In Which Enlightenment is Illustrated by the NFL

“You live and you huff and puff as if it had tremendous meaning.
You appear as if it does, but yet it doesn’t.”

We are often brought up to root for a certain team. There is not much reason behind it, but it is clear that this team is superior to all the rest. Geography is usually a factor. And so we become a single-minded crybaby who want our team to score on every play and know that the other team, refs, and even announcers are against us.

Some people remain in this reality
Some people remain in this reality

At some point though, many of us start to see the bigger picture. Our complaining, we discover, is not having much effect on the game happening hundreds of miles away. So we don’t get so frustrated over each individual play, although we are happy when our team wins the game and it is difficult to get out of bed the next day if the final score did not go the right way.

If we jump to the next level, happiness is no longer based on a single team’s win-loss record. We realize that the Cowboys hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is not that different than the Chiefs. We see our rival not as evil, but as necessary to add more enjoyment to the whole show. You know that episode of The Twilight Zone where the guy died and suddenly got everything he wanted? Spoiler Alert: He wasn’t in heaven.

When Jesus said to love your enemy, he was talking about Spygate
When Jesus said to love your enemy, he was talking about Spygate

And ultimately we reach a level in which we see the whole League working in perfect balance. Where every loss is also a win. The NFL moves as a single organism in complete balance, and we can derive enjoyment out of the play for the sake of play. We now derive enjoyment out of botched extra point snaps that were once viewed with widening eyes of horror. What was chaos is now a harmonious dance.

This is not so far off life. We view the world around us on many different levels. The teacher Ram Dass says that at the most basic, animalistic level we divide others into three categories: potential partners, competitors, or irrelevant. “That’s standing on the corner watching the girls go by, that’s that reality.”

Go up a level and we label people with physiological terms, “He’s nice, she’s manic-depressive, that person is very difficult to get along with, that person is kind and responsible… And that’s a whole reality and a lot of people live in… They go around seeing it, they study it they analyze and they get analyzed and they just keep doing it on and on and on and that’s their reality.”

If you keep zooming out until you see the whole big picture that the universe is one giant, perfect process. You are that process and can derive enjoyment out of life for the sake of life.

He's enjoying life
He’s enjoying life

Robert Harris writes in his book, 101 Things Not to Do Before You Die, to never be a passive observer of sports. If you flip on a game between two teams that you could not care less about, pick one of the teams and root for them anyway. You will have fun! Pump your first with joy and cry out with disappointment—while it lasts you will have fun.

But I thought we just said it doesn’t matter who wins, that enjoyment comes out of the game rather than the outcome?

The catch is that while each level brings a different type of enjoyment, none of them is higher than the others. Dass says, “The complete cycle is going from the many into the one and then coming back into the many to delight in the forms of individual difference.”

So while you know in the back of your mind that it does not matter, and that five minutes after the final whistle you will be just fine, go ahead and root for that punt to go every yard possible. Better yet, find a friend to root for the other team.

Pantheism Lite

14 billion years ago, bang,

For eons, expansion,

Stars born, dying in explosions,

Atoms smashing, violent collisions,

Hurling through space, colliding with planets,

Carbon Nitrogen Sulfur, extracted from Earth,

Dug, gathered, mixed, melted, shaped into,

This water bottle


Baseball’s Unbreakable Records, In Graph Form

There was a great thread last week about which baseball records will never be broken. I took some of the top suggestions and put them into graph form.

Many of the graphs present the top five leaders and active leader. This can give the appearance that many of them are within closer grasp than they sound at first, but keep in mind that there are roughly 20,000 other guys who did not even make the chart in the first place.

It would seem there are many that will indeed stand forever. One I wasn’t aware of prior to reading the thread is the one that takes the cake:

The use of pitcher has clearly changed over the years. A guy today hits 100 pitches and he is done. That obviously influenced the above chart as it does this one:

A reduction in the innings also means a reduction in strikeouts. CC Sabathia has already played for 13 seasons, is 33 years old, and is not even halfway to Nolan Ryan’s strikeout record:

With the increasing bullpen emphasis, pitcher wins also matter much less in today’s game. When guys were throwing a complete game in 95% of their starts though, they got a lot more decisions:

It also meant that they got many more losses, which is why Cy Young’s loss record will probably never be broken either. Ironically, to lose this many games means not that the pitcher has to be bad, but has to be good enough to hang around so long he can build up the loss tally:

Of course if Young’s loss record is broken, he will no doubt hold on to his wins record much longer:

Another change in pitchers has been the increase of the number of runs scored. It is unlikely we will ever see another pitcher with a sub-1 ERA over a whole season. Current pitchers are not necessarily less dominant, though, if we look at ERA+, which compares each ERA to the league average of the year many recent pitchers are in line with the historic seasons of Keefe and Leonard.

Perhaps it’s not a real record category, but Johnny Vander Meer’s feat of throwing two consecutive no-hitters will be tough to beat. Unlike most of the other records, some which take decades to accomplish, this one only takes 18 innings. So I could potentially see someone tying this at some point, but three in a row? Good luck.

On to offense, we find Dimaggio’s famed 56-game hit streak. Unlike the pitchers, there has not been a drastic change in how offensive players are used. So it may take a long time, but this one isn’t insurmountable.

Ichiro arrived in the US at age 27 and stole a career-high 56 bags during his rookie year. Had he started in MLB at age 21 and stole 56 every season until he turned 27, that would bring his current total to one more than Tim Raines for fourth all-time.

Derek Jeter has played at least 145 games in 15 of his 19 seasons. If he continued to hit his career mark of .312 and didn’t miss another game, he would need five more years to break Rose’s record. It’s a safe bet this one will stand for a while.

Another one that would take about five years under optimal conditions to break would be Hank Aaron’s career record for most total bases. A-Rod is doubtful to reach that. Jeter won’t make it either. Albert Pujols, at 34, is about seven great years away.

One you don’t hear every day is Chief Wilson’s record of 36 triples in a season, which he did in 1912. Only Granderson and Lance Johnson have more than 20 triples in the past 20 seasons.

It would be stretch for Pujols to play that long, but not so much for Cal Ripken, Jr. who as you know played every game for 16 seasons. Another cool fact someone mentioned: Japanese player Tomoaki Kanemoto did not miss an at-bat or an inning on defense for ten years.

Finally, we’ve got the Cubs’ drought of 105 years without a World Series. If Epsein can’t pull it off, it may take 200 years.

Are Soccer Goals Really That Big of a Deal?

Soccer fans celebrate scoring harder than fans of any other sport. A goal in hockey and or a run in a baseball will bring about a few high fives. Touchdowns are fun, but there is a big difference between the excitement of a 90-yard run and a 3-yard dump off into the end zone. Unless the score is tight and the hour late, a layup might bring a smile to a basketball fan’s face. Might.

But you already knew all that. The more something happens the less exciting it gets. That’s why NFL Sundays are so big, because a win for a football team is worth ten for a baseball team.

But isn’t this GGGGGGGOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLL shenanigans just a little overkill? How much bigger is a goal in soccer than a touchdown in football?

Average points scored per team in each game:

Points Per Game

If we divide everything out so that soccer goals are equal to 1 then round everything off, we find this:

Adjusted Points

One goal in soccer is the equivalent of two goals in hockey, a three-run homer, two touchdowns and a field goal, or 35 slam dunks.

Football and basketball, which award more than one point per score, are the most interesting. Our brains have difficulty understanding such differing values. For the same reason, you do not become ten times happier if your blog gets 100 hits as opposed to ten hits. If you did, a million hits would paralyze you with utter joy for a fortnight.

In football, even without the field goal, two quick touchdowns are indeed a very big deal and would have even the most passive fan pumping her fist.

The NBA is on a whole different level. Try to imagine some absurd shot in a basketball game that would award 70 points to your team. It’s almost incomprehensible because it would significantly, and I mean significantly, boost your team’s chances of winning the game. You would lose your mind if your team sunk that shot.

This obviously isn’t a perfect comparison. On occasion, a soccer or baseball team will score three times or more the average—four goals or 12 runs, respectively. No basketball team will ever reach that point. The record for points in an NBA game was 173, which was 2.1 times the league average in 1953.

Still, the numbers give us the general idea that soccer fans aren’t all that crazy after all.