Your friends are starting to talk excitedly about the baseball post-season, and you’re still bemused that these otherwise intelligent people find fascination in a game with such a high standing around to action ratio. Nevertheless, you know that very soon their major focus, and that of millions of Americans like them, will be on something pretentiously called the World Series. So maybe it’s worth taking another look at the sport and seeing whether you might enjoy going along for the ride this year.
The first step in appreciating baseball is to learn that all that standing around is deceptive. Every play calls for some mental evaluation of the circumstances and possibilities, whether by the manager or the players themselves. Pitching strategy is based on the opponents’ known strengths and weaknesses, but must be revised if their offense turns out to be more powerful than expected. Pitch by pitch, you’ll see a catcher signal the type of throw he recommends and the pitcher indicate his agreement or disagreement. Sometimes they conduct a quick conference to align their thinking. If things go really wrong or if the pitcher seems to be tiring the manager must consider a relief pitcher or pitchers, and these selections are often based on confronting a right handed batter with a left handed pitcher and vice versa. Empirical studies seem to dictate that match-up when possible.
The positions of fielders must be adjusted to the power and speed of each batter, and when opposition runners are on base, mutual understandings must be established as to their coverage when in motion. Correspondingly, the manager of the team at bat must determine when one of his men is over matched and substitute another hitter. Once his men are on base, he must decide how to try to move them along, with bunts, stolen bases (not felonies in any state), and hit-and-run plays among his options
Even beyond the mental calculations underlying the seeming inaction, baseball provides a great deal of drama for the initiated. As with many human traits, batters and pitchers are distributed along a wide spectrum of skills. Unlike the sports in which the ball can be given repeatedly to the best runner or shooter, baseball is a nine-person team game, and each person in the lineup gets a chance to hit. So with a game hanging in the balance, one might see one team’s star hitter facing the other team’s ace pitcher in a clash of Titans. However, one is just as likely to see instead a lightly regarded hitter, valued for his fielding facing the ace pitcher in more of a David-and-Goliath contest. Or a substitute pitcher pressed into service may come up against the opponent’s hardest hitters. The occasions in which David bested Goliath have been frequent enough to form a good part of World Series lore.