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Sunday I met up with a friend visiting the City at the Frick. Last time I visited the Frick was with [personal profile] morbane two years ago. It's my favorite museum in New York- the perfect combination of iconic, beautiful art, a magnificent venue for displaying it, and a size that gives you plenty to take in without overwhelming you. You can see everything there is to see at the Frick in an hour or an hour and a half. (You can see everything at the Met in a week... if you rush.)

The special exhibit was a Cagnacci painting, the Repentant Magdalene, a 17th century Italian religious painting with a powerful sensuality, which you can see inadequately represented here:

Oddly, the highlight of the painting is not Magdalene, but her sister Martha, whose reality and sincerity in pose and facial expression anchors the more out there elements of the painting. But it's a generally remarkable composition, with six or seven focal centers without seeming all that busy.

The other best part of the trip was my usual pilgrimage to Velazquez's portrait of Philip IV, which remains one of my favorite paintings. Velazquez somehow makes him seem both regal and completely middling at the same time, which is a neat trick.

Last night I went to see Guillaume Tell at the Met. Made many jokes all week about the lunatic who decided that spilling the ashes of a loved one over the orchestra pit at intermission last Saturday was a good idea.

I had transportation difficulty- traffic on 287, but I still got to the train station at a reasonable time. But then the train got into the station five minutes late, it got into Penn another five minutes late, and then the subway had delays that gave me the choice of waiting for the 1 Train to take me to Lincoln Center (but with an estimated wait time of 20 minutes) or taking the 3 Train to 72nd and running back down to Lincoln Center. I chose the second option, since it at least gave me a shot at getting there on time, but ended up pulling into Lincoln Center three or four minutes after curtain. This gave me exposure once more to the worst thing about the Met: their policy of not letting latecomers in until the intermission and instead shunting them to a tiny, overly hot screening room where an indifferently filmed simulcast shows the action.

This rather ruined the experience. Guillaume Tell is an unpopular opera that is rarely staged, and is only famous for its rather brilliant overture, part of which was famously turned into the Lone Ranger theme. Getting there three minutes late meant I had to listen to the overture over speakers, which was infuriating. We then had to watch the tepid first act, badly lit and weirdly costumed, on the screen before we could take our seats an hour and a half into the opera. Three minutes late, caused by half an hour worth of traffic on an hour and a half trip, ruining a 40 dollar ticket purchase! And not just mine. There were over 50 people in that damned screening room. It's such a bullshit policy. And they don't even go to the technically trivial effort of displaying subtitles, so unless already you know the opera you probably can't even follow it. I can't figure out why this is, other than to think that the Met actually regards sending you to the screening room as a just punishment for the sin of coming late to the opera.

We saw the second and third acts from our seats. There were memorable moments- the convocation of the cantons at the end of Act II is one of the greatest operatic choral scenes I've ever seen. But mostly the opera was just off-putting. I know I can't fairly judge any opera when I had to spend the first act in the penalty box- I even struggled with Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream when that happened. But I think a lot of my issues with Guillaume Tell transcend my personal frustration.

The use of color was atrocious- all of the Swiss wore white, flowing robes, all of the Austrians wore black, the backdrop was all-blue, the Swiss Alps were brown, and the only other color in the whole opera came when everyone was bathed in darkroom red for the scene when the Swiss were made to submit to the Emperor's authority. A)White vs. Black for good vs. evil is about the laziest visual symbolism you can use. B) If you're going to use white and black with nothing else, lighting is everything. You do not want a stage where shadows are all over the place messing with the contrast, or it'll look washed out and ugly as hell. C) How the hell are people in the cheap seats supposed to tell characters apart when they're all wearing the same thing?

The dancing was very well done, though.

And the romance was very pastede on yay, in a story that was really fundamentally a war story rather than a love story. Rossini operas often end up like this- an infuriating combination of brilliant music and half-baked plot.

The opera stretched out for another hour past the third act, but we decided to skip the final act because we were exhausted and not enthralled.

Which was, I think, a good choice, as it let me catch the last three innings of the World Series. WOW. The Mountain Goats' "Cubs in 5" has been playing in my head all morning, but the strategy and the heroics and the chaos and the rain delay just to let you pause and appreciate how amazing the game was... I'm so glad I got to see some of it.
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I confess I only made it to the 11th inning last night. My mother only made it 8, but it was really rewarding to watch the game with her. The Yankee dynasty World Series wins of my teenage years were something I shared much more with my father than my mother, but the Mets are her team and it was really nice to sit there and watch her break out into cheers and chants in front of the TV.

We talked a little bit about my grandfather. She talked about how excited he would've been to watch this series, and she's right. Even toward the end, when he barely remembered us, he would've been excited, not that he was very demonstrative when he was excited. I can't remember him ever shouting. But his smile would have lit up the room. It was nice to think about, to remember all the games I've watched with him in my life.

The game itself was bonkers, from the first pitch inside the park home run to the Fox production truck losing power to fourteen innings of #weirdbaseball. I'm not happy about the final result, but everything else about the game was wonderful.
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My mother is the Mets fan in the family- I have always been a Yankee fan, though because of maternal influence my first major league game was a Mets game, and there is a humiliating photo floating around of a <2 year old version of me in Mets regalia. My grandfather, who passed away in February, always insisted he was a New York Giants fan who was rooting for the Mets because his team had been stolen away from him. My father grew up a Yankee fan but in recent years has become something of a Phillies supporter because it is more convenient to drive to Phillies games from his house.

My family history with the Mets is complicated, that is to say. But I've been watching the LCS with my mother and thinking about my grandfather, and the Mets' success this postseason has made me happy, helped by the fact that this is quite a likable Mets team. My favorite Met is Thor. Yes, Thor is on the Mets. And he throws 100 mph fastballs.

Between Thor, deGrom, Harvey, and Matz, the starting pitching is electrifying. I still have Grandy affection from his Yankee days, and Daniel fucking Murphy!!!?!! When he hit his home run last night I let out a reflexive shout of joy. Seeing things like Daniel Murphy's ridiculous explosion of power is one of the main reasons why people watch sports. This Mets run has just been a blast to watch.

The latest XKCD made me feel a little annoyed... Sportsball jokes are a subgenre of geek humor that I find really distasteful because sports geekery is geekery just like any other geekery, and its obsession with minutiae that are meaningless to outsiders is similar to other kinds of geekery. I recognize that a lot of geeks feel like they were ostracized by the 'jocks' in school, and that sportsball jokes represent their attempt to assert their self-importance by placing themselves above sports fans, but as both a geek and a sports fan, the result of this kind of joke is to make me feel like I belong in neither group.
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Baseball book recommendations instead of Moneyball

-David Halberstam's Summer of 49. My absolute favorite baseball book, it's a social history of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry in 1949, looking at the way fandom was evolving, baseball was evolving, cultural awareness was evolving. It's a fantastic book by itself, but I think on its own it would be a little problematically parochial by modern standards, since it evokes a nostalgia for a particular kind of white middle class East Coast coming of age experience. However, it's paired beautifully with Halberstam's October 1964, an elegy for the end of the Yankee dynasty that doubles as a social history looking at how NYC life had changed in the intervening decade and a half, so that nostalgia has a more hard-headed, realistic companion. Just magical books about the relationship between baseball and a city.

-Peter Golenbock's Bums, an impeccably detailed if totally subjective and wonderfully massive oral history of the Brooklyn Dodgers, just jam packed with lovely stories about fans.

-John Helyar's Lords of the Realm, the best baseball business book I've ever read, by the author of Barbarians at the Gate, perhaps the best business narrative I've ever read. A sobering look at the financial relationships between players, owners, and the commissioner's office.

-Jim Bouton's Ball Four, the ultimate player's memoir, though I have other lesser known favorite player memoirs, like Bill Lee's The Wrong Stuff.

-Tim Carver's Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans, so utterly brilliant at dissecting the technical details of game management. Not at all at odds with sabermetrics, though I imagine Michael Lewis might see it as such, because Carver is so good at talking about unmeasurables and Michael Lewis is an idiot.

-W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe, the inspiration for Field of Dreams, but it's much, much better and much, much weirder than the movie.
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I've been reading Michael Lewis's Moneyball the past few days. As I've been a studious baseball stat nerd since I was eight years old, you might have thought I would have leapt on Moneyball from its publication, but the thing was, I never heard anyone say anything they got from Moneyball that I didn't already know, so it never seemed that important to read. I knew sabermetrics long before Michael Lewis or Billy Beane did. (I won a research award from SABR the year before Moneyball came out.) But I decided to read it now, for whatever reason.

The shocking thing I'm finding in reading Moneyball, though, is how bad it is, how incomplete it is, how wrong it is about how baseball statistics works.

Let us list its flaws

1)Skims over the math that matters, makes too much of the math that doesn't.

One of the early fundamental discoveries of sabermetrics is that baseball games can be modelled as a state machine with a usefully small number of states, since the only parameters these states need to have for the simplest model is number of outs and number of runners on base. This model can be used for a number of things, but perhaps the most basic and important is modelling the expected run value of each state and using it to calculate the relative value of various situations. It allows good, straightforward computational models to analyze all sorts of tactical situations. I learned about this state model when I was a teenager, shortly after I learned what a state machine was, in a brilliant Pete Palmer essay. Lewis spends about a paragraph mangling the explanation of this simple model, dashed off as an aside to half-assed explanations of other unrelated mathematical concepts. As he continues in his discussion, he makes myriad assertions about the relative value of tactics, most of which are derived from this state machine model or variants thereof, but he never mentions state machines again. Instead, he makes appeals to authority, i.e. "According to Billy Beane, stolen bases are only valuable if they're successful 70% of the time." This particular result was baby's first introduction to mathematical modelling, but Lewis has no apparent interest in where it comes from, once he gets it from the genius mouth of Billy Beane, who of course was not the one actually responsible for the result.

Perhaps more glaringly, Lewis explains that there was a debate between various sabermetricians about the weight various mathematical models suggested should be used to analyze the relative value of on-base average and slugging average. People like Palmer and Bill James thought OBP should be weighted 1.5 times SLG, 'stupid baseball insiders' thought they were approximately equally weighted, and Paul DePodesta and Billy Beane thought OBP should be weighted 3 times SLG. This is a pretty substantial disagreement that Lewis cites because according to him, DePodesta's model gave him a huge advantage in pursuing undervalued players... if DePodesta's model is right. Lewis, though, isn't interested in explaining the disagreement between Bill James and DePodesta, because to him, mathematically oriented people are wizards doing magic by plugging numbers into equations. So after reading the section, I honestly couldn't tell you whether DePodesta or James is right, because Lewis glosses over what actually matters about the math. There's this baffling bit where Lewis conflates denominators and coefficients. And if you ask me, a book about the practical use of advanced statistical tools in baseball ought to treat debates like this as questions to try to resolve, not as plot points.

2)Ignores the class and racial implications of Beane's drafting strategies.

Beane puts an emphasis on drafting college players not because college players have better overall outcomes, but because their outcomes are more predictable- they are older and thus more developed, there is more data available about them, the data about them is more reliable, the data about them is based on tougher competition. Needless to say, this has racial and class implications. College baseball players are more likely to be white and more likely to be economically better off than players who need to be drafted out of high school to take a paycheck as soon as they can. This is a pretty significant part of the story, it seems to me, but it's not something Lewis has any interest in talking about. Is Beane's approach likely to extend the forces pushing African-American players away from the game? I don't know, but I think it's important as well as interesting to ask.

Further, Lewis fetishizes the Ivy league pedigrees of Beane's assistant GM Paul DePodesta, a Harvard economics graduate, and Beane's baseball mentor Sandy Alderson, whose Dartmouth and Harvard degrees he mentions multiple times. When DePodesta hires another Harvard grad to work with him, Lewis chortles gleefully about how the Harvard Old Boys club has finally reached baseball. He also fetishizes the contributions of Wall Streeters who launch analytics companies using the same techniques they used to design complicated derivatives. These techniques purportedly bring 'intelligence' to a field Lewis repeatedly claims was being run by absolute morons, and that elitist tone is not something I'm exaggerating. Lewis, recall, is a Princeton man and a former Wall Streeter himself, and he clearly sees such people as superior.


This is so absurd it defies belief. Billy Beane was a teammate of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire when they were the 'roid-enhanced Bash Brothers in Oakland in the late '80s. So when he talks about the way that skinny draftees who hit well for average 'develop power' in the minor leagues, it's impossible to think that he's talking about a natural process whereby players 'fill out' as they reach their twenties, as Lewis suggests. Beane is suggesting that somehow, wink wink, when his players are in the minors they start taking steroids and gain power... But there are no steroids that can teach you how to hit a baseball for high average, how to have plate discipline to draw walks, how to play baseball smartly, so those are the things Beane believes in drafting for... steroids can handle the rest. There's a further oblique comment from Beane later on about how Barry Bonds has gone beyond where talent takes him that only makes sense if Beane knows that Bonds is juicing.

Somehow Moneyball is a book about trends in baseball at the height of the Steroid Era that never mentions steroids. Either Michael Lewis is a fool or a liar. As I progress through the book, I alternate between favoring either of these hypotheses.

4a)Valorizes Billy Beane's mathematical errors.

Beane and DePodesta's mathematical model suggests that some players who other teams will not want until the tenth or fifteenth round of the draft are actually as valuable as first round players. Any rational game theorist would say that this means that you should aim to draft them in the fifth round, or the ninth round if you think you can get away with it, because why waste a chance to get a good player who won't be there later taking a good player who will be there later? Beane drafts them in the first round and congratulates himself on how clever he was. When at best you can say he 'reached' for these prospects, and at worst you can say he signaled to the other teams that he was prioritizing different things than them in his scouting, too.

4b)Valorizes Billy Beane for cheating.

The alternative explanation for this is that Beane drafts these players in the first round because he has made rule-breaking handshake deals with these players to take tenth round money despite being drafted in the first round. Lewis defends this by suggesting 'everyone does this', but it's still cheating, and in an echo of my second point about the classism, the people who lose out because of this cheating are the people most vulnerable, the young draftees who lack sound financial advising and get manipulated by Billy Beane as a result. Lewis reports it as an unambiguous triumph for Beane, laughing along with the scouts at the way the draftees are being manipulated. Along with covering up the steroid use, this is pretty typical of how Lewis defends Beane's win-at-all-costs approach to the game.

5)Pretends Billy Beane was the only one doing this stuff.

At the same time that Oakland was using its 'moneyball' tactics to elevate it in spite of a small payroll, the Yankees were consistently beating the As, using a combination of 1)High payroll giving them the ability to sign and keep star players and 2)a style of play emphasizing home runs and walks and on-base percentage, the same style of play Beane emphasized. The Yankees may not have had a Harvard educated economist crunching the numbers (or they may have), but they clearly recognized the value of those baseball assets anyway. In the early 2000s, the Yankees were famous for, under managers Torre and then Girardi, being a patient, disciplined, skilled team that drew more pitches than any other team.

This is not surprising. Billy Beane may not have encountered Bill James until the mid 90s, but James had been gaining followers since the late '70s. It stands to reason that in that time period, some of his ideas would infiltrate baseball's smarter management people. Of course, if you have a mathematical advantage, you don't give it away... this is one of the key themes of the book, the ways Beane tries to disguise his tactics, yet somehow Lewis tries to sell the explanation that nobody in baseball but Beane was smart enough to use these tactics as more plausible than "Everyone else who's using these tactics isn't talking to reporters." Especially if, like the Yankees, they were able to combine sabermetric tactics with bigger budgets to amplify their advantage even over sabermetric teams like the As, it would not be in their interest to publicly talk about what they were doing.

It seems clear that the reason Beane is in fact talking about it is because he wants to raise a conversation about the effect the salary disparity is having on the game, that he's not interested in staying a clever underdog but wishes to be able to compete on salary with the Yankees. But Lewis doesn't do a great job of pointing this out when he trumpets Beane as a loner genius.

Maybe I'm a giant Yankee homer. Okay, no maybe about it. I'm a giant Yankee homer. But it's frustrating when we see teams with giant payrolls fail catastrophically all the time, while the Yankees have consistently built championship teams using their giant payrolls, by way of smart drafting, smart risk-taking, smart baseball tactics, and effective use of their economic advantages. The Cashman Yankees are at least as compelling a business story as the Beane As.

6)Acts like Beaneball is the only right way to run a team

From the 2002 draft that Lewis highlights, a couple As draftees became good MLB players, though none were ever superstars. Most didn't pan out. On the other hand, several of the high school pitchers shunned by the As, notably Zach Greinke, became superstars (while most didn't pan out). Going after high school players in the draft is a high risk/high reward strategy that Beane felt he couldn't afford since he was so dependent on young talent to staff his roster cheaply, but it's nonetheless a valid strategy because when it does pay off, it pays off handsomely. Lewis spends most of the book calling teams pursuing this strategy idiots who listen to their gut instead of the power of math, but several of the teams who pursued it did much better in the 2003 draft than the As did. Possibly in the long run, a strategy like Beane's is safer and more reliable as an engine for bringing in young talent, but when all it takes is one or two transcendent talents to change the fate of your team, it's sometimes worth risking the draft.

There are lots of ways to run a team intelligently. The mathematics of baseball are still not reliable enough to offer any kind of guarantee of success, and there are a number of different, defensible approaches that make reasonable sense. Lewis acts like only Beane in all of baseball had given any thought to draft strategy, since only Beane was using Beane's strategy. But there are lots of other viable strategies that intelligent people could use in the draft.

7)Takes a story about stats and tries to impose a human narrative on it.

Midway through the book, Lewis describes sitting in the A's video room with several front office people during a game. Lewis is watching the commercial TV broadcast of the game and periodically gasping or cheering. The front office people are watching a camera feed from center field that gives them the best view of the strike zone and carefully watching, never reacting emotionally. Lewis realizes, he says, that they are watching a different game than him. He is reacting to and creating narratives. They are slicing and dicing the game and analyzing its fine details.

And yet, for several chapters, Lewis reaches into the Halberstam bag of tricks to tell a digressive story about a couple of particular games and the emotional, sportswritery journeys that brought particular players to those games. Lewis is not as good as Halberstam, but he's not bad at this. But it's awfully wrongfooted. According to everything the theory he's espousing says, these games don't matter. These players don't particularly matter to the system: their weirdness, their narrative, their psychology, none of these explain why they're effective moneyball players. The only thing that matters is how often they create runs.

Lewis is fascinated by the process by which players who were not considered valuable by other teams become valuable to the As, because this process seems like a sort of redemption story to him. His repeated refrain as he talks about players with the As front office is "What's wrong with him?" He delights when he learns that players were considered too fat, or too weird, or too old, or too bad at fielding, and they are saved from the dustbin by Paul DePodesta's computer. He chortles snidely about Brewers draftee Prince Fielder that "He is too fat even for the A's." Lewis particularly enjoys that most of the weird players he writes about have not been directly told by the A's why they have been saved. It's a dramatic irony he enjoys over and over again: he has been let in on a secret about these players that even they do not know about themselves. He, therefore, is vicariously smarter than the players. [All is right in the world. Lewis is a Princeton man.]

So um... yeah, that was Michael Lewis's Moneyball. Let me be clear: It seems apparent from all the numbers that Beane is legitimately, consistently able to outperform his salary limitations, and that some of his analytic tools play a role in that. But Moneyball does not offer an effective or convincing explanation for why this is.
seekingferret: Josiah Bradley in Prison, Reading Fantastic Four (josiah2)
I did a bit of a kickstarter binge this summer, as basically every gamer I know seems to have, and premiums are starting to roll in.

I've seen a PDF rough draft of the first Appendix N adventure, which looks like a lot of fun, and also looks cheap and hasty. I don't think it's a company I'd buy from again, but I think the adventure looks well-suited to running on G+, so it's not a loss. And their mapmaker really is brilliant.

When I saw that the Stonehaven Miniatures Kickstarter had a Dwarven Bard mini, I had to buy in. Dwarven bards are the best. The minis came in this past week, and they look great. Unfortunately I don't actually know how to paint minis, so I guess I'm going to have to learn. I ordered a mini-painting starter kit from Amazon.

I've been getting regular updates from Dwimmermount, but... I have no interest in them. I'm waiting for the book. I don't ever plan to actually run Dwimmermount, but it seems clear that the book is going to be a fountain of great DMing ideas and advice. I'm looking forward to flipping through it and brainstorming. Dwimmermount, for the uninitiated, is a 1E-inspired Megadungeon designed by James Maliszewski. It is inspired by 1920s/30s pulp SF and fantasy, with the massive dungeon being among other things a potential jumping off point for portals to other worlds, as well as an ancient and fascinating and dynamic location in its own regard.

And the new Tabletop Forge beta is out, but I haven't had a chance to run anything with it. I guess the moral of this post is: Guys, I have a new low-level adventure and the D&D Next playtest rules have a new edition and I have a neat new toy to play with to run maps in Google Plus. Who wants to explore the Ruins of Ramat with me?

Unrelatedly, Nate Silver briefly turns his attention back to baseball, his original statistical home.

I think he is wrong to argue that these statistical indicators tell us that Trout was more valuable than Cabrera. I think the measures we have to evaluate defensive contributions to a team are improved immeasurably compared to even five years ago, and certainly let us make better comparisons between players than we used to be able to with simply fielding percentages, but there is still a lot of handwaviness in the analysis. I don't believe that simply because a Win Share analysis credits Trout with saving thirty runs, he actually saved thirty runs and that value can be naively added to Trout's offensive run creation.

I've been on-board the sabermetric revolution since the mid-90s, well ahead of Moneyball, but the best statistical analysts have always understood that statistics were an inadequate measure of value that needed to be supplemented with intuition and subjectivity. If a statistic tells us that ARod is a better defensive shortstop than Jeter, that means one of two things. Either ARod is a better shortstop than Jeter, or the statistic is wrong. Shortly after the Moneyball revolution, the Wall Street Journal began a regular sports statistics column written by Allen St. John, and every week I would read it and rage because St. John never took the time and thought to parse out which of the two choices were the right one.

Now I would never accuse Nate Silver of that particular mistake. Silver obviously knows to validate his statistics. I just think he's overestimating their fit. Defense is full of intangibles and unmeasurables, and the work-arounds that modern statisticians use to create usable defensive statistics are powerful, but not all-powerful, and they're still workarounds borne of our inability to directly measure precisely what Defense is.

The point is, statistics are good, but they're not yet perfect at measuring what makes a baseball player great, and they're limited by all the usual GIGO that haunts a mathematical model. If statistics give us a result that is counter to our intuition, sometimes we need to put a human check on them to make sure it's not the math that's at fault.

Also, unrelatedly, I got to the issue of Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos where we get a racist squad member. It is so unintentionally hilarious. And pretty awful, too. The racist squad member tries to ally himself with Reb and Fury against Izzy, Dino, and Gabe, except that Reb and Fury are all "What the fuck are you talking about? We don't take bigots in our squad," which is hilarious when your name is Reb and you're a walking talking Southern stereotype. And then at the end, the racist gets injured by not listening to Izzy the Jew, and Gabe donates blood because they match on blood type, and then the racist freaks out because he has negro blood in him now. Except then Nick Fury gives him a talking to and he gets kicked out the Howlers, but the very last panel suggests that he has learned his lesson and wants to apologize to Gabe and Izzy.

I think I need more Howler/Isaiah Bradley stories, is what I'm saying.
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Obligatory baseball post time that nobody reads time.

Yankees lost Michael Pineda for the season with a torn labrum or something like that. I think it's something in the shoulder. The economics of injuries and sports are really dissimilar to anything else. Where else do you commit millions of dollars to an employee who, if they get even a minor injury, could be unable to work for you for a year or more?

There are ways in which the free agent market resembles a junk bond market. You buy risky assets, betting on their growth potential. If you get caught in a bubble you end up overpaying for those assets. Even if you don't get caught in a bubble, you're still risking a lot of money on something that could end up losing your whole investment, but you try to mitigate that risk with insurance policies and with diversificat... err.. bench depth.

And this takes me to a fascinatingly ghoulish idea I have. Fans love having an investment in their teams. Teams loving mitigating the risk on an investment. In the subprime market risk was mitigated using an instrument called a credit default swap, an insurance policy against default that was then securitized and sold to investors...

Why couldn't teams buy injury swaps on their players? The fans would love it, getting a chance to profit from the fluctuating risk of an injury to Johan Santana. Make lemons out of lemonade. Yes, it's ghoulish, and utterly morally bankrupt, but other than that, what objections do you have?
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So, week two of the once a week baseball post that nobody reading cares about.

I haven't watched all that much baseball in the past week, but I caught an inning of the Mets game on the radio at lunch today. They had a first and third situation and it got me reminiscing about the Little League strategy for first and third, one out situation, which is not at all the same as the major league strategy in the same situation, though there are some constants.

First and third is always dangerous, because you have a runner very close to home with no force behind him and no runner behind him, so there's a lot of degrees of freedom in the runners' motion. On a ground ball to the left side of the infield, the infielder has to be very careful to hold the runner on third, typically with a pump fake of some sort, before throwing the runner out at first or second. Unless it's an easy double play ball, when a different kind of haste precludes the pump fake. This kind of dynamic stays the same for Little League and big leagues.

Where things get interesting are in stolen bases. The runner on first, in many cases, would be ceded second base in Little League. This is because Little Leaguers don't have as strong arms as big leaguers. If you had first and third and the runner on first took off for second on a pitch, the catcher and shortstop would have to throw extremely fast to catch the runner on third who waits for the first throw and then takes off for home.

The advantage is so much on the runner that you'd sometimes deliberately have the runner on first run slowly from first to second to try to entice the catcher to make the throw. This can't be taken too far, though, because if the batter puts the ball in the air you might get caught between first and second.

And so a counterplay was developed where instead of the catcher throwing to second base, the shortstop would slip in onto the infield grass and the catcher would throw it to him and he'd immediately throw back, trying to draw the runner on third off by making him think you were throwing to second base.

And the other thing about Little League, besides weaker arms, was less accurate throwing. So that part of the reason to force them to throw to second base was the thirty percent chance the ball would end up in the outfield. And the same thing could happen with the throw to the shortstop on that counterplay, and so you might conceivably as the team at-bat try to get the defensive team to run the counterplay so that when the ball from the overanxious catcher sailed into the outfield you'd score. (I remember we did run-down drills, or 'pickle drills', the practice getting a runner stuck between bases. The runner's strategy is to force as many throws as possible, because the more throws, the more likely a mistake will be made.)

It's just... the levels of feedback and counter-strategy got surprisingly deep without being incoherent or parodic. It was never clear who was outsmarting who until the play was over, and I love baseball as a game of near-simultaneous game theoretic responses.
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I'm trying to persuade myself that it's a good idea to commit to at least one baseball post a week here. My relationship with baseball has been a little awkward and strained for a couple of seasons, for no particularly good reason, and I should try to work on that.

I still love baseball passionately. Anytime I get to go to a game, I have a great time. Anytime I play hot stove league I have a good time. The cool-brewed mixture of physical competition and deep, complicated analysis that is baseball is perfectly suited to my temperament.

And I've never been the sort of hypocrite who decries modern baseball for being all about the money, the players too selfish and not respectful enough of the fans. I've never been offended by players taking steroids. It's preposterous to be a pro baseball fan and have thoughts like that. In high school I wrote an extended essay on the way 19th century baseball professionalized [Here, read it. It won an award from the Society for American Baseball Research and marked one of my earliest footprints on the internet] and studied the corruptions that are deep-rooted in the game's heritage. To love pro baseball truly is to love it flaws and all.

No, the deterioriation of my relationship with the game is much more mundane. Since the Yankees moved to YES, it's a lot more annoying to watch the games, and my love-hate relationship with John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman has swung more toward hate. As I watch less and less games, it becomes harder to maintain a connection to the team. I no longer have the Yankee roster memorized. I no longer have the ability to spout batting averages.

So I'm leaning toward buying a MLB.TV subscription so I can watch all the games, and toward committing to writing about baseball here at least once a week. And probably re-establishing my membership with SABR. Because baseball is an important part of my emotional and intellectual life and I miss having that relationship with a team.
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Yankees took a division series from the Twins! Again! Go Yankees! You're next, Rangers! (I have to admit, it's looking like a Yankees-Phillies rematch is fairly likely. You're going down, jerks from Philly!)

A Polish funk album arrived in the mail! Explanation: So back in the days of Napster, I went hunting for music by the Midwest a cappella group The Blenders and turned up music by the Polish funk group The Blenders. And discovered I didn't like the a cappella group, but apparently whimsical Polish funk turned my wheel.

Recently, I was trying to put together a playlist from my music library with songs in as many languages as possible and realized that my Polish funk had disappeared during one of my many transfers of music from computer to computer. So I went on Amazon and found one of their albums (The one whose opening track translates to "Cybernetic Wanderer") and had it shipped over here. See? Piracy leads to more sales. I don't understand most of their music (I'm told that "Pociag of Love" means "Train of Love"), but I pretty much don't care when the music is this fun.

Anyway, expect the aforementioned polyglot playlist to pop up eventually.

Yuletide nominations are open!!!! I'm so excited for Yuletide. So, so excited. My first pass at nominations was

1. Le Nozze di Figaro
2. Les Contes d'Hoffman
3. Norma
4. La Fille du Regiment
5. Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore
6. Um... I don't remember, but it's just filler until I decide if I want to nominate Moses und Aron or Wozzeck.

So yeah, a pile of operas and Six Characters in Search of an Author, a Modernist play that was my first childhood exposure to great metafiction. I'm sort of hoping it can be the If on a winter's night a traveler of this year's Yuletide, a springboard for beautiful metafanfic. This is a predictable assortment of fandoms for me.

People who are reading this, I don't care if you've ever written fanfic in your life before, you should consider trying Yuletide. It's a fabulous experience, full of enthusiastic people who love the same obscure books and movies and operas and TV shows and songs and... as you. Getting a story written personally for you in a fandom you've loved forever is just a bonus. Then sprawling your way through the archive of daring and unexpected stories produced is a delightful way to spend your end of year days off.
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Last night was my first trip to Wrigley. The Cubs lost, but my boy Soriano did awesome. Yes, he's still my boy even though he's now a Cub, and he's still my boy even though he remains just as erratically talented as ever. And yes, I rambled on about Soriano for fifteen minutes while Ringo pretended to pay attention last night. That's kind of my thing. And Wrigley, well... Wrigley is cold and windy and beautiful and a really fun place to see a game. I'm glad I can cross it off my life list.

Scav Hunt was awesome, Chicago is awesome, seeing friends I haven't seen in years was awesome. I'll be posting more about Scav later, when I'm feeling more coherent and in control of my emotions. Now, I'm just sleep depped like you wouldn't believe and damned proud of the things that MacPierce accomplished over the past week. I wrote a poem in a language I don't speak that scans well, rhymes, and is comprehensible, and this was one of the relatively minor achievements of our Scav team.

In about half an hour I'm heading out to catch a Greyhound out of Chicago. The ride home is going to be... productive, I think. I have Infinite Jest to keep me busy and a desperate desire to sleep more.

And anybody who wants to see Ringo rapping, click here:

In confusing but exciting news, I may have my old job back.


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