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March 19, 2013

Skewed Left

Baseball's Great Unresolved Debates

by Zachary Levine

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The American and National Leagues are two distinct leagues in name only. They act more like conferences than leagues, with no league presidents, relatively newfound player mobility, and now constant interleague play. But they continue to operate under a different set of rules, and to some that makes no sense. The DH debate must be settled, the argument goes. Standardize it in, say the progressives, and standardize it out, say the traditionalists, but standardize it soon.

It’s among the most difficult problems facing the union and management over the coming years, as it impacts rosters and player salaries. While the role of full-time designated hitter may someday wash away completely, the average primary designated hitter in 2011 made $8.3 million.

Yet, as the game faces calls for the NL to give in after 14 decades of pitchers hitting or for the AL to cave on what was by many accounts a successful 40-year experiment, there are far more important debates that have still not been settled. Vital issues that challenge baseball every day and that have laughably seen no resolution.

Before even considering what should become of the DH rule, Major League Baseball must take a long and hard look at its real foundational debates or face a future that it probably does not want to envision.

1. What is the singular of Red Sox?
Or White Sox, for that matter, but there is a more pressing issue on the South Side that we’ll address later.

Is Xander Bogaerts a future “Red Sock” or is he a future “Red Sox?” Is it different if you’re saying it or typing it? Should it just be avoided at all costs in favor of saying that he’s a “future member of the Red Sox” or just a “Honkbal wizard?” And what is the possessive, “Red Sox’” or “Red Sox’s?”

For one point of view from somebody who deals with this problem in writing and presumably in speech every day, we turn it over to Providence Journal Red Sox beat writer, BP guest author, and good human being Tim Britton, who is a reluctant member of Team “A Red Sox.”

Obviously, the grammatical quandaries posed by a colloquial misspelling is the absolute worst thing about covering the Red Sox, and it took me fewer than three days on the job to realize this. Strunk and White—and even Bryan Garner—offer zero guidance. I don't want to speak for the New England media as a whole, but the general consensus appears to be that the singular of Red Sox is...Red Sox (i.e. Jacoby Ellsbury is a Red Sox through 2013); I say this largely because I was roundly mocked for a tweet that said "Red Sock" early in my tenure. In speech, though, most everyone pronounces it as "Red Sock." I'm wary of this construction.

The possessive is even worse. I've seen "the Red Sox' streak," "the Red Sox streak," and "the Red Sox's streak" in about that order of popularity. I most often opt for the last of the three—is there precedent for just x-apostrophe? We can't just ignore the possessive, right?—but in all honesty, avoid it at all costs. I will circumnavigate that mess no matter how many extra words it takes. So the only real acceptable possessive of Red Sox is "Boston's," which makes me retroactively thankful the Braves moved out of town.

2. How many games over .500 are you?
The Philadelphia Phillies last season finished 81-81, which was 17 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals. Yet, in exactly the same season, the 98-64 Nationals set a franchise record by finishing 34 games over .500.

Please fix this at your earliest convenience, baseball.

3. What is the proper abbreviation for the White Sox?
You see these little three-letter abbreviations everywhere—on out-of-town scoreboards in the outfield, on crawls at the bottom of the TV screen, at the tail end of URLs—and for the most part, they’re pretty standard. Atlanta is ATL. Colorado is COL.

Some are inconsistent, though, and the most maddening of these is how to abbreviate the Chicago White Sox.

  • Baseball-Reference.com uses for its data on the South-SidersCHW,” which is a pretty common notation. “Sox” gets a bit of a short stick by being excluded, but as we saw in item one, that word probably deserves it.
     
  • MLB.com, whose official status may be the tiebreaker, uses “CWSin the URLs. It’s the most sensible as the traditional acronym, but it’s already taken as the abbreviation for the College World Series.
     
  • We at Baseball Prospectus use “CHA” to distinguish it from the National League’s Cubs, who are “CHN.” It’s the same with “NYA” and “NYN” in New York and even “SLN” for St. Louis with the AL’s Browns long gone. CHA is logical even though it’s more often seen in the wider sporting world for Charlotte, which happens to be the White Sox’ (White Sox’s) Triple-A home.

To help sort this out, SBNation.com columnist, BP alumna and real-life White Sox sympathizer Cee Angi offered her services.

The South Side will continue to be the red-headed step child of Chicago baseball, but that doesn't mean that they don't deserve some respect when it comes to their box score abbreviations. "CHW" "CWS" "CHA"? Which one is right is anyone's guess, though I'll admit I'm partial to CWS. But, really, there's only one way I can think to settle the debate: Instead of 'Dance 4 Da Burger', an event in which three participants show off their dance moves for the chance to win a free Da Burger, a pork patty burger available near Section 113, the dance-off on top off the White Sox dugout on Opening Day should be to settle which abbreviation is best. It'll be a small sample size, given attendance issues, but it's better than nothing. Also, the White Sox should find another catcher. That seems important, too.

4. Do the standings have to go East, Central, West?
When Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller started out on the road to 30 team previews on the Effectively Wild podcast, the order almost went without saying.

It goes East, Central, West pretty much everywhere that doesn’t have a home division. (My old paper, the Houston Chronicle, listed the Central first and will have to shake that up this year when the hometown Astros are shipped west without moving.)

It’s the order in which baseball moved, with the original teams mostly in the East and then the game spreading westward. It’s also the opposite of how you’d expect to see it, combining how we traditionally read a map with how we read the English language.

But is it time for East-Central-West to be codified?

5. Is it on-base percentage or on-base average?
The people have clearly spoken on this one too even if, like East-Central-West, it’s counterintuitive.

It’s not a percentage. Percentage has that root for 100 right in the middle there, and we’ve just decided to ignore it. A good on-base percentage isn’t .350. It’s 35. It’s an average, though barely an average. It’s an average of 1s for times reaching base and 0s for times not.

On-base average, which has really caught on only with wOBA or weighted on base average, is a great way to sound intellectually superior and also sound like kind of a jerk. But it’s also right, unlike the idiotic RsBI plural.

We’ve just come too far with OBP to try to change it now. Sort of like we have with the DH.

Feel free to use the comments section to weigh in on these vital debates and suggest more that need to be addressed. For the children.

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

Related Content:  Designated Hitter,  Dh,  Abbreviations,  Debate

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