Recently acquired a turntable. 

It’s improved the quality of life in my bedroom tenfold.  I don’t have a quantitative analysis at the ready to demonstrate HOW the quality has increased tenfold, yet still I’m confident.

I set off tomorrow for a week on the road.  Bennington—my college stomping grounds—followed by western Massachusetts, and followed then by Boston.  It’s quite likely that on Friday, I will be enjoying a blackened burger at Kevin’s at Mike’s III and watching, of all things, a Red Sox game.  So this new world goes.  I’ve got the opener set to record on my DVR, but couldn’t get my act sufficiently together to get the SlingBox I’ve had my eye on for a solid year, for just these occasions.

Clear to me as I think of the start of the 2011 baseball season that I’m fairly piss-poor at quantitative baseball analyses that go beyond “He hit more home runs last year than any other year,” or “He’s pitched only 60 innings in five years,” or stub-measures along those lines.  And I’m disappointed that I’m so poor at it.  I made a vague attempt to learn after the ‘09 season, and failed miserably.  I’m sure it had everything to do with me being dense, and nothing to do with the holiday season, and recovering from the holiday season, then being completely distracted with other matters, as recently explained here.

So I don’t know xFIP or ERA+; I get what OPS is and I think I understand WAR.  I wish I had a better grasp of it, because I have an abiding respect for math, calculations of bedroom quality of life notwithstanding.  Moreover, I have an abiding respect for the science of study.

Take cosmology.  I’m reading a book called The Hidden Reality by Dr. Brian Greene, who can only be described as a straight-up stud in the science of understanding how the hell we’re all here in the first place.  A professor at Columbia, Dr. Greene has plied his trade at superstring theory as relates to the evaluation of possible mathematical representations of the multiverse.  In short, he’s helping to develop cutting-edge theories for explaining the nature of our infinite universe.  And buried in Chapter… Seven?  Eight?  (the book’s in the living room; I’m not getting up), Dr. Greene explains how there are different types of infinity.  I had no idea there were different types of infinity, but there are, and understanding which type of infinity we’re dealing with as we observe our universe—and any others that should happen to come into existence—will be a necessary step in determining the true nature of the universe.  Which will help explain why we’re here and open up new avenues of discovery and help us deal with the mindfuck that is a black hole and, with any luck, make transporters happen, among other things.  I’m excited for the transporters, myself.

You have to admire someone who is grappling with such heady matters as their day job.  Apply the sense of his job to the world of baseball: we can say with reasonable surety that Carlos Beltran has a finite number of at-bats in his major league career.  I’m not saying that finite number is small, or limited to this season, or anything of the sort… though watching replays of his slide today in right during the Grapefruit League game against the Nationals, I nearly choked on my dinner. 

I’m saying, rather, that it’s probable no one can play baseball forever.  Even if Carlos Beltran is some sort of Methuselah, or Blade-like vampire, and actually will live forever, one should assume that he’d probably move on to avoid his true nature being exploited, or baseball will cease being played regularly once the zombie Apocalypse hits, or, at the VERY least, cease being a concern when the sun expands into a red giant and swallows us whole.

(I swear I’m not high.)

So Carlos Beltran will have a finite number of at-bats.  That’s calming to me.  I can better deal with that in my head than trying to suss out what kind of infinite loop we’re all stuck in.  (In The Hidden Reality and Greene’s previous book, The Fabric Of The Cosmos, he convincingly posits that, in an infinite universe, the finite number of particles that we have to make up a human and a team and an Earth MUST be repeated, so somewhere within or beyond our cosmic horizon, there’s another Carlos Beltran, perhaps with 2006 knees.  Cue the Zager and Evans.)  Things END.  Other things BEGIN.  Thus is the nature of the beast.  And I have an abiding respect for the science of studying how great Carlos Beltran has been in his career, has been for the Mets, and has been for Baseball. 

And, like the efforts of cosmology to better understand and appreciate our surroundings, I understand and appreciate that the science is evolving.  My understanding is that xFIP hasn’t been around as long as OPS or WAR, and there are many more acronyms for very new statistics, developed by hobbyist and die-hard alike, seeking a common denominator through which the secrets of a remarkable game are revealed.  I’m not one for dogma; anyone who Murray Chass-es their way through a sabermetrics argument isn’t down with the true spirit of bonhomie the sport should spur.

Yet things tug at me.  Two, in particular, which I began to consider as I read more about baseball this week, and thought about what I might do with the down time during my weeklong junket, and read my Dr. Greene.  Matters of infinity.

First, and kind of funny, is that Lino Urdaneta popped into my head. 

Q: Who’s Lino Urdaneta? A: Who’s Elmer Dessens? 

I rode the train, running over the Manhattan Bridge, thinking about infinity, and then thinking about a Mets game I watched wherein Elmer Dessens pitched, and was desperately trying to remember the joke I made to myself when I saw him jog to the mound.  As we pulled into Canal Street, I remembered: “Least he can’t be as bad as Lino Urdaneta.”

Lino Urdaneta (here’s the link to Ben Shpigel’s story in the Times, for fun) had an infinite ERA.  Pitched for the Tigers in September of 2004, his ML debut, and gave up five hits and a walk before getting yanked, without retiring a batter.  After kicking around the minors and the Mexican League, he was given a look by the Mets in ‘07, and actually pitched in two games.  In a ROW! 

And I watched the first, on May 6th, at Flight 151 Bar on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea.  Looked up at the TV, and I don’t recall if there was a double dash or an “INF” where his career ERA should’ve been displayed, but I do remember asking someone next to me why they were groaning.

“His ERA is infinite.”

Well, no shit.

Lino got two Diamondback groundouts and gave up a single before turning the ball over to Scott Schoeneweis.  Mets lost, 3-1; winning pitcher one Livan Hernandez.  Coda is the next game he pitched, against the Giants, after a classic Oliver Perez atrocity that gave San Francisco a six-spot.  Lino was dropped in for Ollie and promptly gave up a three-run homer before inducing Pedro Feliz to groundout to third.  He threw four pitches in his last major league game, and brought his career ERA to 63.00. 

Baseball’s a trip.  Math’s a trip.  Man throws twenty-six pitches and is saddled with infinity; two and a half years later or thereabouts he throws seventeen pitches, and is then only saddled with crippling mediocrity.  I mean no insult to Lino Urdaneta, and I wonder if he’s plotting a comeback to bring that ERA down a bit more.  I’ll bet that unless he’s figured out how to be the second coming of Christy Mathewson and the dead-ball comes back, no one’ll give him a shot and he should maybe try and do something with that communications degree.

…I’m being a smart-ass.  Sorry.

So I thought about that, and then I caught something in the paper about the PawSox and the Rochester Red Wings, which is perhaps one of my favorite baseball stories.  (This in a Dan Barry write-up of former Sox manager Joe Morgan.)  The game was played by, among others, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, Jr., and it went THIRTY-THREE INNINGS.  Started at night on April 18th, and wasn’t stopped until 4 AM on the 19th, and resumed in June, where the 33rd inning came and went in a relative blink. 

THIRTY-THREE INNINGS.  I’ve been to two Mets-Cardinals games that have stretched into the 13th and 14th or 15th, and I did catch some of last year’s 20-inning bonanza of fecklessness.  But THIRTY-THREE INNINGS?  Jesus.

And that’s the funny thing: a baseball game can’t end in a tie.  It is an improbability, but not an impossibility, that a game can go on forever.  Thirty-three innings, three hundred thirty-three innings, three thousand three-hundred thirty-three innings.  Until, one supposes, your eighty-five year-old pitcher, who’s the last possible guy you can throw out there, can’t get the ball to the plate, and it’s best leaving him out there than swapping him for the first baseman.  Or if the park holds a Ten Cent Beer Night, and the game is forfeited.  Or the earlier mentioned zombie Apocalypse, or expansion of the sun, engulfing the planet.  Which would probably be, but not definitely be, unavoidable.

If it’s not clear to the reader, this kind of thinking makes me a bit of a jerk.  I have a tough time saying things are definite, because I know, in my head and my heart, that they are not.  Nothing is sure in this world, except rules which can themselves be flaunted by the only possible certainty: that existence is unending; that somewhere, very far away, it’s 2006 and Carlos Beltran is tearing it up.

So whether the Mets contend this year or next, win 37 or 74 or 148 games… who knows?  Plenty of stats out there to tell us that they’re in line for a better season than they had last year (with the projected Opening Day line-up, anyway), just as there are stats and mitigating circumstances that suggest the Metropolitan Nine may have other things on their mind.  Things which will have a deleterious effect on their performance.  Who. Is. To. Say. Who’s. Right?

Nobody.  Because, as Dr. Greene would point out, we’re still not sure whether we’re spinning about in a Landscape Multiverse, or ruled by a Braneworld Scenario.  The best we can do is build the science, and debate, and bear in mind that we should keep in mind the bonhomie.

So, in the spirit of trying to be better at the science of study, and understanding that, were I watching the Mets, I’d have difficulty separating myself from the enjoyment of the game to study, I’m going to find the site bearing the most direct explanation of saber-style statistics I can, hoist a beer, and watch the Sox do whatever it is they call baseball.

Which is some horseshit, because they don’t even let the pitcher BAT.