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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reformation Day

Congratulations, Steve on a great fundraiser last night and thanks for Refro and Evans and all who hosted the event!

When I was a kid I loved Halloween as much as any of them. But I wish we'd remember the significance of the day. That is, Halloween, "Hallowed Eve" is the night before All Saints Day in which ghosts, goblins and demonic creatures were said to rise as a show of force before the blessed day. And it was on that evening in 1517 that Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg as opinion points--which lit a fire of nationalistic protest and ecclesiastical protest, but also asked people to look personally at what they held dear in their lives of faith. And for that reason it is called Reformation Day.

The Reformation was sort of a perfect storm. Had it not been for a troubled monk who finally realized that his salvation came only by God's grace, had he not been a prolific writer (30 books published in 36 months), a German nobility that wanted to throw off the Italian papal dominance of the Holy Roman Empire, and a population that wrestled with life's meaning amid bubonic plague and newfound prosperity, the entire event would have taken a much different shape. When I look around at the melange of churches today, at how they cross-fertilize in ideas, Reformation Day makes me smile. My own church has significantly improved its mission because of this diversity of faith. And yet there is a tremendous unity in what is called orthodox Christianity that makes it easy for us to worship together. Luther's "Grace alone,Faith alone, Scripture alone" motto has in a rough way been affirmed by all of Christianity. His notion that there is a Natural Law of how God created men to be equal and free, yet hungering for a relationship with the Almighty and a responsible life, spawned Locke and Jefferson to re-write governance in what we now call 'republican democracy.' Luther's common sense writing begat a host of others to examine how faith could be reconciled with reasoning, science, art, business, and all the rest of life without capitulating to humanism, the creed that elevates egotism into making each person a little god with little regard for others. His vernacular church and Two Kingdoms humbled Europe's monarchs and set about forces that redrew the map of Europe into nations of common people. A few years ago, a very politically liberal group of historians voted on the Man of the Millenium. Jefferson narrowly defeated Luther but British Catholic historian Paul Johnson laughed and pointed out that outside the West, little European history is studied and only America is noted.

In some ways Reformation Day itself is a misnomer. Luther and Pope Leo exchanged letters and made amends from 1517 to 1518. It was only after the Dominicans skewered Reform ideas in 1519 that the real controversy began. After Luther's death in 1546 and that of Henry VIII of England, Charles V pounced on the Northern German principalities and defeated them. Then in a queer twist, having completely defeated Protestantism at a great cost of war, he inexplicably decided to grant universal freedom of faith. For 400 years historians could not understand what had happened--the reason for war had been overturned in the conquest. Then a few years ago, a lost series of letters was found. Charles' sister, married to a German prince at the time, was writing him almost daily, telling him the joys of her Christian faith. She was the biggest Protestant of them all. It seems that Charles reconsidered his victory on the battlefield and and laid down his arms in the battlefield of faith. Reformation Day still makes me smile.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cardinal Math

Like Math? Here's a number sequence and you tell me the next number. 26,30,31,34,42,43,44,46,64,67,68,81,82,85,87,4,6,?
Answer: 11. These are the years that the Cardinals have won the pennant.
We were sitting and watching the game last night when the fifth inning ended with the Cards ahead by 5 runs. Now the way I figure it, teams score an average of 4.5 runs per game or .5 runs per inning. So the probability of scoring a run in any given inning is 0.5. The probability of 2 runs is 0.25, etc. This approximately jives with my sense that if you go into the ninth with a 1 run lead, you have at least a 50% chance of winning --or better if your closer has an ERA much less than 4.50. So then you calculate what is the probability of the Brewers scoring 5 runs in 4 innings? It's over one in thirty. But of course, this isn't dynamic. It assumes the Redbirds won't score again. It assumes that in such a crucial game the Birds won't put in an outstanding pitcher or two with an ERA of about 2.
So I turned to her and said, "I think we got 'em." As it turned out, the Cardinals scored again and the Brewers chances got even worse. Redbirds win. Pennant #18.
I once read about the life of Branch Rickey, the genius general manager of the Cardinals in 1918 who put together the beginning of this very successful baseball team. He was listening-in as the manager dismissed a young man from spring training tryouts. He told the kid to get some muscle on his bones, because despite his fielding prowess, he just didn't have much power in his hitting. The following fall, the kid showed up at the team offices asking if he could try out in spring training again. He was 40 pounds heavier and all rock solid muscle. The manager remember him, young guy by the name of Roger Hornsby. "What have you been doing!!" Rog just shrugged and said he was working on the farm. Rickey was given pause. He thought about how fortunate the team was to run into this kid again. What if they would spend a little money to buy some small town minor league teams and have scouts fan out across the countryside to locate talent, offer a contract to play ball on the minor league outfit and put the young men through training. Call it the 'farm system', ala Hornsby. Since you could buy a minor league team for about $6-8000, about what you'd pay a very good player per year, Rickey thought that if each of about 4 teams could produce a good player from the hinterlands, the purchase would pay for itself in a year. And the rest, as they say is history.
Next, Rickey gave some thought to how to promote his team. St. Louis has another major league team and was somewhat distant to the other teams being the westernmost club. There was a new thing called radio but in 1918 no one understood very well how it could make money. One idea was to get people to listen so that a company could sell more radios. A better idea was to get programming from civic activities and have advertizing sponsors. So radio stations would play, say, an opera that was performing locally. Rickey thought the stuff being done was pitiful and thought baseball would be much better if you could locate a good person to tell the 'game story' as it was being played. And what a perfect way to get the word out, way out West, about the Cards. So while many teams signed-on 2 or 3 radio stations in the town where they played, Rickey assembled an empire of 108 stations throughout the West and South. The cost was so minor it provided a return of almost 200%. Pretty good math, eh? The rise of Cardinal baseball caused the early success of many radio stations beyond the eastern seaboard, made fans in Tennessee lust to go to St. Louis for a game, and made every kid in America seem to want to play for the Redbirds. And started a grand tradition of radio play-by-play announcers--Dizzy Dean, Harry Carey, Jack Buck, Mike Shannon. Oh, and then there was that aggressive beer company in St. Louis who delivered fresh beer quickly by teamsters who saw a perfect match for Anheiser-Busch and a baseball team.
As Rickey's math grew successful, so did the Cardinal's math. In 1903, the team had the lowest winning percentage, .314 in their history, but 1906 was even worse with the team finishing 63 games behind the pennant winners. But from '26 to '46, the Cards won 8 times.
My grandfather said it was a great escape when the country needed an escape. You could come home dehydrated and dirty, having watched the grasshoppers eat your crop. The kids could be fighting , your wife could chew you out and the dog could bite you--but if the Cards won, it was a net positive day. Good math.
Note from Oct. 28--tonight at end of inning 7 Cards were ahead by 4. So with two innings to play the probability is 1/2times1/2 times 1/2 times 1/2 =1/16 but then there are two innings so it is 2/16 or one chance in 8. Result was Cards won as predicted. Dotel and Motte pitched and each had an ERA for the Series of slightly over 1. Hence the Rangers were really cooked! The squirrel was spotted crawling around on the scoreboard getting ready to celebrate. Congratulations, Redbirds!