I love this time of year. The great heat wave of summer is gone, the air is cooler now, the sun is still high in the sky but less brutal. The leaves are still green, and the grass should be green (this year’s drought has had much to do about stopping that). Football has started. The NFL is going and my Packers are defending champions. College football is in disarray with the Big 12 about to maybe implode (or maybe not, and the indecision is the fun of it), and God knows we’ll end up arguing about a champion again. But mostly it’s time for Magic Numbers.
It’s funny no other sport seems to care about Magic Numbers. In the NFL there are so many tie breakers that it’s tough to figure out who’s in and who’s out when it comes to the playoffs. In college, well, there just aren’t any magic numbers. Basketball, which could embrace them, doesn’t. Maybe that’s because half the teams make the playoffs. Same in hockey. But baseball is different. Magic Numbers matter.
I presume that anyone reading this knows that the Magic Number is the number of wins/losses necessary for a team to win either its division or the wildcard slot. I also presume you know how to figure it or you wouldn’t be a baseball fan. But I’ve always been fascinated by the Magic Number. Maybe it’s because I was so awful at math. You see, no matter how convoluted the Magic Number is, it was one mathematical formula I understood. So I embraced it. Way back when I would get out a pencil, a sheet of paper, and the local newspaper and sit down and figure them myself. Then came the calculator and the figuring got easier. Now all I have to do is turn to the MLB website, click on “standings”, and there are the Magic Numbers all written down for me. It’s kind of a shame. I enjoyed doing it old way, especially after I found the calculator. I seldom turn to the MLB website for this information. I normally still use the local newspaper and figure them myself. It’s certainly more fun than just clicking on a website. Now I know my local paper usually doesn’t have the late West Coast scores, so I’ll try to find them without also seeing a list of Magic Numbers. So far it works.
I have one rule for Magic Numbers. I never start calculating them until September. I know teams go out in August, and I suppose in some years a really bad team went out in July (and the 1899 Cleveland Spiders were probably out in May), but somehow it doesn’t really count until September.
The little trivial bits of arcane baseball are one of the reasons I love the game. The Magic Number is one of those items and thus one of the reasons I love baseball. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I hear my calculator calling.