Getting even with those who play the odds
By STEVE LANG
“Glad to see you’ve straightened all your lines/and you’ve evened out your odds.” – Loudon Wainwright III
“Your odds are slim and none. Slim just left.” – Estle Saum
The beauty of statistics lies in their ability to be made up on the spot and to rise above suspicion, or at least, proof.
Baseball brings statistics to the fore, because they are essential ingredients in the popularity of the game. Failure plays as significant a role as success. Where else can a player succeed just three times in 10 tries and be considered a star?
This past Monday evening, for example, the San Francisco Giants became the 12th Major League baseball team (of 77) to overcome a 3-1 playoff game deficit and win a best-of-seven series (winning 9-0 over St. Louis). Anticipation reached a fever pitch for a one-in-seven chance, and even with the odds heavily in their favor, the Cardinals seemed like underdogs before the game began.
Statistics tend to make this odd game even stranger, but in a humorously complex manner.
Baseball thrives on weird data, including how left-handed batters who roll their pants at the knees to expose hose as opposed to the baggy-legged look fare against mustachioed, submarining right-handed pitchers who formerly delivered pizzas. These and similar factors are generally sub-divided into results occurring during night and day games home and away, on natural grass or artificial surfaces before or after the seventh inning on Thursdays in May, August and September.
Years ago, highly-focused analysts were sequestered in closets compiling this stuff; now it’s readily available on computer, probably before it actually happens.
Which prompts me to pose the following question: what do you do with an elephant with three balls?
The answer will be revealed at the close of the following list of odd statistical baseball trivia.
* According to one (admittedly limited) study, a wide difference was observed in the percentage of batters swinging at the 3-0 pitch (14 of 193, about 7.3 percent) during the regular season, compared to the Palmer study of all World Series games played between 1974 and 1982 (66 of 336, or 19.6 percent). Further, it was revealed that 34 of those World Series hitters swung and missed.
* Forget the recent playoff hitting woes of guys like Buster Posey and Alex Rodriguez. Bob Buhl, a former National League pitcher, went to bat 70 consecutive times without getting a hit in 1962.
* The odds of pitching a perfect game are one in 18,192; of pitching a no-hitter, one in 1,548.
* In 1983, Tom Seaver threw to first base 17 times, trying to pick Alan Wiggins off…on the 18th throw, Wiggins stole second.
* Randy Johnson, at 6-10, leads all Major League pitchers 6-6 or taller with 303 career wins.
* Philadelphia pitcher Jeff Juden’s only Major League home run occurred during a “home run inning” promotion and won $10,000 for a recently-widowed woman with four sons.
* Pete Rose had nearly identical batting averages on natural grass (2,133 hits in 7,043 at-bats, .302854; and artificial surface (2,123-7,010, .302853). Relief pitcher Tug McGraw, when asked the difference between the two, said, “I don’t know. I never smoked Astro-turf.”
* Until 1920, Major League Baseball had a rule that made it legal to steal bases in reverse order. If you were on second and wanted to go back to first, you could steal it. Which can, in some convoluted ways, make strategic sense. During the Sept. 4, 1908, game between the Tigers and Cleveland Indians, Schaefer was on first and a teammate was on third. The Tigers wanted to do a double steal – Schaefer would break for second, and, when the Indians tried to throw him out, his teammate would steal home. But when Schaefer broke for second, the Indians’ catcher didn’t make the throw, so Schaefer stole the base without the run scoring. That wasn’t the plan so, on the next pitch, he broke back for first… and successfully stole it without a throw. Then, on the next pitch, he broke for second AGAIN, to try to make the double steal work… but again, the Indians didn’t throw. That makes him the only player in MLB history to steal the same base twice in one inning. (And one of only two players to ever steal first base from second.)
* Although this is not an oddity of the Major League variety, I may be the only left-handed shortstop – at least in West Central Minnesota – to hit into a triple play and help turn a double play in the same game.
Now, back to dealing with the elephant with three balls:
You walk him and pitch to the giraffe.
And if the giraffe bats left-handed, go to the bullpen and bring in the polar bear to relieve.
Because, depending on who you believe, polar bears are left-handed and baseball plays the percentages.
Steve Lang once struck out a batter on a pitch that hit the batter in the chest when he swung and also started a non-batted-ball triple play with a strikeout, proving that if you live long enough, you might not see everything, but you’ll see a lot of it.
He’s also a transplanted Minnesotan who is often lost in time and stuck in space. He serves as director of News and Publications at Sul Ross State University. He is a native of Erdahl, MN, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and received a Master’s degree from Sul Ross. He has spent most of the last 45 years in various journalistic endeavors, including community newspapers in Minnesota and South Dakota and news bureaus at four universities in Minnesota, South Dakota and Texas. He came to Sul Ross in 1998 and lives in Alpine with his wife, Clarissa Kaiser, four cats and two dogs.
Story filed under: Big Bend Blog