Yesterday afternoon, a friend and I attended the baseball game between Kansas and Texas Tech Universities. I had previously been to games at the Little League, high school, and even minor league levels (plus MLB games, of course), but this was the first-ever college game for either of us.
Unlike this year’s Royals, the Kansas Jayhawks actually have a winning record (17-12 going into yesterday’s game), so I was looking forward to seeing them play in person. What I didn’t realize before we bought the tickets was that Texas Tech has an even better record at 25-6 prior to yesterday. Even so, I had a hint that it would be a tough game, considering the Jayhawks lost 15-6 to this Texas Tech team on Friday.
I’m sorry to say that yesterday’s game was quite the slaughter. Long story short, KU lost 10-0. Even in spite of loading the bases with no one out in the sixth inning, KU didn’t manage to score a run, proceeding to blow the opportunity with two strikeouts and a groundout to short.
On the plus side, there was a hot dog race. Even better, my favorite condiment, ketchup, won this game’s race.
Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence is a very nice facility. It would have been nicer had the weather been warmer than 40 degrees and breezy. General admission tickets were only $10, which has me thinking this is too good an opportunity for cheap baseball to not take advantage of in the future. There just might have to be more KU baseball in the future, including (hopefully) a win or two.
Baseball statistician, Bill James, spoke at the University of Kansas last night as part of the James Naismith Lecture Series. I had the privilege of attending the lecture, which centered around “Transitioning from Naïve to Professional Research.” The talk was delightfully engaging, thought-provoking, and amusing.
If you’ve never seen him in person, Bill James is a big man. He stands over six feet tall with noticeably broad shoulders, and he a full head of hair and a large beard that only seems to add to his enormity. He is, of course, even bigger in the baseball world.
But James actually didn’t talk a lot about baseball. He couldn’t entirely avoid it, being such a prolific baseball writer and the founder of sabermetrics. He did talk about the determination of strong versus weak MVP pools, mentioning this article, which, among other things, argues that Eric Hosmer deserves to rank second in the AL MVP race over Aaron Judge. His statement noticeably surprised a lot of folks (and delighted a lot of folks; Lawrence is only about an hour from Kauffman Stadium, after all). “Eric Hosmer’s contribution to the Royals,” James said, “was greater than Aaron Judge’s contribution to the Yankees.” When he puts it that way, it makes sense.
James’s primary discussion, however, revolved around ideas. He compared ideas to seeds on a tree. The seeds of a tree scatter, and though there are thousands upon thousands of seeds that can come off any given tree, if just one of them takes root and becomes another fully-grown tree, that is an astonishing percentage. 99.9% of tree seeds scatter and all they do is become food for animals or clog our sewers and gutters. In the same way, we as human beings come up with hundreds of ideas every single day, and the vast majority of those ideas are throwaways. But if one of those ideas takes root, it can potentially change the world.
Everything around us, he said, once started as an idea. “The Kansas Union was once an idea that somebody had. The University of Kansas was once just an idea that somebody had.” It’s a perspective-altering thought.
This thought has direct relevance to James’s own life. When he graduated from KU in the 1970s, James says he knew his job prospects weren’t great. More than anything, he just wanted to find a job “that didn’t involve taxi cabs, heavy lifting, or armed robbery.” Spending his spare time working with baseball statistics, he said, was something that folks around him would comment was interesting, but that not enough people in the world were interested in it enough for him to ever make a living off it. We know now that those folks’ assessment was proved wrong, and James’s work with statistics became the idea that not only changed his own life, but revolutionized the world of baseball.
This isn’t everything that Bill James spoke about last night, but these are the ideas that particularly struck me. It was one of the more engaging lectures I’ve had the opportunity to attend, and I like to attend these kinds of things whenever I can. The fact that I’m a baseball fan certainly influenced my perspective, but as you can probably tell, it was the kind of talk that even non-fans could appreciate.
Gene Budig is a former American League President. He’s also a former chancellor of the University of Kansas, where I happen to work. Budig’s tenure as chancellor happened before my time at KU, but when his book Clearing the Bases came out, it was made available to employees of the university. A few weeks ago, a lady I work with came across a long-forgotten stack of the book, and knowing that I am a baseball fan, offered one to me.
Clearing the Bases: Nine Who Did It with Grit and Class offers biographical sketches of nine individuals who had an impact on the game of baseball. The book discusses Cal Ripken, Jr., Bobby Brown, George Brett, Joe Torre, Bob Feller, Mike Ilitch, Marty Springstead, Bill Madden, and Frank Robinson. Budig gives information about their backgrounds, their careers, and their accomplishments. Furthermore, Budig knew each of these individuals personally and offers his own candid insights into their character and impact.
Perhaps my favorite part about these biographies, however, is that they also make mention of community contributions that each of these men have made. Bobby Brown, for example, went to medical school and became a cardiologist. Joe Torre and his wife created the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, and he campaigns against any type of domestic abuse. Bob Feller served for four years in the United States Navy, right as he would’ve been in his prime as a baseball player.
Furthermore, Budig doesn’t talk merely about baseball players. He includes figures who have impacted the game in other ways. Marty Springstead was an umpire. Michael Ilitch owns the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, and founded Little Caesar’s Pizza. Bill Madden is a sportswriter.
This book is a fast read, too. I made my way through it in one afternoon and enjoyed every minute of it. Budig’s writing style is engaging and certainly not the over-complicated rhetoric that one often sees with academics. It appears there was a second edition of the book released a couple years after this one, titled Swinging For the Fences. I do not know whether there are any significant differences between that edition and Clearing the Bases. So far as I have been able to tell from what I’ve seen online, they appear to be the same book. That would be another title to watch for, if you are considering giving this one a read.
School will be back in session before we know it, and this fall, I will be sitting in on a class at the University of Kansas called “The Literature of Baseball.” I won’t actually be taking the class for credit, but I contacted the instructor for the course and managed to get permission to sit in on the class. Naturally, I’ll be reading the material as well.
Suffices to say, I am ridiculously excited about this.
The class is taught by James Carothers, an English professor at KU. He has been teaching the course for decades, and apparently even taught Bill James when James was at KU. I found a great article about Dr. Carothers and the class that was published a few years ago here.
The booklist for the class is as follows:
– Baseball: A Literary Anthology, ed. Nicholas Dawidoff
– The Celebrant, by Eric Rolfe Greenberg
– Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof
– The Glory of Their Times, by Lawrence Ritter
– I Had A Hammer, by Hank Aaron
– The Natural, by Bernard Malamud