Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Apocalypse.....not Now

I have been distracted of late, busy with work, play and other matters.  So I completely missed a very important annual milestone....the postponement of the Apocalypse.

This happens every year, usually in September.  But darn it all, it just snuck by me, coming as it did three or four weeks early.

Oh, what am I babbling about?

My all time favorite short story is called The Last Pennant Before Armageddon, by W.P. Kinsella.  In it the hapless manager of the Chicago Cubs-in the middle of an exciting pennant race-begins having prophetic dreams, in which he eventually hears God Himself proclaim:

"I want to assure you that I hold the Chicago Cubs in highest esteem.  I have listened to your entreaties and considered the matter carefully from all angles.  I am aware of how long it has been since the Cubs have won a pennant.  I think you should know that when the Cubs next win the National League Championship, it will be the last pennant before Armageddon...."

Kinsella is a fine writer, he in fact wrote the book that became the movie Field of Dreams.  But this story goes beyond pure fiction, and makes a fair degree of sense.  The Cub's record of futility seems implausibly beyond mere human agency...the last National League Pennant they took home was in 1945, which is also the last time the world was without nuclear weapons (the United States having just expended their entire supply at Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Oh, we have come close to testing this theory.  More than once.  2003 was probably the most perilous moment, when Chicago stood five outs away from redemption-and the rest of us from extinction.  Thank goodness a fan named Steve Bartman rose up, like a prophet of old, and batted away a foul ball that would otherwise have been caught.  Thanks, Steve, the world owes you more than the abuse you got for that.

For many years now the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has published a Doomsday Clock that has its hands dangerously close to midnight.  They move it forward and back depending on the folly of mankind, so it never gets too far from The End.  A sobering concept, but perhaps one that needs to be updated.  I propose a Doomsday Watch that begins every year on baseball's Opening Day.  At that point clever statisticians are able to calculate the odds of the Cubbies making the playoffs.   Here is the chart for you can see we begin with a frightening 31% chance that the Cubs will make it into the post season.  (True, this is not exactly winning the League Championship, but dangerously close!).  But by 50 days into the season we reach 0% odds of the End Times, although by some highly implausible statistical quirks we seem to have only been entirely off the hook around August 18th.

Next spring the Doomsday Sports ticker resets.

So, good news.  The world is not going to end. 

Bad news.  You will have to continue to meet the obligations of day to day life.  Keep paying that mortgage.  Quiz those kids on multiplication tables. If you were planning on just letting the diet go to hell, forget it, you will still be putting on a swimsuit next summer.  I mean, even the Cubs have never found a way to be statistically eliminated before the 4th of July.

Odd side note.  The story I refer to appears in a collection of Mr. Kinsella's work entitled The Thrill of the Grass.  It contains another story called The Baseball Spur.  This story was based on Mr. Kinsella hearing about a baseball field next to a freight yard in Superior, Wisconsin.  Almost certainly the same spot I mentioned in my last post about the caboose out in the woods.  Spooky, I had either never read, or had completely forgotten this off hand comment in the intro to the short story....

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