Baseball in Scotland

I saw your eyebrows. They lifted in surprise when you saw today’s subject line. But there’s quite a bit of interest in American baseball here in Scotland. Well, from me mostly.

Each morning starts with a perusal of the box scores, recaps and standings on ESPN’s major league baseball “scoreboard”. From there one can jump to player stats, team stats, season stats, and pretty much anything you could want, short of having the phone number of Bill James. I focus on a handful of teams: the Seattle Mariners, because I lived there for half my life and still think they can go all the way; the Boston Red Sox, my newly adopted team, winners of two World Series in four years; the Baltimore Orioles, mostly from an ancient loyalty to my approximate birthplace, and proximity to Maryland’s Eastern Shore during those golden years at Washington College in Chestertown, and because Brother Dave goes to lots of games; the Washington Nationals, because they are the Senators reincarnate, although my interest rapidly declined after lots of losing; and lastly, the New York Yankees (?). I look at how the Damn Yankees do only because I love to see them lose. (There is something salubrious, for me at least, about splenetic Yankees owner George Steinbrenner getting furious when his team is beaten; his chip-off-the-old-block son Hank looks to follow in the micro-management mold, and is sure to earn as little respect as his dad among baseball people.) The best days are when the Bosox beat them, due to the age-old rivalry. Funny, here in Scotland you see a fair number of Yankee baseball hats on the heads of Scots. Michelle has some pretty choice words to describe the Yankees, and came close a couple times to telling off big burly Scots wearing those caps with the distinctive “NY” logo. Michelle and I believe they don’t have any idea what bums the Yankees are; they just wear the hats because they know it has something to do with the States.

Which reminds me, if you have never read Michaels Lewis’s book “Moneyball“, let me tell you it’s a fascinating refresher course in baseball managing strategy, and throws new light on baseball statistics. It came out in 2003 but is still valuable, and sits nicely on the shelf next to his other works on sports, economics and winning vs losing. For those new to baseball it is an excellent primer, and I recommended it to my students majoring in business as a guide to the world of winning with limited resources.

But what prompted my post today was the surprising performance of the Orioles. They’re sitting on top of the AL East! Holy cow! New manager Dave Trembley must be doing something right. Last year, and the year before that, they finished the season TWENTY-SEVEN games out of first place. Hometown fans must be enjoying the reversal of fortunes, since for the last home-stand series of games, attendance averaged just over 80% of capacity. Baltimore’s Camden Yards is one of my favorite ballparks, with great views, a friendly crowd — the opposite of the hostile beasts found at Yankee Stadium — and lots of excellent food like Maryland crab cakes. There’s lots of new talent, since I look at the box scores and don’t recognize more than one or two of the Baltimore players, which is weird since I used to know the names up and down the line-up. And while I hope to tag along this year with Dave to see the O’s again at Camden Yards, I also can’t wait for my first glimpse of Boston’s Fenway Park when I move to “The Hub” this summer. Cool.

Lastly, a team I have my eye on is the Arizona Diamondbacks. One interesting baseball stat that leads me to this is the difference between the runs scored and runs allowed. The Orioles sit at the top of the NL West division holding a three-run difference, while the D-backs sit on top of theirs, with a whopping fifty-four-run difference. Arizona had until recently led the majors in this category by a ton, until the Cubs largely caught up with a recent three-game series against Pittsburgh, in which they outscored the Pirates by TWENTY runs, and who now hold a forty-two-run difference. Baltimore will have to do a lot of things right to keep their lead in the AL East, if they can only maintain such a narrow margin of victory.

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