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January 31, 2013

In A Pickle

Four Sentences About Strikeouts

by Jason Wojciechowski

The thing about driving a long distance alone is that you have a lot of time to think meanderingly. When you're driving a long distance alone on your way to a baseball event, your thinking tends to bend toward baseball.

During the particular trip I took last weekend to FanFest in Oakland, I saw a sign, I think somewhere near Coalinga, California, a perfectly usual sign, reading "high winds" or something else to that effect that got me joking

(to myself—many of my car rides are full of lengthy asides wherein I rehearse my routines in case I ever get invited as a guest onto a podcast or radio show—you know where to find me, Boog Sciambi)

about Mark Reynolds and Jack Cust and the creation of new continental jet streams, while in the back of my mind, slowly creeping toward the front of said mind as I realized that my jokes merely consisted of saying out loud the names of high-strikeout hitters without any real punchline, I began to wonder where we're going with league-wide strikeout rates and what the upward bound on those rates might be before a correction, either imposed from on high or semi-natural, comes about, which line of inquiry leads naturally into the infinite aspects of baseball, our great untimed pastime; specifically, while we all know that for a game to end, a runner must reach base and score, dreaming on the elegant theoretical possibility of infinite strikeouts, batter after batter, inning after inning, of nobody ever even making fair contact, much less getting on base, leads me to think that baseball could evolve into an elaborate yet simple art piece, one that might even sell enough tickets to be a worthwhile commercial endeavor

(fans return to Christian Marclay's The Clock over and over and over, after all, and I'd argue that our hypothetical infinite ballgame is even better because if you sit through all 24 hours of The Clock, you'll know exactly what's coming

(though note that such knowing would change the experience of watching and thus likely still be worthwhile viewing on the second go-round and perhaps even infinitely worthwhile, now that I think about it, given that what's going on in front of you is only part of the point of any art, with the rest being what's going on in you because of and/or in opposition to and/or in harmony with the thing(s))

while the ballgame would be ever-shifting, at the far end of the spectrum from The Clock, in fact, because the players, the characters in the play on the field

(if you want to think of them that way in the art context),

age at exactly the same rate that you do, which would be something we're not used to dealing with because most art that we can view many times and return to as often as we want freezes time

(paintings, sculpture)

or loops it

(a movie ends, you start over from the beginning),

while our infinite baseball game, which you could visit as often as you wanted at any time you were interested would do neither of these things)

but we want different things from our art than we do from our sport

(right?)

and, more importantly to men like Arte Moreno and conglomerates like Liberty Media, art and sports

(bear with me on this distinction, though I know it's likely untenable if we really delve deep),

or at least art of this type and sports, sell to very different audiences

—not audiences with no overlap

(I've been to a museum or six and I suspect many of you have as well, but there's not nothing to stereotypes about effete latte-sipping cultural snobs and meathead bros in jerseys),

but different!—

such that baseball morphing into a

(different type of)

grand experiment along the lines we're pondering here would present real challenges for those on the business side of the game, the men and ... well, mostly men who sign long-term leases on the 45,000-seat stadia in which Infinite Wind

(it needed a name at this point, and, honestly, I'm a little proud of that one even though Google tells me that it's the moniker of a New Jersey wind turbine company—consider this my contribution to the greening of America's economy and energy-production)

is performed/exhibited may decide that rule changes are in order to prevent the sport from turning into art, which rule changes will not only have the practical effect of keeping us in the grounded physical reality of 7–3 baseball games but also in themselves make baseball a sport rather than art

(my theory being "rules can't have any place in art," though in a piece already full to the brim of untenable propositions, maybe this rules-based distinction between games and art just joins the crowd: don't forget Dogme 95, after all, though I suppose it's possible that the art of Dogme 95 was not the films made under the strictures but the very existence of the commandments themselves, which raises the specter of the whole endeavor being not so much art as prank

(again with the distinctions),

which itself perhaps represents me launching attacks a little too close to my own home for my comfort, especially given this glass house I'm living in, and in any case my knowledge of Dogme 95 basically comes from the linked Wikipedia page, so for me to make accusations of unseriousness against its proponents goes beyond "unfair" and out into the deep territory of "stupid"),

but more importantly will preserve some semblance of the status quo

(36,426 strikeouts in 184,179 plate appearances, which results in a decimal that repeats after 1,624 digits—as if you needed more evidence of my restraint, I won't attempt to slip all 1,624 of them past the editors, and in any case you can basically round the figure to 20 percent)

so that the reliance the guardians of the game place on history

(a finite endeavor if ever there was one—why consider the infinite possibilities of potential when we can analogize and compare and judge based on the baseline of what has already been recorded to have come before?)

can be maintained with a straight face

—the question of how the players/performers of Infinite Wind compare to Babe Ruth dwarfs the difficulty of drawing concrete links between Ruth and, say, Giancarlo Stanton

(given the nutritional, racial, cultural, equipmental, climatological, geographical, monetary, and miscellaneous differences in their lives)

because Infinite Wind is like ... nothing, actually, or at least nothing that my puny and sadly finite mind can contemplate, with the easy analogies all deeply flawed

(this isn't like actors vs. real people, to pick the most obvious comparison, because the hitters in Infinite Wind are not acting out a script—they're legitimately trying not to strike out, but they can't)

and the television networks and corporate sponsors and everybody else who funds the lavish lifestyles of pretty much everybody in the game

(except the assistant baseball operations coordinator, who gets paid a pittance and never sees his family, the combination of which factors makes it clear why so many youngsters are clamoring for any foothold they can find on a big-league job)

will be appeased and continue to pour their nearly infinite dollars

(the difference between $50,000 and $2 billion is like the difference between ∞ and ∞)

down the greedy throats of the baseballarati, all of which means that

(remember where we started),

we're unlikely to actually see the aforementioned theoretical upper limit of strikeout rate in my lifetime or my grandkids'

(and put aside the finiteness of such measures or, hell, the finiteness of the earth itself—we may not be able to create infinite things, but we can at least wrap our minds around the edges of the concept and thus invent structures that if allowed to actually persist would constitute at least one instance of infinity),

which is a shame when it comes right down to it because I've dreamed of sitting young Arya or Ender Wojciechowski down and telling them, "You know, kids, when I was your age gas existed and there was only one California and people actually killed each other and baseball games ... hold tight to your brother, now, dear, because this isn't something I tell you lightly—it's a frightening prospect that I've kept from you until you were old enough to really contemplate it ... baseball games ended."

But everything ends.

Jason Wojciechowski is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Jack Cust,  Mark Reynolds

6 comments have been left for this article.

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