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The Rajah’s Regret

By: Nathan Bishop

It was a cold morning in late December of 1925, and Rogers Hornsby’s back ached. The rustic cabin he liked to use for hunting during the offseason glistened with frost in the dawn, and he shuffled to the door. He needed to wake up, so he needed coffee, so he needed wood for a fire.

As he did every morning before going outside, Hornsby performed his daily ritual. He grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun and peered through the curtains he almost always kept closed. He squinted through the old single pane, frosted window, staring at the distance for movement. After stepping outside he carefully, deliberately walked the perimeter of the property, always with an eye towards the northeast, towards St. Louis.

There was no chance it wouldn’t come. It always came. The cold would thaw, the days stretch incrementally longer, and eventually, the letter would come summoning him to Sportsman Park, for another season of toil, long bus rides, and oafish teammates. Hornsby was a baseball player, and a damn fine one, but as his years ticked past 30 he found himself increasingly resentful of the modern game. The departure of the Deadball Era, and Babe Ruth’s all-eclipsing star meant that the game’s pace was slowing. 154 iterations of the same charade left his mind and body raw and spent. Baseball was worse, and there was too much of it for his liking. In his youth the game had been better, the players faster, the pace and style fresh. Had it not been for his immense gambling losses, Hornsby may have quit the game long ago. But it was a fine living, and he had land to pay for and breakfast to buy.

After the morning coffee, Hornsby cranked his Ford to life, and drove into town to get his mail from the post office. While his sometimes dour, always standoffish personality won him few friends among his teammates, his skill earned him the adoration of children all over the country, and culling that popularity kept him in favor with sponsors, and that kept the money flowing.

As he sat down to read he noticed one, written in a simple, child’s hand:

“Mr. Hornsby,

What do you do during the winter when there’s no baseball?”

Hornsby, smiling caustically through a tight grimace, snatched a piece of paper, dipped his pen in ink and began to write:

“Dear Jimmy,

I’ll tell you what I do during winter when there’s no baseball…”


The Happy Side Effect

By: Patrick Dubuque

Yesterday I shirked adulthood and joined my friends John and Meg in the grand old tradition of Daytime Baseball.

With the Hometown Teal threatening to build on their lead in the bottom of the sixth, two on and two out, Ricardo Pinto spun around and fired to second. The runner, Mike Zunino, was caught completely off guard, and even from our seats it was clear he was beaten. The catcher collapsed back to the bag with one arm outstretched like a villain slipping off a rain-soaked rooftop, the Visiting Maroons began jogging back to the dugout, and the umpire threw his arms out: safe. The play was, especially by managerial standards, quickly put under review.

No matter how you feel about baseball’s review process, I understand it. I’ve felt the frustration of watching a blown call, the knowledge that the game, and the universe that branched outward from it, were the wrong ones. But I’m also a pragmatic person. The world comprises two sorts of folk: the 100 percenters and the 99 percenters. I am very much in the latter camp. The kind who doesn’t sweat the small stuff, if one is feeling charitable, or cuts corners, if one isn’t so inclined. I’m good with good enough, in all but the most important situations. I don’t need constant justice in the world, just the feeling that the odds will eventually even out.

But as the umpire watched the replay (it did not take long), I found myself wanting Zunino to be safe, not because he represented my corporation of choice, but because I realized that replay has opened up a new world to us: the idea that tags can be avoided. In real time, and certainly from the distant vantage of the plebeians like myself, the tag is a useless blur; to the umpires as well, who often called the ball’s arrival against the runner more than the tag. Replay has provided this minor element of baseball with enough detail to reward those who can find advantage in it: a tag avoided can be one of the most graceful in sports, when it’s allowed.

Zunino was not graceful; the tag was planted firmly on his back. The call took mere seconds to reverse. Still, it’s pleasant to know for sure.


On Baseball and Friendship

By: David G. Temple

The annual Society for American Baseball Research convention is, as of this writing, upon us once again. I'm fairly sure this will mark my fifth trip, though I can't research that since the WiFi on this Amtrak train will only allow me to access Ted Nugent's web site for some reason. Nevertheless, I've been in the past and I'm excited to attend again.

When I've told friends or work colleagues about my trip — this year in New York City — they usually nod knowingly as they know enough about my general personality to understand that this is an event I would seek out. Most people who know me know I'm a baseball nerd. Follow-up questions usually surface and generally include queries as to what the SABR convention actually is. I do my best to explain, but I fear that many people walk away thinking it is some kind of stats conference or the like.

And while presentations and panels can certainly revolve around statistics, that isn't the only thing discussed, to be certain. Retired players will often share stories. Historians and researchers will weave tales about a freshly-discovered facet of the game's history or culture. There are just as many sepia photos in PowerPoint presentations as there are line graphs.

But, to be honest, very little of that matters to me. The reason I am attending this year's conference is the same reason I came back after my very first — for the people. Not all the people, mind you — some attendees can only be described as insufferable at best. But over the years I've become close with a small group that I consider to be my friends. Most of us got first got acquainted online in some form or another, usually reading each other's writing and engaging on Twitter. And that can be a perfectly adequate vehicle for a relationship for some. But seeing these people every year in person — having a meal and a drink with them, seeing a ballgame or two, recalling old stories and making new ones — is, to me, such a refreshing palette cleanser.

I don't mean to speak for my friends, but it can often be difficult for a person like me to connect with others on a meaningful level. I can fake it, to be sure, and have gotten pretty good at it over the years. But it's just that — fake. To a fault, I've usually made the decision about whether I want to talk to a person or not within the first 30 seconds of our interaction.

Having a shared interest with someone in a certain subject isn't the lynchpin in which a relationship is formed, but it can certainly be the catalyst. Baseball is one of my few catalysts, and I'm glad that the SABR convention has given me the opportunity to meet people of all stripes and backgrounds and opinions that I can at least start a conversation with without a minor panic attack being induced.

A couple years ago, I hurt someone's feelings at a SABR convention. I made a stupid, off-hand remark without thinking of how it might actually affect the subject. They, rightfully so, chided me for it fairly aggressively. And for the first time in a long time, I was actually scared I might lose a friend. I've lost friends to the usual reasons before — moving away, changes in attitudes, general and undefinable drifting — but I've never lost a friend because I or they did something that genuinely hurt the other person's feelings. Luckily, we sorted things out. But I won't forget that fear I felt for some time.

In spite of my generally surly attitude toward everything and everyone, my friends that I met at SABR have become precious to me. This is both unexpected yet karmically pleasing. I'd like to think that if we met under different, non-baseball circumstances that we still would have ended up friends, but I'm honestly not sure that would be true. But even if the foundation on which our relationships stand happens to be baseball, it's a fine and sturdy foundation indeed. Everyone is a their own kind of weirdo. I'm just glad that the cosmos brought my weirdos to me.