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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Strange Infield Fly Play

Yesterday, I scored the Twin/Royals game at Kauffman stadium for when a play occurred which I (and everyone else in the press box) had never seen.

The situation was this. Bottom of the 5th inning, 1 out, bases loaded (Relaford on third, Berroa on second, and Beltran on first). Mike Sweeney is the hitter. Sweeney hit a pop fly behind first base. First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, second baseman Michael Cuddyer and right fielder Jacque Jones all converge while the first base umpire Jeff Kellogg signals an infield fly. The ball hits Mientkiewicz's glove and then falls to the ground. The first base umpire signals that the batter is still out because of the infield fly. Meanwhile Beltran on first has gone half way to second and seeing the ball drop continues to second. Berroa on second hasn't moved and so Beltran and Berroa are now standing on second. Relaford on third speeds toward home as soon as the ball hits the ground.

Mientkiewicz picks up the ball, whirls, and throws it in the direction of first base, which of course no one is covering since they're all out in the outfield and the pitcher is standing on the mound. The throw however, hits Mike Sweeney square in the back as he stands near first base. Sweeney hits the ground in pain as the ball rolls over towards the Royals dugout. By this time Berroa is waving Beltran to get back to first and he starts heading that way. Catcher Henry Blanco retrieves the ball over by the Royals dugout and throws it to first where right fielder Jacque Jones catches the ball and just beats a sliding Beltran, tagging him and touching the base for the second out of the play and the third of the inning. The home plate umpire signals the press box to indicate that Relaford's run counts and the Twins trot off the field.

Immediately, the press box erupts in a frenzy of chatter, confused looks, and media trying to find their rule books to divine the correct scoring of the play. The questions that immediately arise are these?

1. Does Sweeney get a sacrifice fly since Relaford scored?
2. Can a sacrifice fly be credited on an infield fly?
3. Does Mientkiewicz get an error?
4. Does Sweeney get an RBI?
5. Do the Twins get credited with a double play?
6. Did Beltran have to go back to first since the ball was dropped?

As far as I could tell no one knew exactly what should be done. Meanwhile, the game continues on and I can't keep entering pitch by pitch data until I enter something for that play. So I score on paper. By the end of the next half inning there is a tentative decision, which I enter, so that I can catch up and continue to score. However, in the subsequent innings the official scorer changes the decision several times and so I back edit the play in the software. By the time the game is over I think the correct decision has been made, which falls out as follows in answer to the questions above.

1. Sweeney does not get a sacrifice fly since an infield fly was called. This is because Sweeney was out as soon as the ball was in the air. I'm not exactly clear on why but this was the reasoning given in the press box.
2. Apparently not.
3. Mientkiewicz does not get credited with an error since the batter is still out.
4. Yes, and I assume this is the case since the Twins did not get credited with a double play. So the play is analogous to a ground out which scores a run.
5. No. The official rules state that a double play cannot be credited when the defensive team makes an "error or misplay" on the play. Mientkiewicz dropping the ball is ruled a misplay so no double play.
6. Yes. Beltran had to return to first per the rule on the infield fly which states:
"The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball." So if the ball had not been touched then Beltran would not have had to return. So his put out goes 3-2-9.

The software we use for scoring also had some difficulty with the play and I had to manually adjust the putout, assist, and play by play printouts after the game that get faxed to the Elias Sports Bureau. After the game the first base umpire had the following quote:

"An infield fly was called. So I go up (hand signal) with an infield fly. He drops the ball. He's still out. And I let everyone know behind me that he was out because it was an infield fly. No, it was not a catch."

I'm not sure it would have made any difference had the umpire ruled that the ball was caught and only then dropped being taken out of the glove.

Strange day at the ballpark.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

The Life of a Fossil Hunter

American history during the period from the end of the Civil War (1865) through the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt (1910) hold great interest for me. Primarily because this is a period where little if anything was said in my public school education (seems we always skipped from the Civil War to World War I with a slight mention of railroads in passing) but also because this was a period of great possibilities due largely to an untamed west. The unavoidable culture clash Guns, Germs, and Steel and its effects also contributed to the texture of the times.

The book The Life of a Fossil Hunter is set squarely during this period and is the account, written in 1909, of some of the fossil hunting expeditions of Charles H. Sternberg (1850-1943). Sternberg was born in New York state but moved to Ellsworth Kansas with his family in 1867 to join his Uncle's family in running a ranch. Without any scientific degrees Charles quickly collected some of the world's finest fossil plants in Kansas and never looked back. He found he could make a living collecting and selling the specimens to museums in the east and abroad. He went on to collect fish, sea-going reptiles (mosasaurs and plesiosaurs), pteranadons, and birds in the chalky rock of western Kansas and mastadons, camels, and horses in Kansas and the badlands of Nebraska. He also traveled west to Montana and Washington state and south to Texas in search of dinosaurs and Permian reptiles and amphibians. Material he collected is on display literally all over the world with large collections in the American Museum of Natural History, the Natural History museum in London, and in Munich. During many of these expeditions he worked directly for Edward Drinker Cope, the Quaker paleontologist from Philadelphia and rival of Othaniel C. Marsh, the paleontologist from Yale (the rivalry is the subject of the book The Gilded Dinosaur). Sternberg would find the fossils, dig them out sometimes by inventing techniques that later became standard practice including using plaster to strengthen the bones during removal and excavating entire slabs so that the fossils lay in situ for further study, load them on a wagon and finally ship them by the ton by boat or train back to Cope or to their finally destination. Cope even joined Sternberg in an expedition out west in 1876, smartly avoiding the Sioux in the wake of the battle of Little Bighorn.

Sternberg tells his stories in a straightforward and interesting manner recounting many anecdotes and tales, some funny and some of pure adventure like his story of how Cope entertained a band of warriors they happened upon by removing and putting back his false teeth and his account of the "Bannock War" of 1877. Reading it from his own hand helps one get a feel for what it must have been like searching the chalk on foot and horseback, worrying about where to find water, eating nothing but hard tack or bacon for days on end, and drinking mostly alkali water. Having done a couple days of prospecting in these same canyons and outcroppings only enhances the appreciation for what it must have been like. To his credit Sternberg never wavers in his assertion that he did it all to further the knowledge of mankind and that he would have endured all the hardships over again in order to fulfill this higher calling. On more than one occasion he records the lengths he would go to to preserve fossils that were damaged including risking his own life and the disgust he would feel when fossils or animals were needlessly destroyed. He also succeeds in communicating his wonder at the ancient flaura and fauna he discovered - "How wonderful are the works of an Almighty Hand!" - and comes across as a true lover of all things natural. However, he clearly enjoyed the notoriety and prestige he received from scientists such as Cope (who he holds in the greatest esteem) and can therefore perhaps be forgiven if he goes to great pains to quote letters of appreciation to himself as well as quoting plaques in museums that mention his name.

Somehow during this period (the book covers mostly 1876 to 1897) Sternberg had time to raise a family and in later accounts tells how his three sons George, Levi, and Charles assisted him. Charles went on to become a fossil collector in his own right and discovered the famous "fish within a fish" fossil on display at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas.

He ends the book with descriptions of several finds in the early 1900s including his most famous, a "mummified" duck-billed hadrasaur from Wyoming in 1908, the year before the book was published, which includes fossilized skin and plates.

Many of the scientific names Sternberg mentions in the book are still in use however there are a few such as Portheus molossus (now referred to as Xiphactinus, the large fish in the fish-within-a-fish fossil) coined by Cope which have been superceded. Modern readers will also note that his assessment that the Permian fauna he collected in the fossils beds of Texas over eight seasons beginning in 1882 were 12 million instead of 200 million old are incorrect. Modern readers may also flinch at several descriptions of Indians, all common for the time, but that seem to us stereotypical or bigoted.

Overall, the book also conveys how much the west has changed in 100 years and how much science has advanced during this brief period. In fact, Sternberg notes that during his youth in upper state New York he would carve fossil shells out of the local limestone which "were admired chiefly as examples of the wonderful power of running water to carve rocks into the semblance of shells" or accounted for by God creating rocks to look like shells and plants. And of course it also makes me wish that just once I could experience the untamed west on one of his expeditions complete with buffalo, elk, Indians, and plenty of fossils for the finding. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys western adventure stories and of course fossils. For another perspective during this time period you might also check out Discovering Dinosaurs in the Old West, the journals of Professor Arthur Lakes who worked for Marsh and discovered some of the first dinosaurs in the west, particularly those in Morrison Colorado near Denver and Como Bluff Wyoming. They're a bit drier although they record the events as they happened.

Royals Corrections

A couple of minor points regarding my previous post on the first quarter of the Royals 2004 season.

  • I had mentioned that the organization gave up on Aaron Guiel too soon. To be more precise the team did sit him down after his slow start but then put him on the DL with blurred vision. Obviously, if he's having vision problems it was right to sit him down. However, I think they did so before he admitted/was diagnosed with the problem.

  • Leskanic was not put on the DL as I had said although he was sent back to KC at one point to have an MRI and was rested. He's responded pretty well since then going scoreless in 5 straight outings pitching 4 2/3. For the season though he is only 2 of 5 in save opportunities.

  • Anderson has now been sent to the bullpen. Look for Jamey Wright to perhaps be called up to take his spot in the rotation. If so, he might pitch Tuesday in Detroit.

  • Their league lead in unearned runs is also contributed to by the pitching staff not picking up many strikeouts. Without strikeouts runners who've reached base via errors are more easily advanced and score on sac flys and ground outs.

  • Although I made this point it's probably worth repeating - everyone is complaining most about the Royals pitching but the hitting has been just as bad
  • Wednesday, May 26, 2004

    Baseball and the Compact Framework

    Two of my favorite pastimes came together recently when as an exercise (and a possible marketing opportunity for Quilogy) I created a Pocket PC application using the .NET Compact Framework. This application was to be used by fans attending a game in a luxury suite in order to show off the technology and give them some extra fun during the game.

    To get started I built a VB .NET app using the Pocket PC platform within Visual Studio. I also created a web site on my local machine. The idea for the app was to allow the Pocket PCs in the suite to connect to a wireless hub connected to a notebook with a web server. The application would provide interactive capabilities through a web site built with ASP.NET that could be viewed through Pocket IE as well as the Compact Framework application using web services. To facilitate the speed of development the web methods in the web services used DataSets for passing data back and forth. That also allowed the app to use data binding (although not the most performant technique).

    The two main functionalities for the application included a set of quizzes where the user could test their knowledge against other fans in the suite as well as a prediction game. Both would result in prizes for the winners. The main interface looked as follows:

    The app includes a custom configuration system that reads a config.xml file since the .NET CF doesn't include the System.Configuration namespace. This is used to configure the IP address of the web server. At load time the app calls a web service on a background thread to retrieve the teams playing in the game as well as the list of possible players (input ahead of time by an administrator). The user then has an Options form to choose which player they are.

    After selecting Quizzes they are presented with a form that shows the available quizzes as well as summary stats for each quiz. These are pulled on a background thread from the web service.

    If they choose Take Quiz the quiz question metadata downloaded from the web service is used to build the form to display the question and answers. Although the quizzes are multiple choice the application can handle audio quizzes that associate .WAV files on the device with questions. It then can play the associated audio file and allow the user to then make their selection. I used this capability to provide an Announcer quiz where the user guessed which homerun call belonged to which announcer.

    If the user chooses an incorrect answer they are notified and the app keeps track of how many correct answers they had. It also has a tab that shows a simple DataGrid with the scores for each player.

    In the prediction game the user is asked to choose which team will win the game and several facts about the game. These are scored on the server, which notifies the client app when the game is over as to who the winner was.

    In all, the development effort on this application was approximately 25 hours and included creating a database with about 10 tables in SQL Server, a set of web services in ASP.NET (9 web methods), and the client application in the Compact Framework (4 forms). Several aspects of the application required features that are not a part of the Compact Framework 1.0 including:

  • A LinkLabel control for the options on the main form shown above

  • Configuration Settings class to read the config.xml file and expose shared properties to the application

  • An Invoker class so that a background thread can update a form passing it a set of arguments

  • A Utils class to expose P/Invoke features such as playing .WAV files

  • In and of themselves these classes were pretty simple to implement. For example, the Invoker class looks as follows:
    Namespace Atomic.CF.Utils

    Public Delegate Sub UIUpdate(ByVal args() As Object)
    Public Class Invoker

    Private _control As Control
    Private _uiUpdate As UIUpdate
    Private _args() As Object

    Public Sub New(ByVal c As Control)
    ' store the control that is to run the method on its thread
    _control = c
    End Sub

    Public Sub Invoke(ByVal UIDelegate As UIUpdate, _
    ByVal ParamArray args() As Object)
    ' called by the client and passed the delgate that
    ' points to the method to run
    ' as well as the arguments
    _args = args
    _uiUpdate = UIDelegate
    _control.Invoke(New EventHandler(AddressOf _invoke))
    End Sub

    Private Sub _invoke(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As EventArgs)
    ' this is now running on the same thread as the control
    ' so freely call the delegate
    End Sub

    End Class
    End Namespace

    The client code can then use the class like so:

    ' Declarations
    Private inv As Invoker = New Invoker(Me)
    Private ui As UIUpdate = New UIUpdate(AddressOf BindPlayers)

    Private Sub DisplayPlayers(ByVal ar As IAsyncResult)
    dsPlayers = s.EndGetPlayerList(ar)
    inv.Invoke(ui, Nothing)
    End Sub

    Private Sub BindPlayers(ByVal args() As Object)
    cbPlayers.DataSource = dsPlayers.Tables(0)
    cbPlayers.DisplayMember = "Name"
    cbPlayers.ValueMember = "ID"
    btnSelect.Enabled = True
    End Sub

    Note that in this case we didn't pass any arguments to the BindPlayers method that runs on the main thread. The ClickLabel class was also interesting and simply inherits from Control. There is a version of this type of control included in the Smart Device Framework on but I decided to use some existing code I found on the web (I don't remember where) and modify it. It ended up looking as follows:

    Namespace Atomic.CF.Utils

    Public Class ClickLabel
    Inherits Control

    Private bStyle As BorderStyle = BorderStyle.None
    Private txtAlignment As ContentAlignment = ContentAlignment.TopLeft
    Private fntName As String = "Tahoma"
    Private fntSize As Integer = 9
    Private fntStyle As FontStyle = FontStyle.Underline Or FontStyle.Bold

    Event labelClick(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As System.EventArgs)
    Event labelPaint(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As System.EventArgs)

    Public Property BorderStyle() As BorderStyle
    Return bStyle
    End Get
    Set(ByVal Value As BorderStyle)
    bStyle = Value
    End Set
    End Property

    Public Property FontName() As String
    Return fntName
    End Get
    Set(ByVal Value As String)
    fntName = Value
    End Set
    End Property

    Public Property FontSize() As Integer
    Return fntSize
    End Get
    Set(ByVal Value As Integer)
    fntSize = Value
    End Set
    End Property

    Public Property FontStyle() As FontStyle
    Return fntStyle
    End Get
    Set(ByVal Value As FontStyle)
    fntStyle = Value
    End Set
    End Property

    Public Property TextAlignment() As ContentAlignment
    Return txtAlignment
    End Get
    Set(ByVal Value As ContentAlignment)
    txtAlignment = Value
    End Set
    End Property

    Private Sub clsLabelPaint(ByVal sender As Object, _
    ByVal e As System.Windows.Forms.PaintEventArgs) Handles MyBase.Paint
    Dim grfx As Graphics = e.Graphics
    Dim p As New Pen(Color.Black)
    Dim b As New SolidBrush(ForeColor)
    Dim f As New Font(fntName, fntSize, fntStyle)
    Dim s As SizeF
    If Me.BorderStyle = BorderStyle.FixedSingle Then
    grfx.DrawRectangle(p, 0, 0, Me.Width - 1, Me.Height - 1)
    ElseIf Me.BorderStyle = BorderStyle.Fixed3D Then
    grfx.DrawRectangle(p, Me.ClientRectangle)
    End If
    s = grfx.MeasureString(Me.Text, f)
    Select Case txtAlignment
    Case ContentAlignment.TopCenter
    grfx.DrawString(Me.Text, f, b, (Me.Width - s.Width) / 2, _
    (Me.Height - s.Height) / 2)
    Case ContentAlignment.TopLeft
    grfx.DrawString(Me.Text, f, b, 2, (Me.Height - s.Height) / 2)
    Case ContentAlignment.TopRight
    grfx.DrawString(Me.Text, f, b, Me.Width - s.Width - 2, _
    (Me.Height - s.Height) / 2)
    End Select
    RaiseEvent labelPaint(sender, e)
    End Sub

    Private Sub clsLabelClick(ByVal sender As Object, _
    ByVal e As System.EventArgs) Handles MyBase.Click
    RaiseEvent labelClick(sender, e)
    End Sub
    End Class
    End Namespace

    In any case it was an interesting exercise and shows some of the power of the Compact Framework and its ability to do multi-threading and access web services.

    Tuesday, May 25, 2004

    Reading Out Loud

    Here's an interesting bit of trivia. As I was sitting in church this past Sunday the passage the pastor was preaching about was Acts 8, particularly the account of Philip and the Ethiopian. What caught my eye was verse 30.

    "Philip ran up [to his chariot] and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?'" (NIV)

    My first thought was, why was the Ethiopian reading out loud? Since he was apparently alone he likely would have been reading silently. Then I remembered a comment Stephen Jay Gould made in passing in one of his books (I'm not sure where) about the development of silent reading. I recall that he was puzzled that it developed so late. In fact, I had always assumed that reading silently was practiced from the beginning of the written word some 6,000 years ago. Seems logical. Not so. It seems the development of spaces between words circa 900 AD allowed most people to read silently. Before that I assume most people found it easier to talk through the text while those who read silently such as Julius Caesar and St. Ambrose were considered atypical. I also noticed there have been several books published on this topic including A History of Reading that I might check out. Of course, the account of Philip and the Ethiopian dates from the first century AD.

    ADO.NET 2.0 and Whidbey

    Since many folks have a copy of Whidbey (either the PDC or the Community Technology Preview March 2004) version I thought I'd post a list of items that you may have thought were in ADO.NET v2.0 but are not:

  • Server-side cursors i.e. the SqlResultset class

  • Asynchronous connection objects (although asynchronous commands are still in)

  • Provider-specific table objects i.e. the SqlDataTable that I blogged about previously

  • Data Paging i.e. the ExecutePageReader methods of the command objects

  • ObjectSpaces, not exactly cut and will make a reappearance after Whidbey ships

  • I'll be talking about what's left on Saturday June 5th, 3:10-4:20PM and June 6th, 11:10-12:20PM at the DevEssentials conference in Kansas City. Still lots of cool features to be sure. Right now I am planning on covering:

  • ObjectSpaces

  • Provider Factories

  • SQL Bulk Copy

  • Asynchronous Commands

  • DataSet Changes

  • Batch Updates

  • Performance Improvements

  • MARS

  • Query Notifications

  • Yukon UDTs

  • Snapshot Isolation
  • Physics of Baseball Website

    Here is a nice site from Professor Alan Nathan who writes and speaks on the physics of baseball.

    Sunday, May 23, 2004

    Royals First Quarter Appraisal

    You may have noticed I haven't blogged much about the Royals since the season started. Primarily that's because there has been little good to write about but since we're now one fourth of the way through the season I thought I'd give a quick run down of the season thus far:

    Record: 13-27, worst Royals start ever.

    Offense: The Royals are 12th in the league in offense having scored only 180 runs or 4.5 runs per game in what is normally a very good hitters park (at home they've scored only 76 runs in 18 games). In OBP they are 13th (.316 against right handed pitchers) and 12th in SLUG (12th in OPS) and have the second fewest number of plate appearances.

    From an individual perspective only Beltran can be said to be having a good year and his average has now plummeted to .274. He is also the only Royal slugging over .500. The only regular hitting over .300 is Ken Harvey who is hitting his usual very soft .300 with an OPS of just .804. What has hurt them most is the lack of production in the leadoff spot where Berroa has an OBP .242 and Guiel .279 with Relaford at .300. The organization gave up on Guiel too soon. His average was down but his walks and power were there and would have turned it around.

    Bringing up DeJesus failed as he went 1 for 23 before getting shipped back to Omaha. The idea of having the speedster Rich Thompson on the squad was a luxury they couldn't afford and now Brandon Berger is on the roster to hit left-handers. Meanwhile Calvin Pickering has 15 homeruns in Omaha with a .465 OBP in 100 at bats. Juan Gonzales and Mike Sweeney have also not played to their ability thus far, particularly in the power numbers, although on the plus side both have been in the lineup playing 37 and 33 games respectively. Bottom line is that they don't have a leadoff hitter, have little patience and so don't generally get on base, and haven't shown the power to drive runners in. On the bright side I would expect the offense to improve since no one save Beltran has gotten hot at all yet.

    Pitching: Well, what can you say? They started the year with injuries to Synder, Acenzio, and Appier and since then Appier has been put back on the shelf. MacDougal finally recovered from his flue in spring training but only pitched 3.1 innings before being sent back down. Leskanic also suffered an injury and is on the DL. That leaves Brian Anderson who has now given up 103 baserunners and 13 homeruns in 54.2 innings on his way to a 1-6 record and 7.41 ERA in 10 starts and Darrel May 71/45.1/1-6/5.76 in 8 starts. So the two starters coming out of spring training they were relying on are 2-12 with an ERA over 6. Affeldt pitched better but not well going 0-3 with an ERA around 5 before being named the closer this weekend (he blew his first save although Berroa was partly to blame). Jimmy Gobble has been the most consistent in his 8 starts going 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA. Now it appears Dennis Reyes who has thrown the best in 22.2 innings of work will get a starting spot as will 20-year old Zack Grienke who pitched 5 innings last night giving up 2 runs in a no-decision. It remains to be seen how much Grienke will pitch though since he was on an 85 pitch limit and was being thrown every 6 days or more at Omaha. So the rotation now is Anderson, May, Gobble, Reyes, and Grienke with spot starts by someone else. There's no question that's a better rotation than they had coming out of spring training. Outside of MacDougal and Leskanic the bullpen hasn't been too bad with good work by Nate Field, Grimsely, and Huisman and so-so work by Camp and Sullivan.

    But if you add it all up its not pretty. A 5.12 ERA, 12th in the league, last with only 198 strikeouts, and 13th in homeruns given up with 51 while blowing 8 of 14 save opportunities. The 198 strikeouts is particularly alarming. Although we knew coming out of spring training that the Royals would have three starters who were soft tossers, only Darrel May has struck out as many as 1 batter every 2 innings and as I documented in a previous post that may be an indication that he's not throwing his game. The ratios are:

    K/9 Innings
    Anderson 3.48
    Affeldt 4.09
    Gobble 2.25
    May 7.00

    Affeldt particularly should be around 8 although it doesn't seem to bother Pena that he's not. Anderson has pitched effectively in the past at around 4 to 5 but I doubt that any starter in the modern era has every been successful striking out 2.25 batters per 9 innings. That makes me think that Gobble has been more lucky than good thus far. In one game I scored for Gobble got exactly one swinging strike in over 5 innings of work. More balls put in play mean more hits, its as simple as that.

    Overall, I wouldn't fault Baird or Pena for much they've done with the pitching staff thus far except in the handling of Affeldt (and the Yankee Stadium anomaly - see below). How could they have known their top two starters would start so slowly? Even with Grienke the key to the rest of the season is how well Anderson and May pitch from here on in.

    Fielding: 31 unearned runs leads the league. They have DHs playing first (Sweeney, Stairs) and RF (Gonzales, Stairs) and LF (Stairs) much of the time. Enough said.

    Management: The major problem with this team has been underperformance of players not of management. I think the team had a good plan going into the season but the player simply have not performed. That said they could should have stuck with Guiel a little longer, not confused Affeldt into thinking he was a finesse pitcher, brought up Pickering to add some power to the lineup or actually given him the look he deserves in spring training, and perhaps tried Jamey Wright in the rotation at some point. Inexplicably they gave a start in Yankee Stadium to a AA pitcher (Eduardo Villacis) who was predictably bombed in less than 4 innings. I might also call into question bringing up Grienke and losing that year of service time in what looks right now to be a lost season. That's especially the case if you're not going to really put him in the rotation but continue to protect his arm.

    Outlook: They are better than a 13-27 team but not that much better. Their Pythagorean winning percentage is .379 indicating they should have won 15 games instead of 13. They will improve if:

  • Affeldt can hold down the closer role and give them at least a 70% chance of closing save opportunities.

  • They can find someone to leadoff with an OBP over .350

  • Sweeney and Gonzales get hot for a good stretch

  • May and Anderson bounce back and pitch like they are able

  • These are not lofty goals and so I look for the Royals to play a bit over .500 the rest of the way and finish with around 75 wins. Coming into the season they didn't have much room for error and so now the hole they've dug is likely too big to overcome this year.

    Saturday, May 22, 2004

    Undaunted Courage

    I let yesterday, the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery's departure from St. Charles, Missouri, get away without blogging about Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. I'm sure many of you have read the book since it was published in 1997 but I listened to it on a drive up to Des Moines and back last week for the first time.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Ambrose's straightforward style and didn't realize how personal the trek of Lewis and Clark is to Ambrose whose family has retraced the trail many times. Ambrose himself reads the introduction and epilogue on the tapes and does a fine job relating his initial interest in the journals of Lewis and Clark as well as the sad and inexplicable end that Lewis came to. A couple of things in the book that stuck out for me were the degree to which the Corps of Discovery were depdendant on Indians (and not just Sacagawea) for food and horses without which they would have surely perished in the Bitter Root mountains and the courage and determination of both Lewis and Clark. Listening to the book has certainly ignited an interest in reading the journals. If you haven't read or listened to this book, you should.

    Wednesday, May 19, 2004

    The Closing of the Western Mind

    I listed this book recently in a post about what I was reading and now I've finished it. The central thesis of the book is that Christianity by the fifth century, served to impede the advancement of science and eason and only began to break out of its lethargy during the time of Thomas Acquinas in the 13th century. Simply put, Christianity was a major contributor to the dark ages, more so than Christian historians would like to admit and most Christians understand.

    I'll admit that I was skeptical of this position even before reading the book and had attributed the dark ages more to the collapse of the Roman empire and the resulting power and cultural vacuum it created than anything else. After reading the book I can see that the author had some valid points. His basic argument goes like this chronologically.

  • By 700 BC the Greeks began to develop the idea of reason as a primary tool in understanding the world. These ideas were coalesced by Aristotle anad his philosophy on how to live a balanced life.

  • Plato took a slightly different direction through his ideas on Forms had the effect of discouraging observation of the natural world and the use of reason as the means to knowledge. It also denigrated the natural realm in favor of the perfect heavenly realm.

  • The ideas of both Aristotle and Plato were incorporated into the Roman empire beginning around 200 BC. Because Rome was essentially a federation of conquered nations the empire allowed a plurality of religious systems to exist although after Julius Caesar also included the cult of the emperor which demanded nominal allegiance.

  • Christianity was founded by the Apostle Paul who wove elements of Platonism and Greek thought into his teachings. Jesus was a historical figure, a wise teacher, but was not divine nor did he preach salvation, damnation, or anything supernatural. Particularly, Paul wove into Christianity the idea that human wisdom was corrupt and that God's wisdom was foolishness to the wise. This idea coupled with the belief that incorrect beliefs lead to eternal punishment, was later decisive in persuading Christians to abandon Greek thought and promoted the idea of knowledge being the purview of first those in apostolic succession and much later the bishop (the Pope) in Rome.

  • Christianity was also unique to the Roman empire for its exclusivity by not encouraging the practice of multiple religions. However, local practices became incorporated into the church leading to the creation of saints (martyrs) with powers similar to those of local deities and worship of the virgin Mary.

  • By 300 AD Constantine saw that the exclusive and hierarchical structure of the church could be used to keep "good order" in society and so allowed it to flourish freely. He wrongly thought that doctrinal differences could be ironed out through councils (like Nicea in 325 AD). However, he and his successors were wrong and the arguments between bishops became rancorous and personal. This was the case because the doctrinal points in question (e.g. the Trinity and the nature of the atonement) are inherently unknowable and subject to interpretation from texts (the New Testament) which never had the questions in mind and are therefore contradictory. This led to scores of heresies and heretics being found on all sides. Augustine lists 83 such hereies in the early fifth century.

  • With the official stance of Christianity secured came imperial funding and perks that institutionalized the church and served to drive the debate on various doctrinal questions.

  • As the church became more rigid in its structure it incorporated certain teaching including Plato in philosophy, Galen in medicine, and Ptolemy in cosmology. These became entwined in Christian doctrine particularly through Augustine to the exclusion of Aristolean logic and other Greek learning. In short, Christianity became narrow by not allowing the free flow of ideas inherent in the Greek and Roman pagan cultures. Christianity suppressed reason by stressing authority over debate.

  • The split between the western and eastern churches further served to isolate the west from Greek thought and certain Greek texts were left to be preserved by the Arabs as the west became exclusively Latin.

  • Because Christianity emphasized the foolishness of the world's wisdom the church became the clearinghouse for knowledge as other forms of knowledge were frowned upon.

  • The end result was that reason, observation, and speculation were inhibited by the church in favor of orthodoxy. Thomas Acquinas with his incorporation of Aristotle into Christianity signalled the turning of the tide.

  • While I certainly don't agree with all of the above points, especially his almost obsessivley negative view of Paul and his secular view of Jesus, his argument does make a certain amount of sense. I don't think he puts enough emphasis on the fall of Rome and its consequences although he notes that the "barbarians" had largely been converted to Christianity by the time the empire dissolved. He also only develops his argument overtly in the second to last chapter and the epilogue. Much of the rest of the book is straight history (although with a little interpretation that serves his purposes to be sure).

    I found especially interesting his discussion of the development of patron saints of various illnesses from pagan forerunners. As a protestant this always confused me and so to see an historical explanation was welcome. I also tend to accept his view that Constantine and other emperors were first politicians, only nominally Christian, who used Christianity for means other than personal salvation.

    I would recommend this book for those wanting to look at the history of the early church although I would caution that the author's viewpoints are ultimately quite liberal.

    Monday, May 17, 2004

    The Doubleday Myth

    Abner Doubleday. So goes the answer to one of the most frequently asked questions in all of sports trivia, "Who invented baseball?" Although Doubleday was bestowed this honor it is now known (and has been since the story originated) that Doubleday probably knew very little of the game and certainly did not "invent" baseball in a farmer's pasture in Cooperstown, New York in 1839.

    I first remember being taught this particular myth in a baseball book given me by my parents when I was 8 or perhaps 9 years old. I recall the book being replete with all the legends of baseball including Babe Ruth's famous "called shot" in the 1932 World Series versus the Cubs. Only later did I realize the this legend too was likely not historically true. From eyewitness accounts (although the number of "eyewitnesses" has grown throughout the years to where hundreds of thousands of people would have had to cram into the 32,000 seats on the corner of Clark and Addison in Chicago) it is known that Ruth was being taunted viciously by the Cub players and was probably motioning to either the bench or the infamous Cubs pitcher Charlie Root instead of indicating the eventual resting place of the next pitch some 400 feet away. In any case these legends have served to add an aura of magic to the game for millions of fans and provide historical context and so it is difficult to treat them too severely.

    But before we relate the true origin of baseball and its significance we should examine the myth and how it was propagated and by whom. The whom was A.G. Spalding, one of the first great pitchers in baseball. Although his early statistics are incomplete his record from 1871-1877 was an impressive 255-68 while pitching for Boston and Chicago. For his only full season for which complete statistics are available, the same summer Custer and the Seventh Calvary were being routed by Sitting Bull and the Sioux, Spalding was 47-12 for Boston, pitching 53 complete games and 529 innings. His ERA was 1.75 and he struck out only 39 while walking a paltry 26. Of course the game was played differently then, the pitcher had nine balls to work with and it was an unwritten rule that batters would do their utmost to put the ball in play. As a result many fewer pitches were thrown which is why Spalding could throw 529 innings without his arm falling off.

    After his playing days Spalding founded the sporting goods company that bears his name and published the annual Spalding's Official Base Ball Guide. He was a powerful influence at the time and he, along with others, felt that baseball needed a founding father, a seminal event with which to identify with. In 1907 a commission was set up to investigate the matter and publish a report. After having little success Spalding himself delivered a letter from one Abner Graves in Colorado who claimed that Doubleday had laid out a field in Cooperstown in 1839, explained the rules and designated the game "base ball". And so with no other evidence the Mills Commission as it was known (it was chaired by A.G. Mills) in 1908 declared that "base ball had its origins in the United States" and that the "first scheme for playing it, according to the best evidence available to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday, at Cooperstown, New York, in 1839." A ball of sorts was also produced that claims to have been from that first game.

    And so the myth was born inspite of the protestations of the likes of Henry Chadwick, an entrepreneur and baseball pioneer who, being born in England, knew that baseball actually was an amalgam of sorts from several varieties of English stick and ball games. The reason this theory with so little supporting evidence held the day was likely twofold, the comfortable idea of "base ball" being a purely American sport, indeed it was the national pastime already, and the person of Abner Doubleday himself. Regarding the former, Spalding was quoted as saying,

    "[Baseball is] the exponent of American Courage, Confidence, Combativeness; American Dash, Discipline, Determinism;
    American Energy, Eagerness, Enthusiasm;
    American Pluck, Persistency, Performance;
    American Spirit, Sagacity, Success;
    American Vim, Vigor, Virility"

    To say that Spalding was patriotic would no doubt understate the case. Regarding the latter "selection" of Doubleday himself, although frequently sited only as a Union officer who served in the Civil War, in actuality, was a captain in the artillery stationed at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina in April of 1861. It was his duty to order the first shot fired in response by the United States government in that history shaping conflict. It certainly didn't hurt the image created by the myth that a war hero invented the game. At the time, of course, Doubleday himself didn't know to what event history would forever link him and in fact his contemporaries didn't either as is shown by his New York Times obituary which does not mention baseball.

    Did Doubleday draw out a field in 1839 in Cooperstown? Perhaps, but he certainly didn't invent the game. Baseball primarily evolved from to two English stick and ball games, the well documented upper class game "cricket" and the more unfamiliar working class games "rounders", "feeders" and not surprisingly "base ball". Interestingly, baseball may owe more to the working class games since they generally moved faster, lasting only a couple of hours, since by definition the working class cannot spend all day in leisure activities. Cricket is a much more slowly paced game and can go on for days at a stretch. Many references, however, have survived in English literature to these games and while it is clear that they were not baseball as we know it, neither were they so foreign as to suppose that the American version is not related. For example, in Northanger Abbey written in the late 1780's Jane Austen remarks: "It is not very wonderful that Catherine...should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country, at the age of fourteen, to books." And even prior to this across the Atlantic the diary of George Ewing, a soldier in the Continental Army at Valley Forge in 1778 writes that on April 17 they played a game of "base" which was no doubt related to the game of "baste ball" played at Princeton in 1786 and described by a student.

    It is more than conjecture that variations of cricket, rounders and the like made their way across the Atlantic with the earliest settlers and differentiated from there. It is just possible that Doubleday could have called his fellows together for a game of "base ball" or "base" or "baste ball" or any of several other popular regional games that were known as "town ball". But if baseball does indeed have a founding father than perhaps the mantle should belong to Alexander Joy Cartwright. His New York team drew up a set of rules in 1845 which gave the game a look most like our current version. While the game already had 4 bases (actually only four wooden stakes) and three strikes he introduced the concept of tagging runners for outs rather than "plugging" them, actually hitting them with a thrown ball. Lest we think tagging was invented out of necessity because of injuries by thrown balls, it should be noted that the "ball' of that time was little more than a leather case with rags stuffed inside. You could no more injure a player by "plugging" than you could by throwing a bean bag at someone. This innovation led the way to harder balls which could be hit for distance. You could say that it was the first incarnation of "lively ball" era. Secondly, Cartwright pioneered the concept of foul lines and foul territory. Before this time batters could hit in any direction and in one form of the game, the game did not end until the winning team had 100 "tallies" or runs. This allowed the game to become a spectator sport. Finally, Cartwright's version of the game set the bases in a diamond spaced at 90 feet apart which serendipitously turned out to be the ideal distance, an equilibrium which has balanced offense and defense for 150 years.

    One can argue whether form follows function but it is true nonetheless that the even the fastest runners in today's game are nabbed by half a step when a middle infielder playing at normal depth fields a ball cleanly and makes a strong throw. What if the bases had been placed at 75 feet or even 80? Would the balance of the game been so shifted to offense that games would today last an interminable 4 hours (although with the reduced strike zone today they are lengthening almost yearly)? Would Ricky Henderson have hit .450 and Ty Cobb have hit .500! Perhaps these are moot points but it serves to show one of the great virtues of baseball - continuity. We have the luxury of making such conjecture because the basics of the game have been stabilized for so long. No other sport, indeed scarcely another facet of American life has been so continuous. It is often said that if a player from the 1870's were to be resurrected today, he would immediately recognize baseball and little else. The mere fact that we can debate, whether Aaron was a better hitter than Ruth? Henderson faster than Cobb? Ryan harder throwing than Walter Johnson? is a thing to be celebrated and revel in. The codification of the basics of the game that led to this happy state can be traced to A.J. Cartwright and what came to be known as the New York Game.

    Many innovations were to be forthcoming including the adoption of gloves (little more than batting gloves at the time) in 1875 by a first baseman by the name of Charles Waite. Perhaps Waite needed the glove to stay in the league as he hit only .150 in parts of 4 seasons with 4 different teams. Indeed many things have changed including the distance and height of the pitching mound, the number of balls, the types of pitches thrown, the uniforms, the ball, night baseball, helmets, batting gloves, Astroturf and more but much has remained constant and more importantly the essentials of the game have been unchanging - three outs, 90 feet and three strikes. The rest as they say, is history.

    Perhaps it is not at all bad that the Doubleday myth gained prominence. After all, the Baseball Hall of Fame is now located in that small upper state New York village of Cooperstown. The town itself is a wonderful place for the immortals of baseball to be enshrined because it serves to remind us of the historical characteristics of baseball - small towns, green grass and plenty of fresh air. Somehow the Hall of Fame would be entirely out of place in the metropolis of New York City and it would be sacrilegious to think of the annual induction ceremony anyplace else.

    I remember vividly the summer vacation when I was 14 in which my family visited Cooperstown and thinking that this small town could not possibly hold the greats of baseball; Ruth, Cobb and the rest. The day was perfect and could have lasted all summer as far as this Iowa boy was concerned. I poured over the displays as if they were sacred texts. However, what stands out most in my mind was seeing the golden bat awarded to Willie Mays for his 1954 National League batting title along with his New York Giants cap from that season. In that season Mays won the title from his teammate Don Mueller .345 to .342 and went on to win the MVP and make "The Catch" off the bat of Vic Wertz (and the arm of Don Liddle) in game one of the 1954 World Series.

    I was not old enough to have seen Mays play and in fact was born as his career was fading in the late 60's but I had read everything I could about him and he became my idol. Seeing that award and even more so his cap, was a sort of connecting experience for me, validating that yes it had actually happened and it made it come alive. In my mind it provided a link between the great players of the past and the current stars of the present and opened up a wider view of the world in which to place historical events. Looking back I now see how baseball has contributed much to my intellectual growth by first sparking that interest in a bigger world.

    This truly then is one of the great virtues of baseball, the connecting of the past with the present, the continuity of different eras, and the proposition that a 14 year old boy could so closely identify with and cherish the accomplishments of 30 years before as if they were contemporaneous. The true origin of baseball is not nearly as important as the impact of the game itself on both our culture and on individuals. The fact that the American Doubleday did not invent the game in no way diminishes the profoundness or effect of baseball on this country.


    Gould, Stephen Jay. "The Creation Myths of Cooperstown". From Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History. © 1991 W.W. Norton and Company.

    Will, George F. Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball. © 1990 Harper Perennial.

    James, Bill. The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. © 1988 Villard Books.

    Dickson, Paul. Baseball's Greatest Quotations. © 1991 Harper Perennial.

    Statistics and Baseball

    This is a short essay on the relationship between statistics and baseball that I wrote 10 years ago and have just found among some old papers.

    Statistics are the lifeblood of baseball. The true fan cannot discuss baseball without referring to them passionately and often. For many Americans the morning ritual of reading the box scores is a momentary escape and an assurance that all is well with the world. The mere mention of numbers like 2,130, 56 and 61 are powerful enough to evoke images of ballplayers past and present. The emphasis on statistics throughout baseball history has been one of the truly fortunate or perhaps divinely inspired aspects of the game. The ability to now, with data spanning back over a century, look back over the stat lines of players long since dead and get a feel for the kind of player they were connects us to that past and helps give baseball its sense of continuity that makes it the National Pastime.

    Statistics are also what fuels the fire of the never ending controversies of who was better than who (or rather whom). Without the baseline of career batting average, how could one even argue whether or not Shoeless Joe Jackson (a career .356 hitter) was better than Ted Williams (.344)? Or whether or not Hank Aaron's 755 homeruns were a more impressive feat than Babe Ruth's 714? The players compared above never played in the same game and were separated by a decade or more. Statistics give us a place to begin the discussion.

    To understand the depth and richness that statistics provide to the game, simply think of the careers of two players, Josh Gibson and Satchell Paige. Both in their day were considered the best players in the Negro Leagues. Because statistics were rarely compiled and the level of competition was not always major league caliber, it is now impossible to pin down with any certainty how great these players were. Dizzy Dean, one of the best pitcher in baseball in the 1930's considered Paige one of the fastest and best he ever saw. Paige in fact pitched effectively in the major leagues from 1948 to 1953 in his mid to late forties (Satchell never seemed to be able to make up his mind whether he was born in 1906 or some other year in the vicinity). Had he played in the majors in his prime he may have racked up more wins and strikeouts than any pitcher in history. Gibson's power was legendary and he was said to have hit over 80 homeruns in a Negro League season. Could he have challenged or even beaten Ruth? These questions cannot be answered with any degree of certainty or precision at all since there is no baseline to begin the discussion.

    In another sense baseball statistics are meaningful because baseball is a team game of individual accomplishments and confrontations. The individual's performance is paramount at any one moment and can be separated from the team's performance. No doubt, what the individual does has a great impact on the success or failure of his team, but what he does is in a sense separate from the team as well. Statistics also lend themselves to baseball well because baseball, in the jargon of my profession as a computer scientist, is "event-driven". By "event-driven" I mean that a baseball game unfolds as a series of discrete events which can be separated and analyzed. A pitch is thrown, what are results? Was it a strike? Did the batter swing? What was the count? That event can then be recorded for posterity and tracked. In other games, notably basketball and football, individuals act in concert with teammates to attempt to produce desirable results. In these games it is not so easy to separate the actions of one man from his team. In a typical play in football, 22 players are moving simultaneously and the outcome of the play is dependent on a whole host of variables that are not easily identified. When the play is over what can you record? The ball moved from the 20 yard line to the 23 yard line and Emmett Smith carried the ball before being tackled by Lawrence Taylor. While that accounts for two of the 22 players on the field, what do you say about the other 20? Certainly they were an integral part of how the play unfolded and yet there is no easy way to evaluate their performance. In contrast, the confrontation of batter vs pitcher and fielder vs ball are much more easily recorded and analyzed.

    The games themselves (football and basketball) involve a flurry of action from multiple players simultaneously and hence are more interesting on television - a fact which accounts for their increase in popularity in the age of television. We can get some sense that Joe Montana is a great quarterback because of his completion percentage and his touchdown to interception ratio but put him on another team with worse linemen and worse receivers and his statistics will change markedly. But still because of his position, quarterback, Montana is the most visible player on the field and can be more easily tracked than say, the left guard or center. So too in basketball it is clear that a player's statistics are heavily influenced by his teammates. For instance Byron Scott is a great shooting guard, but when he played with Magic Johnson at the point guard position, he became that much better since he received more fastbreak attempts and more open shots than he would have with merely an average teammate. How much better was he? That's hard to say since now Scott players with another point guard. However, if you take a veteran baseball player with a career average of .275 and trade him, you can be reasonably assured that he will perform likewise for his new team (taking into consideration the effects of age and ballpark to be sure).

    So we are luckily indeed that baseball lends itself so well to being recorded so that we have data to endlessly analyze and discuss. The role of sabermetrics is to tease out of the observations the truth that lies behind them.

    Insights from The Physics of Baseball

    I've referred to this book in several posts, particulary here but have never done much of a review. I came across some insights that I recorded after reading the first edition of the book when it was initially published. I thought they might be interesting for some.

  • A bat has 2 vibrational nodes (points where there is no vibration when struck by a ball), one near the handle and one near the end. That's why it stings more when you hit the ball midway between the two nodes (usually about 5 to 27 inches on a 35" bat) than right on the handle (it has nothing to do with it being closer to your hands except that it just so happens that the first vibrational node is under your hands).

  • Aluminum is stronger than wood and has higher elasticity (it compressses about 1/10 as much as the ball whereas the wooden bat compresses only about 1/50 as much as the ball, thereby transferring more energy to the ball). A 380 foot drive with an wood bat may go as much as 415 feet with an aluminum bat. An aluminum bat stings less because it vibrates less.

  • The impact lasts about 1/1000 of a second. Therefore a tight or lose grip makes virtually no difference, nor does releasing the top hand after impact. The impact happens so quickly that the signal does not get processed until long after the ball is gone.

  • A 10 degree upward swing ideal.

  • For maximum distance the ball should be hit upward at a 35 degree angle.

  • Corking a bat provides no advantage that cannot be produced by legally doctoring a bat (honing the barrel, choking up, cutting length off the barrel). The primary thing it does is lighten the bat. The rubber balls or cork put in the barrel are only good for muffling the hollow sound that will be produced. The elasticity of these items is less efficient than the wood that it replaced.

  • A well hit ball produces a sound an octave higher than middle C.

  • Mickey Mantle's 565 foot drive off of Chuck Stobbs probably only went 510-520 feet. Anybody would be hard pressed to hit a ball more than 545 feet in a normal conditions off of a major league fastball.

  • A rising fastball does not rise. It simply sinks less than the normal ball (about 2.5 ft as opposed to 3 feet).

  • A curve ball that seems to break 14.4" actually only varies from the straight line made by the hand to the final location by 3.4".

  • Old time players didn't wear batting gloves as much possibly because the hickory bats they used did not sting their hands nearly as much (hickory has more of the properties of aluminum). Heavier bats do hit the ball farther.

  • Moving from a 2.5" barrel of most wodd bats to a 2.75" barrel of an aluminum bat only increases the effective hitting surface by 4%.

  • The drag coefficient of a baseball decreases dramatically between 50 and 120 mph unlike that of a smooth ball. A smooth ball cannot be hit or thrown nearly as hard or far as a baseball at baseball velocities. This might indicate that a pitcher by strengthening his arm may be able to gain more additional velocity than you might imagine. This is why a four seam fastball may add up to 2 mph on a fastball (the four seam ball is rougher and reduces the drag). A sinking fastball can be thrown by gripping leather only, producing less spin, little upward Magnus force causing it to drop faster (possibly 4 to 6 inches). Magnus force is produced when one side of the ball is rotating faster than the other, reducing pressure on the slower side, making the ball curve.

  • A scuffed ball will curve towards the scuffing since the scuff will produce turbulance on that side of the ball i.e. less drag while the other side has more force on it, pushing it to the scuffed side.

  • Friday, May 14, 2004

    Back from the Other Side

    I returned to Kansas City on Wednesday night after 8 days in England. My wife, daughter and I spent the first 6 days touring London, the Yorkshire Dales, and Oxford before winding up Surrey for a two-day Microsoft Architect Advisory Board meeting. Lots to report both from the vacation and the meeting once I get caught up.