Friday, June 15, 2012

Thought For The Day

Yes, posting has been pretty scarce around here of late:

funny pictures of dogs with captions
Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

but reading hasn't...

After reading this on the Phillies' website today, I once again wondered about how it is we mark some things as being significant:

It was [Phillies first baseman and sometime designated hitter Jim] Thome's 607th career home run, and his 99th with the Phillies. If he hits one more with Philadelphia, he will become the fourth player in baseball history to have 100 home runs with three teams (Indians, White Sox and Phillies). He would join Alex Rodriguez (Mariners, Rangers and Yankees), Reggie Jackson (A's, Yankees and Angels) and Darrell Evans (Braves, Giants and Tigers).

Blanton, Thome team up to top Twins

The particular field of endeavor here, of course, is baseball, but this sort of thinking seems to apply to just about any field of interest where people keep score - sports, politics, biology. I haven't looked, but I suspect it's just as likely that no more people than those listed have hit 99 home runs for each of three teams, or 98, for that matter. Yet the number 100 seems magical somehow, in a form of statistic that few players could even remotely qualify for. After all, quite a few ball players haven't hit 100 home runs (or 99) in an entire career. A few of them are in the Baseball Hall Of Fame, in fact.

One of them is named John "Home Run" Baker.

Yes, it's a nice round number, and not many people have reached it. I suppose that's the reason, but in a sport that's full of such distinctions, it's hard to ignore them after a while. In baseball, if you go by how people talk about these things, hitting .300 is much more of an achievement than hitting .299, and driving in 100 runs much more of an accomplishment than only driving in 99. Yet, the skill and effort required is basically the same. At the end of a season, one good or bad at bat (NOTE 1) could make the difference in either category (NOTE 2).

I suppose that when we live in a world of computers and online information, this sort of thing is inevitable. There are undoubtedly people toting up how many football teams have scored ten touchdowns in a fortnight, or how many Presidential candidates won more than 300 electoral votes. To me, the important things are that it takes 270 electoral votes to become President, and you don't need to score any touchdowns at all to win a game, provided you get close enough to the end zone for a field goal.

And as John "Home Run" Baker proved, sometimes fewer than 100 home runs is still plenty.

UPDATE/Afterword: I'm sure someone will notice that John Baker (also known as Frank Baker) played almost his entire career in the dead ball era of baseball, when home runs were much harder to hit. This is yet another reason why I say that the way to evaluate an athlete's greatness, or any other professional I suppose, is by his standing at the time, not by numbers like career home runs. Even in baseball, where the rules and the strategy have been pretty constant for more than a century now, that's true. Quite a bit has changed, both in the game and in related fields like sports medicine and nutrition.

UPDATE 2: Added the words "in a seaon" to NOTE 2.

NOTE 1: An intentional walk could be the difference, too. For those who aren't fans of the game, a walk (intentional or not) does not count as an at bat. That means that it isn't counted when figuring a batter's average. Yet, a batter has no control over whether he is walked intentionally or not, other than being a good enough hitter to be worth walking intentionally, which is something most everyday players are.

NOTE 2: Typically, a full time Major League ballplayer will have more than five hundred official at bats in a season, and will appear at the plate at least that many times. When rounded to the nearest thousandth, that can be the difference of one at bat.

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