By Howard Stringfellow
At this time of year every year as the fall and seasonable rains begin, my thoughts turn to Baseball's Magic Number, that integer indicating the number of wins a first-place team needs as well as the number of losses a first-place team needs from the second-place team in order for the first-place team to win the Division.
My father's formula was unnecessarily complex, a bit showy, and he used a slide rule to compute it. He had a real routine unlike me. I offer this fully accurate simplification:
Magic Number = 163 - W1 - L2, where W1 equals the number of wins of the first-place team and where L2 equals the number of losses of the second-place team. Allow me to demonstrate this with the most-watched Division in Baseball, the American League East.
The Yankees' Magic Number = 163 - 92 [Yankee wins] - 66 [Red Sox losses]
The Yankees' Magic Number = 5
Phillies' fans need not to know how to do this: they've already won their Division. They won it so early that they never gave a moment's thought to the Magic Number. They don't teach it anyway in the Montgomery County schools anymore.
On another day with more time, I'd like to discuss the transmogrification and transmutation of the Magic Number into Major League Baseball's "Elimination Number." Something for another day when I am not round-tripping to the Northern Kingdom. Perhaps when the Phillies' are actually counting and living hand-to-mouth.