Category: Sports
Launching a Redesign
by Ken Arneson
2021-01-28 0:24

Some changes to this site to announce:

1. I have imported all the blog entries from my 2020 baseball blogging adventure over on Catfish Stew into this blog, so all my writing is in one place.

2. I took the revamped HTML/CSS I did for that Toaster relaunch, and turned it into a WordPress theme, so I could use it on this blog, too. So my blog has been redesigned with a new, yet old, look and feel. Hopefully, I didn’t break too much on this website in the process. If you notice anything broken, please let me know!

The End
by Ken Arneson
2020-10-08 23:30

The Oakland A’s 2020 season ended on October 8, with a 11-6 game loss, and a 3-1 series loss, to the Houston Astros in the AL Division Series.

Pop Flies
by Ken Arneson
2020-10-07 23:30

Winning a championship in baseball requires a certain amount of luck, perhaps more luck than in any other major sport. If Chad Pinder doesn’t hit a fly ball to the opposite field at just the right height and angle and direction, under just the right atmospheric conditions, that turns pop flies into 3-run homers instead of fly outs, and the A’s probably lose Game 3 of the AL Division series, instead of beating the Houston Astros 9-7, and I’m probably here writing an essay wrapping up the baseball season, instead of getting ready to watch Game 4 the following day.

The A’s were trailing 7-4 at the time of Pinder’s home run, and it certainly looked like the A’s season was reaching its end. After yesterday’s essay, in which I try to talk myself into a better attitude, I felt like, at that point, I was successfully avoiding both anger and despair, and had reached a level of calm acceptance.

The interesting thing when Pinder hit that home run, for me, was that I didn’t have a “YES! WOOHOO!” type of reaction. Instead, what I think I felt in that moment was gratitude. When that game got tied 7-7, I felt thankful for an extension of hopefulness, however short it may turn out to be. I had never thought of it before, but it makes sense that in fight-or-flight mode, your emotions range between anger and despair, but outside that mode, your emotions range between acceptance and gratefulness.

That’s not to say I didn’t relapse into a fight-or-flight mentality, however. When Kyle Tucker reached base on catcher’s interference in the 8th inning to put two runners on with no outs, after the A’s had just took a 9-7 lead in the top of the inning with a couple of sacrifice flies, I fell into both a bit of anger and despair at the same time, an outrage that the gods of baseball would see fit to once again bring A’s fans so close to making our hopes become reality, only to yank it away from us at the last minute. So I’m trying to adopt the right attitude, but obviously, I’m not a master of this mental technique.

However, Liam Hendriks did manage to close out both the inning and the game without any further damage. I was able to return to the feeling of gratefulness for the memory of this game on this day, and the opportunity to play again the following day.

The Vice Presidential debate was later in the evening. I watched some of it. When you’re in the lead like Biden/Harris are in the polls, all you want from the VP debate is no major screw ups. Harris avoided any major screw ups. In fact, the major popular meme that arose from the debate immediately was a fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head, and sat there for a good two minutes before flying away. If you’re leading, and that’s the kind of thing people are talking about afterwards, that’s a victory.

I think I was able to watch the debate without falling into fight-or-flight mode. Part of that is Pence, who in constrast to Trump is so exceedingly bland that he can say almost the same things as Trump and you barely notice what he said, and a fly that lands on his head while he’s talking becomes more popular than he is. So I’m not going to take too much credit for my own change in attitude for that. I’m sure at this point, I still could not listen to Trump for any length of time without a visceral reaction of disgust and contempt for the guy, which would throw me into fight-or-flight mode again. I still very much want to fight the guy, I want to see him lose in the most humiliating way possible, and have no willingness to forgive him for his many sins against democracy, humanity, and our country.

But that’s today. Maybe tomorrow, we can all get better. I’m grateful for the opportunity.

by Ken Arneson
2020-10-06 23:30

I’ve you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I have, for the last two entries, been very angry. Anger is not rational. It’s an emotion, the fight in “fight or flight”, designed by nature to get you to be willing to risk harm to yourself to address a threat. And because it’s not rational, because it makes you tolerate far more risk than normal, when you are angry, you don’t think clearly. Your risk assessment becomes inaccurate, and hence the decisions you make become suboptimal.

The fight or flight response is part of human nature, but it’s not exclusive to humans. More accurately, the fight or flight response is part of animal nature, and we are animals. An animal who faces a threat, who is backed into a corner, has two instinctive choices: to fight, or to flee. In humans, “fight or flight” means those things literally, to either resort to violence or to physically run away, but it can extend beyond those options. Humans who fight can shout, yell, insult, sabotage, tell lies, argue. Humans who flee can ignore, disengage, deny, distract.

But human beings are not just any old animal, not purely driven by animal instincts. We possess a trait that animals do not, a concept we call “transcendence.”

Cynical people do not believe in transcendence. They see the world as purely a Darwinian struggle, a battle of the fittest, a contest to see who will fight and who will flee, and if life has any purpose to it, that purpose is to be strong enough to win any fight that comes along.

I am not cynical, or at least, I try not to be. I believe in transcendence. I believe we humans possess the possibility to find a third way out, a choice other than fighting or fleeing, a choice that does not result in a sorting between winners and losers, a choice that makes winners of us all, even the meekest among us who would have to flee at any threat.

To me, as a Christian, that transcendence of our animal natures is embodied in the image of Jesus on the cross. That image, the most ubiquitous symbol in human culture, exists to guide us beyond the dichotomy of fight or flight, Because the thing that directs the fight or flight response is fear, and fear arises out of vulnerability, or specifically, a rejection of vulnerability.

God is not vulnerable. So that is why that image of Jesus, the Son of God, being tortured to death is so important. Jesus willingness to go to the cross tells us that the very most important thing we can do as human beings is to accept, rather than reject, our vulnerability. Because if you don’t accept your vulnerability, you are trapped into the choices of fight or flight. But if you accept that vulnerability, all sorts of other options open up to you. You can transcend cynicism, transcend fight or flight, transcend the Darwinian sorting into winners and losers, and find a way to lift even the meekest among us into inheriting their fair share of the earth.

So when I say I’ve been angry lately, that’s also saying I’ve been a bad Christian lately. When you’re angry, it is a sign that something that is making you feel vulnerable, that you have rejected that vulnerability, and that you have chosen “fight” in the choice between fight or flight. It’s a sign that you have narrowed your options, that you are closing the door on win-win scenarios, ensuring that someone, if not everyone, will lose.

One of the things that is making me angry, of course, is that our country’s leader is probably the single most cynical person in the world. But it’s more than that: my anger arises from his supporters who call themselves Christians, who are rejecting their own vulnerability, who are choosing cynicism over transcendence, and who are throwing our whole country into fight or flight mode. The very people who by their labels as Christians ought to be our country’s antibodies against cynicism, are the ones who instead are most strongly promoting it instead.

And that throws me into fight or flight mode, that I either want to fight these Christians who don’t understand Christianity, or give up in despair that the religion I believe in has become hopelessly corrupt, and to flee my beliefs because of them.

And then, once you get thrown into fight or flight mode, it is much easier to fall into fight or flight mode about everything. So I’m angry about Trump, I’m angry about our local elections in my hometown, I’m angry about the pandemic, I’m angry about racial injustice, and I’m angry about the cheatin’ Houston Astros beating my beloved Oakland Athletics in this AL Division Series.

I was in fight mode when Khris Davis homered early in Game 2 to give the A’s a 1-0 lead. I was in an even bigger fight mode when Sean Manaea gave up a home run to George Springer to give the Astros a 2-1 lead. That home run really ticked me off. Frickin’ asshole cheating Houston Astros, I hate hate hate them.

Then as the game progressed, and it became quite clear that the A’s offense was going to do absolutely nothing against Astros pitching in this game, my mode started to shift. The A’s are going to lose this game. The A’s are going to lose this series. The odds had shifted. I’m in fight or flight mode, and I’m going to lose this fight, so psychologically, I needed to shift into flight mode.

So my mind started moving into the “I don’t care anymore” thought zone. Anger switches into detached pessimistic rationalization. The A’s, without Matt Chapman, aren’t realistically better than any of the other playoff teams. It was highly unlikely they could, as the inferior team, get through four rounds of playoffs without being defeated. It would require an incredible amount of luck. I should be satisfied just winning one series, and ending their cursed streak of playoff futility. I should start thinking about what I’m going to do with my time after the baseball season is over.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if I switch into flight mode about baseball. Baseball doesn’t matter. It’s just an arbitrary consequenceless contest. But some battles have real consequences. It does matter if I switch into flight mode about Cynicism and Fascism. Because getting people to switch into flight mode is exactly what Fascism is all about.

Fascism wants you to know that they are strong. Stronger than you. That’s why Donald Trump makes a show of taking off his mask when he returns to the White House. He wants to show that he has the strength and willpower to defeat every enemy, including a nonsentient virus. Fascists want you to think that will fight you, every step of the way. Fascists want you to think if you fight them, they are too strong to defeat. They want you to think that they will fight you until you are too tired to fight, until you go into flight mode, and stop fighting.

And then they’ve won.

There are two things you can do about that. You can play their game, fighting them every step of the way, making a show of your own strength, real or propagandized, until either they’ve crushed you, or you’ve crushed them. And in the process, you probably crush each other, and everybody loses.

Or, you can transcend that narrow battlefield, step out of fight-or-flight mode, and play a different game.

Transcending the fight-or-flight mode doesn’t mean not fighting. Not fighting is the same as flight mode. You haven’t transcended the fight-or-flight mode if you’re fleeing the confrontation.

Transcending fight-or-flight mode means doing the one main things humans can do but animals can’t: seeing things from someone else’s point of view, and understanding why and how they came to fall into their own fight-or-flight mode, empathizing and forgiving them for reacting as they have in those circumstances, (for “they know not what they do”, as Jesus said on the cross) and then using your intelligence to dig down to the true real cause of those circumstances, and addressing them, even if and while you resist their fight against you.

That’s what transcendence is. That’s what wisdom is. Human wisdom, as only humans are capable of possessing.

Wisdom requires experience, and training, and learning. As the A’s face elimination today, I will be tempted to fall into anger, or despair, if they lose. And maybe I will fail to transcend this moment, fail to lose with grace and wisdom. For I am human–part animal, but also part holy spirit. And if I do fail today, I hope the people around me will forgive me for my failings, as I try to forgive those who fail around me.

Mission Accomplished
by Ken Arneson
2020-10-05 23:30

I’m still angry.

I was going to put up some comparison of GWB’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on the aircraft carrier, where they declared victory before victory had been achieved, and the Iraq War dragged on and on and on, to how it felt like the A’s first round victory was a championship in itself, and how the early 3-0 lead in Game 1 of the ALDS felt like with their best pitcher on the mound and a fresh bullpen that they’d win this round as well, but then it all fell apart, to how Donald Trump just declared victory over the coronavirus and marched masklessly triumphantly into the White House as if he had conquered the disease all by himself with his pure force of Fascist willpower, when he’s clearly still sick and not out of the woods at all, and he’s just making it worse for everyone else by declaring it so, but to hell with that. I can’t do this.

Because I’m angry. Still angry. More angry. Too angry.

Plot Twists
by Ken Arneson
2020-10-01 23:30

We got about five hours of happiness.

A good plot throws some unexpected curveballs at you, surprises that move the narrative in a direction you were not expecting. That’s difficult to do in a simple, straightforward story. That’s why a lot of plots actually have several subplots that get woven together. Those subplots can interact with each other, add complications and tensions with each other, to help make the story less predictable.

That’s part of the reason I decided to write a blog during this baseball season. There would be ample opportunity to talk not just about baseball, but how baseball interacts with the world at large. As it turns out, I’ve been naturally weaving five different plots together this season:

  • The A’s baseball season
  • The pandemic
  • The protests
  • The election
  • The fires/smoke

Hardly a day has gone by since I started this 2020 blog when at least two of those five elements were in play. I thought maybe, when the A’s actually finally win a playoff winner-take-all game, I could just focus on that one thing for one day.

Nope. This is 2020, dude. There’s always something, and then there’s always something else.

I became an A’s fan at the age of 8, in 1974. At the time, the A’s had just won two World Series in a row, both in seven games over their National League opponents, first the Cincinnati Reds in 1972, and then the New York Mets in 1973.

That Game 7 in 1973, just before I started paying attention to baseball, was the last time the A’s had won a winner-take-all game. I have been an A’s fan for 46 years, and not once in all those years had I seen the A’s win a winner-take-all game. They were 0-for-9.

But if the A’s were ever going to win one of these games, it was going to be this one, Game 3 of the 2020 Wild Card Series vs the Chicago White Sox. Most of the time, the A’s have ended up facing their opponent’s ace in the deciding game, and getting out-aced. Not so with the White Sox here. This is what I wrote after Game 1:

Their weakness is that they only have two really good starting pitchers, so if the A’s can somehow manage to win Game 2, they do have a chance in Game 3, because they won’t be facing the kind of mistake-free pitching that gives them such trouble.

The A’s did manage to win Game 2 holding on after a shaky bullpen performance following an excellent Chris Bassitt start. So in Game 3, with the White Sox having burned their two good starting pitchers, the A’s were going to face almost the entirety of the White Sox bullpen for most of the game. And as I’ve written before, the A’s offense gets shut down easily against good pitching, but against mediocre and bad pitching, they feast. And the White Sox bullpen isn’t deep enough to throw nine innings at a high level. At some point, the A’s were going to score.

But the White Sox plans, such as they were, got thwarted early in the game. The White Sox started RHP Dane Dunning to get the A’s to set up a lineup with a lot of left-handed bats in it, and then at the first sign of trouble in the first inning, replaced Dunning with their LH rookie sensation Garrett Crochet, who was fresh out of college, but can throw over 100mph. They planned to ride Crochet as long as possible, but Crochet came out in the second inning “only” throwing 95mph, and then departed with forearm pain. The rest of the day, the White Sox pitching usage was a pure scramble.

The A’s didn’t exactly have their ace going either, as the White Sox chew up left-handed pitching, and their best available starter was Sean Manaea, who is left handed. Their right handed options were Mike Fiers and Frankie Montas. Fiers is aging, his fastball velocity has dropped below 90mph, and he’d be a fly ball pitcher against a home run hitting team on a warm afternoon, so he would not an ideal matchup either. But the third choice is Frankie Montas, who threw over 110 pitches on Sunday, and would be on short rest. Plus, he was injured in the middle of the season, and wasn’t quite the same after returning, performing inconsistently at best, although his best start was his last one. So every option had flaws.

Fiers was completely ineffective. He managed to wiggle out of the first inning without giving up a run, but only because a couple of balls were hit hard right at fielders. In the second, he gave up the longest home run ever recorded at the Oakland Coliseum to Luis Robert. He was then replaced by Yusmeiro Petit, who has similar stuff to Fiers, and was similarly ineffective against this White Sox lineup, and yielded two runs. The White Sox led 3-0 after two innings.

But that’s where the game turned, for the rest of the game, the A’s were throwing the strength of their pitching roster out there, and the White Sox were throwing their weakness. The A’s scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to a two-run homer by Sean Murphy and a couple of bases loaded walks to give the A’s a lead 4-3. Frankie Montas came in for a couple of innings, and yielded a tying run, but was otherwise effective. Nothing was hit hard. The run was scored on a seeing-eye grounder through the infield.

In the bottom of the fifth, the A’s got something they had not gotten since the 2014 Wild Card game, five games previous: a hit with runners in scoring position! Chad Pinder singled in two runs with two outs, to give the A’s a two-run lead. The A’s bullpen then lived up to its billing as the team strength, shutting out the White Sox the rest of the game, and the A’s held on to win the game 6-4, and the series 2-1.

I immediately posted the following on Twitter:


In all 46 years of my baseball fandom, my favorite team had never won a winner-take-all game. Not once. Time after time, they’ve been outpitched, have failed to get the clutch hit they needed, had failed to hold onto a lead if they got one. Every possible thing that could go wrong, has gone wrong.

For once, finally, nothing went wrong. For once, finally, the breaks went the A’s way. For once, finally, the A’s won a winner-take-all game, and advanced to the next round.

For the next five hours, I was very happy. I rewatched the highlights. I listened to the radio version of the highlights. I listened to the online post game show. I felt like I was floating, like all my burdens had been lifted,

And then 2020 twisted the plot again. This was fated to be a day where the baseball plot met the politics plot met the pandemic plot.

Just before 10pm, I was hanging out on Twitter, still basking in the glow of the A’s victory, when people started quote tweeting the President. Now I have President Trump muted and blocked in every way possible, so I didn’t know exactly what was going on, so I clicked through one of the blocked tweets, and found that the President and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19.

Oh, crap. Holy crap.

And then it shortly thereafter became clear that an event on Saturday at the White House to welcome Supreme Court nominee Amy Comey Barrett had become a superspreader event. Lots of people gathered closely together, outdoors mind you but with very few people wearing masks, while also gathering in smaller groups indoors inside the White House.

I mean… it… sigh.

This is the single stupidest thing that’s ever happened in American politics. It’s just flat out stupid. Dumb. Idiotic. Pull out the thesaurus: unintelligent, ignorant, dense, dull-witted, mindless, foolish…

I mean: professional sports have been carrying out an experiment for you right in plain sight. What works. What doesn’t work. You have to deliberately be trying to be stupid to not know how to keep people safe in your work environment in a pandemic. But they completely failed to learn a single thing from the mistakes that pro sports have been making for them. And then they went out and made not only those mistakes, but more stupid ones as well.

Judging by the timeline, President Trump was probably infected and contagious in the debate with Joe Biden on Tuesday. He would quite easily have infected his opponent. It’s astoundingly reckless and negligent and stupid and incompetent. If Biden didn’t get infected, even if he took every precaution save wearing a mask during the debate itself, he’s quite lucky.

How the hell are these dumbshits in charge of our country?

They have had, all along, all the information they’ve needed to keep people safe, and healthy. Not just the people working in the White House, but everywhere, all across the country. They’ve had the information. And they chose, deliberately, to ignore that information. They chose, deliberately, stupidity over wisdom.

And now, the President of the United States, our Commander in Chief, is sick, and from what I understand of the symptoms that are leaking through their American Pravda, he has possibly about a 25% chance of dying from this.

I’m furious. Absolutely furious. You cannot make any country great by being deliberately stupid. A country that dumb is going to lose in the long run, because it’s going to compete with 200 other countries that aren’t being stupid on purpose.

I don’t wish ill health on anyone, so I hope these idiots recover from their moronic COVID-19 outbreak, and then get the steamrolling they deserve in the upcoming election, so that these stupid, dumbass losers can go crawl under a rock to live amongst the slimy salamanders, until the slimy salamanders get tired of their idiocy and send them whereever creatures too stupid to live under a rock get sent by furious, fed up, angry, slimy salamanders.

One More Day
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-30 23:30

The A’s have been so futile in the playoffs for so long now that there is sometime confusion about exactly how futile they’ve been. I heard a couple of times today that the A’s never win elimination games, but that’s not exactly true. The A’s have won some games when they’ve been the ones threatened with elimination. For example, there’s 2012 ALDS Game 4, the infamous Fosse scream game, in which the A’s trailed 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, and scored three runs to win the game 4-3, and stay alive for one more day.

The A’s problem has been winning games when the other team is on the brink of elimination. In those games, the A’s are 1-15 since Billy Beane took over. So while they may have won an occasional Fosse scream game, the day after such victories, when the other team is also facing elimination, has been where the disaster has come. Of course, in a normal playoff series, the opposing team often sets up their rotation so that their most dominant pitcher is pitching in that particular game, which is part of the problem. The Fosse Scream series, and also the ALDS series following season, had the A’s needing to win a game 5 against a Hall of Fame pitcher like Justin Verlander, which did not go very well.

So I was not too shocked that the A’s won Game 2 of this Wild Card series against the Chicago White Sox, 5-3. This is not the type of game where the A’s are jinxed. They’re not like the Twins, who got eliminated today in two games against the Astros, who haven’t won a single playoff game since 2004, a streak of 18 straight games lost. No, the A’s can win games. They just can’t win series. The only series they’ve won, and the only game they’ve won with a chance to advance, was against those same Twins in 2006, where two teams in the midst of long bouts of playoff futility met, and one of them had to win.

So today’s game did not shock me too much. It’s tomorrow’s game, where the A’s could advance to the next round if they win, that’s the problem. We A’s fans have been burned for so long, by losing in so many unique and unlikely ways in such games, that winning Game 3 of this series seems like it’s impossible.

Game 2 of this series was kind of like the inverse of the Fosse Scream Game. Instead of improbably coming from behind to win, they came from ahead to almost lose. White Sox starter Dallas Keuchel was not sharp, and when Matt Olson hit a grounder in the first inning that hit the lip of the infield and bounced over the glove of 2B Nick Madrigal to score two runs. The A’s added two more runs later on home runs by Marcus Semien and Khris Davis to give the A’s a 5-0 lead. And then things almost went completely off the rails.

Chris Bassitt was great, allowing no runs in 7 innings. He went back out for the eighth, but gave up a leadoff single to Tim Anderson, who is a Pablo Sandoval-type playoff pest you can’t get out because he puts the ball in play whether you throw the ball in the strike zone or not.

Bob Melvin opted to go with Liam Hendriks for two innings, instead of his usual regular season combo of Jake Diekman and/or Joakim Soria for the 8th, and then Hendriks for the ninth. But Hendriks was not sharp, frequently missing badly with his fast ball, and he allowed a 2-run homer to Yasmani Grandal in the 8th, and then with two outs in the ninth, gave up two straight hits to Madrigal and Anderson, and then walked Yoan Moncada. Hendriks was over 40 pitches at this point, and Melvin finally opted for Diekman. Diekman then walked Grandal to make it 5-3, and bring up possible AL MVP José Abreu. Abreu hit a rocket, but thankfully it was right at 2B defensive replacement Nate Orf, who fielded it cleanly and threw Abreu out to end the game.

That was one giant exhale. The A’s stayed alive in the playoffs for one more day. This blog stayed alive for one more day. It’s one more day that is expected to feature very hot temperatures, potentially hazardous air quality (which may or may not force them to delay or postpone the game), and the even more hazardous winner-take-all game, of which the A’s have lost 9 straight. The last winner-take-all game the A’s won was Game 7 of the 1973 World Series against the New York Mets. That was the year before I started paying attention to baseball. So, as far as my experience goes, the A’s have always lost these types of games. I’m expecting the worst.

As Bad As Expected
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-29 23:30

This was the day I was dreading and, with one exception, it was as bad as I was expecting.

Here’s what I said the other day, in an article titled Dread:

This team is built the same as so many of those other A’s teams that failed in the playoffs: full of guys who mash a bunch of home runs off mediocre pitchers in the regular season, but who also simply don’t have another gear, where they can take good pitches from the kind of good pitchers you face in the playoffs, and do something with good pitches.

That’s exactly what happened in Game 1. White Sox starter Lucas Giolito was pitched well, locating his fastball on the corners, and then throwing enough off speed pitches to keep the hitters off balance. Giolito gave them no mistake pitches, so the A’s did absolutely nothing. He threw a perfect game for six innings, until Tommy La Stella punched a grounder up the middle for a single.

Giolito then started to tire in the eighth, the A’s got some runners on and managed to get one run home, and actually got the tying run to the plate. But once again, as the playoffs contrast the regular season, the A’s didn’t get to face a mediocre relief pitcher who would feed them a mistake pitch to feast off of. They were up against Aaron Bummer, who has a 0.96 ERA. He got La Stella to ground out. The rally ended, and the A’s had no other chances to score.

In contrast to Giolito’s mistakelessness, A’s starter Jesús Luzardo made two: a couple of fastballs that didn’t hit the corners but instead leaked out over the plate. In an ordinary regular season game against an ordinary team, the other team probably fails to take advantage of the opportunity presented to them. But the White Sox are a good team, not a bad one, and Adam Engel and José Abreu crushed those two pitches for home runs that gave the White Sox a 3-run lead that they never relinquished.

In addition to those mistakes, they also had one particular player, Tim Anderson, who had the skill set that every A’s playoff team in the Billy Beane era seems to lack: the ability to do damage with good pitches. Anderson went 3-for-4 in this game, and I don’t think any of the pitches Anderson got hits on were bad pitches. He just had the skill to do something with the pitches he was given, even if they weren’t mistakes. That put offensive pressure on Luzardo, and in particular led to the mistake pitch to Abreu.

The White Sox are quite simply a team that is better built for a three-game playoff series than the A’s are. Their weakness is that they only have two really good starting pitchers, so if the A’s can somehow manage to win Game 2, they do have a chance in Game 3, because they won’t be facing the kind of mistake-free pitching that gives them such trouble. But they have to get there first. Otherwise, tomorrow’s A’s game recap will be the last one.

The first day of the playoffs coincided with the first presidential debate. I didn’t watch it. I went for a bike ride instead, to avoid spending a painfully awful hour and a half of television. I knew it would be bad because Trump is trailing in the polls, and he really needed to make Biden look bad, to goad him into making mistakes and looking tired and flustered and confused and unpresidential, to turn the election into a lesser-of-two-evils choice, and so Trump was going to be at his absolute worst. Trump’s only play was to try to win ugly, and so it was going to be ugly.

And when I got home from my bike ride, I was greeted to exactly that news, that the debate was the worst debate in the history of civilization. But the good news is that Biden did not seem to take the bait. He didn’t hit any zingers that landed any sort of knockout blow to Trump, but he also didn’t give Trump the one thing he was fighting so desperately to get: a good pitch to hit. There was apparently nothing that Biden did or said that Trump could use to knock him out of the park with.

When you’re in the lead, don’t give the other team any freebies. Make them earn every single point. And when your opponent is a one-trick pony who doesn’t know how to do anything but pounce on the mistakes of others, all you have to do is not make any big mistakes and you should be able to hang on for victory.

The Interregnum
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-27 23:30

Well, here we are. We made it through a 60-game regular season in a pandemic, amidst racial unrest, and our state on fire. And if it wasn’t for the sentence before this one, you could say the regular season was quite a success for the A’s, as they won the American League Western Division by 7 games over their nemesis the last few years, the Houston Astros.

The A’s regular season ended on Sunday with a 6-2 win over the Seattle Mariners. The victory, combined with the Minnesota Twins losing in extra innings to the Cincinnati Reds, gave the A’s the #2 seed in the playoffs, and a matchup with the Chicago White Sox.

That may not have been the best idea, since if the A’s had lost, or the Twins had won, the A’s would have played the Astros instead. The Astros finished with a losing record of 29-31. The White Sox were 35-25, have a bunch of hitters at the top of their lineup who can mash, and have a pair of very strong starting pitchers, Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, who will be a formidable obstacle in a 3-game series.

The other thing that makes the White Sox a tough matchup for the A’s is that their lineup is strongly right-handed, and have a penchant for destroying left-handed pitching. They went 14-0 against left handed starters this season. And that’s a problem for the A’s, because two of their three strongest pitchers heading into the playoffs are left-handed, namely Jesús Luzardo and Sean Manaea.

But maybe it doesn’t matter, because in this universe, the A’s beat the White Sox in the first round and the Astros in the second, and in an alternate universe, they beat the Astros in this round, and the White Sox in the next. Or maybe it doesn’t matter because in all possible universes, the A’s lose painfully in the first round no matter who they play, because that’s just the way the universe seems to prefer it.

The preferences of the universe, however, are one of the few things that give me hope for the A’s in the playoffs. The A’s have been a metaphorical disaster in every playoffs in which they’ve appeared in the last 45 years, with one exception: 1989. And that championship was accompanied by the literal disaster of major earthquake. So now that we have all sorts of other real, literal disasters going on, could this be the year the universe prefers the A’s win again?

That’s a really stupid, illogical argument, but it’s all I’ve got to cling to. Otherwise, I’m really pessimistic about the A’s chances. I love regular season baseball, but when the A’s are in the postseason, it’s unbearable. Every stupid loss just rips my emotions into pieces. It’s the worst.

Unless somehow, it isn’t. Which I know, logically, must be possible, but my mind cannot grasp the concept. It feels impossible. I just want, for once, in this year of all years, for my mind to be blown by an inconcievable turn of good fortune.

Let the next phase begin, and let’s see what happens.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-26 23:30

It’s Saturday, and there are three things impending in the upcoming week that I’m dreading:

  • The heat/fire/smoke situation
  • The presidential debates
  • The playoffs

The heat/fire/smoke situation is first on the agenda. It started to warm up a bit on Saturday, but it’s supposed to really get hot on Sunday and Monday, perhaps into the 90s in Alameda, and then stay warm the rest of the week. And when it gets hot in the Bay Area, it’s because the wind is blowing from the east instead of from the ocean to the west, which means smoke from the fires will be drifting our way and reducing the air quality.

I’m not looking forward to that because I already have experience with being locked up at home with all the curtains closed to block the hot sun from warming up the house, and with all the windows closed all night to keep out the smoke, and the inability to go anywhere else because of the pandemic, and just how stale the air in your house becomes after a week of being completely sealed, and how claustrophobic that whole combination makes you feel. It’s… bleh… gack… mlglf… auhhohghlllrrauughuhufhaughlfugh.

And yet that’s not even the strongest of my dreads because the air will eventually get better, and that problem will pass, but the other two problems may linger forever.

I know Biden is leading in the polls, and there’s a good half of the population who are solidly sick of Trump, but with that in mind, the debates which start on Tuesday, have very little upside, and a lot of downside. I don’t think Biden will win a lot of new voters in these debates, but there’s a really good chance he could screw it up.

I know what the last four years have been like, and I really cannot bear another four years of this. This country cannot afford Biden screwing this up.

But Biden isn’t exactly immune from gaffes. It’s almost part of his character to turn a simple clear statement into three incoherent paragraphs. I’m kind of grateful that the MLB playoffs start the same day, because that gives me a really good excuse not to watch the debates.

So I don’t think I can watch it live. I’ll be way too nervous. I’ll look at the highlights afterwards. I’ll watch a baseball game between two teams I don’t care about instead.

And that brings us to the playoffs, which I am also now dreading, because, like Biden, the A’s are excessively prone to gaffes, especially in the playoffs. Since the A’s last won a World Series in 1989, the A’s have played 16 games in which, if they had won, they would have advanced to the next round of the playoffs. They lost 15 of those 16 games. The one time they won, in 2006, they then got swept in the next round.

The playoffs have been nothing but painful for A’s fans. I know what that losing feels like. And after watching this doubleheader against the Mariners, where the A’s got swept by the scores of 5-1 and 12-3, I really don’t think this version of the A’s are going to do anything different. This team is built the same as so many of those other A’s teams that failed in the playoffs: full of guys who mash a bunch of home runs off mediocre pitchers in the regular season, but who also simply don’t have another gear, where they can take good pitches from the kind of good pitchers you face in the playoffs, and do something with good pitches. They’re mistake hitters, plain and simple, and in the playoffs, the pitchers don’t give you mistakes, especially in clutch, high-leverage situations.

This 2020 offense has repeatedly done nothing against good but not great starting pitchers, and then only scored runs when they get into the thin bullpens of their opponents. But in the playoffs, (a) the starters will be better and pitch longer, and (b) they won’t see the thin parts of the opponents’ bullpens, even if they have thin parts.

So I’m expecting this A’s team to completely fizz out in the playoffs. They may get some runners on base, but time after time they will fail to move those runners around to score, because they will strike out in the clutch situations where they need a hit. That’s what’s happened to them in the playoffs all throughout Billy Beane’s tenure in charge of the A’s roster, and this team looks no different at all.

Unlike the debates, however, I do plan to watch. I know the pain of the downside, and I am bracing myself for that pain. But unlike the debates, with the playoffs, there is an upside. If, by some miracle, the A’s actually do come up with that clutch hit in that clutch situation, I want to experience that joy. Because that joy is the carrot we’re reaching for when we watch this sport. There’d be no point in any of this if I let myself miss it.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-25 23:30

As the A’s are preparing for the playoffs next week, we at home are doing the same thing, as the weather forecast is calling for the winds to turn from the east, making the temperatures soar, smoke from old fires to fill the air. make the risk of new ones starting extremely high. We’re probably going to be stuck inside again for several days in a row. Time to get our outdoor exercise in, and open the windows and let the house breathe before the air turns too hot and smoky sometime on Saturday or Sunday, and we’re forced to seal things off.

There’s a reasonable chance that the air quality will affect the playoff schedule. But you can’t really plan on that, you have to assume it won’t, and adjust if you have to. That’s why preparing for maximum flexibility is important.

This was the last game that really meant anything for the A’s in preparation for the playoffs. It was Chris Bassitt’s last start before the wild card series. Bassitt was dominant in seven shutout innings, and on normal rest, he will be ready to pitch in game 2 or game 3 of the wild card round. If a game is postponed, he could also start Game 1.

But while Bassitt was mowing the Mariners down, the A’s offense was dormant against Yusei Kikuchi. The game went into extra innings tied 0-0. With extra innings this season starting with a runner on second, the Mariners were able to move their runner across the plate against Jake Diekman. So the A’s went into the bottom of the 10th trailing 1-0. The first two hitters couldn’t drive in the A’s bonus runner, but with two outs, Ramón Laureano doubled home the tying run. Mark Canha then sent the A’s home as 3-1 winners when he hit an opposite field homer.

I mentioned yesterday that I didn’t have time to calculate the odds of who the A’s opponent would be before publishing yesterday, but I finished that calculation today. Here is the current odds going into Saturday’s game:

#1 seed vs Yankees: 0.98%
#1 seed vs Blue Jays: 2.15%

#2 seed vs Twins: 3.96%
#2 seed vs Indians: 23.83%
#2 seed vs White Sox: 48.97%

#3 seed vs Astros: 20.12%

These numbers will change a lot tomorrow.

The Gods of Permutations
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-24 23:30

With three days left in the regular season after the A’s 5-1 loss to the Dodgers, the A’s still have seven different possible playoff opponents in the first round: Astros, Angels, Twins, White Sox, Indians, Yankees, and Blue Jays.

I tried to figure out what the odds were of each of these possibilities, but I got as far as realizing there were 2,097,152 different ways all the relevant weekend games in the American League could play out, and realized I wouldn’t have enough time to do the work before all of Friday’s games would be over, and my calculations would be moot anyway.

But I’m kind of sure that most likely opponent is still the Astros, if the A’s finish as the #3 seed, and the Astros #6. The Astros are locked into the #6 seed if they make the playoffs. The only way they wouldn’t make the playoffs is if they lose their last three games against the Rangers, and the Angels win all three of their games against the Dodgers. Given how good the Dodgers are and how bad the Rangers are, that seems very very unlikely.

So really, the only way the A’s wouldn’t play the Astros is if they don’t finish as the #3 seed. Right now, that’s their seeding, so they’d have to pass either the Rays or whichever team wins the AL Central. Since there are three teams fighting for the AL Central, the winner will probably win at least two if not all three games this weekend, so the A’s would probably have to go 4-0 or 3-1 against the Mariners to not end up as the #3 seed. That’s possible, but not as likely as the combination of going 2-2, 1-3, or 0-4.

But even though the most likely opponents are (I think, in order) the Astros or the Indians, there are still five other possible opponents. So the A’s tried to set up their rotation in order to give them as many options as possible for their first round playoff, which they can adjust depending on who their opponent ends up being.

That’s why they started Mike Fiers tonight, as it was his turn in the rotation, but also finished up with Jesús Luzardo, who was on his normal four days rest because of the off day on Monday. And with Chris Bassitt pitching on Friday, that allows the A’s the option of starting game 1 with either Sean Manaea, Fiers, or Luzardo, and then having the choice of using whichever ones they don’t use in game 1 plus Bassitt for Game 2.

The A’s lost this game to the Dodgers 5-1, as Walker Buehler who started for the Dodgers was dominant. Fiers pitched OK, giving up two runs, and then Luzardo struggled in his first inning of work, giving up three runs, but then settled down after that.

That’s not how you’d normally play out a game like this if it mattered, but the game had no consequence to the Dodgers, and little to the A’s. Setting up the rotation for maximum flexibility was the whole point of this affair, and they did exactly that. The rest is all in the hands of the gods of permutations.

The Most Ordinary Risks
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-23 23:30

We had one day yesterday with nice enough air to go outside for awhile, and one day yesterday with normal enough news to be able to focus our thoughts on baseball alone for a change.

But that didn’t last long, for this afternoon news came out of Louisville that nobody would be indicted for killing Breonna Taylor, only for “wanton endangerment” by shooting into the walls of the neighbors.

I don’t know that I expected anything else. It is nearly impossible to prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt with police officers, particularly when there’s no video of the incident. So there are rarely any consequences for these acts of, at worst, malice, and at a minimum, pure incompetence. So the show keeps going on. It’s infuriating.

In my opinion, there needs to be something between a murder charge and innocence, something more easily provable like “deadly incompetence” or something, where if police officers screw up and people die or get seriously hurt, they at least lose their jobs and never get it back. Otherwise, trust in the police will keep eroding to the point it becomes impossible for them to be effective.

And what does it even mean for police to be “effective” anyway? What is their mission? That’s where I think my political philosophy as I wrote in The Quick Start Guide to Human Society™, of “give people freedom in an environment of trust” can come in handy. If you view the job of the police to preserve order, then you give them a lot of power to rein in “bad guys” enforce the status quo, at the risk of allowing that power to be abused. If you view the police as an instrument of unjust hierarchies, then you want to remove their power to remove the status quo, at the risk of the chaos of lawlessness.

But if you look at the mission of the police as being there to create, defend and preserve trust, so that freedom can work its magic, then you can measure their effectiveness on a different scale. You wouldn’t measure them on crime rates, or on their abuses. You’d measure and incentivize the police on how much the society they serve trusts them and their fellow citizens in that society. If they fail to stop and prevent crime, they’ll also lose trust among the citizens they serve. But if in doing so, the police unjustly target and persecute a group of people, they will lose trust among that group of people. Right now, many police departments across the country don’t seem to care that they aren’t trusted by minority groups. They don’t care about trust because they don’t view trust as their mission, they see catching bad guys as their mission.

That’s another example of the Data/Human Goal Gap I once wrote about. If you measure yourself on catching bad guys, but your real goal is to create trust, you will start out increasing trust as you catch more bad guys, but eventually the trajectory your mismatched measurement takes you on will make you shoot past your optimal point, and you’ll suddenly find yourself decreasing trust even as you improve your crime measurements.

Anyway, that’s my two cents, which I kept to myself all afternoon as these events were unfolding. There are far more important voices than mine on these matters who deserve the airspace. People who are more directly affected than I am. People who are angry, upset, outraged, and rightly so. But this is a diary of sorts of these strange times, so I don’t want to leave it unaddressed, either. It’s what’s been going on in my head as these events unfold.

As I watched the A’s-Dodgers game last night, which the A’s won 6-4 thanks to some late inning heroics by Ramón Laureano, and these thoughts floated through my mind, I had one eye on my Twitter feed trying to figure out what was going on with the Breonna Taylor protests in Downtown Oakland. My two oldest kids happened to be visiting someone in Oakland, and I was supposed to be picking them up at some point that evening. But that can be difficult if the protests are happening near the police station, which just happens to be quite near where the tunnel between Alameda and Oakland empties out. I didn’t want to get stuck in that tunnel if protesters decided to shut down all the streets in that area. I didn’t want to be in the middle of all that if people were really angry.

In the end, it turned out that the protest kind of fizzled after 10pm, and someone else was able to give my kids a ride home, and nobody ran into any inconvenient traffic holdups.

But whether or not we actually got stuck in traffic is not the point. One of the purposes of those protests is to inconvenience people like me, a person can usually ordinarily go about his life without even thinking that an ordinary act of being in one place or going to another place contains any sort of risk at all, while more oppressed people, on a daily basis, have to consider the risks of even the most ordinary acts of human behavior. For me, I had to think about those risks on one particular evening. For others, those risks have to be considered all the time. Even when you’re lying in bed in your own home, like Breonna Taylor was.

Nobody should have to think that way. Everyone deserves an environment of trust, where they can live without calculating that even the simplest of decisions may be too risky, where they can do what they truly want to do with their freedom, even if it’s something as simple as sitting in their homes and watching baseball, and to do so without worry and fear, in peace.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-22 23:30

The A’s have clinched a playoff spot and the division title, so the only thing left to play for is seedings. The A’s are either going to be the #1, #2 or #3 seed in the playoffs, and play the first round at home. But there won’t be any home games beyond the first round. The rest of the playoffs will be played at neutral sites. So there’s really no remaining home field advantage left to play for.

That leaves only the quality of opponents as an incentive for the remainder of the season. But it’s not clear at all that being the #1 seed is any better than being the #2 or #3 seed. The #1 & #2 seeds play the #7 & #8 seeds, who are two best 3rd- or 4th-place teams. The #3 seed plays the #6 seed, which is the worst 2nd-place team. However it is entirely possible that the #6 team, which is almost certainly going to be the Astros, ends up with a worse record than either the #7 or #8 team. The #2 seed is likely to end up worst of the top three seeds to have in the AL, because you’re going to play whichever team finishes out of the top 2 in the AL Central. All three teams have similar records, and they each have a Cy Young candidate, Dallas Keuchel (White Sox), Kenta Maeda (Twins), and Shane Bieber (Indians) that you’d have to overcome.

That’s not to say you couldn’t get beat by the Astros or Blue Jays. You could. But more to the point, there doesn’t seem to be any clear incentive at this point for the A’s to improve their seeding.

So honestly, as the A’s faced off against baseball’s clearly best team in 2020, the Los Angeles Dodgers, I didn’t feel any real urgency to see the A’s win. I watched with the kind of calm indifference you have when watching a spring training game. Although, to be honest, I may not have had the energy to care much because I took advantage of a rare day of perfect weather and clean air quality to take a long 30-mile bike ride during the day. I was kind of too physically tired at that point to bother getting worked up about anything.

The A’s gave up a bunch of home runs to the Dodgers, and lost 7-2. Frankie Montas just hasn’t looked the same since he tweaked his back earlier in the season. His slider lacks bite, his forkball seems to float and doesn’t get hitters off balance, and all that I think makes his fastball more hittable. So that’s a bit worrisome looking ahead to the playoffs. Montas probably won’t get a start in the first round, but if the A’s advance, he’ll probably get a start in each of the subsequent rounds. That said, there probably aren’t any teams he’d face in the AL playoffs with the thunder 1-9 in the lineup that the Dodgers have.

The A’s didn’t do much offensively against Dustin May, but that dude is nasty, so that’s not much of a surprise. They didn’t do much against the Dodgers bullpen either, but the Dodgers bullpen isn’t full of the kind of mediocrity that the A’s devour on other teams.

It is tempting to ascribe the A’s lackluster outing to their urgencylessness, but I don’t think that’s fair. Even if the A’s had entered this game will full incentives to win, the outcome may have been similar. The Dodgers are good. If the A’s go a whole week losing games in this fashion and limp into the playoffs, then I’ll be concerned.

So Proudly We Hailed
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-20 23:30

The A’s lost to the Giants on Sunday 14-2, losing an opportunity to clinch the AL West division title by their own hands. The Astros played twice between that game and the A’s next game coming up on Tuesday, and lost the second of those two games, thereby clinching the crown for the A’s via the back door.

So the clinching wasn’t a particularly memorable event. More memorable, to me, was the fact that my daughter’s middle school band played the National Anthem before that A’s-Giants game on Sunday.

The plan before the pandemic was for their band to play the anthem live in person at the stadium before the originally scheduled game on April 14. Obviously that didn’t happen, so that was disappointing, but the A’s were gracious enough to give them the opportunity to play a recorded version before this game instead.

Since their school, the Academy of Alameda, is currently closed to in-person classes, they couldn’t record the song together in person. And they couldn’t record it live together over the internet either, because at this point in the history of technology, internet speeds are not consistently fast enough for everybody to hear each other at a rate where the lag would not be noticeable. A lag of a second or two on the part of any member of the band would make the song unlistenable. So every member of the band had to record their part separately, and then the band director had to piece all those separate recordings together into one video.

Here is a photo of some of the A’s standing and listening to their recording before the game. My daughter is the one in the upper right corner on the scoreboard playing the flute.

The A’s were kind enough to arrange for a video to be taken of the song being played at the Coliseum. If you want to watch it, I posted the video on Twitter:

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-19 23:30

In case you missed it yesterday, the A’s and Giants decided to play the exact same game on Saturday that they played on Friday. Once again the A’s won, 6-0. Once again, the A’s got a dominant start, this time from Jesús Luzardo. He pitched six innings, struck out seven, walked no one and allowed six hits. Once again the bullpen took it from there flawlessly. Once again, the A’s got a few big hits, this time a two-run homer from Jake Lamb and a two-run triple from Tommy La Stella, neither of whom was even on the team at the beginning of the season, to give them the offensive punch to cruise to the victory. The A’s are now one game away from clinching the AL West title. The finish line is near.

And in case you missed any of the 50 games before this series, let us recap the season so far, by taking one sentence from each of the previous blog entries.

Perhaps we should feel ashamed to have enjoyed it. None of us have done this before. It takes a leap of faith to believe in something that you can’t really see. You have to stare the trouble straight in the eye. And the time of day has lost all meaning because it’s summer vacation in a pandemic.

The powerless usually don’t win most of their battles. I felt the weight of all those days to come. But the honest truth is, most of the time, when I think about the meaninglessness of this baseball season, it’s not because I’m trying to be rational. The rhythms of a shared sporting culture provide structure to our lives. Oh, and Ramon Laureano wears big yellow socks for some reason.

Nobody reads old blogs. And so, a mustache. Is an apology enough? A steady competence works, too. My self-esteem was more hurt than anything.

A brawl in a pandemic is an immoral act. So what’s the point of being competent if nobody notices it? For a few minutes, all the troubles of the human world disappeared. That’s why he’s being suspended. But it did not get fixed.

Happiness is ephemeral. And then just around noon, seemingly out of nowhere, there came a thunderclap that was as loud as any natural sound I had ever heard. I don’t know where to start, I don’t know where to go. We’re trapped inside the walls of our house, and everything on the outside of those walls is hostile and wants to kill us. Humble them.

It’s a short season. I’ll take ordinary. That’s easier to remember in baseball, when the next game is tomorrow. So how do we sleep at night? It’s half a baseball season in a world turned upside down.

We have to care for the sick among us, without somehow getting sick ourselves. Nobody took that option. My mind is such a big jumble right now. Wake up, people! They’ve all had good days and bad days.

It could all fall apart at any moment, off the field or on. A well engineered technical system tests for errors at every step, and has contingency plans to handle those errors. Some good defense, and some mistakes. So everything was on the ground was dusted with a thin layer of ash. I opted out.

We’re all out of outrages to give at this point. I’m beginning to expect the worst, without any energy to hope for the best. It’s the mind’s reaction to losing something you love. Hence there is no policy that dictates what the definition of safe air quality is. And maybe the next day it snows again, but it doesn’t matter.

We are all experiencing what the world is like when a cynical leadership is imposed on us. My mind was elsewhere all night. The finish line is near.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-16 23:30

I, like many other people in this day and age, have taken to binging TV shows during the pandemic to pass the time. Of all the shows I’ve watched, the one that surprised me the most is Ted Lasso.

Ted Lasso is the story of an American football coach who is sent to England to coach an English premier league soccer team. The setup is for a typical fish-out-of-water story, where the American fish is in English water, or the football coach is in soccer water. I decided to watch it just because it had sports in it, not because I expected it to be any good. I was fully expecting it to be bad and predictable and full of stupid jokes.

But Ted Lasso is more than that, because biggest fish out of water tale being told here is one of an uncynical fish being placed in cynical waters. And that, in these times, is an interesting theme to explore. We are all experiencing what the world is like when a cynical leadership is imposed on us. What happens when a distinctly uncynical leadership is imposed on us? The show explores that idea thoughtfully, and I find it delightful.

It’s easy to take a cynical view on sports, particularly this season. Why are they even playing during a pandemic and the other various crises? Because, the cynic says, they’d lose money if they didn’t. It’s all about the cash.

But if can you drop your cynicism for a minute, if you can see past the dollar signs, there is a joy in sports that we deeply missed when everything was shut down.

So here I am blogging about the A’s 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday. It was the 50th game of the year. As I started this blogging adventure this season, I questioned myself: is it even appropriate to distract myself from the troubles of the world with this game? Am I participating in a cynical act in a cynical world?

But even if there’s a cynical reason that they are even playing these sports right now, it may also be cynical to reject the joy that sports can bring. Is it wrong to take pleasure in Tony Kemp’s acrobatic avoidance of a tag at the plate which scored the A’s first run? Should I not take appreciation in the clever way that Mike Fiers used his curveball differently in the thin air of Denver, where curveballs often hang and are hit very far? Should I not enjoy how Fiers used his changeup to steal strikes, and his curveball as a chase pitch, instead how he usually uses them the other way around? Should I not relish how Jake Diekman and Liam Hendriks have become a lights-out duo at the end of ballgames?

The things that bring joy are the things that make life worth living. If we shut those things out, we are throwing away this year or two of our short, finite lives, waiting for a better day that, for any one of us in a dangerous time, may not come.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-15 23:30

I went out for a bike ride in the afternoon and when I arrived home and checked Twitter I saw that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away.

This must be said first and foremost: she lived a remarkable life. May she rest in peace.

Having now said that, I can now also say this: GAH!

I was already concerned about a constitutional crisis if the Presidential election was close and there were shenanigans around it, regardless of the winner. But now I’m certain there will be one, no matter what happens. Because the Republicans will try to pack the Supreme Court with another conservative, the Democrats will be angry about the Republicans dirty but legal tricks, and so the Democrats will do some dirty but legal tricks of their own the first chance they get, like adding four more Supreme Court justices, or adding DC and Puerto Rico as new states, etc. One cynical move gets met with another cynical move. And so what does all that mean for the upcoming election?

Who knows exactly how this will play out, but the instant the news hit, it became certain chaos was about to follow.

As if we needed more chaos in the year 2020.

The news reached me about an hour before the A’s-Giants game, so I didn’t have much time before first pitch to talk about it with my family and process the news.

The news was the elephant in the room, but the A’s broadcast made no mention of it whatsoever. The A’s broadcast was focused on the possibility that the A’s could clinch a playoff berth this evening if they won AND Seattle lost.

That’s what they kept saying, but the actual mathematical truth was that the A’s could clinch a playoff berth this even if they won OR Seattle lost, because Seattle has three games left against the Astros. If Seattle would win the rest of their games, that would mean that Houston would lose at least three of theirs and couldn’t catch the A’s.

In the end, it didn’t matter, because the A’s won and Seattle lost, so either way, the A’s are now in the playoffs. They now have a magic number of 2 to clinch the AL West.

The game was an undramatic 6-0 victory. The A’s scratched out a run in the first, and when Matt Olson hit a 3-run homer in the third, the game lost its edge. Chris Bassitt was in dominant form, so it seemed unlikely that the Giants would be able to put up much of a challenge the rest of the way. He ran out of gas a bit in the seventh, but the A’s bullpen closed the rest of the game out rather cleanly.

An easy A’s victory was quite welcome. My mind was elsewhere all night. I didn’t need any more complicated emotions, thank you.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-15 23:30

The Mariners and Giants postponed their game in Seattle because of an air quality index above 200, one day after the Mariners and A’s played a doubleheader with an air quality index above 200.

The A’s moved on to Colorado, which is a mile above sea level. The the air quality index was fine, but the air was thin. The A’s seemed slow and listless, and lost 3-1 on a complete game shutout by Antonio Senzatela.

The A’s seemed tired, as if they had just spent one day playing two games in which they were lacking enough air to breathe, and had traveled overnight to a place that lacked enough air to breathe to play another game, which was their 14th game in 12 days in five different cities in three different time zones. They need a breather.

Meanwhile, here at home in the East Bay, after a week straight where the AQI stayed over 100, a west wind from the Pacific Ocean blew into town and started clearing out all the smoke.

I immediately did two things: (1) open all the windows to get some fresh air in, and (2) went outside for a bike ride.

Boy, did I need that. It reminded me of the feeling I’d get when I lived in Sweden, after a long, dark winter, when even when it’s sunny it’s well below freezing, there finally comes a day in spring, when the skies are clear, and you turn your face to the sun, and you can actually feel the warmth of its rays on your skin. It feels like a miracle.

And maybe the next day it snows again, but it doesn’t matter. That one day of warmth restores your belief that the sun actually exists, and it’s that restored faith that you actually needed.

Summer Smoker Underground
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-14 23:30

On September 14, 2020, the A’s and Mariners split a doubleheader. The A’s had a 5-0 lead in the first game, but let it slip away with an unusually wild performance by Joaquim Soria, and lost 6-5. The A’s won the nightcap handily, 9-0. But no one is going to remember this wingding for the games themselves.

What will be remembered is that these two teams played a doubleheader in Seattle — a doubleheader!!! — when the air quality index was between 221 and 283. Winning or losing in that environment doesn’t matter. The key word is survival.

Just bonkers.

I have a few pet business management theories, and this doubleheader being played showed off a couple of them.

As I’ve said before on Twitter, I believe that most human organizations can effectively only be dedicated to at most three things, and anything else they say they’re committed to is just lip service.

MLB may say that they’re dedicated to the health and safety of their employees, but playing that game in that air clearly shows that any statements to that effect are just lip service. MLB is not dedicated to the health and safety of their employees. Anyone dedicated to the health and safety of their employees doesn’t play that game.

The other theory I’m fond of actually comes from my wife’s former boss at UC Berkeley, Russ Ellis, who once said, “Nothing gets done unless somebody does it.” Which means, unless there’s a specific person whose job it is to make sure something gets done, that thing won’t get done. People can be aware that a thing isn’t getting done, but they all assume it’s someone else’s responsibility to get the thing done, so it doesn’t get done.

I first complained about the air quality that players were playing in on August 19. An organization that is dedicated to the health and safety of its employees would be proactive, prepared to meet the challenges that arise before they arise, and would have figured out some sort of air quality policy if not in advance, then certainly within days instead of weeks. But they do not have that dedication, so they did not have the right dynamic to do anything but be reactive to problems after it’s almost too late to fix. Hence there is no policy that dictates what the definition of safe air quality is. There is nobody on the staff of the Mariners or the A’s whose job it is to decide if the air quality is or isn’t safe enough to play.

And so they played, and added one more row of data to the growing database table of American imcompetence.

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