Baseball, Livestock, and Math

A clever paper written by a great friend of mine:

This is a story about a collision, not the kind of collision between two people who meet, and fall in love after one accidentally pokes the other in the eye. But the blunt force trauma kind of collision, a collision that prevents a person from knowing that they constantly drool out of one side of their mouth. This is also a story about numbers, baseball and livestock.

Baseball is played by statisticians; tobacco chewing, crotch grabbing, steroid using mathletes. Three strikes, four balls, nine innings, three outs, RBI’s, ERA’s, pitch speed, on base percentage…you get the idea. It takes a certain disregard for failure to be successful at baseball. The very best batters the game has ever seen only hit the ball 3 out of every 10 pitches. Regardless of skill level, all ball players start out as watchers of numbers, lovers of stats, obsessive followers of likelihood, probability and chance.

So when Randy Atkinson walked to home plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, only to be struck squarely in the forehead by 96 miles per hour fastball, it wasn’t so unexpected that his mind immediately went to numbers.

In the history of the baseball only one man had been killed by a pitch, Ray Chapman was struck in the head on August 16, 1920 and it had taken him 12 hours to finally succumb to his injury. Chapman had been a decent hitter, batting a respectable .278, Randy was only hitting .164, and as he fell slowly through the air toward the ground his mind continued to wonder, resting on the men who had been hit by the most pitches. Don Baylor and Craig Biggio had been hit by 267 and 285 pitches, respectively, and throughout their careers both had walked away every time. Randy was not so sure he would be as lucky.

Randy then thought of the ball that had just collided with his head. This ball like all baseball’s had 108 stiches and Randy knew if he walked away from this collision he would have a welt containing something like 15 of these stiches imprinted on his forehead. Like all balls this ball had a hard rubber core wrapped with enough thin string that, if it were laid out, would stretch one mile. This string layer was then tightly wrapped in leather, but the leather on this ball was unique.

A Mr. Randle Johnston had never been able to tell his children “no” and as such had wound up with one of the strangest menageries his small suburban neighborhood had ever seen. The keystone of this suburban zoo, Mr. Johnston called home was, Gwendolyn, his families Holstein cow. Gwendolyn like all Holstein’s was black and white with a uniquely solid black face, except for her right eye, which was surround by an almost perfectly circular patch of white.

Gwendolyn had become the Johnston’s pet only 2 months earlier and needless to say the far western suburbs of Chicago were not the ideal locale to raise a 1,280 lbs. heifer. Unbeknownst to Mr. Johnston Gwendolyn was quite unwilling to be confined to their small well-manicured backyard. And over the course of these 2 months she had escaped on no less then four separate occasions. The most recent escape had been through his fence and into the neighbor’s yard, where, Gwendolyn had accidentally crushed the neighbor’s small family dog’s back leg. This disaster had cost Mr. Johnston an exceedingly large sum of money and permanently relegated Gwendolyn to the family garage.

And it was while confined to the garage that Gwendolyn planned her final escape. Gwendolyn whose real name was Reginald, had hated the Johnston’s from the moment he had been captured by this boorish and profoundly idiotic family. Reginald was a noble cow and such abysmal accommodations were well below him. Not only had the Johnston’s removed him from his wonderful fields in Wisconsin, they had trapped him in a dark room where the family car lived and sharing such a small space he could not abide. It had been bad enough that this buffoon of a man had allowed his children to name him a female’s name, but when they had attempted to milk him, enough, as they say, was enough.

Tonight would be the night for Reginald’s grand escape. Mr. Johnston, an avid Chicago Cubs fan, was watching the game in the living room and the children had already gone to bed. Reginald backed up and lowered his head and charged the wooden and glass garage door and with an astoundingly loud crash broke through and out into the world. Simultaneously a delivery van carrying, as irony would have it, a rush milk order to the local grocery store turned the corner to witness a cow run headlong out of garage door and right into its path. Reginald felt the wonderful sensation of freedom before he was broadsided and instantly killed by the milk van.

Mr. Johnston had heard the sound of splintering wood and shattering glass and only just had time to turn around and witness Gwendolyn untimely but serendipitous demise. While Mr. Johnston was saddened by the tears running down his children’s face as Gwendolyn’s body was removed from the street, he couldn’t help feeling relieved that he was rid of the this burden. After his wife had marshaled the children back into bed Mr. Johnston spoke to the man who had come to remove the carcass. Mr. Johnston was informed that if he desired he could sell the remains to the local butcher and the leather could be sold as well, but he would need to choose how it should be used. Contemplating this decision he absent-mindedly turned back to the baseball game and was immediately struck with a thought.

A week later Reginald’s hide had been tanned, painted white and stitched into 27 perfect baseballs. While Mr. Johnston had never had the opportunity to play in the big leagues, he was amused and a little proud that soon Gwendolyn the family cow would be.

And it was one of these baseballs that now lay next to Randy Atkinson as he continued his slow motion fall through the air. How strange that this ball the result of a collision was now going to be the cause of Randy’s own untimely death. Randy hoped that unlike Ray Chapman he would die quickly from this errant throw, and at that moment the final collision occurred as Randy completed his fall to the ground.

As Randy laid there motionless the game continued on, as a player for the Chicago White Sox, the errant throw from the Cubs starting pitcher had just walked Randy while the bases were loaded, and in doing so walked in the winning run from the Sox’s. all this was to occur, after about 4 minutes when Randy was snapped awake by his manager and some smelling salts.

“You alright son?”
“I’m dead I think”
“Your not dead you ignoramus, what you are is one lucky son of bitch”
“I’m fairly certain I am dead”
“Get up you jackass, so we can win this game”

At that Randy stood brushed himself off and play resumed. The White Sox’s walked in the winning run and in the suburbs of far western Chicago Mr. Johnston cursed under his breath. And for fans of the game the statistic still remained that only Ray Chapman, had died from being struck by a baseball. As it turned out Randy’s collision that night was a winning one.

Hank Minskoff, 2014

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