Sunday, June 05, 2011


My sister, mentioned in an email that the college, where she is a librarian, has a baseball team that is doing well this year. She wrote in part:

"... Mt. Olive College is doing very well in the national college baseball competition this year. If it weren’t so hot, I might almost be tempted to attend today’s game in person.  I understand it is on the Internet, tho’.
I watched part of the Ken Burns “Baseball” series on PBS earlier this week, & quite enjoyed it. I didn’t have to watch the long stretches when nothing much is going on, just the exciting bits when Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, or Pete Rose were hitting home runs, or making fantastic catches.

I think I finally understand something of how the “designated hitter” rule works, tho’ I don’t think I will ever fathom the true inwardness of it.
I was interested to hear about the origin of “The Curse of the Bambino.” Do you suppose it’s finally broken, since the Red Sox have won a World Series? I can understand why a legend like that gets started, especially when I remember hitting my only home run, playing softball at the old elementary school in Mt. Olive.
I couldn’t wear my glasses, as athletic glasses didn’t exist at the time, so I was lucky to see the pitcher, let alone the ball. I swung more or less at random, & actually hit the ball into the outfield. I stood there gaping at the ball, until my teammates’ yells to “Run, Gwin Lee, run!”  reached my ears, & I took off on my first & last home run.
It was exciting after the decent obscurity of the outfield. There were very few hits that came my way, given the limits of our batters & pitchers, so I was mostly a spectator in our softball games.  I do remember playing 3rd base, on occasion, when we were really short on players ..."

Gwin's post got me thinking about baseball as an abstract game in terms of symmetry, and rules, and events.  Here is my response that explains the game:

"... I do expect "The Curse of the Bambino" is truly broken ...

However, if you do want a good solid curse then you can not do better than being cursed to loose constantly against one of the best teams in your league. And this was just the situation Boston enjoyed. "Normal Team vs Super Team" implies normal team must be cursed since it looses against Super Team so often, and no one wishes to self label as normal while at the same time labeling their rival as super. Once you throw in the "Self Fulfilling Prophecy" effect the curse is well established.

Baseball I think is a wonderful sport. It is very symmetric. Each team is given precisely the same number of opportunities. Each team must struggle to break the built-in symmetry. And the game is NOT OVER and extended in a symmetric fashion until the symmetry is broken.

The whole point of the games is that a man must throw an object at a precise location with as much or little force as he deems necessary while another man must attempt to disrupt that throw by deflecting the object with a wooden stick.

There are many prizes and penalties in Baseball during the play of the game. The game can be characterized by them.

Each time the thrower manages to get three throws past the fellow attempting to disrupt his throw then the prize for the thrower is to send the fellow back to his bench where he must wait his turn to try again.

The thrower and his team mates conspire against a single player of the disruptor team (and in some cases up to three of his team mates).

That single player attempting to disrupt the throws must strike the thrown object with his stick in such a fashion that it is placed in a location that no one on the opposing team can retrieve in the time it takes for him to change his location from his initial position to one of four precisely located positions, in order (the forth position is the same location as his initial position). If he can do this, his prize is that he can stand among the players of the other team at one of the precise locations until he is able to advance to the next of the the four locations in order, or is forced by events to return to his bench.

There are may penalties in Baseball. The thrower only has six attempts to throw the object to a precise location. If four missed throws come before three correct throws then the fellow attempting to disrupt the throws is allowed to proceed to his prize at his own pace. Seeing the fellow attempting to disrupt the throws just walk to his initial prize can be frustrating to the thrower.

The fellow disrupting the throws must do so in a precise fashion; if the disruption does not result in his arrival at his specific prize location before the object being thrown is retrieved he must return to his bench and wait his turn to try again. Seeing someone from the opposite team retrieve the object he managed to strike with his wooden stick right out of the air will result in his immediate return to his bench could be frustrating to the fellow disrupting the throws.

An interesting rule is, in his attempts to disrupt the thrower, the disrupter may attempt to strike the thrown object and miss it entirely.  Such an attempt is deemed to be a correct throw by the thrower no matter its accuracy.

One of the most interesting rules of Baseball is that the team attempting to disrupt the throws of the opposing team may, in theory, continue to do so for for an unlimited time; until and unless three of their team are returned to the bench. The tension of such an event in terms of frustration on the part of the throwing team and elation on the part of the disrupting team is such that the disrupting team always falters and the throwing team will retire them to their bench.

When this event occurs the teams change roles and the throwing team becomes the disrupters while the disrupters become the throwers.

If there is just enough symmetry breaking on the part of the two teams to keep things even, the tension of the game builds and builds throughout the allotted number of side changes. Everyone knows that there must not be symmetry at the end of the allotted number of side changes. If the symmetry is preserved then another side change is allotted.

Only when the symmetry is broken at the end of the allotted number of side changes or at the end of an extra allotted side change is the game over.

The explanation of how to determine which side can claim that they were responsible for the broken symmetry of a game and thus claim to be the winner is well beyond the scope of this explanation. Suffice it to say that there are extremely precise records kept of each event that occurs during the play of a game and they are constantly being poured over by the officials in charge. These records are updated and posted on a large board for all to see.

This posting of the records allows everyone at the game to see whether the game is symmetric or not at that moment. If it is not symmetric then by just glancing at one pair of all the numbers being posted tells you which team could claim victory if the game ends with that asymmetry.

Almost every thing a player does (the thrower and disrupter and others) is updated as an item of record keeping. These records are meticulously kept across the entire history of not only a single game but an entire year by player and by team. Additionally the records are kept for all time across all the years of recorded playing time of the game.

People who are not actually at the game but instead listen at a distance to someone reporting the play of a game are regaled by the instantaneous recounting of this record as each event of the game occurs. Listening to such a report allows one to imagine that he or she is right there watching the entire proceeding. While there is no substitute for being at a game and seeing it unfold before you, the experience of listening to it remotely can be just as exciting.

We all know that a single game and even a single side of a game can, in theory, extend forever. The disruptor side can continue to build up broken symmetry forever. The game itself is symmetric and after the allotted number of sides are taken it must continue with extra pairs of sides until the symmetry is broken. The thrill of watching this occur and hoping that the team that you vicariously identify with will be responsible for the broken symmetry of the game is very exciting.

The players themselves train their entire childhood to excel at the game, those talented few who get to play for some team are rewarded with enormous sums of money for their efforts, as long as they are successful at helping their teams win. Also, they are dismissed without any feelings of remorse if the record keeping indicates that they are not successful. The teams themselves persist across the years. They may change owners and cities where they play but the teams themselves persist as entities.

The officials who keep the records and who decide on how the events that occur during the play of the game should be recorded have as their only concern that the rules of the game are fairly and symmetrically enforced for both teams. One of the cardinal rules of the game is that the players and their coaches and managers may not dispute how the events of the game are interpreted by the officials. For example if an official declares that the thrown object was correctly or incorrectly placed without the disrupter striking it with his stick then that declaration is final. If an official declares that a disruptor did arrive or failed to arrive at his prized location before the object he struck is retrieved then that decision is final.

A violation of this cardinal rule can result in the player or coach or manager being ejected from the game entirely and his team must get along with out his help, for that game. Even the spectators of the game must abide by this rule but are given the liberty of shouting their opinion of how events should have been interpreted. The players and coaches and managers are allowed to object and attempt to get an official to change his mind about how a particular event is interpreted but such an objection must be polite and brief, and almost never causes the official to change his mind


  1. To give you a feel for just how exciting such a game is, read this account of Mount Olive College's close chance to advance to the championship game. ""

    Also note that their were two players named Zach on the winning team and that pretty much assures the win as I see it.

    All I can say is that my home town college needs to recrute more players named Zach!

  2. Another way to sum up this game is with the following:

    Take me out to the ball game
    Take me out with the crowd,
    Feed me some peanuts and cracker-jacks,
    I don't care it I ever get back.

    Let me root, root, root for the home team
    If they don't win it's a shame.

    For it's one, two, three strikes your out,
    at the old ball game.