Month: July 2020
This Petty Pace
by Ken Arneson
2020-07-31 23:30
She should have died hereafter;

Today on Facebook, an old classmate from Sweden messaged me to say that next year, they’re planning a 40th reunion for the school I went to. He was going to send me an invitation soon.

I suppose one should be glad to be alive for the 40th reunion of anything. Some of my classmates didn’t make it this far. And the way the coronavirus has been rampaging both through Sweden and the USA, some of us still might not make it to the reunion next year.

There would have been a time for such a word.

Holy cow, it’s been almost 40 years since I, as a 15-year-old, decided to leave Sweden and move back to America.

What would my life be like right now if I hadn’t made that decision? Are we destined for the same fate, no matter where we are? Would the alternate Swedish version of me have a house, and a wife, and three kids? Would I be spending today chatting with old friends on Facebook about our school reunion, and then watching an A’s game streaming over the Internet?

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

I might not be in America at all if not for one particular day in PE class in that school, when our teacher decided to give a speech about our future. I might have just stayed where I was, letting one day after another roll by, if that PE teacher hadn’t, for some reason, chosen me to use as an example for his story. He pictured me living in a nice Swedish apartment, with a nice steady job, and a beautiful summer cottage, where I’d spend my glorious five weeks of summer vacation relaxing on a small boat on a lake.

I felt the weight of all those days to come. “A boat? A lake? Is that my aim in life? Is that my future? That’s not what I want! Give me instead the American dream! I want to fight, strive, battle, conquer, win!”

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

The American Dream is about playing in the seventh game of the World Series, about having the fate of everything in your hands, about being ready for that moment, and succeeding. But the reality is, most of the time in most of our lives, we’re the playing in the seventh game of the regular season, an ordinary road game in an ordinary season against an ordinary opponent.

Most of the time, our lives are a 5-3 loss in an empty stadium in Seattle. Maybe our pitcher is Sean Manaea, who might have some good moments at first, throwing his fastball 91-92mph, but then just sort of runs out of gas, and the fastball slows to 88-89mph, and he tries to trick people into believing he’s a hero, but the deception doesn’t work. And maybe we don’t give up. Maybe we keep grinding through the game, and maybe we make a comeback, of sorts, turning a 5-0 deficit to 5-3. But it’s not enough.

To the last syllable of recorded time,

This is the beauty of baseball. It captures the American Dream better than any other American art form. It holds the carrot of triumph out in front of us, making sure it always remains a slight possibility, while actually subjecting us to an insanely long sequence of one small indignity after another, until the dream is eliminated.

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

So who made the better choice? The people who stayed behind, the people who chose the standard-issue minor accomplishment, the nice job and the nice home and the nice relaxing five week vacation with the boat on the lake? Or the person who rejected that life for the small chance of some bigger glory but usually came up short?

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Seven games go by, 162 games go by, 40 years go by, and we both end up in the same place.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

I told my friend who invited me to the reunion that I hoped I could make it, but that right now, we Americans aren’t allowed to travel to other countries.

Not because the US Government won’t let us go, but because nobody else will let us in. Because we suck.

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

Rumor has it that several members of the Miami Marlins, while playing an exhibition game in Atlanta, Georgia, went out at night, partied a bit, and visited some bars, Which the MLB rules of pandemic baseball didn’t exactly expressly prohibit doing, and the State of Georgia didn’t exactly expressly discourage. Which led to them contracting COVID-19. Which led to an outbreak on the team.

And rumor has it that some member of the St. Louis Cardinals traveling party visited a casino at some point. Which led to them contracting COVID-19. Which led to an outbreak on the team.

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Did the player visiting the bar meet his dream girl? Did the person visiting the casino win a bunch of money? This is the untold story.

The told story: a bunch of baseball games have been cancelled. The cancellation of this entire baseball season is now a real possibility.

It is hard to believe that MLB would do that. It is easier to believe MLB will muddle through and try to make it work somehow.

The story of America is that Americans can, will, and do suffer a lot of indignities. We will suffer children being shot down by machine guns in our schools. We will suffer Black men being choked slowly to death by indifferent police officers. We will suffer 4,000,000 citizens getting sick of a preventable disease. We will suffer 200,000 American people dying of that disease, for no good reason.

But the one thing we will not suffer in America is the loss of our carrot, the loss of the possibility of triumph, the loss of the dream of success. If that disappears, the idea of America falls apart. If that disappears, America becomes Sweden. If that disappears, America goes mad.

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

The more impossible the American dream becomes, the stronger and more loudly we cling to it, even though our choices make no sense, like opening bars in a pandemic, and then going to them, like opening casinos in a pandemic, and then going to them, like opening schools in a pandemic, and sending our children and teachers into enclosed hallways and classrooms, like going all around the country, traveling in cars, and buses, and planes, and entering elevators, and hotels, and locker rooms, and ballparks, in order to play a game of baseball in order to keep the dream of victory alive whatever the cost.

Signifying nothing.
by Ken Arneson
2020-07-29 23:30

I have Donald Trump’s Twitter account blocked, muted, hidden, buried and shielded every which way Twitter’s technology allows. Normally, this makeshift force field is enough to prevent the accidental destruction of brain cells that results from directly reading whatever nonsense he is spewing that day. I usually only get exposed to second- or third-hand Trump radiation, not the pure poison itself. This morning, however, my force field failed.

WARNING: Dangerous Trump radiation ahead.

Please apply all appropriate personal protective equipment.

This morning, he wrote this: “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood…”

Trump using the power of his office to spew barely hidden racial dogwhistles is par for the course now. But this one stings in particular because my suburb, Alameda, is embroiled in exactly that sort of argument. We have a provision in our city charter, Article 26 (a/k/a Measure A), enacted in 1973, which prohibits the construction of multi-family apartment buildings. The city council voted 4-1 to place this article up on the ballot for repeal this November.

I’m convinced this article exists in order to keep Black and Brown people from Oakland from moving into Alameda. Nobody admits that, of course. Nobody wants to be labeled a racist. They use other arguments so that they can plausibly deny that their motivations are racist. They say it’s about preserving our architectural heritage and neighborhood character and crime and traffic and such things.

There may have been a time I would have believe these arguments were sincere, and given those people the benefit of the doubt. But after four years of a President tweeting non-stop plausibly deniable racist bullshit exactly of this ilk, I no longer accept those arguments, even if they are sincere. Plausible deniability isn’t good enough anymore. The burden is on the people in power to prove that not only is this not racist, but that it is anti-racist, that it actually improves racial relations. Otherwise, you’re just joining with Trump in keeping the powerful in power, and the powerless without power.

The one person on the Alameda City Council who voted against placing the Measure A ballot, Tony Daysog, is a friend of mine. We went to high school and college together. Obviously, I disagree with his position on Measure A, which he supports. So when Trump wrote this tweet today, I was compelled to write to him about it.

Anyway, to make an already long story not any longer, I spent my mental writing energy today in an email exchange with a local politician, instead of trying to write something brilliantly clever for today’s blog post.

Sorry about that, Catfish Stew fans. That’s what 2020 is like. We’re trying to play and watch and discuss baseball, but there’s a pandemic to fight, and racism to fight, and housing shortages, and climate change, and whatever dramas are happening in our personal lives, and God only knows what tomorrow will bring. We all have to pick our battles, one day at a time. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to fight, so we save it for another day. Sometimes, like today, we choose to spend our energy fighting a likely hopeless and futile cause, because fighting and losing feels better than not fighting and saving our breath. Sometimes, we have the power to give voice to the powerless, and sometimes we’re the powerless ourselves. Sometimes we have the time to care about the drama of a baseball game on TV, and sometimes it feels like the least important thing in the world.

I did watch the A’s game today. The A’s lost to the Rockies, 5-1. There was an infuriating non-reversal of a replay call the kept an A’s run off the board. There were defensive near misses–plays that, if made, that could have turned the game around.

Blah blah blah. A bunch of little things went wrong. But those little things are little. The big thing is this: the A’s just aren’t hitting. More specifically, they aren’t hitting with power.

In the last two years, the A’s have hit home runs about once every 26 plate appearances. They’ve hit doubles about once every 20 plate appearances. Those big hits for power are where much of the A’s run scoring has come from in this generation.

But this year so far, the A’s have been mostly powerless. They’ve only homered once per 43 plate appearances. And worse, they’ve only doubled once per 54 plate appearances. The A’s slugged .439 in 2018, and .448 last year. They’re slugging .319 this year. They’re offense is all walks and singles, and with that kind of offense, it’s hard to put up any big innings that can sew up easy victories for you. Instead, every game becomes a grind. Their pitching has been pretty good, and that’s kept them in games enough to win some of them.

So the A’s have been a mixed bag. Their 3-3 record is accurate measure of their performance. It would be weird, at this point, with that kind of hitting, if the A’s were above .500 right now. The powerless usually don’t win most of their battles.

One Day in Summer
by Ken Arneson
2020-07-28 23:30

There was a birthday in the house today
which was celebrated promptly at midnight
with song
and candles
on some homemade cupcakes
which is a thing you do
when the kids are older
and they go to bed whenever
and the time of day
has lost all meaning
because it’s summer vacation
in a pandemic

and there was a pseudobrawl today
when a Dodgers pitcher headhunted
a couple Astros batters
which is a thing you do
when the Astros cheated you
out of a championship
three years ago
and you’re not allowed to fight
and it’s a warm summer evening
in a pandemic

and there was Dave Stewart on TV today
appearing on the A’s pregame show
appearing on the A’s postgame show
which is a thing you do
when your mom taught you to show up
when people are relying on you
even though his mother
who was 92 years old
passed away yesterday
on a sad summer day
in a pandemic

and there was a boring ballgame
at the Coliseum today
where the A’s used none of their best pitchers
which is a thing you do
when you overused those pitchers
to win a tough series against a rival
and so you hope your slumping batters
can come alive for one day
and slug you to an unlikely victory
but Khris Davis still isn’t Khris Davis
and you strand a bunch of runners
and you never really threaten the lead
and you kind of just go through the motions
and you lose 8-3
on a cool summer evening
in a pandemic

by Ken Arneson
2020-07-27 23:30

I awoke this morning to the news that fourteen players and staff in the Miami Marlins organization had tested positive for COVID-19.

Oh, hell.

This was the inevitable trouble everybody hoped they could avoid confronting. But there’s no avoiding it now. You have to stare the trouble straight in the eye.

Maybe the outbreak is limited to just the Marlins, and everyone else can work around it. Or maybe this is all a terrible idea, and the season should be cancelled. I don’t know.

But with only one team currently affected, I kind of doubt MLB will just give up and cancel the season. I explained on Twitter what I thought would happen instead:

The NL/AL East pseudo-bubble, being compromised, will be shut down for a week or so and reset until tests clear. The Central and West pseudo-bubbles will keep going. Playoffs will be awarded on winning percentages.

I like that word, by the way: “pseudo-bubble”. But does it really need the hyphen? Nah. Pseudobubble! Pseudobubble, pseudobubble, pseudobubble.

There are three pseudobubbles in MLB this year, because the AL/NL East teams only play each other, the AL/NL Central teams only play each other, and the AL/NL West teams also form a closed circuit.

MLB has pseudobubbles because they are implementing their restart unlike the other American sports leagues that have relaunched. NWSL, MLS, WNBA, NBA and NHL are playing inside true bubbles, where nobody can move between inside and outside the bubble without strict protocols.

MLB only has a bubble when they’re on the road: they go from plane to hotel to ballpark, and don’t interact with anyone outside their bubble while traveling. When they’re not traveling, however, they live in their own homes, where other members of their households can interact with the general public, and potentially bring a team member in contact with the virus.

The pseudo part of the bubble is where it seems inevitable that the MLB protocols will eventually fail. Some player will catch the virus from who knows where, and before the testing can detect the problem, it has spread to half the team. (See: Marlins, Miami, above.) And if, in turn, that one team spreads it to an opposing team, then the whole season just might fall apart.

The A’s are not in the same pseudobubble as the Marlins, so the A’s-Angels game proceeded as scheduled.

The A’s won the game, 3-0. It was a fairly unremarkable victory, as ballgames go. There were a few nice plays. Matt Chapman fielded a grounder at third and threw out a runner at home to prevent a run. That was followed by nifty 1-2-3 double play started by Chris Bassitt. Almost the entirety of the excitement in the game came in the last at-bat, when Mike Trout came up as the tying run with two outs in the ninth. Joakim Soria struck Trout out with a fastball on the top of the zone that the umpire called strike three. Trout did not agree, and protested as vehemently as Mike Trout protests, which is to say some, but I’ve seen a lot worse.

The most memorable part of the game was not found in play-by-play. What was notable was the effect the Marlins news had on the players. A lot more players were wearing masks during the game. Matt Olson put one on anytime he was holding a runner on first. A lot of baserunners put on their masks when they reached base, too.

Getting the MLB season launched was a difficult accomplishment, and there was a danger that players might become overconfident with the protocols they set up, and let their behavior get lax. The Marlins news, if it does not bring down the whole season, is a sobering reminder of how fragile these protocols are. If the players don’t comprehend exactly how pseudo their bubble is, at any moment the whole thing could pop.

The Threshold of Human Perception
by Ken Arneson
2020-07-26 23:30

One of the beautiful things about baseball is the randomness of it. Differences in skill don’t become obvious after one game, or ten, or maybe even a hundred. Anyone can have a good game, or a bad one. The significance of an individual game isn’t quite visible to human perception.

Looking into the pitching matchups going into this A’s-Angels series, I would have figured the A’s to beat Dylan Bundy, but lose to Shohei Ohtani. Of course, baseball is baseball, and precisely the opposite happened. Bundy was dominant, while Ohtani couldn’t retire a single batter.

Ohtani was pitching for the first time since returning from Tommy John surgery. It was obvious he wasn’t anywhere near his old form. His fastball was about 5mph slower than before the surgery. Worse, he couldn’t locate the pitch where he wanted to, either. He gave up some hits, and some walks, and before you know it, Ohtani had thrown 30 pitches, retired nobody, and given up five runs.

The Angels mounted a comeback, thanks to the greatest player in the game, Mike Trout, who destroyed a 3-0 fastball from Mike Fiers to cut the lead to 5-3. And speaking of unpredictability, this was the first 3-0 pitch that Trout had swung at since 2016. It was a terrible pitch by Fiers, but he probably wasn’t expecting Trout to swing at all, given his history. If that data on Trout’s tendencies didn’t exist, Fiers probably wouldn’t have grooved that pitch.

Mike Trout is the greatest player of this generation. He might end up being the greatest player of all time. But like baseball itself, his greatness is subtle. You may not notice it if you just watch a game or two. Trout is not flashy, at all. He doesn’t have a body chiseled like a statue by Michaelangelo. His swing is not an aesthetically pleasing work of art. He’s just solidly, unrelentingly, consistently difficult to pitch to. When you add up his numbers, day after day, year after year, he always comes out on top.

If the beauty and mystery of baseball lies in its ability to operate just below the threshold of human perception, the Moneyball movement was all about removing that mystery. The numbers tell a story that human eyes can’t see. They allow us perceive those inperceivable elements of the game, help us transcend our human limitations, and triumph.

It takes a leap of faith to believe in something that you can’t really see. At first, the old guard resisted the new information, railing against the “nerds” who wanted to “ruin” their game. In the end, though, Moneyball became the standard practice. Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

I went out on a bike ride today. For some reason, someone had found it necessary to write the following in chalk on the bike path:

coronavirus isn't real

It’s easy to draw the parallel here, that much of what is going on in America right now is formed from a similar resistance by human beings to believe in the existence of things that operate just below the threshold of perception, that only show up in the statistics.

If you’re not an African-American, you likely haven’t been on the receiving end of repeated and persistent distrust, haven’t been followed by security guards in a store, been pulled over while driving a car without cause, been beaten for no reason at all. They aren’t personal experiences to you. They’re just statistics. It takes a leap of faith to believe them.

If you don’t personally know anyone who has been sick, the dangers of COVID-19 aren’t visible, either. They’re just numbers in a sea of numbers. 4,000,000 infected and 150,000 dead, but you don’t know any of them. 10x deadlier than the flu, and 2.5x more contagious, but how do you find horror in a mere handful of digits. A mask can cut your risk of catching the disease by 60%, and the risk of spreading it by 90%, but if you’ve experienced zero, 90% of zero is still zero. Can you believe these mysterious numbers enough to take social distancing seriously, enough to wear a mask in public?

Human beings often have a hard time believing things until those things become visible with their own eyes. They think “corona virus is not real”, until someone they personally know gets sick with the disease. They think racial discrimination is an exaggeration, until they see undeniable evidence of the cruelty of racial violence, such as George Floyd being choked to death for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

We baseball fans like to think that baseball, via Moneyball, now has the kind of culture that believes what the numbers tell us, without always being able to grasp with our own eyes what the numbers are telling us.

And yet here we are — here I am — watching baseball through a pandemic and racial unrest, thinking and hoping that it will work out all right, refusing to stare directly at the statistical unlikelihood that the endeavor will succeed, plowing forward instead with the good old status quo until inevitably presented with the unwanted, undeniable evidence to the contrary which falls within the threshold of human perception.

by Ken Arneson
2020-07-25 23:30

In our last exciting episode, we talked about how Matt Olson had envisioned a situation in his head. He imagined what he would do in that situation. The situation he envisioned happened. He did exactly what he imagined he would do. Everyone lived happily ever after.

It doesn’t always work out that way.

Before deciding to revive this blog to chronicle the unusual 2020 baseball season, my first idea was to dip my toes into podcasting. I had an idea that might make for an interesting format for a podcast. So in connection with the first A’s exhibition game on Tuesday against the Giants, I gave the format a rehearsal.

There’s a difference between envisioning something when you’re an expert, and envisioning something when you’re an amateur. An expert knows all the nuts and bolts from Point A to Point Z. When they envision a solution to something, their solution includes and accounts for all those nuts and bolts. When you envision a solution as an amateur, not only do you not account for all those nuts and bolts, you’re not even aware that those nuts and bolts exist.

All of which is to say, until Wednesday, I didn’t even know how little I knew about the process of editing a podcast.

Later that Wednesday, Baseball Prospectus held a roundtable discussion on Zoom about the upcoming season. It was an interesting discussion, but after spending half the day beforehand listening to and editing my own voice, I couldn’t help but feel like I was listening to a podcast being played at 1.5x speed. Everybody was talking so fast!

Of course, they were probably all just speaking at a normal speed for human beings. I’m the weird one whose everyday speech sounds like you’re listening to a podcast at 0.75x speed.

It was then I realized that even if the podcast idea was good in general, editing a podcast with me as the host would take more effort and time than I want to put into this. Information received, lesson learned, plans adjusted, blog launched.

When it comes to a pandemic, all of us are amateurs to some extent. None of us have done this before. Epidemiologists have thought about it the most, of course, but there are specifics about this particular virus that even they couldn’t have planned for. There’s going to be some learning on the fly, some adapting to do. The question is, how well and quickly do we learn and adapt to the new information that comes in?

The A’s lost to the Angels today, 4-1. And part of the reason the A’s lost is because they had never started a season with only three weeks of training leading up to it.

Sean Manaea started the game for the A’s, and he was perfect through the first three innings. His fastball was sitting at 89-90mph, and he was locating his pitches well.

Manaea gave up a solo homer to Justin Upton in the fourth inning. Then everything fell apart in the fifth. His fastball suddenly dropped a few mph in velocity, so that it was now 86-87mph. Manaea quickly went from unhittable to very hittable, and the next thing you knew, the A’s trailed by four runs.

Frankie Montas seemed to fall apart very quickly after about four innings the game before, as well. So perhaps there’s a lesson for Bob Melvin to learn and adapt to: in a season like this, he needs to have a quicker hook for his starting pitchers at the first sign of fatigue.

Meanwhile, Jesús Luzardo came on in relief and pitched three superlative innings. He looked ready for the rotation as much as anybody. Provided, of course, that Melvin is ready with the quick fatigue hook.

In a normal baseball season, in a normal year, an A’s loss would leave me feeling a little bit grumpy for the rest of the day.

To be honest, that same feeling crept into my head today. But at the same time, the pandemic is never very far from my consciousness. Being grumpy about my favorite team losing a ballgame was always a bit self-indulgent in any era. But today, recognizing in myself such a moment of grumpiness, quickly turned into a moment of guilt.

This season, being grumpy about the results of a baseball game is not just self-indulgent, but immoral. You have to have some perspective about all this. If that’s how I’m going to react to a baseball game, what the hell am I even doing? Why am I doing this? Why is anybody doing this?

I don’t know. I don’t even know what I don’t know. I’m just an ignorant amateur, among many ignorant amateurs, making up stuff on the fly, seeing what happens, hoping it works.

Hello, Is This Thing On?
by Ken Arneson
2020-07-24 23:30

When I wrote the Catfish Stew blog on the Baseball Toaster network from 2005-2009, it was at the peak of both blogging and of Moneyball. It seemed like every serious baseball analyst out there, A’s fan or not, would dissect anything and everything the A’s did from a statistical point of view.

I wanted Catfish Stew, and Baseball Toaster, to be different. The Toaster was about analyzing baseball, yes, but it was also about placing baseball in a human context, about how what was happening on the field connected to our lives, and to the greater world around us. It was about the emotions we feel as baseball fans as we watch the seasons unfold.

So for Catfish Stew specifically, I wanted to be the un-Moneyball A’s blog. That’s not to say the aim was to oppose Moneyball. Instead, it was to understand it, and the effects it had not just on the results on the field, but in the emotional lives of its fans. My goal was to chronicle what it felt like to be an A’s fan.

I stopped blogging about the A’s for many reasons, but among them was that I felt like I had said everything I wanted to say. One season became another became another. One emotion became another became another. I started to repeat myself.

There’s little about the year 2020, however, that is repetitive. And anything that isn’t is remarkable because this year, normal has become unusual.

Therefore, this season, there might be something new to say. So let’s plug in this toaster, and see if there’s anything worth cooking.

For the Oakland A’s, the 2020 regular season began on Friday, July 24, at home against the Los Angeles Angels.

***breaks fourth wall*** When I typed that last sentence, I just stared at it for like five minutes. I got angry just looking at it. I got angry at myself for typing it.

It’s a sentence that is both factual, and completely devoid of any context whatsoever. It’s a sentence that says absolutely nothing about the feelings a normal human being ought to have in this year like no other. It’s a sentence that captures nothing of the anger and sadness and outrage and despair that I feel about what is happening in the world around us. It a sentence that doesn’t even capture the bizarreness of a baseball game being played in a stadium completely empty of fans.

This isn’t a regular season. This is an abomination of a season, in an abomination of a year.

There are so many things more important than baseball right now: the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, the creeping and expanding American fascism, continuing climate change, and the upcoming election.

MLB tried to acknowledge that context in the pre-game ceremony before the game. They had a moment of silence for people that had died. They took a knee to acknowledge Black Lives Matter. Some players on the Angels stayed on a knee during the national anthem. No A’s players did, although two, Khris Davis and Tony Kemp, raised their fists.

I’m glad they acknowledged the context. It would have been wrong if they didn’t. But acknowledgement is not a resolution.

I don’t know if they should be playing baseball right now. But I do know it still feels uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable about enjoying the game. I feel guilty about wanting to write about it.

But the paradox of this pandemic is that while the scale of it is massive and affects everyone, most of use can contribute the most by staying home and doing nothing. It’s hard to do nothing.

Maybe baseball players feel like they can help, just a little, by doing what they do best, by giving people something to do at home to pass the time. And similarly, maybe I feel like I can help, just a little, by doing what I (used to be) good at, too.

Or maybe that’s just grasping at straws. None of us has any experience at this. We’re all just winging it as we go along.

The game started with Frankie Montas on the mound for the A’s. He seemed a bit amped up. His fastball was moving like crazy, and he was having trouble keeping the ball in the strike zone. He walked some guys. So Montas did what you’re supposed to do when that happens, he tried to throw some breaking pitches instead.

Three times that inning, Frankie Montas threw a slider that the strike zone superimposed on the screen indicated was a strike. All three times, the umpire called it a ball. The third time this happened, I yelled at my screen, “OH COME ON!”

I’m watching baseball in the middle of a global pandemic, and barely five minutes into it, I’m angry and yelling at the umpire.

Such a normal thing, in normal times. It’s not normal times. There are so many other things I should be upset about before being upset about an umpire who can’t recognize a slider properly.

But I’m a human being. And lately, there’s been a lot of evidence coming to light that human beings are idiots.

In the ninth inning, Liam Hendriks was on to try to save a 3-2 lead for the A’s. He threw a slider to Jason Castro that many other umpires would have called strike three. This umpire did not. Two pitches later, Castro hit a fastball for a home run that tied the game. The game went to extra innings.

Because of the shortened nature of the 2020 baseball season, and the limited number of players available to play during the pandemic, MLB decided to minimize the number of long, extra-inning games by starting each extra inning with a runner on second. This was the first MLB game ever played under these new rules.

So the top of the 10th began with Shohei Ohtani, who had made the last out of the ninth inning for the Angels, placed on second base. Jared Walsh led off the inning by hitting a sharp grounder to A’s first baseman Matt Olson, who scooped the ball and quickly whirled and threw the ball to Matt Chapman at third base. In most game situations, a first baseman would take a grounder like that and get the safe out at first base. Olson decided otherwise, and Ohtani was caught in a rundown, and tagged out. This effectively killed the gifted rally for the Angels, and they did not score.

In the bottom of the inning, Marcus Semien was placed on second to begin the inning. Ramon Laureano was hit by a pitch, and after Chapman struck out, Davis drew a walk to load the bases. This brought up Olson with the bases loaded and one out.

Olson bats left-handed, so Angels manager Joe Maddon brought in a lefty pitcher named Hoby Milner to face Olson. Olson is an extreme fly ball hitter, so much so that some teams have deployed four outfielders against him instead of the usual three. But that strategy would be useless in this case. A fly ball by Olson here would probably result in a sacrifice fly that would win the game. The Angels needed a ground ball double play, and so Madden actually did the opposite, moving an outfielder to the infield, resulting in five infielders and only two outfielders.

Madden’s strategy did not work. Olson did not hit a ground ball. He did what he does best, and hit Milner’s first pitch in the air, deep into right field. So deep, in fact, that it went over the fence for a walkoff grand slam home run. The A’s had won the game, 7-3.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. That felt sweet.

After the game, Olson was interviewed about both the defensive play he made to throw out Ohtani, and about the game winning grand slam.

Regarding the Ohtani play, Olson said that he and Matt Chapman had been discussing that specific play, a runner on second with no outs in a close game, for a couple years now. They discussed it again because of the new rules. When the ball was hit directly to him, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

On the grand slam, Olson said that he didn’t know much about Milner, so he had watched a lot of video of him, and learned that he liked to get ahead in the count by throwing sliders. He decided to go into the at-bat sitting on a slider on the first pitch, and that was exactly what he got. The rest was history.

Imagine this: a completely new and novel situations arises. Then imagine that there’s a person in a position of responsibility who had studied and thought through in advance exactly what he should do in such a new and novel situation. And imagine that this person then simply executes on his plan, and that success ensues.

What a concept. In a world full of unstable idiots who just cockily wing it in the moment, a person who is thoughtful and prepared can end up looking like a genius.

For the Oakland A’s, the 2020 regular season began on Friday, July 24, at home against the Los Angeles Angels. The A’s won the game, 7-3, in 10 innings.

Perhaps that fact is distastefully decadent and frivolous. Perhaps we should feel ashamed to have enjoyed it.

Or perhaps, a man like Matt Olson is exactly what the world needs right now.

Catfish Stew Reanimation
by Ken Arneson
2020-07-23 16:28

Since this MLB season is going to be so short, I decided I would take the time to blog about the A’s again. 60 games is a much smaller commitment than 162 games.

I don’t know if there’s anyone following this blog that doesn’t already follow me on Twitter, but if so, here is the link to the 2020 Special Edition Catfish Stew blog.

This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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