Friday, July 3, 2009

Baseball and Poker

To my way of thinking baseball and poker are very similar. We have now reached a critical point in this blog. Probably if I had not mentioned it, the reader, if there are any in this virtual internet world, would not have noticed it. And now that I did mention it, I wonder why I write this blog, when there are so few readers. The truth is, though, that I get pleasure from doing it and a sense of accomplishment after I complete each blog.

Let me explain, though, why there was a critical point after the first sentence. It has to do with the main themes that run through these blogs. This blog, if it is anything, is an exploration of my thought process and my interests and observations about life. The first sentence made reference to two points. The first point is my way of thinking. The second point is the similarities between baseball and poker. I could have spent the entire blog explaining what I meant by my way of thinking. However, I am not in the mood to discuss that subject. I think I'll write about baseball and poker.

Baseball and poker are both fundamentally American games, although they have recently become more global. There was a time when the best poker players in the world were either from Texas or Jews from New York. Today poker is popular throughout Europe and Asia. Many of the best players are Vietnamese. Baseball has also expanded from an American pastime to an international sport attracting great players from Latin America and Japan.

Baseball and poker have a similar rhythm. They both require patience, strategic thinking and are slow moving most of the time. The ultimate outcomes are not decided in one inning, or even in one game, but after long grueling seasons or sessions. In both games there are intense turning point moments when the pressure mounts and the outcomes hinges on one pitch, one card.

The major similarity is that the long term enjoyment in both games is centered in mathematics. No one can be considered a true baseball fan unless they are immersed in the statistics of their favorite teams and players and have studied the all time leaders and record holders in the major categories: home runs, batting average, RBI's, wins, ERA, and strikeouts. In a similar vein, all poker devotees know the important odds of drawing to inside straights, making flushes, and flopping three of a kind. They also must have a good feeling for probabilities and instantaneously or intuitively be able to calculate the relative value of calling, folding or raising, in all situations.

Baseball and poker both have undergone changes in recent years. Poker, has gone from underground to mainstream and now attracts a wide range of personalities from all segments of society. Baseball has also changed, especially in its use of pitchers. Consider the case of Ralph Terry.

Terry was a pitcher for the New York Yankees in the sixties. He is most famous for having given up the winning home run to Bill Mazeroski in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series enabling the Pittsburgh Pirates to defeat the Yankees 10-9 after the Yankees had totally buried the Pirates in their three victories while Pittsburgh squeaked out their three wins.

Terry was back in the spotlight in the seventh game of the 1962 World Series. He was the starting Yankee pitcher and had pitched eight shut out innings. Today he would have been taken out for a closer, no matter how good he was pitching. He started the ninth by giving up a bunt single to pinch hitter Matty Alou. He then struck out the next two batters, including Matty's brother Felipe. The following hitter Willie Mays doubled to right field. Aware of Roger Maris' great arm they held Matty at third making it second and third with two out. This brought up Willie McCovey one of the great left-handed sluggers of the day. Today they definitely would not have let the right-handed Terry pitch to the left-handed McCovey. With a right-hander Orlando Cepeda, on deck, today they would have at least walked McCovey or pitched around him. Anyway Terry did pitch to McCovey, who lined a shot, that he later called the hardest ball he ever hit in his life, to second baseman Bobby Richardson, and the series was over. I was sickened by the Yankee victory. This whole scenario could never had happened in the world of baseball today.

Ralph Terry is not a baseball legend. He just happened to be involved in two great baseball moments. What is interesting to me, and is part of my personal baseball history, is that in 1967, after Terry was traded to the Mets, I was waiting outside their clubhouse for autographs. Terry was one of the players I approached. He did not give me an autograph. He did give me his pencil. I later tried to sell it. I needed money to play poker.

1 comment:

  1. "I wonder why I write this blog, when there are so few readers. The truth is, though, that I get pleasure from doing it and a sense of accomplishment after I complete each blog"

    From the very first time I read your blog I realized this about your writing, Ira, and for that reason I've made a point to read almost every single entry, save a few.

    When created with an audience in mind, writing becomes a valuable exchange, a communication between writer and reader.

    But no less interesting is the simple purity that writing can take on when one does it only for personal reasons, not owing anything to an audience.

    For that reason I've always thought your blogging here was refreshing in it's honesty and lack of pretense.