Monthly Archives: March 2013

Top of the Second

“As a celebration of the magic of movies involving baseball, at least one scene from a different film will be posted each day for the next nine days…”
—From “Top of the First” March 28th

In the game of baseball, there are teams that can afford to peruse through a catalog of players, glaze over their hitting percentages and “big name” status and then call them up with a single offer that would make them potentially the biggest fools on the planet if they were to reject the contract. In other words, money plays.

But what if there was a team that thought differently? What if a manager and his Ivy League educated assistant used statistics and mathematical equations to evaluate talent to determine the best value in players who would inevitably score x runs, strikeout y hitters and ultimately win z games?

And more incredibly, what if this was based on a true story involving the Oakland A’s?

“Bottom of the First” showed us how math had to be used to get the Minnesota Twins, of “Little Big League,” into the game. The first scene (and a bonus scene!) from “Moneyball” shows us the genesis of deciding to utilize statistics and math to win the game.


Bottom of the First

“As a celebration of the magic of movies involving baseball, at least one scene from a different film will be posted each day for the next nine days…”
—From “Top of the First” March 28th

Today’s clip is brought to you by a great movie made around baseball. Fans only see their favorite ballplayers when they run onto field or step into the batter’s box. Sometimes though, it’s easier said than done for the aforementioned players. On some occasions, there are dilemmas that are so pressing that they can supercede the very game itself…

“I should know this, my uncle’s a painter.”

Top of the First

Isn’t it odd that for 90% of any given game, baseball is quintessentially a boring sport. And yet, movies about baseball are incredibly exciting and entertaining 90% of the time. It’s a fascinating contrast to say the least.

Spring training is here and that means baseball is in “full swing” (had to). Admittedly not a fan of the professional adaptation of Stickball, the amateur version can be fun to play…or at least enjoyable to watch in a movie. It’s an important part of the American fabric of sports. That’s undeniable. However, baseball also has a serious drug and cultural stigma and has, thus far, refused to adequately deal with this contagious problem.

Resisting the temptation to list all the negatives about baseball (they are plentiful), instead the following will be a surprisingly laudable tribute to the one constant every fan and non-fan can agree upon: great films have been made about baseball.

An important note: I do have a few great memories of going to baseball games. This includes venturing down the road to a AAA baseball game on a slow summer day (with a Beach Boys performance!), a Cleveland Indians game in the mid-nineties with a best friend when the Tribe was stellar, watching the Atlanta Braves in “Hotlanta,” a day trip to Chicago with a first time visit to Wrigley Field to take in a Cubs game and seeing a Yankees-Royals game in the now torn down Yankees Stadium.

Am I a fan of the actual game? No, not so much. But every once in a while, it is a great American tradition to take part in. At this point, the “once in a while” qualifies as one game, each having a special significance, approximately every few years. So far, so good. This means my next game is right around the corner…literally. The Columbus Clippers have won two championships within the past three years. Will I be heading to Huntington Park this summer?

As a celebration of the magic of movies involving baseball, at least one scene from a different film will be posted each day for the next nine days, starting this morning.

Here is the first clip as part of a collection of the best movies that have stood the test of time in terms of popular culture and childhood memories.

Let’s start off with a classic.

Play ball!

Dare Them to Swim with Crocodiles

Last night on “60 Minutes,” one report showed Anderson Cooper literally swimming along the bottom of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, located in Southern Africa. He and a small group of dare devils swam through murky underwater caves, mere feet from one of the most feared predators on the planet: the Nile Crocodile. Seeing previews for this from the days prior and watching the segment Sunday night sparked a random revelation for a subject completely unrelated to the 20-foot reptiles. What did the story remind me of?

FC Barcelona.

This footballing giant features Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and David Villa, to name a few. They are a brilliant passing team, perfecting the tika taka system (Search “Three is a Magic Number”). This strategy is rooted in movements that continually create triangular passing lanes. If and when they lose the ball, they even have a defensive protocol to regain possession within six seconds. Stating the obvious, the kings of Barça are widely considered to be the premier club in the world the past few years. Reflect on this mind-blowing statistic for Argentine Lionel Messi, a Barcelona youth academy graduate. Rik Sharma of The Daily Mail UK online succinctly described Messi’s achievement at the conclusion of last year in a December 22, 2012 article.

“He broke Gerd Muller’s 40-year-old milestone of 85 goals in a calendar year by grabbing 79 for Barcelona and 12 for Argentina.”

I don’t think I ever scored that many goals with one player in EA Sports’ Fifa on PlayStation!

The elite reputation of Messi, and Barcelona, is unequivocally well deserved.

With such a dominating philosophy and collection of championship trophies, the proposition presented before each of their opponents is deciding how to prepare defensively. Here is my analysis, assisted by the underwater king of the Nile.

I call it The Crocodile Trance.

Playing Barcelona, there will inevitably be stretches when they string together ten or twelve passes together on their opponents side of the field, possibly ten to fifteen yards outside the 18 yard box. As they build up a quick one-two or a give ‘n go to penetrate the defense or open up for a long distance shot, this is when TCT should be utilized.

When crocodiles attack, they are frequently laying perfectly still like a horizontal statue on land, submerged in water or are moving so unassumingly they are barely visible and are not seen and/or perceived as an immediate threat. They spot their prey from a distance and then slowly move in. We’ve all seen the clips. Dogs, in contrast, will pursue without any delay and can frequently miss their target (remember “Tom & Jerry”). The point is they are unique in this tact. Conversely, the gigantic cold blooded reptiles are patient and wait for the exact right time to strike. At least nine times out of ten (while not a scientific statistic, it’s probably pretty accurate), crocodiles are victorious in their mind game with their prey.

Insert Barcelona. Defenses cannot become psychologically discouraged by their passing superiority during short and long stretches throughout the ninety minutes. Instead, they need to keep the ball and their mark in front of them, try to detect a pattern and allow the offense to feel comfortable. Appear to be non-threatening. Then, at this precise moment, after putting a trance of sorts on the offense, step up and in as if lunging from the Nile river onto the water sipping (and devastatingly unfortunate) prey.

To be clear, the objective is not to commit a hard foul or be brutal in nature. This suggestion is an approach to turn the advantage from an offensive juggernaut to an over-matched defense in the appropriate situations. The tackles or lunges are intended to be clean.

Sans the Tyrannosaurus Rex chomping strength and the accompanying lethal consequences of a crocodile attack, the strategy of laying back a little bit, being patient and stepping into a passing lane or pressuring a player at the instance they’ve presumed to put you to sleep is a viable game plan for attempting to defend one of the most prolific goal scorers in history, along with his talented friends.

The men of Camp Nou will know you’re there, but the key is for that to be the only thing they know.