Wednesday, February 9th, 2005
11:39 pm - The Philosopher's Baseball?  
Finally finished Baseball and Philosophy, Thinking Outside the Batter's Box, edited by Eric Bronson, a collection of essays applying philosophical principles to baseball. I'd started it over Christmas whilst hiding out from my brother's outlaws, then put it aside when I picked up Boswell's book. It's the most recent volume (#6) in a series called Popular Culture and Philosophy, in which each book examines some pop culture subject from a philosophical point of view. Other volumes examine such subjects as Buffy, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and The Lord of the Rings, with volumes on The Sopranos and Harry Potter on the way. The nations' philosophy departments must really be desperate for new recruits.

I'll admit up front that philosophy bores me for the most part, and this book doesn't really change that. After a while, essay after essay applying various philosophies, such as zen and socrates, to hitting becomes tedious. I was really skimming a lot towards the finish. At the end of the book are several pairs of short pro and con essays arguing such propositions as should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame, or is ARod getting paid too much, none of which really add anything to those discussions.

Still, there were some I enjoyed. There's one essay by Willie Young called "Taking One for the Team: Baseball and Sacrifice" which is great fun, looking at the philosophical implications of the various types of sacrifices a player might be called upon to make in the course of a game, from laying down a sacrifice bunt to deliberately allowing oneself to be hit by a pitch, and whether those sacrifices are voluntary or involuntary. For example, Aristotelian principles are compared to Stoicism in the case of a pitcher who has to decide whether or not to hit a batter in retaliation for taking out a teammate at second base. Aristotle would go ahead and plunk the guy, even though he would likely be banished from the game, deeming that it would be the greater emotional good for both the team and his friend. A Stoic, on the other hand, will totally divorce any feelings of friendship he may have for his teammate, and rather will determine his course of action by what he reasons will be best for the team. That decision may very likely be the team is better off with him not getting thrown out of the game instead of avenging a teammate.

Another fun essay is about cheating, with the subtitle "Would Kant Cork His Bat?", and there's one on the ethics of the hidden ball trick. (I was totally unsurprised to find out that Manny Ramirez got caught by one of these a few years back. Manny was running on a pitch, and slid safely into second, at which point the second baseman told him the batter had fouled off the pitch. As soon as Manny started heading back toward first, the second baseman tagged him out.) There's also an interesting essay early on about the legal arguments that were used to prevent MLB from folding the Minnesota Twins a few years ago. For years, baseball made the argument that it deserved its antitrust exemption because a baseball team was a precious resource to the city in which it played. The folks in Minnesota turned that line of reasoning around on MLB, claiming that if MLB removed the Twins, they would deny the citizens of Minnesota that precious resource, and those citizens would suffer irreparable harm because of it. The judge bought it. MLB was hoist on their own petard.

Unfortunately, there just weren't that many that held my interest, so I can't really recommend the book. Ah, well.
 
 
Current Mood: philosophical
 
 
( Post a new comment )
Vacillatingnot_vacillating on February 10th, 2005 - 01:04 am
I have the Buffy one in that series, and I have to say, I find it easier to take in little chunks that to read straight through. And I enjoy philosophy. The most interesting on in the book deals with BtVS's relationship with film noir, and while it is a good essay, I wondered when I read it if it wouldn't have fitted better into a more general book about BtVS's various sources and influences than into a book suppoosedly about philosophy.
(Reply) (Thread) (Link)
DXMachinadxmachina on February 10th, 2005 - 04:44 am
Yeah, there are a few essays like that in this book, too. I think part of the problem, at least here, is that there are just too many essays. The book is structured as a baseball game, i.e., each chapter is an inning (nine total), with an essay for the top and bottom of each inning, along with the six two-essay debates at the end, so there are thirty essays all told. The book could have used some winnowing.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Link)
Vacillatingnot_vacillating on February 10th, 2005 - 09:46 am
That's a lot of essays. I don't get that feeling so much with the BtVS book, but I did think that some of the essays would have been better if they were longer and could deal with their topics in more depth, which might amount to the same or a similar thing.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Link)
Veejaneveejane on February 10th, 2005 - 07:56 am
After a while, essay after essay applying various philosphies, such as zen and socrates, to hitting becomes tedious.

Also, I would think, kind of (a) obvious and (b) deeply individual. Although I do have a theory about zen and catching the knuckler, which boils down to "Relax, dude. Maybe you catch it, maybe you don't." Which is why Mirabelli is so good as a knuckle-catcher.

deliberately allowing oneself to be hit by a pitch

I discovered recently that there is a little-enforced rule such that those who do not try to get out of the way of an inside pitch, and get hit, are not allowed to take the base. I can see why it's practically impossible to enforce, but, interesting.

(Reply) (Thread) (Link)
DXMachinadxmachina on February 10th, 2005 - 08:37 am
Yeah, it's a thin line. An umpire most likely wouldn't call it unless the batter actively tried to put himself in the line of fire. Don Baylor (who got hit 267 times in his career, 35 times for the Sox in '86 alone) rarely tried to get out of the way, but he never really tried to get in the way, either. You need the rule, though, or one of the guys who wears a shin guard on his arm could just flail at the ball with his armor any time he wanted to walk.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Link)
noumignon on February 10th, 2005 - 10:03 am
I would totally fall for the hidden ball trick!

A Stoic, on the other hand, will totally divorce any feelings of friendship he may have for his teammate, and rather will determine his course of action by what he reasons will be best for the team. That decision may very likely be the team is better off with him not getting thrown out of the game instead of avenging a teammate.

In game theory, an uncontrollable temper can be more of an asset than a truly rational approach. If the other team can predict that the pitcher will use logic to see that getting thrown out doesn't help anything, they can take out his teammates with impunity. The better course for the team is for the pitcher to precommit to irrational acts of vengeance. Then his teammates will be protected by the deterrent effect, and he may not have to get thrown out at all. The Stoical approach is fine for dealing with the slings and arrows of fortune, but not for game theory.
(Reply) (Thread) (Link)
DXMachinadxmachina on February 10th, 2005 - 10:37 am
Well, being a Stoic doesn't preclude him from deciding that plunking the occasional batter may be in the best interests of the team as a whole, for exactly the reasons you state. However, he'll pick and choose his spots, rather than automatically plunking the guy to avenge his teammate as an Aristotelian would.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Link)