IT’S ALL JUST ROUNDERS KNOCK-OFFS:

Can Cricket Recolonize America? (Oliver Wiseman, June 8, 2024, Free Press)


Tomorrow, New York’s Long Island suburbs will host a game expected to be viewed by twice as many people as the Super Bowl. Most Americans, however, don’t know the rules of the sport being played and would find it impossible to follow—unless they were watching with a very patient friend from England, or India, or Australia.

I am talking, of course, about cricket, and this Sunday’s clash between the fierce sporting—not to mention geopolitical—rivals, India and Pakistan. Ticket prices are approaching Taylor Swift levels, and when the first ball (that’s pitch in baseball speak) is bowled (thrown) at 10:30 a.m., half a billion people around the world are expected to tune in to watch it. […]


It was not always so. What most Americans don’t realize is cricket has real roots here. Benjamin Franklin himself brought a copy of the rules over to the colonies in 1754. Washington’s troops played pickup games of “wicket” at Valley Forge. Abraham Lincoln was a cricket fan. Central Park’s North Meadow was once a cricket pitch. And the first ever international cricket match was played between America and Canada right here in New York in 1844. The greatest sport known to man was once as American as apple pie!

Things went wrong around the time of the Civil War. According to one theory, young American men were too busy killing each other to futz around with the complicated preparations that cricket requires. Also, a traditional game can last up to five days. A pickup game of baseball was easier to squeeze in between battles. Enterprising baseball promoters took it from there, but it helped that in 1909, cricket was organized under a body called the Imperial Cricket Council, which allowed only countries that were part of the British Empire to participate. Give me liberty or give me cricket, in other words. The Americans chose liberty.

But these days, Americans can have both.

NO BOARD FOR OLD MEN:

Can Gukesh rule the world at 18? (Raymond Keene, 4/27/24, The Article)


Dommaraju Gukesh, born May 29 2006, has sensationally won the Candidates Tournament to decide the challenger for the world chess title, the match for which will be staged later this year. When Garry Kasparov, at the age of 22, won the championship in 1985, it was believed impossible for any younger player to supplant his record. Now, the prospect has arisen that a teenager may seize the world crown at the age of 18, the more so given the ongoing doubtful form of the incumbent, the Chinese World Champion Ding Liren.

THAT SHOULD READ “ANGELLS”

BASEBALL AND RUMORS OF ANGELS (George Weigel, 4 . 3 . 24, First Things)

Baseball is played on a field that is theoretically infinite. While the inner diamond is carefully calibrated in precise (some might say, divinely inspired) measurements—90 feet between bases, 60 feet 6 inches between pitching rubber and home plate—the foul lines and the outfield could, in principle, be extended forever: a possibility that came closest to realization in the vast center field of New York’s old Polo Grounds (which in turn gave birth to Hadley Arkes’s great historical mnemonic: “I can always remember when St. Augustine was born—it was 1,600 years before Willie Mays robbed Vic Wertz at the Polo Grounds”). Unlike a football gridiron, basketball court, or ice hockey rink, baseball is played in an environment that hints at infinity.

Then there is time. Before the advent of Manfred Man—the ghost runner who now mysteriously appears at second base in the tenth inning of a regular-season game—a baseball game was potentially endless: another signal of eternity embedded in empirical reality. Still, even with the aberration of Manfred Man and the new (and, I confess, welcome) pitch clock, the fact that a baseball game unfolds without a temporal countdown, unlike sports played within a fixed period of time, is another of Peter Berger’s rumors of angels: a quotidian experience that lifts us out of the humdrum of the here-and-now into a different, transcendent realm—a realm akin to the timelessness of heaven.

JUST DON’T CALL IT SYSTEMIC:

From the Warp and the Woof, We Rise: Reflecting on a lifelong relationship with something more than a game. (Jonathan Coleman, 3/21/24, Hedgehog Review)

And yet when I return to 1964, I return to Dick Allen, who became the National League’s Rookie of the Year for Philadelphia and yet was treated horribly by Phillies fans (and by one white teammate in particular, Frank Thomas, who provoked a fight with Allen, and whose trade from the team both the press and the fans blamed and castigated Allen for). He became the target of things thrown at him: fruit, ice, garbage, batteries. He faced racist taunts and boos so numerous and unrelenting that he became the first player in baseball to wear his batting helmet out in the field. At one point, he silently traced the word “BOO” in the dirt around his area of third base. It must never be forgotten that the Phillies were the last team in baseball to integrate.

Allen, who grew up in tiny Wampum, Pennsylvania, fascinated me. I read and heard he had been given a hard time in the fall of 1963 when he began in Little Rock. Once his rookie season started in Philadelphia, he said little—other than making it clear he did not want to be called “Richie,” which he considered patronizing. His given name was Richard, he pointed out, and he wanted to be viewed and treated like a man, not a little boy. About this he was not quiet, taking a public stand in what was becoming King’s America, one that rankled many and impressed itself on me.

PRINCIPLED UNCERTAINTY:

What Baseball Teaches Us: America’s pastime offers many lessons on the importance of truly understanding information—and adapting to evolutions in knowledge (CHARLES BLAHOUS, MAR 28, 2024, Discourse)

Baseball is often derided for its slower pace and sporadic activity by those who prefer that sports deliver more continuous action (like basketball), or that they more closely replicate physical combat (like American football).

The pleasures of baseball, by contrast, reside as much in the thinking that occurs between pitches as in observing the graceful physical action. It’s a sport for people who share Socrates’ distaste for the “unexamined life”—those who aspire to be fully aware of what is going on even as it’s going on. This requires sufficient pauses in the action for the mind to notice, to wander and to analyze. To those who would disdain these contemplative aspects, Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber had his answer: “Baseball is dull only to dull minds.” […]

What we can learn from the mathematics of baseball goes much deeper than what we can calculate. Baseball also teaches early lessons in uncertainty—that one lives in a world of unpredictable events, that good decisions can still lead to bad outcomes, and that one should not assign much importance to any single data point. The lessons are stamped all over the sport. The best team typically loses more than one-third of its games; the worst team typically wins more than one-third of its games. Even if a manager makes the absolute right decision, it might not work out. On any given swing, the worst hitter might hit the ball on the nose, whereas the best hitter might foul a ball straight back into the stands or miss entirely. On any given day you don’t know who on your team will get the most hits, but more often than not it won’t be the team’s biggest star.

Anyone whose suppositions about life are that we can control events, that bad outcomes prove bad decisions, and that past results govern future performance will be utterly unable to understand baseball. Even relative to other sports, baseball is relentless in teaching these lessons. Alabama’s college football team may crush one opponent after another, but no baseball team is ever so certain to win—not a game, not a series, not even a pennant race. Tendencies are proved over the long run, but any given day might produce a great surprise.

Appreciating life’s unpredictability can’t help but carry forward into one’s professional decision-making, relationships, investments and attitudes about public policy. It certainly has for me. Baseball teaches that while there are ways to maximize your chances of success, there will also always be factors outside your control, and you are better off thinking in terms of probabilities than predetermined outcomes.

THE MOMENTS ARE ETERNAL:


WHEN THE DODGERS MOVED TO LOS ANGELES (John Wilson, 3 . 22 . 24, First Things)

I was just about to turn ten at the start of the 1958 baseball season; my brother, Rick, was seven-and-a-half. We were baseball fans, excited that the fabled Dodgers were moving from storied Brooklyn to Los Angeles, about twenty-five miles east from Pomona, where we lived with our mother and grandmother. Little did we know that our primary connection to the Dodgers would be Vin Scully, one of the best broadcasters ever.

Soon I had a “transistor radio” in the shape of a baseball—a birthday gift, one of my most treasured possessions. Rick and I had bunk beds, and we would often listen to the Dodgers there. I began to think that when I grew up, I wanted to be like Vin Scully, calling baseball games. In fact, of course, I was in most respects utterly unsuited for the job (just as, several years later, when I read Len Deighton’s novel The IPCRESS File and decided that I wanted to be a spy, I was ludicrously deluded). But my delight in and admiration for Scully never waned.

When I was older, I would sometimes jot down scraps of Vinnie’s commentary on a 3 x 5 notecard. While calling a home-game between the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres on April 26, 1980, he was reminded of his boyhood in New York, which prompted him to recall the idiom “rush the growler”: to hustle with a tin bucket to a nearby saloon for beer.

During a May 18 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he described the formidable hitter Bill Madlock making “small circles with the bat from the right side.” Noting the Pirates’ lack of a rarely varying set lineup (such as was then usual for championship teams), Vinnie quoted manager Chuck Tanner, “smiling and waving his hands,” who said “I play ’em all.” In the same game, speaking of the Pirates’ pitcher Jim Bibby: “Bibby looks in to Ed Ott, shuffling his cards behind the plate.” A game against the Cincinnati Reds, in Cincy, on August 8, 1980, was being played in “fire-escape weather,” Vinnie said; “you can wring this night out.” Every game elicited such commentary, wonderfully fresh, never pretentious or self-important, never straining for effect, always giving the listener a vivid sense of the moment.

You can listen to a number of Vin Scully game calls on Librivox.

ABOVE AVERAGE IS OVER:

Google DeepMind’s new AI assistant helps elite soccer coaches get even better (Rhiannon Williams, March 19, 2024, MIT Technology Review)

TacticAI uses predictive and generative AI models to convert each corner kick scenario—such as a receiver successfully scoring a goal, or a rival defender intercepting the ball and returning it to their team—into a graph, and the data from each player into a node on the graph, before modeling the interactions between each node. The work was published in Nature Communications today.

Using this data, the model provides recommendations about where to position players during a corner to give them, for example, the best shot at scoring a goal, or the best combination of players to get up front. It can also try to predict the outcomes of a corner, including whether a shot will take place, or which player is most likely to touch the ball first.

The main benefit is that the AI assistant reduces the workload of the coaches, says Ondřej Hubáček, an analyst at the sports data firm Ematiq who specializes in predictive models, and who did not work on the project. “An AI system can go through the data quickly and point out errors a team is making—I think that’s the added value you can get from AI assistants,” he says.

To assess TacticAI’s suggestions, GoogleDeepMind presented them to five football experts: three data scientists, one video analyst, and one coaching assistant, all of whom work at Liverpool FC. Not only did these experts struggle to distinguish’s TacticAI’s suggestions from real game play scenarios, they also favored the system’s strategies over existing tactics 90% of the time.

ONE FOR MATTEO:

San Marino: ‘The ultimate dream’ – world’s worst national football team chase first win for 20 years (Harry Poole, 3/1/24, BBC Sport)


It is approaching 17 years since San Marino captain Matteo Vitaioli, the player with the most appearances in the country’s history, first represented his national team. He is yet to celebrate a victory.

Two decades and 136 games interspersed with crushing defeats and the odd near-miss have passed since San Marino, the world’s fifth-smallest country, recorded the only win in the team’s history.

“The worst memory was the match away to the Netherlands in 2011, which ended 11-0,” Vitaioli tells BBC Sport. “It was already eight or nine with a lot of time left and I remember the supporters cheering on the Netherlands to see more goals.”

Surrounded by Italy and overlooked by the spectacular Mount Titano, San Marino has a population of just 33,000 and covers a mere 61 square kilometres – roughly half the size of Manchester.

According to Fifa’s rankings, it is home to the world’s worst national football team – one which has lost 192 of the 201 fixtures it has contested.

But Vitaioli and his team-mates have the chance to write a new chapter for their country this week when Saint Kitts and Nevis – the Caribbean nation 63 places above 210th-ranked San Marino – visit for two friendly matches.

DEM BUMS:

The Last Of The Brooklyn Dodgers (Richard Staff, 2/19/24, Defector)

The team moved west 40 years before I was born, but I’m familiar with Brooklyn fan dedication through my grandfather, Duke. He’s 88 and still has a bedroom drawer full of Dodger cards; they have pinholes through them, from when he’d put the team’s depth chart on his cork board. To distract from the agony of the subpar Mets seasons he subjected me to—no reason to be more specific, here—he’d tell the story of listening to Bobby Thomson’s pennant-clinching home run from the Polo Grounds on his radio. Used to the sound of cheers being a good thing on the home Dodger broadcasts, his mother came into the room celebrating what she thought was another trip to the World Series for the Bums. Seven decades later, he remembers wanting to throw the radio to make that cheering stop.

“Our fans got attached to us players in a different way,” said Carl Erskine, the only surviving Dodger to take the field during the team’s 1955 World Series win. “Of course the players who perform well always have a good following. I wasn’t exactly a superstar, but I had people who identified with me. I had a fan club, a bunch of teenage girls who all wore number 17 with a president, a vice president, and so on.” The world has changed in many ways since then, but a mid-rotation starter having a fan club of his own has never been normal.

“Many years later,” Erskine continued, “I went back to a function in New York and all these grandmothers showed up to meet me at the card show. They were all the teenage fans from the club, just a little bit older now.” He laughed when he told the story. “I didn’t have any of them tell me they named their kids after me. But it could’ve happened.”

Legen has it that one of the few times in his life the Grandfather Judd from the (Sunday) sabbath was to go to a 1955 Dodgers World Series game.

TAKE A WALK:

The Tiger Tamer who pushed a wheelbarrow the length of Britain was the TikToker of Victorian times (Laura Smith, February 27, 2024, Sunday Post)


He was a circus showman, big cat tamer, seafarer and writer, but walking great distances with a wheelbarrow is what made Bob Carlisle a media sensation in the late-1800s.

Edinburgh-born Bob sparked a short-lived but frenzied obsession with wheelbarrow endurance walking after he pushed a wooden wheelbarrow from John O’Groats to Land’s End and back in 1879.

The Scottish adventurer would give today’s top social media influencers a run for their money, says historian and History Extra content producer Dr Dave Musgrove.

Thanks to his clever self-promotion tactics, newspapers covered Bob’s progress as he walked 30 to 40 miles a day and crowds flocked to see him along his route.

More the Forrest Gump.