Sunday, May 29, 2016

Getting Along In Baseball

I am painfully reading a baseball book my son gave me in advance of Father's Day.  I will likely tell you more about it later.  It is painful because it accurately captures baseball guys being jerks, with more unwritten rules and more stupid beliefs than other sports. The notorious superstitiousness of baseball players is not an accident, but merely an extension of how they view their whole sport.  Basketball teams, football teams, soccer teams, and hockey teams try new things all the time. Not being able to adapt to the new things other teams are trying on you is considered a major disadvantage.  Baseball, even though it is the most easily stat-driven sport, is the opposite.  Real Baseball Men know things because they know them because they know them and attribute this knowledge to what they have "learned" from being part of the game for so long. They just know, and you are stupid for not knowing, even when a fairly simple set of experiments would likely show them to be badly wrong.

That is a typical stat-guy rant, but it is worth asking why? Football teams run both a 4-3 and a 3-4, or nickel back, dime back - and that's just the defense.  Soccer has 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 3-5-2, 3-6-1 and will switch mid-game; basketball will run 3 guards, or even 5 forward offenses in college. If someone tries a fifth infielder for one batter in baseball, not only is it news, but then you have to listen to 50 Old Baseball Guys complaining what a stupid idea it is and this has all been figured out long ago.

Why?

The time spent together sitting around and talking has to have something to do with it. At the professional level baseball teams play twice as many games as basketball and hockey teams, three times as many as soccer teams, and ten times as many as football teams.  Even if the game flow and preparation were identical, that would mean much more travel time together. However, preparation is also different, with a lot of standing around and talking while this guy takes batting practice or that guy warms up.

Watch football players when they switch form offense/defense/special teams.  They breathe deeply, the talk with coaches or others in their narrow circle.  Basketball, soccer, and hockey players wait their turn and talk in quieter tones to people on either side of them. Socialising happens, but focus is intense.

Baseball players wander all over the place talking to each other, going back in the clubhouse, hanging on the fence, pulling pranks, telling jokes.  All in all, baseball teammates and coaches spend enormously more time just talking to each other.  Ten times as much. We have spoken often here about how easy it is for tribes that have little serious contact with outsiders to just talk themselves into stuff. Those liberals say...those environmentalists always...libertarians believe... It's easy. 

It also explains why there is so much more emphasis on the social interaction in baseball, of a manager who has "lost the clubhouse," or a guy who is a "cancer" on the team.  It's like high-school girls at a lunch table. Therefore, small gestures are overinterpreted.  If you get benched for a game is it really being "rested?" If you get moved from 8th to 6th in the batting order it's a big deal, and reporters start asking questions, which leads to bats being thrown tomorrow. Pitchers have to have their desire for save stats or wins respected.  The focus on being disrespected in that way is like city gangs.

At the margins, it makes sense.  Everyone is spending a lot of time together, so doing the little things to get along  is worth it just for general happiness, so long as it doesn't show up in the won-lost column.  Baseball's problem is that even when it does show up in the won-lost column people refuse to see it.  They are the epitome of guys with confirmation bias. If a runner gets caught stealing or picked off first base and the next guy hits a home run, the announcers actually might attribute the homer to the distraction the baserunner caused, even though he cost his team at least one run, and an out to boot. Because that's what they all tell themselves, standing around in the (protected) dugout year after year, reassuring themselves they know things others don't.

Not very different from stepping over the chalk lines or refusing to mention that a pitcher has a no-hitter going, when you think of it.

2 comments:

Sam L. said...

I'm guessing it's due in part for the discontinuity in the game. When the team is in the field, distance keeps them from talking together. When at bat, only one is up at a time, and the rest can talk. There's nothing they can do to help the batter.

herfsi said...

what's the name of the book?

"...like high school girls at a lunch table"
wonderfully stated! + that should be the name of whatever book it is:)