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Soup of This Day #100: Concentratin’ On Truckin’ Right

November 16, 2011

Whistler's Mother
James McNeill Whistler’s 1871 Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother, more popularly known as Whistler’s Mother. To me she looks patient but wearied, which is pretty much how our Mum looked around us – Image: Musée d’Orsay, 1871. Musée d’Orsayis not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

This is my 100th Soup of This Day. My century. Just like in cricket, scoring a century here hasn’t been easy – Each post is on average 1,500 words and is usually written across days or weeks. So I’ve had to enjoy it – and I have, although you might not think that of late as there has been a fair bit of death and darkness across the past 20 or so posts. I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m that guy though – No moody goth thing for me.

I did once go to a gothic nightclub with a guy who swore that goth girls were easy to pick up. ‘If you look like Robert Smith,’ was the part he failed to mention. I don’t look like Robert Smith.

Anyway, to dispel the notion that I’m trawling the depths of misery and to celebrate the 100 this post will not feature death. Instead I’m presenting a tale of deceit, destruction and backyard cricket.

Growing up, my brother and I played cricket at home, initially in the backyard. I’d bowl from alongside the watertank while my brother would face up from near the old septic tank, which was fitting because he’d invariably be a @#$% about the whole thing.

His tactic, you see, would be to hit the ball as hard as he could in my direction. His reasoning seemed to be that you could disable the opposition by, well… disabling the opposition. As the ball was a leather-bound missile of hurt, I’d scupper this plan by stepping smartly behind the watertank, often while still in the motion of bowling. This had the knock-on effect of my brother ‘chasing’ me with each successive shot edging closer to the tank. Unfortunately behind the tank rested the house and eventually the day came that a vicious pull shot, agilely dodged by me, rocketed into the house. To be accurate, it punched a hole through the window of the spare room. This didn’t slow it down much, due I think to shoddy window assembly, so it carried on to punch a second hole, this time in the canary’s cage.

Yep, we had a canary. He was called Whistler. He was resting in the spare room, although not so much when the cricket ball landed in his cage.

I have some vague memory that Whistler fainted briefly but came back to life to scream outrage at all and sundry. Mum took his side of the story and we were banned from playing cricket in the backyard. Later we were banned from playing football in the backyard as well when I booted a football into the laundry window and it showered glass into the washing machine, which may have been in operation and may have suffered some damage. More shoddy window construction me thinks.

Rather than give away the game we moved our Test matches out to the front yard. To preserve the sanctity of the front of the house Mum downgraded us to playing with relatively soft tennis balls. I think she too was quietly hesitant about the quality of windows on offer.

So we adapted, developing local rules to suit: You could get 4 runs by driving back past the bowler; You got 6 runs and out if you drove back past the bowler and over the fence into a wicked doublegee patch – The 6 runs being compensation for a powerful shot and the out being compensation for the bowler having to don special footwear to recover the ball; If you hit the dog it was called a Barney-ball (After the eponymous dog) and you got out, which was convenient as you needed to take time to apologise to Barney; If you hit the large tree located at silly mid-off then you were out; and if you nicked the ball behind to the imaginary keeper then you were out via an honour system.

My brother was better at navigating all of this than I was. Partly because he was bigger and stronger but also because I had a tendency to chuck a paddy when things went against me. Which they did a lot because my brother was bigger and stronger and I had a tendency to chuck a paddy… It may have been a little self-perpetuating with the ‘self’ being Longworth72. Yep, my brother was playing cricket against a stroppy self-righteous battler and I was playing against the world and the rules of nature. Can’t see how he won every game.

And he did win every game. Any time I looked like getting into a winning position I’d make a mistake and then blow up, turning it into 11 errors and a paltry total. Most of which my brother bore with stoic patience, probably because he knew he was going to win.

Until ‘The Match’.

Sometime in 1988 my brother and I squared up for another weekend Test. I had 1st dig and started poorly, losing 2 quick wickets for not much. For the 3rd wicket stand though I zeroed the emotions, deciding to see how far I could get if I kept zen.

It turns out quite a way.

I doggedly employed this 1 shot over and over, a reverse sweep that took the ball down the side of the house to where the new septic tank had created a flourishing tropical micro-climate. Which was appropriate as it was a @#$% of a thing to do to the bowler – My brother had to run the length of the pitch and then down the side of the house before plucking the ball from the jungle. By the time he got back to a point where he could throw at the wickets I’d have notched as much as 8 runs (more commonly 3, sometimes 4). I did mix this up a little with, in my memory, some glorious straight drives and a few judicious late cuts but the upshot was that it was hot and my brother got tired while I, in my elevated state of being, remained cooly aloof.

I made a century.

For the 1st time in my life I made 100 runs without losing a wicket. And then I got out. But that’s ok because I’d seen what staying above it all could do and so I carried on, accumulating runs until sometime around 350 I was bowled out. Bowling, I was equally patient, flighting up fullish balls that landed in the rough and spun wickedly. Wickets fell steadily and at stumps the champ was flustered and at 6 for not much more than 100. I went to bed that night sure that I could win.

Yeah, no. The next morning nothing happened past my brother announcing that he was bored with cricket and the game was indefinitely postponed. We’ve never finished it – It turns out when my brother gets bored he holds that for a while. 23 years and counting to be exact.

Which is fair enough I guess. I did get my century and a lesson in staying cool.

The ability to stay cool in clutch plays is pretty necessary in pro sport. In baseball you could argue that nowhere is that more consistently apparent than for the closer. To be honest, I find it hard to categorise closing as a specific role though – it feels a little like something superficial we created to generate confidence in the 9th with a 1 run lead. Billy Beane:

‘It’s turned into a situation where a lot of emotion is tied to that decision, just as a lot of emotion is tied to the fourth-down decision. Even if you know the odds, it’s more comfortable being wrong when you go to the closer or the punter.’

For sure it’s not all about appearances, it is genuinely a clutch moment for the defence. But so it is for the offence and therefore it tends to balance out right there. Not so much for the preceeding 8 innings – In 2011 the Sox gave up nearly twice as many runs in the 6th and 8th as they did in the 7th and 9th and for the 1st 5 innings they were never ranked at better than 17th across the Majors for defence. This meant that too often, particularly in September, Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t in a position to save the game anyway.

All of this points to why I like a bullpen that closes by committee – A team that has a focus on allowing sub 0.33 runs per innings across the last 4 is gonna be something. Shooting for the moon for sure but I figured Papelbon for being 1 of the boosters.

Not anymore. For Jonathan Papelbon is now a piece of the Phillies puzzle. Which is nice for him and the Phillies – I wish them both well, no malice from me. It is a loss for the Sox as Papelbon is a damn fine reliever.

My suggestion for replacing him? – Don’t. Go for a guy that can operate 6 through 9. Hell, go for a guy who can take a ball fired at him without ducking behind the watertank. If nothing else the canaries will be thankful.

Concentratin’ On Truckin’ Right

One Comment
  1. Congrats on #100 and hope to see many, many more Soups! As Campbell always sells us, “Soup is good food!” Also, a great link to Jim Caple’s post on the closer position in baseball. Had not seen that and it is very timely with the Phillies’ acquisition of the Red Sox closer.

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