Friday, April 09, 2010

Baseball, Poker, and Taking Your Time

Baseball clockFound myself tuning in to baseball on a few occasions this week, actually getting involved in a couple of games more earnestly than I have in quite some time.

As a preteen I couldn’t get enough of baseball. Collected cards, pored over stats, even scored games I watched on television sometimes (hopelessly nerdy, I know). But somewhere in there amid the work stoppages, the exploding contracts and free agency gone wild, and later the steroids and other whatnot, my interest waned. Lately I’ve only really paid attention come playoff time, and even then it hasn’t been something I’ve gone out of my way to follow.

Every April, though, I tend to recall those days when Opening Day seemed like a big deal. And so, following some faint vestige of an earlier instinct, I took a look this week to see what games were on and ended up getting involved in a few, including a couple of those Red Sox-Yankees games this week. The one on Sunday, won by Boston 9-7, was a thriller from beginning to end. And the 10-inning pitchers’ duel on Wednesday in which New York prevailed 3-1 was some good fun, too.

All of the insta-stats now provided with televised coverage of the games -- not to mention the wealth of stuff one can get online at ESPN, the site, or other sites as the games are happening -- makes watching games a lot different than when I was a kid. Man, I would’ve really dug all of this stuff if I were 11 years old again. (I guess I still do, a little.)

As I say, the games were quite compelling, I thought, and I’m finding myself looking at the sports page again and perhaps might pay attention to baseball beyond mid-April this year. I know baseball isn’t everyone’s favorite game to watch. Fans of basketball or football often don’t care for baseball’s relatively slower pace. But for me those gaps between pitches where strategies are formulated and decisions made -- and anecdotes and other color shared by commentators -- are a big part of the game’s attraction.

Having watched those Red Sox-Yankees games, I was intrigued by a story on ESPN this week in which the long-time umpire Joe West complained about the slow pace of games, specifically targeting Boston and New York as prime culprits in the dragging out of play. West -- who has been around since I was a kid watching those games way back when -- said he thought the constant delays caused by stepping out of the batter’s box, mound visits by players, and so forth were “pathetic and embarrassing” and “a disgrace to baseball.”

Joe West says 'Hey, let's get on with it already!'The game I saw Sunday night apparently lasted 3 hours and 46 minutes -- definitely on the long side, but the high score (9-7) meant lots of drawn-out innings and pitching changes. The Wednesday night game that went an extra inning took 3 hours and 21 minutes. I hadn’t really felt like either game had been overly long nor did I think players were being unduly deliberate. But apparently West (who was working those games) felt like the players were wasting too much time.

There was a lot of feedback to West’s comments. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera called his complaints “incredible,” saying if West “has places to go, let him do something else.” Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling also weighed in with some criticism of West, too, saying that “part of the reason the games are slower is because their offenses are so deep, and so good,” praising how many of today’s “hitters never give away at-bats.” If you’re interested, you can read more about West’s comments and these reactions here.

This latter point is the one I would make as well. It is a characteristic of good teams -- and the Yankees and Red Sox are both good -- that they have a lot of hitters who are very selective when it comes to choosing a pitch at which to swing. They’re also often good at fouling off pitches and extending at-bats, all of which helps tire the pitcher and increase their chances of succeeding. Sure, they step out a lot, but that’s part of the game, too -- i.e., finding one’s own rhythm and perhaps disrupting that of your opponent. There’s no clock in baseball, so all of this gamesmanship is essentially within the rules.

We can, of course, liken this situation to what we find in poker. In fact, the rhythm and/or pace of poker sometimes uncannily resembles that of a baseball game.

Each hand is like an at-bat, with every betting round another pitch in the sequence. Hands often resolve into heads-up confrontations, with the two players adopting “offensive” and “defensive” positions relative to one another not unlike that of a pitcher and hitter. (I recall the poker player Gabe Thaler, a former catcher, pursuing this comparison on an old ESPN WSOP broadcast, from 2004, I think -- anybody else remember that?)

And the good players -- like the good hitters -- never give away anything. They think before they act. Sometimes that means it takes longer to decide things, but that’s part of the game.

Unlike in baseball, one can “call the clock” in poker if the delays become too protracted. I suppose that’s what West is trying to do with his comments, in a way -- to try and get hitters back in the box more quickly and/or reduce those trips to the mound by catchers. I don’t believe this tactic is going to work very well, though. You can’t hurry baseball too much. If it’s going to remain baseball, that is.

North American Poker TourWill probably try to watch some more baseball this weekend. I’ll also be following the action at the NAPT Mohegan Sun event. They completed Day 2 yesterday, with Jordan “iMsoLucky0” Morgan ending the day with the most chips of the 125 players (of the original 716) remaining. Between innings, I’ll be clicking over to PokerNews and the PokerStars blog for updates. I will also check in over at ESPN’s Poker Club for Andrew Feldman’s reports, as well as Tao of Poker for Dr. Pauly’s “dispatches.”

Have a restful weekend, everybody. With no hurrying.

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Blogger bellatrix78 said...

I love the slow pace of baseball, the exact thing my friends hate. I caved in and spent the 100$ on the MLB.TV pass and so far have been enjoying the games while reading papers and even writing stuff. I can skip over commercials and catch up, can still score a game and listen to commentary all while reading a recent astro paper :) Best... sport... eva! :)

4/09/2010 11:23 AM  

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