Billy Joel Puts Out the Fire

This is a classic. Billy Joel commits a two-base error on the second verse of We Didn’t Start the Fire:

Okay, every singer forgets the words at some point. (The tradition of the audience singing the first verse of Hungry Heart without The Boss began when Springsteen forgot the words one night and the audience sung it for him.) But few handle it with the self-deprecating humor and grace of Billy Joel.

His sessions talking about the music business and the songwriting process (on his four-CD live album and on that old Bravo show with the guy from the Actors Studio) are treasures.

Taking a Bad Route to the Ball = 37 Points of Batting Average!

Last week I put up a story explaining what it means for an outfielder to take a great route to a ball.

(During the course of Going, Going, Gone, M.E. Sequoyah scouts two prospects who don’t have a lot else going for them, but they know how to run down a fly ball.)

Here’s a great example of taking a poor route to a fly ball:

Byron Buxton is a hot young prospect for the Twins. In this video, watch him reroute himself to his right about four steps before he dives for the ball. His route costs him between six and nine inches in distance, according to a crude diagram and some high school math. He probably also loses a few milliseconds in altering course, and a few more in extra time locating the ball as he readjusts, but let’s leave this aside and look just at distance.

No big deal, right, only six to nine inches?

Look at the end of the play. He makes this high-stretch diving catch, which is also high-risk. Another foot deeper and he’d have hit his head on the wall at the end of the dive, as well. He does this because he can’t quite reach the ball from a normal running stance.

There’s that six to nine inches. The right route, and it’s a nice catch, a reach-up grab as he runs toward the warning track, but it’s not a highlight-reel catch.

And if the ball had been hit another, say, six inches further, it would have been over his head for at least a double given the route he took.

Once a week, say, a given outfielder either just will or just won’t quite reach a fly ball. Taking a better route means that given two equally fast outfielders, one will take away a double and the other won’t. Turn it around, and consider that hitting a double has effectively the same value as taking away a double. In other words, the outfielder with the better route is hitting the equivalent of 37 points higher! Don’t believe me? Take roughly 27 at-bats in a week, assuming full-time play:

  • 7 for 27 = .259
  • 8 for 27 = .296

That’s how important this subtle skill is. Even if you were to say the difference is apparent only once every two weeks, that’s still the equivalent of 18 points in the batting average (and more in OPS, since we’re talking doubles here).

If This Book Can Go Out of Print, We’re All in Trouble

I heard a rumor that that the children’s classic Everyone Poops has been allowed to go out of print.

Its Amazon page seems to confirm that, noting the book is available only from third-party sellers (e.g., used books, proof and author’s copies, etc.).

This book is a true classic. No, really. If you have kids, you’ll understand. Even the owner of a dog will discover the book’s essential nature.

What hope is there for the rest of us, then? (I mean, the rest of us authors? Because book or not, everyone still poops.)

I Lost on Jeopardy, Part 2

Even better than Weird Al singing is Arthur Chu lip-syncing to it.

Give the guy props, he came off as a stiff on TV, but he does have a sense of humor.

Love him or hate him, he’ll be back for the Tournament of Champions.

My own take: From the standpoint of the game itself, he did the right thing. But from the standpoint of the home audience, he broke the entertainment experience, which is ultimately what advertisers pay for. The other two contestants last night were both top-drawer themselves. I have to assume the contestant line-up was manipulated, though I can offer no evidence!

I Lost on Jeopardy

In honor of Albert Chu, the “man who broke Jeopardy”:

Fun to watch a bit of the old-style Jeopardy (sorry, Jeopardy! with an exclamation mark) with Art Fleming.

Mindblowing Jazz… in the NYC Subway

Friends, you’ve got to hear Too Many Zooz.


If You Can’t Touch Them All, Feel It All

KT Tunstall, live, solo.

Worth a listen or three.


Prince Fielder? No, Prince Rogers Nelson

Prince (nee Prince Rogers Nelson, nee the-unpronounceable-symbol-formerly-known-as-The-Artist-in-capital-letters) has almost as many hits as Prince Fielder. Better hits, too, knocking most of them out of the park.

Here’s a live performance from last night.

Sometimes it’s easy, amid all the self-promotion and hype, to forget how ferociously talented a musician he is. I hope the Twins get him to kick off their season this year!

Taking a Good Route to the Ball

One of the things scouts – such as (mythical) M.E. Sequoyah – watch for is the route outfielders take to the ball. It’s one of the hardest things to teach, and it’s not easy to explain in either baseball or mathematical terms.

Major League Baseball has a new tracking system that captures and distills this information. Here’s a video from a game-saving catch by Jason Heyward last year.

(Here’s a link if the embedded video doesn’t work.)

Starting about 30 seconds in, the clip shows the computer-generated straight line from where Heyward was standing to where the ball will land. Then you see Heyward running hard – perfectly straight down that line. There’s some minor left-right shifting as his visual center shifts with each step, but he’s dead on line.

So what?

Probably four out of five big-league outfielders cannot do this. I’m not talking about Heyward’s speed or his full-layout three-and-a-half-pike-with-double-twist dive. (I’m kidding about the pike.) Rather, most outfielders will take a slightly curving path, triangulating the ball’s position with each step. According to a January 2010 study by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, outfielders don’t predict the landing point but track it visually against the sky (or dome) and make subtle course corrections.

That’s what most outfielders indeed do.

But the really good ones know from the first step where it will land, and head straight for that spot. How do they know? A combination of experience, the sound off the bat, the initial launch angle, a visual sense of how good/hard the swing was, and… voodoo, maybe. We don’t know. What we do know is that some fielders can do it, but most can’t.

With some fielders, half the fans can tell they take a poor route to the ball. With most, it’s a small difference, amounting maybe to one or two tenths of a second off the optimal time. As you can see from the clip, that tenth of a second can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Springsteen Sings for Kids Who’ll Never Make the Show

Recorded by a fan on (probably) a smartphone in New Zealand, home of Lorde:

(Revised with a better video.)

Bruce performing Royals! Nah, not a great performance, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime event that speaks to why I try to put as much live music here as I can.

And it’s a perfect song for Double-A kids learning they’ll never hit a good slider, never throw it past a top hitter, not quite reach balls in the gap because they don’t take the right line. They’ll never be royals, never make the show, but even playing in the minors will remain a part of a fantasy life long after they’ve moved on to “real jobs.”