OK class, settle down.
Today, we get to learn about baseball’s magic numbers.
During my growing up years while watching the Cincinnati Reds it seemed that something magical happened every year. We at least had a team good enough to win the National League West Division title. Therefore I quickly learned about the magic number and the sweetness that went along with it.
Aside from 2010, the last year the Reds won a division, there hasn’t been much magic on the field in Cincinnati since the last World Series championship in 1990.
However, that seems to be changing in Reds Country. Let’s hope so anyway.
The Reds have a magic number and going into Wednesday night’s play against the Pirates, it stood at 10. That was Sparky Anderson’s number, by the way. But our goal, class, is to get to zero. The last Reds player to wear 00 was journeyman outfielder Brandon Watson in 2005 (thank you, Mr. Google).
Personally, my countdown started when the magic number stood at 20. But writing about that would be taboo and bring a lot of bad karma to the Redlegs. That, my friends, they didn’t need.
I remember two years ago, when the Reds were closing in on the division title, I texted my daughter that the Reds’ magic number was now 15 since the Cardinals had lost that day as well.
She texted me back: “What’s a magic number?”
Sally is a more-than-casual baseball fan who is married to a huge baseball fan who happens to be a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan. (I know, and we let her marry him anyway). But the Reds had been so bad during poor Sally’s lifetime that she never even understood what a magic number meant. How sad.
Therefore, it was time for a history lesson. Now, two years later, I’ll give everyone a refresher course. Maybe by next year, if the Reds keep winning, we will need fewer reminders of how the magic number works. It’s much more fun to see it in action.
OK, mathematicians (of which I am not), get out the slide-rules (do they still use those?).
Seriously, you won’t need them, unless you’re trying to bat a spitball. If I can figure out a magic number, so can almost any elementary student (that’s about as far as my math skills take me).
It’s Baseball Math 101.
The Reds haven’t needed a magic number since they last clinched a division title in 2010. Before that it was 1995, although they had one rolling in 1999 before the Brewers spoiled the fun with a sweep on the last weekend of the regular season.
But I digress.
There’s talk of this magic number when the baseball season starts to wind down. The magic number determines how close a team is to its goal of clinching a division title and qualifying for the playoffs. A team must be in first place to truly have a magic number.
The magic number always subtracts. It can never go up. In other words, the Reds’ magic number can be 10 on Wednesday morning, but not 11 on Thursday morning. It can only go down.
How is it computed? Here’s the short answer: Take the number of games yet to be played, add one, then subtract the number of games ahead in the loss column of the standings from the closest opponent.
It might be even easier to do it with one glance at the standings if you can follow this simple mathematical formula: Games in a season plus 1, minus wins, minus losses by second-place team. Because Games plus 1 should equal 163 in all instances, it can be summed up as: 163 minus wins minus losses by the second-place team.
Actually, before the season starts, every team has a magic number of 163. There are 162 regular-season games, plus 1, with 0 wins and 0 losses by the second-place team.
Are you following along?
Once a magic number has been established, then it’s basically the combination of the front-running team’s wins and the trailing team’s losses. For instance, after Tuesday’s games, the Reds’ magic number was 10. Any combination of 10 wins by the Reds or losses by the Cardinals clinches the division for Cincinnati.
When the magic number hits 1, that’s a cause for celebration because that means your team (the Reds, for today’s lesson purposes) has clinched at least a tie for the division title. Once the magic number reaches zero, the team has won the title. Please party on.
For most of what we can remember, aside from 2010, the Reds have been more in tune with the tragic number, or reverse magic number if you will. It’s the combination of losses by trailing teams and wins by the first-place team for the trailing team (in any place in the standings) to be eliminated from the race.
Got that one?
Of course, magic numbers can apply to any sports team that has a similar setup to baseball. It just seems like to me it’s always been associated with baseball more than the other sports.
Baseball is a marathon and the Reds are in the stretch drive with a good lead over the Cardinals.
It’s magical, isn’t it?
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.
OK class, settle down.
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