Fixing Things
by Ken Arneson
2006-10-08 16:08

One of my best friends grew up in Michigan. If you ask him his favorite baseball team, he’ll say the Detroit Tigers. But the truth is, he pays about as much attention to baseball as my mother, who lives in Sweden; that is to say, he pretty much ignores the topic entirely.

This morning, however, he sent me this email:

Ken,

Can anyone on the A’s roster hit a 102 mph fastball? I think such a skill might come in handy in the near future.

“Uh-oh,” I thought. “This is not good.”

* * *

Those who do not follow sports often cannot fathom why those of us who do devote so much time and energy to it. My mother always thought my passion for sports would be something I’d grow out of. It hasn’t happened yet.

Paul Ford has a fabulous blog entry called Men standing around broken machines. It’s about the mysterious way that men communicate their feelings for each other through the act of fixing things:

For much of my life I was able to bring myself to an emotional boil by reading or writing. I used this as a kind of fuel and assured myself that in my agonies I was more intense than the person sitting next to me on the subway. But I have come to sympathize with those men who stood around saying little, who gathered around the open hoods of brown cars or around malfunctioning typewriters.

And today, over on Bronx Banter and Dodger Thoughts, the men are standing around their broken machines, trying to figure out what went wrong.

And here on Catfish Stew, the men ponder how to avoid the same sad fate, in the face of
102 mph fastballs, and a convoy of Michiganders heading into town.

* * *

It all sounds so noble, this cooperative effort to fix things. But we men aren’t quite such simple creatures. There’s a certain amount of competition within this cooperation, too. There’s a wonderful Darwinian balance between altruistic behavior that helps the group survive, and selfish behavior that increases the social status of the individual within the group.

You want your group to fix the car, but preferably when you find the solution. Men cooperate and compete with their friends at the same time.

* * *

When the A’s beat the Twins, I felt a huge burden lift. The A’s failures in the postseason was no longer a machine that needed to be fixed. I felt like I could simply sit back, and appreciate the beauty of playoff baseball. Whatever else happened would be gravy.

But now, the stakes have been raised. My buddy from Michigan has been given a potentially devastating weapon in our relationship. Should the Tigers happen to defeat the A’s in the ALCS, he will have permanent ammunition over me in any discussion we may have from this point forward.

We could be discussing foreign politics or operating systems or Battlestar Galactica, and I could rebut every point he makes with a brilliant counteranalysis, and all he’d have to do to win the argument is to play the “Yeah, but Detroit won the 2006 ALCS” card and I will be helpless to do anything but crawl back under my rock in meek submission.

And since he doesn’t really give a hoot about baseball, I can’t pull out the “1972 ALCS” card in response. Nor will I gain any advantage if the A’s win. If the Tigers lose, it won’t bother him in the slightest.

What was the subtitle of Moneyball? The art of winning an unfair game? This is an unfair game. I care about this ALCS, and he doesn’t. He can’t lose; I can’t win. My best case scenario in this particular game is a tie.

My feelings of pure altruism toward playoff baseball lasted about a day and a half. My competitive drive has returned. I need the A’s to beat the Tigers. How do we fix it so that happens?

Comments: 14
1.   Linkmeister
2006-10-08 16:35

1.  Sabotage?

2.   Vishal
2006-10-08 18:49

2.  i don't think that kind of fix is allowed. remember the black sox!

3.   Daniel Zappala
2006-10-08 18:57

3.  I don't think you need to fix anything. The Tigers have been the darlings of baseball for much of the season, but the A's, to the contrary of all predictions, have quietly kept winning. I won't be surprised at all if the A's win this series. They just seem to keep winning.

4.   FirstMohican
2006-10-08 19:25

4.  If they do and he says "Well, the Tigers beat the A's", just say "Well, you live in Detroit."

5.   Ken Arneson
2006-10-08 19:30

5.  4 That won't work, either. He doesn't live in Michigan anymore.

6.   Voxter
2006-10-08 21:20

6.  That blog entry from Paul Ford is a great example of why blogs are not evil. Thanks for pointing me to it.

7.   Bluebleeder87
2006-10-08 21:35

7.  great read Ken, truly enjoyed it.

8.   Bluebleeder87
2006-10-08 21:37

8.  6

agreed, i can quote a couple of things that truly hit home.

9.   Vishal
2006-10-09 09:46

9.  ask him if the womenfolk up there are called michigeese.

10.   standuptriple
2006-10-09 14:19

10.  Anybody have a clue about the start time on Wed? MLB/FOX is giving me TBD. WTF? How can I plan out an escape from work in <24hours notice? Come on Bud! Git 'er dun.

11.   Philip Michaels
2006-10-09 15:24

11.  10 5 p.m., says ESPN and the A's official Web site.

"I am an intimate object," says my Tivo. "Why are you asking me questions expecting a reply?"

Actually, my TiVo lists baseball at 5 p.m. for both Fox and F/X on Wednesday, meaning both games will be going simultaneously. Here's guessing in the Bay Area that the Mets and Cardinals will be banished to basic cable.

12.   Vishal
2006-10-09 18:27

12.  [11] what you do with your tivo is your business, but i hope you meant "inanimate" ;)

13.   Philip Michaels
2006-10-09 19:11

13.  12 Damn my feeble brain.

14.   Ghostof64
2006-10-10 14:20

14.  Racking the depths of what's left of my brains, it seems to me that the solution to the problem of slowing down the speed of Justin Verlander's fast balls relative to A's batters lies in Einstein's theory of special relativity. Now we just have to find a few clever engineers to work out the practical details.

Or else, A's batters will just have to find a way to slow down the pitches in their minds.

As for your friend, your come-back line obviously is "Well you've got winters".

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