Thursday, October 21, 2004

Go Sox!

Saturday Evening, October 25, 1986: I huddled with about a dozen of my fellow MIT graduate students (and a couple of faculty) watching game six of the baseball World Series in a Toronto hotel room right before the start of FOCS. The Boston Red Sox led by two runs with two out and none on in the bottom of the tenth against the New York Mets. One more out and the Sox would win their first championship since 1986.

The Red Sox didn't win the series that year and failed to return until this year. After an amazing comeback against their rivals, the New York Yankees, the Red Sox will host the first game of the World Series on Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

By far baseball is the favorite team sport among American computer scientists (at least of those that care about sports at all). Why? Mabye because it's a discrete game with a small state space. At Fenway Park (Boston's home field) they use lights to give the number of ball, strikes and outs in unary notation. The game has many nice mathematical properties and not just the myriad of statistics. For example, it is a theorem of baseball that at any point in a half inning the number of batters is equal to the sum of the number of outs, the number of runs scored and the number of men on base. Proof by induction.

The real reasons I love baseball are less tangible. Both a team sport and a one-on-one contest between pitcher and batter. A strategic game dealing with balancing probabilities. Suspense on every pitch. And much more.

By far the plurality of baseball fans in our field seem to root for the Red Sox. Probably because most of us spent at least part of our academic career in the Boston area and Boston takes its baseball far more seriously than any other city. In full disclosure, my favorite team is the Chicago White Sox but I root for the Red Sox in their absence.

Nothing beats attending baseball game live, especially in Fenway. Alas I never managed to attend a world series game though I've come very close.

October 14, 1992: The Pittsburgh Pirates won the National League East and the World Series was scheduled to open during FOCS in Pittsburgh. I wrote for and got tickets to the first game if Pittsburgh made the series. In the NLCS Atlanta scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth of game 7, meaning Atlanta and not Pittsburg would host the series. When Cabrera hit the single scoring those final two runs, I sat staring at the TV and cried.


  1. What we learn from baseball even makes its way into computer science research:

    Baseball Arithmetic and the Laws of Pseudoperspective
    by Ron Goldman

  2. I wouldn't make such sweeping generalizations-- Unless it's the postseason, I find baseball intolerably boring. Give me football or hockey any day.