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Patience

By Donald G. Evans

Patience. In baseball, it’s called on-base percentage, and it’s achieved through a combination of walks, hit-by-pitches and hits. Past Cubs team have been notorious free swingers—Alfonso Soriano hasn’t seen a first pitch at which he didn’t want to take a whack. Felix Pie’s up there ripping. Michael Barrett, Cesar Izturis, Angel Pagan—whack, whack, whack. Patience. Lately, we hear about it all the time; in fact, for the first time in my memory, there is actually discussion about pitches per at-bat. New right fielder Kosuke Fukodome is the king of this. The theory being, the more pitches you see, the harder the pitcher has to work—when the starter’s pitch count rises, you’ll eventually knock him out of the game. And you’d rather face the Mets’ middle relief fuck than Johan Santana, or whoever the Diamondbacks use in the sixth inning in place of Brandon Webb, and so on. Patience.

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William Blake's painting of Satan inflicting boils on Job. Donald G. Evans proposes renaming the Cubs after Job, a character in the Book of Job whose virtue was his patience.
According to ACTA Sports, the Cubs, as of late April, led all of baseball with 3.93 pitches seen per plate appearance, due, in large part to Fukodome (second overall with 4.65) and Ronny Cedeno (sixth, 4.46). ACTA notes that six of last year’s eight playoff teams were in this category’s top ten. I don’t know who exactly is keeping track of every pitch to every batter in every game, or how big their scorecard is, but facts are facts. Patience.

Michael Lewis famously wrote in 2003’s Moneyball that Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane used sabermetrics to determine the worth of a player, and in particular found players with high on-base percentages undervalued in the marketplace. Statistical guru Bill James is widely credited with spearheading the sabermetrics revolution.

I disagree.

This, as best as I can recall, is an exact transcript from a random inning during a 1979 Babe Ruth game between my Borg Pontiac (purple) team and the Burger King (maroon) team.

“Walk’s as good as a hit.”

“Wait for a good one.”

“Make the pitcher work.”

“Gotta be your pitch.”

This chatter came from various 13, 14 and 15-year-old players leaning against a chain-link dugout fence in plastic “spikes.” We wore our maroon stirrups up to our knees. At least one kid had to leave early for tuba lessons, and another kid wasn’t there at all because he was on a family trip to the Wisconsin Dells. Now, it could be that Borg Pontiac was filled with genius types, but not taking anything away from John Wander, Steve Matthews, Mike Kent, Danny DeCarlo or any of the other guys, it didn’t strike me that way. We knew. Burger King knew. Everybody knew: walk’s as good as a hit. Now, strictly speaking, the old axiom’s not always true; a home run, or even a single with a guy in scoring position, does more for you than a walk. However, the essence of it is: a batter gets on base without an out being recorded. Only good can come of that. Furthermore, we all knew that being ahead in the count increased the likelihood you would get a good pitch to hit, and that swinging at a ball increased the chances of you missing the pitch or making an out. We also knew that the more pitches a pitcher threw, the more tired his arm got, and the more tired his arm got, the more likely he’d start to tank. Common sense, right?

Yet, listen to this:

An article entitled, “Why On-Base Percentage is a Better Indicator of Future Performance Than Batting Average: An Algebraic Proof,” published in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports (Berkeley Electronic Press), states, “Existing research has demonstrated that for a team, OBP is more closely correlated over time than is AVG. We offer an algebraic explanation for the latter phenomenon. Specifically, we’ll prove that batting average depends more heavily upon a particularly unpredictable variable, hits per balls in play (HPBP) than does OBP.”

With all due respect to the Berkeley types, save the algebraic explanation. If I have to, I’m sure I could track down some combination of John Wander, Steve Matthews, Mike Kent and Danny DeCarlo to give me a simpler version of the same. Patience.

The Cubs have it—at least that seems to be the early trend. The results so far are good. The Cubs have been in first or flirting with first for the past few weeks. This seems only fitting, since Cubs fans have, over the past 100 years, taken patience to new heights. Patience is our lot in life, it’s our life preserver, our only recourse. Most none of us were around in 1908, and all the close calls since then have been only that. Patience. We wait and we wait for all the stars to line up, for that one team that has it all—pitching, hitting, defense, speed—for that one team that doesn’t suffer devastating injuries or wilt in the sun of daytime baseball. Patience.

The Cubs began as the Chicago White Stockings, and changed nicknames to the Colts in 1894. When Cap Anson, a longtime figure on the team as a player and manager, retired before the 1898 season, the Chicago papers dubbed the club The Orphans. In 1902, referencing the abundance of young players on the roster, the Chicago Daily News called the team The Cubs.

The Cubs stuck, obviously, but if we were to continue the practice of providing the team apt nicknames, wouldn’t we now, nearly 100 years removed from a championship, be the Chicago Jobs? In the Old Testament, The Book of Job stands as a lesson in suffering, perseverance and faith. Job was a wealthy man. He owned some 12,000 head of livestock, maintained large crop fields, and owned all the servants required to work such a sweeping estate. Circumstances, over and over, would work against Job, and he lost everything—I mean, EVERYTHING. He lost the animals, the crops, the servants. His house. He lost his children. A bunch of friends died in terrible tragedies. He got boils. Through it all, he refused to curse God’s name. Patience

Now tell me, have we Cubs fans not had our virtue tested? Have we not lost our livestock, our houses, our children, and our servants? (Okay, we don’t have livestock or servants, and I’m hanging on to my kid, but I did get nicked pretty badly betting Steve Trachsel and Anthony Young, not to mention Danny Jackson). We’ve refused to curse the Cubs’ name, minus a choice word here and there for the Kingmans and Farnsworths and Mel Rojas and Todd Hundleys.

This year, 2008, with our newly christened Chicago Jobs, will be a season all about patience. The Cubs will be patient, us fans will be patient, it will be one massive patience fest. After all, if we can wait a hundred years for the Cubs to win a championship, then it seems only fair that Soriano wait an extra pitch or two before he takes a whack.

Donald G. Evans, author of Wrigleyville sports gambling novel Good Money After Bad, is the Lovable Losers emcee. His stories have appeared in StoryQuarterly, Pinyon Review, The Journal and Narrative Magazine, among others.

Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 10:14PM by Registered CommenterLovable Losers Literary Revue in | Comments9 Comments

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