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Soup of This Day #259: And Instructions For Dancing

October 29, 2012

The red end of the emission spectrum for Fe
The red end of the emission spectrum for iron. If you do some chemical analysis of the new Red Sox manager John Farrell you’ll find he has some of the same markers – But is it enough to make him a steel from the Blue Jays? – Image: Yttrium91, 2009. Yttrium91 is not affiliated with Longworth72, which is sort of good because Wikipedia says that exposure to it can cause lung disease. Image cropped by Longworth72.

In high school chemistry class we had a teacher who I will call Mr. Stanley, principally because that is absolutely nothing like his actual name.

Mr. Stanley was a sensible and stentorian teacher, eminently patient but firm with students who failed to secure expensive burettes safely into their clamped stands or who spilled dangerously corrosive chemicals all over freshly painted benches.

Both of those students were me. Mr. Stanley made me clean up both messes. He had a book where he entered in incidents. I think I had a whole chapter to myself.

In my defence the burette thing was, I think, down to poor construction. I know that a good workman never blames his tools. I was not a good workman though and I don’t blame the burette – It was doing a wonderful job of being a burette until it met the benchtop at some velocity. It then understandably shattered into many shards, none bigger than a 5c piece.

No, I point the finger of guilt at a bench top that was far too solid. I did claim a measure of revenge on it though when I spilled a couple of litres of dichloromethane all over the same bench, stripping off many layers of battle-tested paint, including 1 that had only recently been expensively applied.

Even in the face of such costly calamities Mr. Stanley had a dry style of delivery out the front of the class. His voice was largely constrained to a monotonic and efficient terseness that was devoid of emotion. Smiles were rare, as were frowns. Occasionally I would catch him with a fleeting look of weariness and resignation, although this could well have been my propensity for disaster. Mostly though his face was a closed book.

A sort of recipe book that uses carob for chocolate or proclaims that dates are nature’s candy.

So it was a shock 1 day when Mr. Stanley got all loquacious and just a bit sentimental. He had been talking about stuff that is hydrophilic. The term, he explained came from the Greek hydros, meaning water and philios, meaning love. The resultant name refers to molecules that are attracted to water. They just love the ol’ H2O.

All of which we were told by Mr. Stanley, ironically with a style so dry it was hydrophobic.

Until he came to the bit about love. The Greeks, he pointed out, have many words for love yet in English we have just the 1. Why is that, he asked rhetorically – Or at least I assumed it was rhetorical because it didn’t seem the sort of question anyone sensible would want to ask sniggering teenagers.

Perhaps, opined Mr. Stanley, we have a lot to learn about love in its many incarnations.

He might be right. Love can certainly be confusing.

For instance I love the signing of John Farrell as the new Red Sox manager. But I don’t love it.

You see what I did there? I used ‘love’ twice but obviously each iteration means different things. I don’t know any Greek you see, beyond souvlaki, which I think is a cracking dish, regardless of the type of meat used.

In the 1st instance I love the hire of Farrell because he did a job as the Red Sox pitching guru for 4 years (2006-2010). In 2006 the Sox pitching ranked 11 of 14 American League (AL) teams for ERA. In 2007, with Farrell coming on board, they ranked 1st and went on to claim a World Series crown.

That’s good and I love that kind of record. Particularly since it was achieved with Daisuke Matsutaka in the rotation.

The part where my love is a little less solid comes after 2007 – When the Sox dropped to 4th in those pitching rankings in 2008. And then 7th in 2009. And 9th in 2010.

Yeah I know ERA is not everything. It is a telling marker though – Lead the league in ERA in 2007 and they win the World Series, whereas ranked 9th in 2010 and they miss the post-season.

And that’s before we look at John as the manager of the Blue Jays, the position he took after leaving the Red Sox in 2010. In 2010 Cito Gaston guided the Jays to an 85 and 77 season, which was only good enough for 4th in an ultra-competitive AL East. In 2011 John Farrell equalled that placing but did so via an 81 and 81 record. In 2012 he again helmed the Jays to a 4th place season, only this time it was via a 73 and 89 tally.

That latter record was better than the Sox managed but only by 4 wins and then only because it was statistically speaking, the worst Red Sox season since 1965, when John Farrell was 3. Given that, it’s worth noting that in 2012, both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays teams had been out of the post-season calculations before September got started.

Nothing much inspiring in that then.

All of that is just numbers though I guess and you can flip and spin them any count of ways. Ultimately John Farrell has to be a good fit for the 2013-and-beyond Red Sox. He has to be able to react with the elements of his team and produce a noble compound with a positive valence.

The chemistry has to be right.

And that’s where all of this gets to being tricky for me – I guess that chemistry was never my strong suite. Chemists would have guessed that from the previous paragraph when I took legitimate chemistry terms like ‘noble’, ‘compound’ and ‘valence’ and just threw them in to a sentence which I’m sure either makes no sense, or is a recipe for a dangerous paint stripping thingy.

And then you can add to my general lack of chemical knowledge that, in this situation, it’s not about pre-defined reactions…

A shade under 99% of the mass of a human body is made up of just 6 elements – Oxygen (65%), carbon (19), hydrogen (10), nitrogen (3), calcium (1.5) and phosphorous (1). Which makes humans sound like simple constructs but that is not the case – Particularly when you look at the reactions between any 2 of us. Love and hate, as the adage goes, are separated by a very fine line.

A similarly fine line can separate the regular season from the post-season.

Will John Farrell land on the side that earns him sultry looks from the Nation? Or will he end up in Mr Stanley’s book of costly disasters?

The early signs are that the Sox back-office has titrated out the right quantities – The hires are arriving nice and early and with a minimum of fuss. The Sox did give up Mike Avilés, who did a job in 2012, and gained righty hurler David Carpenter as part of the trade.

Avilés was an infielder, who was propelled into the shortstop role and frequently used as the leadoff hitter by necessity. He completed both roles with solid aplomb, turning 89 double plays and batting at .250.

Notwithstanding the loss of Avilés, his former team-mates have been effusive in their welcomes for Farrell and you get the sense that by-and-large they are happy to see him back in the clubhouse. That was assuredly not the case with Bobby Valentine. For better or worse the reaction to his hiring was muted and sometimes strained – Sort of like when you find yourself on the bus next to the eccentric person and you’re cautiously trying to work out if he’s John Forbes Nash, Jr. or the guy who’s going to smear a Vegemite sandwich into your hair, completely unprovoked.

The beautifully minded John Forbes Nash, Jr. smearing a Vegemite sandwich into your hair would surely tweak the equilibrium a bit too much.

I wasn’t good at mathematics either.

Farrell, unlike Bobby Valentine, is a known quantity – He’s not exactly an inert element – The burly ex-pitcher had his jaw dislocated in 2011 interceding between 1 of his Blue Jays and an umpire and was ejected from that game to boot. He is paradoxically however a safe call – The mixture of Farrell plus the Red Sox clubhouse is unlikely to explode.

I’ll leave off this post then with this wish – The same that I had for the hire of Bobby V – I hope that John Farrell is the man that leads the Red Sox to glory. He already has my respect, just by stepping onto the mound with his team in a jam.

You gotta love him for trying.

And Instructions For Dancing

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