Friday, July 31, 2020

AUGUST 2020: THE SUMMER GAME: Baseball Returns -- Finding New Facets on the Diamond

by George Haloulakos

The long awaited return of baseball - deferred for several months due to the public health crisis - has put forth new challenges for both players and fans alike.  Since the players are plying their skills on the diamond before largely "empty" stadiums (unless you count the cardboard cutouts of people as real fans) this has renewed interest in enjoying the summer game by listening to radio broadcasts in which the "Voices of the Game" create a pastoral setting for a veritable theater of the mind rather than watching the action on TV or streaming via Internet.  This includes creating sound effects (e.g., crowd noise, the sound of the bat connecting with a pitched ball, vendors selling concessions, and so forth) that we associate when certain events occur that elicit a response from the fans "in attendance."

For people like yours truly along with my fellow Galaxy co-hosts Gilbert and Mike, following baseball by listening to radio broadcasts has been a lifetime activity.  However, with newer generations of fans who learned the nuances of the game through the use of analytics & metrics (i.e., quantitative methods based on statistical analysis & applied mathematics), the absence of live games for the current season has created yet another way to appreciate baseball from the distant past to the present.  

Baseball has long been a venue for numbers.  Consider the Topps brand of baseball cards that contain the yearly lifetime statistics for players going back a century or more.  Collectors note that Hall of Fame or veteran players with lengthy careers tend to have "microscopic" matrices of numbers telling their story while younger players or those with short careers have those same statistics but in larger font!  Whether you are an "analytics" person or one who prefers the "eye test" there is no doubt that in the context of baseball, numbers offer a compelling vehicle that transport us back in time. 

As already noted, a classic Topps baseball card will carry the entirety of a player's career (as expressed by numbers) in a neat matrix that fits neatly in your wallet or pocket.  A box score contains the entirety of a game with its universal scoring or tracking metrics.  And now, with computer power at your fingertips, one is able to reexamine games from last night, last year or the last century with a clarity that enables us to have even greater appreciation for what we have witnessed either in person, watching on TV or streaming, or having listened to a game broadcast.  This has allowed people to have new conversations about old memories and thereby create new memories that elicit the same joy that comes from following a sport that has measured the passage of time like no other in American history.

Here is an example on how analytics enable us to have even greater appreciation -- if not insight -- into this great game while perhaps creating new conversation and sparking renewed interest in what has historically been known as America's Pastime.  The World Series - where all players aspire to showcase their talent and help their team become World Champions - can now be viewed through the prism of "The Golden Pitch" - a new metric defined as being a pitch that can only be thrown in Game Seven of the World Series in the bottom of the 9th inning [or in the bottom of an extra inning] when the road team has the lead BUT the result of that pitch has the ability to win for EITHER team.  It can be viewed as a baseball equivalent of sudden-death victory / defeat.  This feat has only occurred only seven times since the 1903 World Series, with the most recent being 2014 when pitcher Madison Bumgarner turned the trick leading the San Francisco Giants to their third World Series crown in five years.  To put this into even a sharper perspective: out of the more than 50 MILLION plus pitches hurled since the first World Series in 1903, there have been no more than between 36 to 40 such Golden Pitches.

Here is where the conversation becomes even more interesting: Out of those 36 to 40 Golden Pitches, 12 of them belong to Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry (!962 World Series MVP), with ALL of them coming in Game Seven of that storied 1962 World Series in which the Yankees held on to beat the Giants.  No other pitcher -- including fellow Golden Pitchers Christy Matthewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Mariano Rivera -- even comes close to Ralph Terry.  What the analytics reveal is that an iconic moment that is a treasured memory for Yankee fans (while a heart breaker for Giants fans) is EVEN more special if not unique, thanks to the application of these metrics.  Arguably this would make Terry the best pitcher of the moment in the greatest game on the biggest stage in baseball since 1903!

While games are being deferred, rescheduled or cancelled in the midst of the ongoing public health crisis of 2020, you can use this summertime to review baseball through a different prism and relive favorite moments or continue conversations from your childhood.  On this note and just for fun, I will offer this as a conversation starter (or to be more accurate, a restarter) for those of a certain age:  Yours truly recalls the schoolyard debates regarding who was the best player, Willie Mays or Henry Aaron?  

This became especially intense when both were neck-in-neck chasing Babe Ruth's career home run record in the 1971-72 period.  In the midst of this ongoing debate I submitted for consideration the name of another transformative player - Roberto Clemente!  My reasoning was based on a very simple metric with the aid of the eye test.  Clemente was 2-time World Series Champion with the Pirates (1960 and 1971), equal to the combined total of World Series Championships won by Mays (1954) & Aaron (1957) while playing for Pirates teams that had far less talent and depth in comparison to the Giants team of Mays and the Braves team of Aaron.  So what is my current view with the passage of nearly 50 years since those schoolyard days?  With the aid of analytics, my appreciation for these three iconic, transformative players is: Mays is the BEST ALL-AROUND ball player, with Aaron as the BEST HITTER and Clemente as the MOST VALUABLE to his team (for the reasons I noted earlier).

What do you baseball fans in the Galaxy audience think?  Please share your thoughts by posting to the Galaxy FACEBOOK page (and be sure to "like" us when doing so) or via e-mail to the GNN web site.  Likewise, I am always receptive to hearing from our wonderful Galaxy audience and/or connecting via LinkedIn.
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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

WAR & REMEMBRANCE: Mortal Games -- Queens, Kings and Pawns on the World War II Chessboard--

by George Haloulakos

The 75th Anniversary of the Allied Forces Victory in World War II provides an opportunity to look back at this historic event through the prism of interesting biographies whose lives intersected with the war on the Chessboard of Life.  There are, it would seem, countless stories about people and events of WWII that had enormous personal impact in the post war era. This would include the famous and not-so famous as well as sports stars, entertainers, writers, political leaders, scholars and so forth. This month, we remember two great Chess champions -- Vera Menchik and Akiba Rubinstein -- who not only left their indelible mark on the game they played so well, but also giving us pause to wonder what might have been were it not for the fortunes of war!

VERA MENCHIK - A Pioneer Ahead of Her Time at the Right Time Long before the celebrated Polgar Sisters emerged as the world's reigning Chess family during the decades of the 1990s - 2000s, Vera Menchik (Feb 6, 1906 - Jun 26, 1944), a British-Czechoslovak-Russian Chess player became the world's first women's Chess champion.  Ms Menchik's dominance was overwhelming as she won seven consecutive world title women's championship tournaments from 1927 - 1939.  Her overall score in the 83 games spanning these seven title events was 78 wins, 1 loss and 4 draws!  In the four tournaments held between 1931 and 1937, Ms Menchik won 45 straight games!  Ms Menchik's supremacy in women's championships has never been matched, much less exceeded by the likes of male world champions such as Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov.  In sum, Ms Menchik was the longest-reigning female world Chess champion in history having held the title for 17 years.

As impressive as that championship reign was, it likely would have been even longer were not for the ravages of WWII.  Ms Menchik, who married in 1937 and then relocated to the United Kingdom, was the reigning female world Chess champion as the flames of World War II engulfed the world.  Sadly, Ms Menchik became widowed in 1943.  The following year, she and her sister along with their mother perished in a V-1 flying bomb attack which destroyed their London home.  Ms Menchik was only 38 years old, and had a full life ahead of her that sadly was brought to a close by WWII.  She had fully embraced her life in the United Kingdom and with the tide of the war swinging to the Allies was eagerly looking forward to fully concentrating on Chess and participating on the international stage as a world champion.  One can only imagine the great inroads Ms Menchik could have made in breaking down societal barriers in the post-war era.  We are left instead with a stellar legacy that is commemorated by the trophy for the winning team in the Women's Chess Olympiad named as the "Vera Menchik Cup" and a commemorative postage stamp issued by Yugoslavia.

AKIBA RUBINSTEIN - A Point of Light Amidst the Holocaust Akiba Rubinstein (Oct 12, 1882 - Mar 14, 1961) is the quintessential "what might have been" in the Chess world as he was one of the strongest players ever who did NOT become a world champion.  Mr Rubinstein was a Rabbinical student in his native Poland who abandoned his studies to concentrate fully on Chess and thereby became one of the strongest end-game players in the history of the game.  As the shadows of war turned into a fiery storm that raged across Europe during the 1930s, Mr Rubinstein was plagued by mental illness and his Chess powers waned.  For a while he was able to peacefully live in occupied Belgium.  However as the Holocaust gained momentum, an SS officer recognized Rubinstein's name on an "official inventory" of people to be sent to a concentration camp.

Then the hand of Providence intervened as this same SS officer was a genuine Chess fan whose heart was not yet solely consumed by the darkness of evil.  At enormous personal risk to himself, the SS officer removed Rubinstein's name from the list for deportation as he could not bear to consign the aging and ill Chess grandmaster to an ignominious end in a death camp.  Although plagued by the ravages of mental illness for the remainder of his life, Mr Rubinstein was able to live with family until 1954, and then following his wife's passing lived in a long-term care facility.  He continued to follow the game he so loved, and is remembered not only for his prowess on the Chess board, but as a point of light in a world engulfed by war.

Do any of you have any special remembrances of World War II that have been passed along by loved ones or friends?  As we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Allied Forces victory, please share your thoughts by posting to the Galaxy FACEBOOK page (and be sure to "like" us when doing so) or via e-mail to the GNN web site.  Likewise, I am always receptive to hearing from our wonderful Galaxy audience and/or connecting via LinkedIn.
View my LinkedIn profile at: