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Baffoe: Writer Who Thinks Math Is Bad For Baseball Is Not Your Friend

By Tim Baffoe-

(CBS) Tuesday was my last day of the school year. After I laughingly entered the final cruel mark in my gradebook that will affect a child for the rest of his academic and thus professional future, I thought I was on hiatus from having to grapple with youthful ignorance for a few months while I funded my subliminal Marxist integration plan for America's kids with America's hard-working twelve-months-a-year tax dollars.

The youthful part was correct, at least. As I embarked on several consecutive afternoons of making bad jokes on the Internet and not showering, I noticed several people I follow on Twitter lamenting a column by Mac Engel of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram entitled "Mathematics is not a friend of baseball."

Sigh. I really hoped this wasn't some treatise on how pesky book-learnin' has become the fly in some crotchety old scribe's Gold Bond. Or some subliminal message that being educated is scary and bad and we should fear smart people who would poison our minds with sinful fruits of not being a dumbass. But, hey, headlines don't always tell the entire tale, and Twitter once in a while judges books by covers and rushes to judgment.

So I read it. Then I lost feeling in my left extremities for a few hours. And since I'm of the theory that all bad things I see everyone should have to see because ignoring ignorance is equally bad, come along on a journey with me through this column, please. Engel's words are in italics in case you or he gets confused.

The counting craze that once was cute and chic is now all but ruining America's second favorite pastime.

Second-fav…? Ohhhh, you're from Texas and so feel compelled to note football's superiority in a baseball column. Right on. That's true. Superfluous here, but true. But, yeah, what's with this fad of counting stuff? Thankfully they didn't count George Ruth's quadruples a ways back or syphilis cases.

Scores of math whizzes, nerds and live-in-their-parents'-basement geeks are threatening to turn Royals at Rangers into a Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky chess match, minus the intellect.

I usually expect a slow buildup to the Bissingeresque "I don't understand this so it must be done by people in their parents' basements high five me because I'm so damn cool" line, but you flipped over the card table right away. Cap tip, sir. Sideswipe at chess being for wusses? Nice. Though, you must not have watched many Royals games if you think there's much intellect going on there.

This absurd baseball math obsession is now spilling over into basketball, hockey and football; in a few months, this trend will turn your child's dodgeball game into a series of where is the best place to put little Jimmy so as to ensure his greatest chances of being able to dip, dive, duck and dodge.


Baseball was never intended to be math homework, but now baseball fans are watching pitch counts more closely than we do wins/losses, strikeouts or ERAs.

And football was never intended to include a forward pass. Basketball had no concept of a three-point shot at first. Hockey was originally played with Kodiak bears. There is evolution in sports, not Intelligent Design.

Kids, don't listen to your parents or teachers. In this case, math is not your friend.

Yeah, kids, be cool and obtuse and smoke sex with other cooltuse kids.

Math has made us all paranoid that our favorite player is going to get hurt the moment he reaches a certain figure, or be reduced to trash if he goes a little too far.

And when has math ever been correct about most of the things it represents?

There is no better example of this than Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, who threw 99 pitches against the Royals on Sunday.

In seven innings. And he left the game with a lead. But let's see if you can unstupid this example.

So that's terrible because he only threw 99, and he was "gassed," according to his manager.

Were Darvish's ancestors gassed when they built our railroads? Did anyone speak Chinese back then so they could find out? Hell no. 'Merica.

A few weeks ago, Rangers manager Ron Washington was the second coming of noted arm destroyer Dusty Baker, when he had the audacity to allow Yu to throw 130 pitches against the Detroit Tigers.

Because as we all know a pitcher has exactly the same stamina each and every time he pitches.

Let the man pitch the baseball on the baseball field.

In the baseball game. Baseball.

Let them play baseball and quit being a prisoner to all of these bleepin' numbers.

Yeah, Texas prisons are reserved for the mentally handicapped until they can be executed.

Throwing a baseball is an unnatural and demanding activity for the human arm. The shoulder and elbow were not intended to throw a little object at a high velocity over and over and over again.

Just roll the dice and let people get their damn cancer. Don't try to measure and prevent. That takes all the fun out of it, you Angelina Jolies out there.

The activity alone begs for injury.

Like reading your column.

The same goes for the recreational runner who suffers shin splints, plantar fasciitis or a turned ankle.

Recreational means not professional. Did you really just equate opposites?

We weren't designed to run 26.2 miles, and we are not supposed to throw a ball 100 mph.

Hence most people not doing so.

We do these things because we can and, often as a result, we are probably going to get hurt at some point.

We eat awful food because we can and, often as a result, we die of heart disease.

For most of us who participate in physical activity, it is simply a matter of time before something goes wrong.

Kids, the aging process is not your friend.

I spoke with former big-league pitcher and ex-Texas Rangers pitching coach Orel Hershiser about what he says has become part of baseball's culture.

Hershiser, who in his 18 MLB seasons, reached 200 innings only nine times. Oops! Math, sorry.

His take on this goes back to the '80s when the media (they ruin everything!) started to ask about pitch counts, and then it became a cover-their-butts move by managers and coaches.

Why don't the media just coach the teams since they have all the answers to their own pesky questions anyway? I'm so tired of coaches constructing gameplans toward what a postgame press conference might entail.

A little counting clicker has completely changed what is expected of the starting pitcher and, in the process, made managers, GMs and fans all scared to death of the ramifications of throwing "too many pitches."

No, it's created a fairly well-tested strategy of ideally getting several good innings from a starter that can be turned over to a fresh-armed bullpen to finish the game.

"Not every pitch is as strenuous as the last pitch or the next pitch," Hershiser said. "There are some times 130 pitches can be easier than 60. If you throw one or two pitches with bad mechanics and tweak your back, the wear and tear on your next 30 pitches isn't even close.

If you tweak your back and don't tell your coaches, you're selfishly compromising a game for the rest of your team and are a jerk.

"You said, 'If someone is going to get hurt, they are going to get hurt' — there is some validity to that. The weather, the inning, the ballpark, the lineup he is facing, mechanics, all of these things have validity, but none of them are the reason."

Combined they are exactly the reason. We're not lunch meat. Nobody is born with expiration dates on otherwise healthy body parts.

We are panicking for no reason and obsessing over Yu's pitch count is fruitless.

Unless you consider fruit to be not burning out a really expensive pitcher's arm.

A few weeks ago it was a big deal that he threw 130 pitches.

Which is way more than the average starter throws today and in 1988.

Today, it's a big deal he threw only 99.

Who cares if his manager thinks he's too worn out that day to pitch? Get out there, damn it, and let professional hitters face your tired throws! This is about manliness, not winning.

All of this number-watching obviously does work or sports teams would not be spending millions and creating new departments to research tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

Mr. Engel, we regret to inform you that the legs of your column were just amputated.

But it is still sport, and nothing will ever be able to trump the inherent unpredictability of baseball. After all, the stats say Nelson Cruz makes that catch in Game 6 in the 2011 World Series. But he didn't, so where is your math there?

Yeah, if something is correct only most of the time but not all of the time, what is the use of acknowledging it? I'll carry this metal rod in my pocket during a thunderstorm if I damn well please.

That is why we watch, for the precise reason that it is not a math assignment.

Almost nobody watches sports as a math assignment. The math is done by people so inclined (your nerds and basement-dwellers or six-figure employees in organizations) after the game in preparation for future games. This is what you don't understand. No GM is texting a manager telling him to call for a steal or not or which reliever matches up best against an opponent's hitter. That's all on paper already.

Math is never wrong.

Thirty out of thirty-two of the paragraphs in your column are one sentence long. That's 93.75%.

Baseball very much is, which is why I love it.

No, we love it for the competition and athleticism and the fact that most of the time over 162 games it is not wrong and we know who the best team is until the new playoff system adds more randomness.

Hershiser is right when he says all of this math is based on the past.

How can math be done with figures that don't yet exist? What dimension are you writing in?

And if we knew exactly how it all was all going to turn out, why would we watch?

Holy hell, this column was completely inane. Like if someone's wife wrote "What if Tim Tebow Were a Muslim?" Nobody knows how it's all going to turn out, you damn ostrich. But people figured out a long time ago—in economics, in politics, in sports—that if you can better predict things, you stand a better chance at being successful, which is why sabermetrics (that you conveniently avoided directly mentioning while still implying its dastardly attempts to elope with our virgin daughter baseball) is now standard in front offices. It has led to World Series titles. The flat-earth society you cling to is rightfully dying.

This is not difficult to understand. Nobody is taking away your precious baseball and replacing it with nine calculators. Teams are improving their chances of winning. Math doesn't hit, throw, or catch the ball and never will.

What you're preaching, though, is willful ignorance. Therefore, kids, Mac Engel is not your friend.

Jeff Pearl
The author. (credit: Jeff Pearl)

Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for, Tim corrupts America's youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim's inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don't follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago's Beverly To read more of Tim's blogs click here.

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