Magic Numbers

By Howard Stringfellow
newSpin sportsWriter

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.


There is Hope, by Archdeacon Stringfellow

Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
14 January 2011
[Revised slightly, Jan. 18]

The temperature is 29.  Snow lies on the ground, and ice grips the streets.  I am wearing a wool shirt over a wool tee-shirt.  But there is hope.

A friend gave me a few weeks ago a photograph signed "Juan Marichal HOF 83."  The "27," black outlined in orange with white piping, is emblazoned on the back of the grey jersey uncontaminated by a name, and his left foot, at a perfect right angle from his leg, reaches high in the sky, higher than his head with his eyes fixed on his prey.  A bit of daylight slivers between the stirrup and the sanitary stocking just above the inner portion of his right ankle.  The grass around the mound is verdant, and the infield is smooth.  The sun shines.  The photograph catches the split of a second before a devastating pitch hurtles toward home plate as skill touches art in the game where the defense holds the ball and gives the offense just a split of a second to seize the opportunity to be and to score.

Pitchers and catchers report one month from today.


The Religious Sports Fan

The Boundaries Blur; The Boundaries Clarify
By Howard Stringfellow, Archdeacon, Diocese of Bethlehem
9 December 2009

Joe Buck on FOX Sports TV said it again Sunday: “It’s Hail, Mary time for the Cowboys!” And the old questions rose again, begging attention and clarification. The old questions have answers.

The Cowboys had a 10-point lead in the second quarter. Then the Giants scored two touchdowns and took the lead. And with seconds left on the clock at the end of the first half and with the ball on the Cowboys’ 36-yard line, Tony Romo connected with Jason Witten for 6 yards. Another pass to him gained 7 yards. The time was running out. Excitement and noise rose. And then Buck was moved to say with some feeling what he said.

Should we exhaust the other options before we resort to prayer? Does desperation authenticate prayer? Does Hail, Mary time mean that a good outcome is a 1000-to-1 shot?

People, I know, pray without the slightest concern for outcomes of games and sometimes even for outcomes of life situations. And they do it every day of their lives. At some point, they have come to see that the prayer in them comes from heaven, that God uses prayer to strengthen the relationship they share, and that prayer deepens the identification between them. In time, prayer becomes as natural as breathing and as important.

I know this. Somebody’s prayers were answered on Sunday. The Giants won, 31-24.