new to me that I enjoyed watching, the third baseman named Alex Bregman. First against the Yankees and then the Dodgers, he made a couple of great fielding plays, throws to the plate that created putouts, and I was impressed with his hitting even before he hit a game winner in World Series game five. You get feelings when you watch enough baseball and I had a hunch he was going to do that.           

The first weekend of the Series, there was a nice article about Bregman in the New York Times, an Albuquerque kid who played at L-S-U for former Notre Dame coach Paul Mainiera (Mah-ner-ee). Bregman, I read, is making the effort to learn Spanish in order to be a better Astros teammate.           

Tim coached some baseball at Notre Dame himself, but he doesn’t let on. One day I found him in his backyard on a sweltering summer day helping an Eastside Little League catcher learn the position. Tim’s a catcher himself, and to me, in baseball, that’s about the highest compliment there is.           

Tim grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota and he can tell you about watching two Triple- A affiliates, the St. Paul Saints and the Minnesota Millers squaring off down the street for local bragging rights. When there were only 16 major league teams, and as the end of the Second World War and overt segregation made for an explosion in talent, a young Tim was taking it all in.           

Some of those players joined the Brooklyn Dodger and New York Giant teams that won the National League pennant eight times in ten years from 1947 till 1956, and the World Series twice.           

Baseball keeps me humble. Just when I think I know ….           

……… in baseball watching I get to discover what I think….unlike, say, politics, where I discovered what I think 50 years ago…there’s no ideology in baseball.           

Once, Tim said to me, “Sid, I want you to think about what’s wrong with baseball, and let me know the next time we have breakfast.”           

I thought about that a few days and came up with instant replay. Instant replay makes it so we don’t have to pay attention to the game and it’s in the careful watching, the knowing of the precedents, and the many elements of the present situation, and in the consideration of the possibilities, that baseball becomes rewarding.           

Tim says, “If you only look up when somebody or something tells you something happened, then you are missing a great game.”           

Next time, we’ll talk about what the Twins and the Cardinals are going to do this winter to make themselves better for 2018. That’ll be great.

Music: "Talkin' Baseball" - Terry Cashman