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May 27, 2011

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Boston Area Band Geeks… (and everyone else, of course).

A Terrific event (well, I think so). All day band music at Faneuil Hall, downtown Boston. A week from tomorrow, Saturday 6/4.

Here's the schedule: http://www.mws-boston.org/media/pdf/mws-2011bandfest.pdf

Here's the web page: http://www.mws-boston.org/events/2011bandfest

I'm the one playing the microphone.

Here's a very basic piece of sports-equipment advice that will probably be of use to almost no one reading here, but: If you want to exercise by jumping rope, buy a good jump rope, even if it costs twice as much as the cheaper ones. It will last five times longer, so you'll spend less in the long run, and the grips and action will be far more confortable.

So, what's the best way to soften up a baseball glove in short order?

BTW, "confortable" is a technical term in the field of jumping rope. It means the same thing as "comfortable," but applies specifically to jumping rope.

When I was in college one of my dorm mates was an under-18 ping pong champion from State X. He had a paddle with super-sticky rubber on one side and nothing on the other because he used the pen grip. When he used it he could beat pretty much anyone even though he spotted them an 18 point lead in a game to 21 (though not me, after playing against him for most of the year).

What was amazing to me was how different the game was at his level (which was way way way way below the international champion level, of course). It reminded me of the few times I played pick up basketball against D-I football players (and once against a bunch of freshmen varsity bball players, but they weren't really trying), you just had no chance.

HSTD:

One method:

Assuming the baseball glove is the traditional steer leather and not plastic or suede, take an old baseball and snug it firmly in the pocket while you're wearing it, close the glove, with the tip of the thumb pretty much meeting the tip of the little finger, remove the glove, with ball intact, and secure the fit by putting a couple of rubber bands tightly around the mitt.

Then submerge it in a bucket of shaving cream with lanolin and leave it over night. It will be wet the next morning. Leave it out (indoors) until dry.

It should be more supple afterwards than before.

Then play catch with it until the two of you like each other.

Skip the step in which you microwave the glove and then jump up and down on it repeatedly.

I use my gloves until they turn to powder, because I hate breaking in a new glove. I haven't used the shaving cream method for years. I usually buy a new glove and leave it in my ball bag for a couple years with my old broken-down glove, before using the former.

Since I'm a ball player, I'm highly superstitious about my equipment. I'm hoping, through a kind of body snatcher transformation, the new glove, by proximity to the old, will take on the suppleness and characteristics of the used glove.

I talk to the two of them, quietly so as not to make the old one feel bad and so as not to scare the new one away.

Glove whispering.

Then in the third inning of whatever game it is in which my old glove sheds pieces in the outfield, I call time, grab the new glove, still as stiff as it was in the store, trot back out to the outfield, spit in it, and use both hands, like you should anyway.

Then one day, maybe weeks or months later you and new glove are one.

I suspect the big difference between the attitudes of tennis and golf is that tennis is mostly about player vs. player while golf has a large element of player vs. course. That means it's OK to let tennis players ramp up racket technology because both players benefit equally- though you can get some boring matches when serves get so fast they're almost unreturnable. If you let golfers use clubs and balls that double their drive length, it radically changes the way courses play and you're either stuck with all par 3 holes or you have to do some very expensive course redesign.

I think professional baseball does the equipment definition very well with their rule on bats. They don't have to have a really elaborate performance specification because the rule that bats must be made from a single piece of wood is a strong enough limit. They've recently introduced some recommendations on how maple bats should be treated differently from ash ones, but those are for safety rather than performance.

Even in the lower levels of competition, most tennis players are using rubber that costs $40 or more per side, and it wears out before too long. Blades are $40 and way up. So if you look at equipment catalogs, you'd think you were reading about patent medicines or cosmetics. The different woods and exotic fillers are alluring, but who really has the time and money to find out which ones work for them? It takes hours of play to adjust to a new combination before you get a good idea if it's helping.
A reasonable strategy is, find the part of your game you most enjoy and want to develop, copy the equipment of a better player (not a paid endorser) who has that style of play, and stick with it long enough for your game to adjust to the new equipment.

I meant to type "table tennis" in the comment above.

Uh, could someone explain to me who the GOP's constituency is with respect to this?

"Themselves" seems to be the only plausible answer.

I'm a golf guy. Tried tennis for about 10 years, hated it. I'm pretty sure there are limitations on what kind of grooving a club can have, and other technical things that are equally beyond my interest and comprehension.

Equipment-wise, it's kind of a racket and kind of not, NPI. Modern technology does make for a more forgiving, larger sweet spot, graphite does extend, for some people including me, distance, and it holds down on vibration which reduces inflamed elbows. I don't know all the ends and outs.

What is a fairly observable fact is that only up to a point can you "buy your game." Quality equipment is important, but way less than half the equation. The kicker is, every year, new stuff comes out by the same people, making last year's stuff obsolete.

That's mostly good news for golfers who want quality stuff at a low price. Just buy off the shelf stuff that's two years old. They practically give it away and it's 95% as good as the current issue. Really, there's only so much they can do to balance a club and expand the sweet spot. If you don't have a swing, there isn't a club anywhere that you can hit.

If you don't have a swing, there isn't a club anywhere that you can hit.

I find the opposite. I didn't get swings until I had kids. Now that I have kids, and swings, I don't get to hit the clubs like I used to. But I never really liked clubs much, anyway. I was always more of a pub guy.

Oh, and thanks for the glove advice, Count. I'm going to give it a try.

As an aside, for some reason, the thought of a bucket full of shaving cream makes me a little horny. I'm not sure what's going on there, but if I figure it out, I'll let you know (after the missus, of course).

As an aside, for some reason, the thought of a bucket full of shaving cream makes me a little horny.

TMI, HSD, TMI.

I'm a golf guy.

Golf. Has there ever been a professional sport (let's assume) that was so dependent on the popularity of a single person the way golf has been since late 1996 on Tiger Woods? I know Phil Mickelson is pretty popular, but he's not really in Tiger's category.

Maybe the NBA and Michael Jordan during the 1990s, after Bird/Magic retired, but even then once MJ retired (again) in 1999 the next year the Shaq/Kobe Lakers won the Championship. Babe Ruth and baseball, maybe? Golf, it seems, is going to wither away in terms of people wanting to watch it on TV.

And while I'm on TW and golf, and since it seems I don't have much to do today, I would argue that should he pass Jack Nicklaus's record for major championships, which seems very unlikely now even though it seemed inevitable a few years ago, it would be the single most impressive career accomplishment in sports (let's again assume golf counts as a sport).

He famously was a child golf prodigy, who set out just as famously to beat Nicklaus's record for major wins even before he went to college. Nicklaus holds 18 major golf championships. When Woods began his career, that was 63% more than Walter Hagen, who won 11, in second place. I know of no significant career record in any of the major professional sports where the disparity between first and second is so great (not that I know everything, and I certainly don't know anything about soccer records).

John Stockon (currently) has 36% more assists than Jason Kidd. Ripken played in 24% more consecutive games than Gehrig. Only Wayne Gretzky's 2857 career points, 51% more than Gordie Howe's, and 1963 career assists, 57% more than Ron Francis, comes close to the disparity between Nicklaus and Hagen. That was the gap Woods set out to surpass.

He made it to 14 majors, 5 short of his goal. 5 is a lot of majors in golf these days. Only one other active golfer has won 4, only three other active golfers have won even 3 (IOW, Woods has more major championships than his 4 closest current competitors combined). It was a great run, historic even, but he's done, IMO. If he's not, and manages to win another 5 majors (or more), then as I said it will be the greatest career achievement in sports history.

boxing's popularity seems to rise and fall depending on the presence or absence of superstars. and there hasn't been one in decades...

Boxing, good point. Mike Tyson seems to be the last star, though the Bowe/Holyfield fights were good. Golf's future might be there.

On boxing, I recommend everyone watch When We Were Kings, just fascinating stuff, including that beyond the boxing world.

I agree that Woods did for golf what no single person has done for any other sport that I can remember, although some have come close. His family meltdown was a testament to the jock ego and a lot of other jock behaviors that reflect badly on a lot of people who aren't that way.

But even if TW was not mentally out of it (he is, IMO), he's over-torqued his knees to the point where there is nothing left for that kind of a game.

He could be competitive, but it would take a level of ego reduction and submission to a truly stellar golf coach/leader to even begin. My sense is that TW is toxic to most of the leading coaches. I don't know of anyone who would take him on without a demonstrable change in attitude.

ugh asks Who is the GOP's constituency for demanding Medicare cuts as the price of allowing the debt ceiling to be raised.

It's obvious. The constituency is all those seniors (in the Tea Party or otherwise) who voted for the new GOP Congressmen and Senators out of carefully induced fear that the Democrats were going to attack Medicare (and Social Security). Surely that constituency will be so happy to see concerns about the debt finally being addressed that they will not be bothered by a little thing like their own medical care being slashed. It makes perfect sense....

Sports equipment, to me, is a chess set. For more athleticism, add a chess clock.

You might think chess is the sport where the equipment matters least. But try playing a serious game with one of those novelty sets whose pieces look like Civil War armies, or Aztec totems, or something.

Good chess pieces can be wood or plastic, but they have to conform closely to the Staunton design, be the right size for the board (which also has to be the right size), and be weighted for stability. Good chess clocks can be mechanical or electronic, but they must have mechanical buttons with tactile feedback, large displays clearly visible in daylight, and make some kind of ticking sound to enhance the experience of playing a blitz game against Murray the Chess Master in Harvard Square on a balmy summer evening.

Incidentally, Bobby Fischer may have come close to raising the popularity of chess in about the same proportion as Tiger Woods did for golf. I'm talking a long time ago, and the Fischer bump was brief. I'm also talking parochially: the Fischer-Spassky match in Reykjavic may have raised American interest in chess from microscopic to minuscule for a brief time, but I suspect the bump was smaller, proportionally, in those nations (mostly commie Sov-block at the time) where chess was more popular to start with.

Some American general supposedly commented on the Cuban missile crisis: "They play chess. We play poker." But let's not get into that.

Some wag once said of golf: "If you like to take long walks on Saturday, take long walks on Saturday. If you like to hit a little ball with a stick, hit a little ball with a stick. But do you have to do both together and plaster it all over TV every Saturday?"

Some wag once said of golf:

Yeah, from the outside looking in, it doesn't seem to make much sense, yet . . .

Who is the GOP's constituency for demanding Medicare cuts as the price of allowing the debt ceiling to be raised.?

The 27 % of the nation's voters whose sole rubric is "If liberals support a policy, then I'm against it."

In the formulation from the Balloon Juice Lexicon:

27 Percenters – Those Americans who will predictably vote against their own best interests. In his seminal post on the Crazification Factor, John Rogers used the 2004 Obama/Keyes senate race as a measure: “Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.”

I note that at the end of W's misadministration, his popular support was right about 27%.

[This is the third time I will have tried to post this. I'm not getting asked to type in a captcha, it says my comment was posted, I don't see it, apologies if it now turns up 3 times.]
1. Since this is an open thread, I'll start with something from last week's open thread and then ramble onward:
Slarti wrote: Since this is an open thread, I'd like to mention that I'm in the first few dozen pages of Bill Bryson's At Home, and already I'm thinking that I have to read and own everything the guy has written, just as I want to read and own everything Simon Winchester has written. And Jared Diamond, for that matter.
I read this just as I was packing for a trip, and since I love JD as well (though not Simon W.), it inspired me to download At Home, which then became the first book I've actually gotten absorbed in on the nook I got for Christmas. (Reading long texts on electronic devices -- nook and PC, for me -- is another whole topic.)
At Home is really wonderful -- thanks for the tip, Slarti.
*****
2. Ugh: Uh, could someone explain to me who the GOP's constituency is with respect to this?
"Themselves" seems to be the only plausible answer.
Does the GOP ever have any other?
*****
3. I've never been deep enough into a sport to pay much attention to equipment. But in the realm of comparative sports, I've always been curious about the differing ways in which the various team sports do penalties. (For me this means basketball, baseball/softball, American football, and hockey, all of which I've paid more attention to than soccer (as the next major team sport that comes to mind)).
Only hockey has anything like the power play.
Only in basketball do players foul out.
Baseball has nothing like either of those things, or like yardage penalties in football.
*****
4. I'm going to be in Cambridge a lot over the next month. Maybe the ObWiBoston crew would like to get together? efgoldman's #1 comment in this thread makes me wonder if next Saturday might be a good day for it....though I'm not even sure yet that I could do it that day, since I'm waiting for some college friends who will be around for reunion weekend to schedule a get-together.

JanieM--one difference in penalty systems is the difference between inherently contact sports and sports where contact is theoretically incidental. Football, basketball and hockey inherently involve contact although basketball, in theory, does not. Some theory. Baseball and soccer also have contact, but the sport does not require it and the penalties discourage all intentional contact. Incidental contact is treated differently.

I'm having a plant sale at 10AM Sat in Jamaica Plain Boston, MA 2 blocks from Arnold Arboretum. Currently azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom, but a few lilacs might be lingering. I realize tomato seedlings are not a purchase that interests a traveler, but my house might be a gathering spot. Also, JP has lots of restaurants & bars.
It's a hike from Cambridge, but on the T. Front pagers have my email, or peggy underscore hopper at yahoo dot com.

McK...basketball has changed amazingly, or at least I think it has; I don't know what I'd think if I watched a lot of footage from e.g. the Bill Russell years (I wasn't much of a fan yet when he was playing, but I hear he was no shrinking violet). My impression is that there isn't a lot of room for a pure finesse player (yes, I know that's a fuzzy concept) any more.

When my kids played (through soph and jr yrs of high school respectively), among the many other things that I didn't handle well was the fact that basketball is very majorly a contact sport now. [...Beginning of long rant deleted. It's healthier for me not to go there.]

All that said, when I do devote a little time to watching basketball now (NCAA and NBA tourneys mostly, the former both women's and men's), the thing that astonishes me the most is the combination of size, speed, and skill. The way so many players toss up 3-pointers -- and make them so consistently -- is just amazing.

I've seen this even amongst a few of the top high school players I watched when my kids were playing, even in the backwater of Maine, which has never produced an NBA player. Maybe the fact that so many players can do it means it's not as hard as it looks, but I'm pretty sure it requires both a certain athletic talent to begin with, and massive amounts of disciplined practice, for people to get so consistently good at it.

Whoops. Sat 5/27.

peggy -- hmmm, I haven't been to the arboretum for years. That might be a fun outing.

As I said, I'm not sure about Saturday, but I'll put your email address into my "ObWiBoston" list.

Sadly, tomato plants wouldn't thrive in the company apartment where I stay. But some potted basil might work....

cross-posted...

Oh well, I'm at home in Maine this weekend.

Maybe the fact that so many players can do it means it's not as hard as it looks, but I'm pretty sure it requires both a certain athletic talent to begin with, and massive amounts of disciplined practice, for people to get so consistently good at it.

When Bill Russell played, our country was much smaller population-wise and much less sophisticated in the science of growing and training athletes. Less to draw on, less resources dedicated to jock farming and less of an incentive to get into sports, back then. With more people, better training and diet, year-round practice/leagues, etc, it just isn't what it once was.

You know, upon rereading, my 10:07 post above regarding stiff glove becoming supple glovey-dovey with the bucket of shaving cream and the whispering and the spitting and the leather was kind of erotic.

I wouldn't change anything, but maybe carry out the procedure privately first in an adult men's league before trying it with the pee-wee team and all of the Moms looking on.

For golf advice, refer to Arnold Palmer's wife's preparation and blessing of his golf balls and Johnny Carson's musing about how that might straighten out Arnie's putting game.

WRT the margin of superiority Nicklaus had over all others, there was one substantially greater, if you're willing to accept cricket as a "major professional sport." (And if you're not, look up how many people play it - far more than baseball or US football - and how much the top players get paid. Then repent.)

When Don Bradman retired in 1948, his "test" (= international) batting average was 99.94, and would have been over 100 if he hadn't scored a "duck" (zero) in his very last inning.

The next highest lifetime average then was 60.73 (Sutcliffe), so Bradman was over 65% better than the second best ever.

Over the last 63 years, the second best average, including those whose total number of innings is much lower (30-40, as against the 80+ of Bradman and Sutcliffe), has crept all the way up to 61.53. Bradman is still 62% better than the next best.

Oh, and like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and a few others, he lost what should have been his "prime" years to WWII.

Cool stuff.
Good advice Doug. I've got two problems. One is that the way I play is so idiosyncratic, I can't find a good model. The other is that when I go to youtube to watch all the tt vids, all the chinese players, I hate to say, look alike.

JanieM, an open thread about penalties in sports is a much better idea for an open thread, so I will steal it from you and use it in the future.

About golf, one of the attractions is that it is one of the few sports that, when you do certain things, you are doing just like the pros. Me lofting up a 3 point shot, even if it goes in, is not the same as a 6'4" pro or even college player putting up a shot. But if I hit my 9-iron and put the ball on the green, or I sink a 20 foot putt, it is exactly what a pro would have done. He or she would be able to do it a lot more regularly, but the shot itself is the same. Of course, now, with training and coaching, the pro drive is becoming a shot that only a pro can hit, which is supposed to be due to the pressure of Tiger Woods.

About folks who have changed the game, McT touches on that, talking about demographics and professionalization. Back when playing pro sports was basically a middle class job with the perk of fan adulation (if you don't believe me, read Jerry Kramer's book about them arguing over their salaries, or the numerous paeans to the fact that the Brooklyn Dodgers actually lived in Brooklyn)s, you have to wonder how many folks would have been, could have been as good as the pros. My horn teacher, who was an avid tennis player, always wondered what would happen if someone like Julius Erving would have played tennis as well as wondering if there was some person out there who had the gift to play horn better than anyone else, but just never had a chance. He did this in part to quell the constant rumbling within the studio of who was 'best', but it has stuck with me because it really strikes at the foundation of what is 'best' in any human endeavor.

Of course, another thing to that mix is how people get to be best. A little of the sheen came off of Jordan from his Washington Wizard tenure (which was probably apparent if you read expose biography Jordan Rules) as well as the inability to hit minor league pitching (again, evident in retrospect and to anyone who thinks about the different skill sets, but recalling the coverage, there was a large portion of it detailing the surprise that he wasn't going to get up to the bigs) and Tiger's own problems have me wonder if it is possible to be 'the best' without making sacrifices in their own behavior and self-image. This book extract had me thinking of that, I suppose.

Finally, many thanks to the Count for the glove explanation, though my wife is going wonder what has gotten into me...

So, this thread touches on another thing that fascinates me: talent/genius, and what people do with it. Helping coach little kids in basketball, I came to see that some kids had a "talent" for hard work. It's a cliche that some kids are more "coachable" than others. Some of the best "pure athletes" I saw when the kids were 8 or 9, who could do things instinctively that other kids could barely approach clumsily, never got any better because they relied on their "natural talent" and weren't coachable. (Those two don't necessarily go together, obviously.)

My daughter had much more natural athletic talent than my son, but he had amazing discipline and turned himself into a useful basketball player by sheer will power and discipline (in the weight room mostly). But both had/have a lot of joint problems; my daughter had knee and wrist surgery before she was out of her teens, and back problems as well. So if I thought there were a deity or any kind of pattern to life (I don’t, mostly, but it’s hard not to pretend), I would ask, what is the "point" of my daughter's talent if she was going to be given a body that broke down when she indulged the talent. I’m sure some people would have answers to this ... people get stronger when going through trials, etc.

But that’s not always true.

Then there are people like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace>David Foster Wallace: summa cum laude in both English and philosphy at Amherst; wrote "Everything and More" about infinity in mathematics, as well as the novels he's more known for (especially Infinite Jest), as well as some wonderful essays. (I like his non-fiction much better than his fiction, maybe just because I haven't applied as much patience to the fiction yet.)

And -- lifelong serious depression, all of it ending when he killed himself almost three years ago at the age of 46.

Then there’s http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBxKEmDwyuA>this. You don’t get here at the age of 8 or 9 without huge natural musical talent and a “talent” for practicing. And/or a certain kind of parents and context....(also important in kids’ sports, of course).

Golf...a good walk spoiled. We need more commies on the Tour...to match the growth of the working stiffs in the stands.

Just imagine a winner of a Major decked out with a hat and golf bag advertising the Longshoreman's Union, UAW or UBEW.

signed,

a commie who loves the game. go figure.

"Of course, now, with training and coaching, the pro drive is becoming a shot that only a pro can hit..."

Simply not true. There are plenty of scratch golfers who can crank out 290+ yard drives with great regularity....but they can't score in the 60's when the chips are on the line.

At Home is really wonderful -- thanks for the tip, Slarti.

Glad I could help! Having gotten quite a bit further into it, I think that, too, even given that he's a hopelessly messy writer; sometimes he walks right up within spitting distance of making a point, and then changes the subject, and the damned book has precious little structure at all, outside of that it's notionally glued to his own house.

Despite all of that, though, I think I'm bringing A Short History of Nearly Everything on vacation with me.

bobbyp, true, but is that true for anyone who has a 2 digit handicap? (that's numbers, not fingers :)) Yet, even if you have a 2 digit handicap, you can still hit some shots just like the pros. Even if you just go out for a lark, you might strike one shot that is 'a good golf shot'. It's hard for me to imagine that for any other sport. Even a basketball foul shot, when taken with hands that can palm the ball from a release point that is half a foot higher than mine seems like a difference in kind rather than degree.

@JanieM: Baseball has nothing like either of those things, or like yardage penalties in football.

It has some things that are vaguely like those. Many of the penalties for illegal pitching or fielding acts result in automatic advances for the batting team in a way that's similar to penalties in football. For example, if a fielder touches a fair ball with a piece of his uniform detached from its normal place on his body (e.g. a catcher throws off his mask and hits a bunt in fair territory) it results in a three base penalty. The rule about runners being out for being hit by a batter ball and the batter being out for hitting the ball with his bat twice are similar in spirit.

There are even some rules vaguely similar to fouling out. If a pitcher brings his hand to his mouth while on the mound*, the penalty is an automatic ball. If he breaks the rule twice, he is ejected.

*Except if the weather is cold enough that both teams agree pitchers can blow on their hands to keep them warm. In that case pitchers are allowed to blow on their hands but must first wipe them off before touching the ball.

Speaking of long drives, this just came up in a feed.

So, this thread touches on another thing that fascinates me: talent/genius, and what people do with it. Helping coach little kids in basketball, I came to see that some kids had a "talent" for hard work. It's a cliche that some kids are more "coachable" than others.

Hard work and receptivity to coaching are important, no doubt. In most endeavors, they may be almost everything.

However: I once met an 11-year-old boy who was two orders of magnitude better than me at chess. That's a quantifiable statement: he could beat the crap out of somebody who could beat the crap out of me; or in terms of USCF ratings, he was more than 800 points above me. Now, some people do attain Senior Master ratings by diligent study and long hours of practice, but an 11-year-old just has not had time to put in that much work. So I came to think there must be a chess gene.

Well, not a gene exactly. Neither that kid, nor the 13-year-old girl I met later who was in his league, had chess masters for parents. They did not inherit the hard-wiring in their brains that made them such prodigies. But there's no doubt about the hard-wiring being there in some people -- and not in others.

I was never diligent, myself, but I have known quite a few chess players who could not attain Master status even after 22 years (never mind 11) of study and practice. Most people just are not wired right to be prodigies.

--TP

There are plenty of scratch golfers who can crank out 290+ yard drives with great regularity....but they can't score in the 60's when the chips are on the line.

There are 15 handicappers who occasionally pop it 300 or a bit more, but you're right, the best pro's are deadly inside 100 yards, their sand play suggests a pact with the devil and their ability to consistently hit putts from 8-10 feet is mind-boggling.

But still, I'm with LJ. The feeling of hitting a pure shot that is on a par with what TW or PM would do is incomparable.

LJ, Tex: Granted. That's what keeps me coming back. Even hackers occasionally sink 50 ft. putts, hole out from a green side bunker, hit a pure 4 iron into a stiff breeze on a rainy day 5 feet from the cup, or even get holes in one....just like the pros!

Golf. Nothing to it (heh).

Some people, no matter how hard they try, can never be remotely passable as sea turtles. Then there are these baby sea turtles who just come out of their soft, little eggs buried in the sand to make perfectly good sea turtles without even trying.

That might sound like I'm being a smart alec, but that line of thinking was what got my head around the fact that some people in the top fraction of a percentile of something or other were just going to be better than almost everyone else at something or other no matter how hard everyone else tried - be it based on speed, strength, agility, musical talent, mathematical ability, charisma, good looks or whatever.

Some things are more changeable than others, of course. It's much harder to make yourself at all better looking than it is to make yourself significantly stronger, but still, there are some people you'll just never be able to catch up with, unless you're one of them.

So just be the best you can be, or not. Maybe you're cool with just being.

The people who get on my nerves are the ones who are really, really good at multiple, mostly unrelated things - math PhD, champion wrestler, gourmet chef who can sing like Tony Bennett (and knows what to do with a bucket full of shaving cream).

Chess is an interesting case. I don't think that there are any i-go young prodigies (or at least the numbers that there are in chess) It makes me think that there is a 'cultural' component. It seems strange to think of 10-11 or even 7-8 year olds somehow being encouraged by their surrounding culture to be good at chess, but something like that must be in the mix somehow.

Frank Ryan:

Ryan attended graduate school during the first part of his playing career, and in 1965, he earned his Ph.D. from Rice. His thesis was titled, "Characterization of the Set of Asymptotic Values of a Function Holomorphic in the Unit Disc." He started teaching at Rice during his career and, during his time with the Browns, held a position as an assistant professor at the Case Institute of Technology, teaching undergraduate courses and conducting research in complex analysis.

I don't know if he could cook or sing.

*****

Some things are more changeable than others, of course.

Yes. To add another twist to the topic, I think "we" (nebulous generality) think of mental/psychological characteristics as being more malleable than perhaps they are, or maybe it's better to say "than they sometimes are." That's why I think it's important to recognize that a talent for discipline and hard work may be as hard-wired and easy to exercise for some people as being 7' 1" tall is for Shaq. And as hard for other people as being 7' 1" tall would be for someone who's 5' 2".

*****

So just be the best you can be, or not. Maybe you're cool with just being.

Words to live by.

Ugh: Nicklaus holds 18 major golf championships. When Woods began his career, that was 63% more than Walter Hagen, who won 11, in second place. I know of no significant career record in any of the major professional sports where the disparity between first and second is so great (not that I know everything, and I certainly don't know anything about soccer records).

Donald Bradman, Australian cricketer, had a Test batting average of a shade under 100 runs per Test (99.94, sez Wikipedia). The second place person, as of 2009, is 61.53 runs per Test, for a 62.4% improvement. The caveat, and it's a huge one, is that Bradman did this over a twenty-year career; if you restrict only to people with long careers, you're looking at something on the order of 61 runs per Test, for around 64% better.

[And given that some of Bradman's innings were the notorious Bodyline Tests, in which England devised a bowling tactic that was so dangerous it was subsequently rendered illegal, it's even more impressive.]

Gee, Anarch, it's almost as if you hadn't read the thread to see whether someone else had previously made the same point!

Anarch is welcome whether he RTWT or no. Hi, Anarch!

I thought it was a homage...

That's why I think it's important to recognize that a talent for discipline and hard work may be as hard-wired and easy to exercise for some people as being 7' 1" tall is for Shaq.

Definitely. I'm not one of those people, but I managed to learn that practice and repitition can actually make me be better at things (shocking!). I just wish it didn't take me so long to learn that. (I coulda bin a contendah....)

And back to annoyingly muli-talented people, funny man Steve Martin was on PBS (Austin City Limits?) last night picking his banjo like an Appalacian demon, the jerk.

Apparently, I need more repetition and practice with typing and spelling....

I personally believe that the greatest statistical record put up in sports belongs to Babe Ruth. (Don't talk to me about Barry Bonds).

I'm not talking about any one number, but the overall performance. Ruth hit 714 HR's in a 22-year career, during four of which he was used almost entirely as a pitcher. In 1927 he hit more HR's than any other team in the AL, and in many years he hit more than some of the other teams. It was not until 1945 that another player, Mel Ott, topped the 500 HR mark. You can play these games with Ruth's records forever, and they seem to say the man was an absolute freak of nature.

He was not, after all, exactly famous for maintaining a strict training regimen.


Yup, Bernard.

Ruth was an alien from another sports galaxy with different physics.

During his career he once struck out Ty Cobb to end a 1-0 shutout when he pitched for the Boston Braves AND hit homeruns to straight-away center field at the Polo Grounds -- just under 500 feet!

Swung a 42-ounce bat. Reportedly, swung a 52-ounce bat in a few games.

Imagine Sea Biscuit (best attitude of all athletes) shod with 30-pound horseshoes on each hoof and ridden by a 300-pound jockey.

So, the weekend winds down, Ruth wins the battle of the legends(not without a Bobby Orr fight), and we move to establish diplomatic relationships with the rebels in in Libya, there is still a dictatorship in Egypt. Yemen, Syria and China are all cracking down on their protestors, and we are dancing around what to do about Libya with our Allies.

Meanwhile,civilians are still really being killed every day by the government in the Sudan.

Maybe we could do something in the Sudan(not military), and leave Libya to the other guys, and bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. So next Memorial Day we would have just a few folks less to have to remember because they will still be here with us.

Then we can focus on when we get can run our own country again because, just in case we hadn't left enough power in the Executive Branch for the last ten years, someday we might not be operating our government under a state of emergency:

An(d) on September 10, 2010, President Obama declared:

Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. Consistent with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register the enclosed notice, stating that the emergency declared with respect to the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, is to continue in effect for an additional year.

The terrorist threat that led to the declaration on September 14, 2001, of a national emergency continues. For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect after September 14, 2010, the national emergency with respect to the terrorist threat.

Heck, maybe just after Labor Day.

count-me,

I believe Ruth pitched for the Boston Red Sox, not the NL cellar dweller Boston Braves (who ran out of miracles in 1914).


bobbyp

correctomundo!

CCDG:

Well, the military-industrial-security complex, to whom both both parties are beholden, demands 24-hour-a-day, seven days a week, 52-weeks a year of terror.

Eisenhower warned. John Kennedy took the bullets for his trouble.

But maybe President Obama has other things in mind:

There are more so-called Americans than al Qaeda operatives who want him dead. He's pretty much vanquished the latter. What of the former?

Further, when he orders the Treasury to default, as he should, in one trillion dollar traunches, on the effing debt, he will pay for it, I hope to God, by denying all registered Republicans and Tea Party sh*theads, only, we know who they are, their Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security payments, farm subsidies, and every other government theft they steal from me, the parasites, ..... they will require martial law in the form of violence at the hospital and nursing room doors, on the entrance ramps to the Interstate Highway System, and every time they turn on a water faucet, the thieves.

Or maybe, he's keeping the shadow security state in place to protect the climate change denialists from the the whining, marauding, murderous Republican mobs when they realize how stupid they've been. It takes a surprising amount of security to protect, what is it, 47 Senators and Ben Nelson and 240-some Representatives from the pitchforks and machetes.

Maybe they'll hide in the basement of the White House, with Michelle Obama treating them to low-fat brunches.

Ahh, probably not. President Obama is more moderate than you are, which I'm not saying is a bad thing.

dr ngo (and Anarch) - thanks, I had read a few years back about Don Bradman and his amazing record, and it seems to have slipped my mind. I also see The Babe has come up too.

This has brought to mind another random musing in my head with respect to sports, in that: at what time are there enough people playing a sport, or who want to play a sport, so that the records are "real" and that any outliers are truly outliers.

For example, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game, one season in the NBA. I have no doubt that Wilt would have been a force in any era, but how much do we need to discount that record due to the relatively few number of people playing basketball at the time, both relative to now and to other sports then? For example, should we give more credence to Michael Jordan's scoring average of 37.1 in 1986-87, or to Kobe Bryant's average of 35.4 of 2005-06? Or, since I started with golf, do we discount Byron Nelson's record of 11 consecutive PGA tour victories in 1945 in favor of Tiger Woods more recent (2006-07), but fewer, 7 consecutive wins?

I guess this is what makes sports more interesting that it otherwise would be (they are, after all, just kids games played by adults).

Ugh: The answer to your question is simple - never.

"Real" is as real does, and the rules of sport (any sport) are constantly changing, in terms of not just how many people are playing, but who is playing (Ruth never faced a black MLB player), what equipment is like, what drugs are legal (prior to the steroid era, many ballplayers were amped on amphetamines, I'm told), how much access to the highest levels of training/coaching matters, etc.

One of my major gripes with all-time records (most hits, runs, victories, etc.) is that in nearly all sports the number of games/matches in a season is longer than it used to be, so contemporary players can run up more of whatever than "greats" of the past. (Look at Jim Brown's NFL records.)

You name any sport, any record, and I'll give you a plausible reason why it, however remarkable, should not be considered any more "real" than the rest. All is flux.

All of which, as you rightly point out, makes sports interesting. But never "real."

But never "real".

It's a little like the stock market averages; over time the failures are expunged from the Standard and Poor's 500 benchmark and the DJIA and replaced with the successes.

Change the strike zone, field dimensions, and the equipment.

And call it an uptrend.

This discussion brings to mind an occasion when my dear friend, who has always been willing to say things most people wisely avoid saying, told a handful of members of the Rutgers lacrosse team at a party during our undergrad years that most of them, cocky as they were, wouldn't have made the team were lacrosse as popular as football. This was circa 1987, when lacrosse was less popular than it is now, not that it can complete with football even today. I still don't know how all out-of-shape 5'7" of him escaped without a beating, but such is the randomness of the universe.

HSH - that's pretty much what I was getting at.

It would be very interesting to see not only how athletes from different eras would stack up against each other in competition, Mike Tyson vs. Ali in their primes, e.g., but also how well athletes would do if brought up in different sports. I don't know why, for example, Lebron James couldn't destroy current NFL defenses as a wide receiver if that was his primary focus instead of basketball (he was an all-state receiver in high school as a sophomore). Or whether Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen would have been an unstoppable pro-beach volleyball team. Or what the US national soccer team would look like if the sport was as popular here as it is in Brazil.

There is a famous case where the very success of athletes led to a change in equipment that made it impossible for later athlestes to beat theri predecessors: Javelin throw.
When the world record went beyond 100 m the design of the javelin was changed, so it would come down earlier and steeper. Otherwise it would have been just a matter of time before an athelete would have hit the stands at the far end of the stadium.

Otherwise it would have been just a matter of time before an athelete would have hit the stands at the far end of the stadium.

Making Track & Field relevant in the U.S. again.

I found this after reading Ugh's 2:43 PM comment, being reminded of Vince Lombardi's purported assessment of Muhammad Ali.

Excerpt:

The big, strong, quick athletes who might in this age become heavyweight fighters now have many more opportunities, most of them offering a college education. The scouting and recruiting apparatus for our different professional sports -- either college recruiters or, in the case of basketball, professional scouts -- reach out even in the poorest and most rural parts of the country to the high school level. Few potentially gifted athletes can finish high school without scouts beginning to tout them for one major sport or another.

Thus today's great athletes who might in another age have been heavyweight fighters -- where the requisites are power, speed, quickness and hunger -- are on their way now to becoming middle linebackers (quintessentially, Ray Lewis of the Ravens or Lawrence Taylor of the Giants), running backs (take your pick), and power forwards (some 25 years ago I watched a game where Dave Cowens, 6-foot-9, 230, and George McGinnis, 6-8, 235, were both playing, and I suddenly imagined them as heavyweight fighters in an economically harsher era where they might not have gotten the chance to play college ball). Even among the fighters themselves the upgrade is obvious: Ken Norton Sr. was a fighter, Ken Norton Jr. a professional linebacker.

Thus, in a later era, Ali surely would have been a football player (Vince Lombardi is said to have looked at him, and seen the speed, the power, the size and the hand-to-eye coordination and to have thought immediately, "linebacker.")

Size and quickness are not necessarily makeup for a pro fighter. Jevon Kearse was/is, for instance, 6' 4" tall, 262 lbs, could run a 4.43 40, had a 37-inch vertical jump and an 86-inch reach. His hands are huge.

He was an outstanding college linebacker, and has done fairly well in the pros until he got hurt. As a fighter, though? No way to tell.

On the other hand, Ed Too Tall Jones took a few months off, went 6-0 against middling opponents and decided he likd football better. One or two were decent fighters as I recall but we won't ever know. He played a bunch more years after that and we were quite happy he didn't like getting hit without pads.

Or what the US national soccer team would look like if the sport was as popular here as it is in Brazil.

This reminds me of a story that a brit once told me, which was that the English national football team was in Brazil and was relaxing on the beach and there were some guys playing football there, so they decided to have a go and got their butts kicked. I don't know if it is true, but the way he said 'They lost to a bunch of guys on the beach!' has always struck me as iconic about the way English fans view their national team.

Sure, Slart. A given football player might or might not have made a good fighter. But, if people pursued boxing in the numbers that they now pursue football and basketball, might you expect that there would be a lot more good fighters, particularly in the heavyweight division, which is what the article was specifically about? Wouldn't you think that some of the big, strong, fast, really athletic people in question would make good fighters if that's what they were to pursue? And, conversely, how many big, strong, fast, really athletic people are going into boxing these days when they could get all the benefits available to basketball and football players today, even at the collegiate level, and without being punched in the head over and over again?

The more one travels the world, the more the question arises. I spent most of four years in Australia, watching cricket, rugby (both league and union), and Australian Rules football, as well as tennis and track, and clearly some of the best athletes in these sports - in a sports-mad nation - might well have excelled in others, given an early shift in location. I remember hearing that Aussie cricket captain Alan Border - who at one time was among the all-time leaders in test runs scored - was, on a casual part-time basis, the best baseball player in the country. And entire Aussie Rules teams seemed to be made up of potential power forwards.

One never knows, do one?

Added to the pot. About 10 years ago, a retired sumo wrestler, Wakanohana, tried out for the Arizona Cardinals, but didn't make it. There were some interesting tv specials that followed him thru training camp. My fave was when he hit the bench press (he's about 5' 9") and he cranked thru a set of reps at 300+ pounds to the amazement of the guys watching him. Unfortunately, he couldn't adapt.

But maybe President Obama has other things in mind

Personally, I'd like Obama to explain in some detail what he has in mind, because the things that CCDG has cited upthread bug the living hell out of me.

There's always a threat. We haven't always responded with open-ended states of "national emergency".

I'd like to know WTF that's about.

But, if people pursued boxing in the numbers that they now pursue football and basketball, might you expect that there would be a lot more good fighters, particularly in the heavyweight division, which is what the article was specifically about? Wouldn't you think that some of the big, strong, fast, really athletic people in question would make good fighters if that's what they were to pursue? And, conversely, how many big, strong, fast, really athletic people are going into boxing these days when they could get all the benefits available to basketball and football players today, even at the collegiate level, and without being punched in the head over and over again?

All good points, certainly. But there's another factor at work: those with skills and abilities that fill some minimum requirement for success at e.g. boxing are going to be a small, small fraction of the population that can actually be successful at boxing. By this I mean: they may be missing other skillsets that don't really overlap all that much between boxing and football, or they may be missing some vital ingredient such as the ability to take a punch, the affinity for boxing, or the will to win in a protracted, one-on-one confrontation.

But certainly the odds of making it big play into things somewhat.

That aside, there are quite a lot of athletes electing for the MMA route. Some of them are former collegiate (perhaps even some former professional) football players, but I think the bulk of the successful MMA competitors are lifelong Brazilian Jiujitsu practitioners, former collegiate wrestling stars, and (almost unbelievably, unless you've actually seen it) former professional wrestletainers. Plus a smattering of boxers and other martial artists, not least common of which is judo.

All of which is to say that I grant your points a lot of sway, but not total sway.

Ed Smith, who used to play county cricket for Kent, wrote an interesting book called Playing hardball, where he got a chance to hang out with folks from the Mets organization in 2000, when they played the Yankees for the subway series. Had a lot of interesting observations about the similarities of batting in baseball and cricket.

That aside, there are quite a lot of athletes electing for the MMA route.

The article I linked was about ten year old, I think. MMA has grown considerably in the last ten years, which is yet another thing diverting talent, not to mention spectators, away from boxing. I'm not sure how big of a factor it is, especially at the heavyweight division. I don't watch much MMA, but the guys I've seen have tended to look more like light heavyweights or cruiserweights. In any case, it's not helping the sport of boxing.

it's not helping the sport of boxing

No, it's not. Not sure how much it's hurting, though.

IMO the most skilled and interesting guys in MMA right now are not the heavyweights. Anderson Silva is a middleweight who can and has stepped up into the light-heavyweight division. There's no one in the UFC that can touch him. He's not as imposing to look at as other contenders in his class, but he can and has beat the best of them. Currently 12-0 in UFC, 27-4 overall. He has a whiplash punch and submission skills that you really have to see to believe. He generally starts fights slow, letting the other guy show him his style, then at some point goes on the offensive and rapidly takes the opponent to pieces. Georges St.-Pierre in welterweight is another really amazing-to-watch and talented fighter. There are also some other guys who have startlingly good submission skills: Shinya Aoki and Nate Diaz. Aoki has done submissions the likes of which I have never seen, like this gogoplata from the mount position. I had to look at that a few times to understand what he was doing, and even then there's no way I could ever execute that.

The heavyweight class is open, and oh boy are there some big, big guys in there. Brock Lesnar, for instance: a former wrestletainer, but also a former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion. He is 6'3" and 280 lbs; probably the most dramatically muscled of all of the MMA contenders, but also in possession of some serious wrestling skills. Frank Mir beat him at their first meeting, and then Lesnar acquired some new skills and obliterated Mir the second time around.

Fedor Emilianenko is another one of those invincible guys. He's just a beefy-looking guy who can moves really fast when he wants to, hits like a semi truck and has serious submission skills. He's widely regarded as one of the best MMA fighters ever, in any weight class.

Karo Parisyan is a guy who came to MMA via judo; very interesting to watch.

Anyway, they're not all just hypermuscular guys who can punch. Some of them are, but not all.

My general take away from MMA is: don't get in a real fight even if you are, objectively, a badass. Also: this is why there are no real, Batman-type "superheros" - to paraphrase Keanu Reaves in Point Break: they'd be dead soon.

My general take away from MMA is: don't get in a real fight even if you are, objectively, a badass.

Or, at least, if you do, the stakes better be a lot higher than "He looked at me funny." Something like absolutely necessary self-defense or defense of another, after exhausting all reasonable alternatives to physical violence, would probably be the requirement. Or, to put it another way, you'd better have a very high degree of certainty that fighting is less risky than not fighting under the given circumstances, which is almost never the case if you don't put yourself into some really stupid situations.

Wow. Trilateral ugh-hsh-slarti agreement. The world must be about to end.

Speaking of the world ending, is there no one who doesn't think that guys like Harold Camping, after having been proven spectacularly, publicly wrong about their Rapture predictions, should perhaps open-source their calculations, so to speak? I mean, if the only hurdle here was math, I think a peer review could sort this out pretty quickly. Show us the math!

Way OT, I know.

So I see Shaq-Fu retired (or said he was going to). 5th in total points, 12th in total rebounds, 4 rings, one league MVP, three finals MVPs.

A great career. What might have been, though. Only one MVP? 12th in rebounds after 19 seasons for someone who makes just about everyone else in the NBA look small?

I think more of a testament to the lost art of a true, "back to the basket" game.

Way OT, I know.

In the spirit of "show us the math," can you define how to tell what's OT on an open thread? ;)

As for Harold Camping's calculations, I thought they would probably be about 133 pages long, surely you can't figure out something as momentous as the end of the world in fewer pages of equations than that. But a quick google search yields this, followed by this.

Then there's someone who takes Camping and his calculations seriously enough to want to spend time refuting him and them. My favorite bit from that one: This is presumptuous nonsense. The above is human reasoning, not solid prophetic interpretation.

"Solid prophetic interpretation" doesn't issue from humans, I take it?

I'm still waiting for someone to explain how a gazillion people -- or even two -- can claim the right to explicate the Bible in its inerrancy while disagreeing with each other.

Oh, but wait, it's all explained in the other thread:

authoritarian personality + disagreement = "I'm right, you're wrong."
Math for the day.

Thanks for linking those, JanieM.

I'm still wondering why these guys haven't put their best methodology for prediction together, THEN cranked the numbers, and then had to explain to themselves why their predicted date was e.g. 1200 years ago.

It's just numerology, this way. Cargo-cult math.

and then had to explain to themselves why their predicted date was e.g. 1200 years ago.

Because that would mean we are living in the Rapture now. And, well, if this is the Rapture, where are these, for example?

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