It’s called The Drunkard’s Walk, and it has nothing to do with how Brewers fans are responding to the team’s sudden faceplant. Which doesn’t mean such (unendorsed) walks aren’t happening like it’s the day after Prohibition’s perdition. Just that it’s not the particular walks relevant here. No, this Drunkard’s Walk refers to a book […]
It’s called The Drunkard’s Walk, and it has nothing to do with how Brewers fans are responding to the team’s sudden faceplant. Which doesn’t mean such (unendorsed) walks aren’t happening like it’s the day after Prohibition’s perdition. Just that it’s not the particular walks relevant here.
No, this Drunkard’s Walk refers to a book with the daunting subtitle of How Randomness Rules Our Lives. And though author Leonard Mlodinow piles on the bane of my high school existence — namely, math — he does an expert job of making advanced concepts on statistics and probability accessible to not-so-advanced schlubs like myself. It’s a worthwhile read.
Coincidentally, I started the book as the Brewers began sliding into their baseball-diamond-shaped Sarlacc Pit. So this convergence of events can only lead to a startling conclusion: Blame the streak on the book, or at least my reading of it. Which is equally coincidental, because one of Drunkard’s main thrusts is dismantling such cause-and-effect connections between random events.
But in truth, we’re not here to assign blame for Milwaukee’s collapse, to myself or Mlodinow or whatever serendipitous string of marketing led me to discover Drunkard’s Walk two weeks ago. (Hint: There’s lots of sports stuff in it, among other things.) Nor is this about blaming more pertinent Brewers factors, like dreadful starting pitching or Milwaukee’s disappearing offense, inopportune bullpen failures, managerial strategy or roster construction.
It’s about, in light of the book’s concepts, realizing just how much this seemingly impossible turn of Brewers events lies so far within the realm of possibility.
Yes, you’d think a Brewers team that held first place for 150 days would be immune to such a massive implosion. And yet, if enough baseball teams – not just bad ones, but good ones, too – play enough baseball games over enough seasons, strings like losing 12 of 13 are not impossible, but expected.
For other recent examples, just look over to the American League West, where the once-invincible Oakland A’s have lost 9 of 11 to put their own playoff hopes in jeopardy. Or to the 2011 season, when onetime playoff locks Boston and Atlanta went through simultaneous late-season collapses to fall out of the playoffs. Atlanta’s meltdown even randomly and directly impacted the Brewers, because it let the Cardinals sneak into the postseason, and you probably remember what happened next.
And Mlodinow, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, references how probability models predict the relative normalness of far more epic bad baseball stretches, like the 1988 Baltimore Orioles starting their season with 21 straight losses.
None of this knowledge makes all this losing easier for Brewers fans to digest, of course. In fact, it might even inflate the cloud of pessimism hanging over Miller Park and laughing in the face of its retractable roof. You mean this thing’s gonna get to 21 of 22? By Bernie’s Golden Mustache, what in the name of Hank the Dog did we do to deserve this?
The simple answer, of course, is this: nothing. There’s no Grand Theory of Stink-ativity here. Somebody didn’t accidentally rub Bob Uecker’s statued stomach in a manner that displeased the baseball gods.
The Brewers merely play baseball, and baseball happens. It’s been happening in the wrong direction for a while now. Brewers pitchers are suddenly throwing more gopher balls. Opposing pitchers are robbing hits with behind-the-back plays. Stars are playing like black holes.
But in spite of all that, Brewers fans who’ve given up hope may have one last glowing ember to guide them. “For in a complex undertaking,” Mlodinow writes, “no matter how many times we fail, if we keep trying, there is often a good chance we will eventually succeed.”
Yes, it’s a long way of writing try, try again. But it’s a pretty smart guy who’s writing it.
“What I have learned above all,” he writes, “is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at-bats. the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized.”
Random turns happen in both directions. And just as one might drive fans to drink, perhaps another will sober up the Brewers, putting them on the path they once walked.
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