Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The difference between nothing and something

Numbers are a funny thing. By funny, I don't mean "amusing" because there is nothing amusing about numbers. They are sadistic little monkeys and should be treated with contempt. But I digress. Numbers act on us in unusual ways. We have a fascination for extremes and when we can measure that something is the most or least, we celebrate. Can't say I know why but this provides us with milestones for excess, and we wait with bated breath to see if the most recent most will be bested, or if the last least will be lost.

I saw this fascination today while watching a baseball game. Two teams, each supposedly representing some area of the country which I have never visited, and about which I don't care, battled it out while some people, some where had to go to work. One of the pitchers was on the verge of a "no hitter." For all you non-baseball people in Serbia, this is when the pitcher does not allow the other team to get a hit. I hope that that clarifies things. I couldn't figure out the fascination with this game. First of all, the pitcher was not exactly having a perfect day -- he had given up a run in the first inning due to an error and his own wild pitch. Second, why is there any noticeable difference between no hits and 1 hit? The separation is as big as between 1 and 2 hits (I know...1 to 2 is a 100 percent increase, but 0 to 1 is an infinite increase, but let's not invoke infinity to justify slobbering over a pitching performance). [Third, why should anyone care simply because this is "history"? The teams are not the ones I follow and I'm not bidding for anyone's jersey on Ebay, so history is lost on me.] Is it that is a case where the pitcher has reached that elusive "least"? By allowing zero hits (and you can't get lower than zero in runs unless you lend some to the other team and they never pay you back and then you don't have any more of yours. The Mets are famous for scoring negative runs in a game, effectively losing while they are up at bat)the pitcher has matched an ultimate. But as if that's uninteresting enough, consider that he didn't have a perfect game or a shut out. So while this is real nice and all, do we jump up and down for a 1 hitter? Do we refuse to speak with a batter who is one hit away from the cycle? And isn't this pitcher simply doing the job he was hired to do?

They say that good pitching beats good hitting, but if that's the case, then we shouldn't have to congratulate a pitcher who exhibited good pitching. That's why he is paid. I don't get an attaboy for having all my students pass a test because that's what I'm paid to do. And trust me -- that's often tougher than pitching a no hitter.

Ok, maybe not on that last point, but I had to say something...

Anyway, tomorrow, the teams will be at it again. In a few days, the pitcher will be back out there being who he generally is -- a 6-8 pitcher who had a good day against a team that committed 4 errors and a pitcher who only gave up 1 earned run more than he did.

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