The Baseball Combination That Matters

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First Baseman Eric Hosmer (Photo by Major Garrett)

Don’t get excited because you will not crack any safes or win any lotteries, but the baseball combination that matters is 61-8-42.

The combination will help you enjoy and gain perspective on the exciting Padres season before us and every season thereafter – regardless of the result.

Remember. Patience is a virtue, so let me spin this yarn.

  • 61 is for 1961, the last year the American League and National League played 154 games. Both leagues were fearful of something called the Continental League, a power play by William Shea to force MLB to create new expansion teams and in the process bring the National League back to New York. The Continental League had some big money players, forcing the NL and AL to rethink their modestly sized (18 teams) monopoly.

To placate the Continental League, led by former Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey, the AL and NL agreed to add four new teams: New York Mets, Houston Colt 45s in the National and the Washington Senators and Los Angeles Angels in the American. This was the first expansion of baseball franchises since 1901. The decision to expand erased the need for the Continental League and it disbanded before it started. That year, 1961, was the last the regular season of 154 games.

  • 8 is the difference between the length of that season and the 1962 season of 162 games. Under the 154-game season, teams played each other 22 times. With expansion, the schedule had to remain balanced so eight games were added to the regular season. Teams played each other 18 times a season starting in 1962. That is the math behind the current 162-game season.
  • 42 is the number of games that truly matter in any baseball season. Write this down and never forget it. The best team in any league and in any season will win 60 games and lose 60 games. The worst team will too. What matters is the 42 other games. There are exceptions, of course, but this is a very good approximation of every season for every team.

Last year the Padres won 66 games and lost 96. That means it went 6-36 in the leftover 42 games. The Dodgers won the NL West with a record of 92 wins and 71 loses, meaning it went 32-11 in the leftover games (absent one rain out). Check the standings and you will see across leagues and across the decades, the rule of 42 is as good a gauge of success or failure as you can find.

For those of us who love the mystical quality of baseball numbers, stay with me for the payoff. In the modern era, 42 is the most important number for the reasons stated above. Forty-two is also the most important uniform number in Major League baseball, the only number retired in every ballpark. It belonged to Jackie Robinson, the player who brought baseball and America into a new era. As we noted above, the Continental League led to the 162-game schedule that gives us the magic number 42. Who was the embryonic league’s president? Branch Rickey. Who bravely (though his bravery was a fraction of Jackie’s) brought Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues as the first African-American player on any roster? Branch Rickey.

Mystical.

All this is my way of letting Padres fans know that losses will mount, a baseball season is long and streaks will come and go. This was on my mind because I watched the Padres in person twice over Easter weekend. I watched them lose Saturday and win Sunday. The Sunday victory ended a six-game losing streak, one that prompted some local hotheads to blog for manager Andy Green’s ouster.

Readers of this column know I have had my doubts about Green. But this is no time to talk of firing him or anyone else on the club. The Saturday loss was a bummer – too many strikeouts and missed opportunities.

But I saw something I will never forget as I watched pre-game warm-ups and batting practice. The team was light, energized and confident. It was full of chirping. What’s that? Chirping is what players do to lift their spirits and keep the atmosphere light; chirping breaks tension and cuts through the natural inclination to clench-up and try too hard.

There’s an odd expression among players: try less. It does not mean what it sounds like. It means ease up, concentrate less on the fear of failure and let success come to you. Baseball is a game dependent on thinking less and playing more. In the Major Leagues, talent is stratospheric. What matters is the ability to calm the mind, quiet the body and execute in the moment with fluidity and balance. Believe it or not, that means trying less. It means escaping the pressure of the moment, letting the ball come to you at the plate or the field and allowing your skills – your physical prowess honed over the years – to gracefully rule the moment. Chirping helps this process along. It keeps players from taking themselves or the moment – a five-game losing streak in this case – too seriously. Good teams chirp. Confident teams chirp. Teams with good chemistry chirp. The converse is also true.

I watched the grounders dance across the infield grass and the throws laser between the bags and heard nearly endless chirping and joking. You might say – that’s absurd! They were on a five game losing streak. Shouldn’t they be pissed and silent and focused and sullen? No. Baseball has enough of that already (remember, Hall of Fame hitters fail seven times out of ten). Baseball needs lightness and ease, jokes and banter.

Chirping.

It continued during the Saturday game. I was fortunate enough to sit right next to the dugout and I listened to the players chirp and prod and salute each other as the game progressed. They even hassled the ump and the visiting Cincinnati Reds. Through the kindness of Padres management, I have sat near the dugout before. I never remember hearing the constant, confident chirping I heard that Saturday….even though it led to a sixth straight defeat.

This team is good. It knows it is good. The chemistry already exists. My sense is it will get better and players will find their roles and come to rely upon one another, trust one another and never believe the game is over until the final out. You may consider it daffy that I can draw so many conclusions from fleeting, pre-game chirping and harmless comic grab-assery. Trust me. This team is getting to know itself, getting accustomed to its accumulated talent, scratching the surface of its potential – it was doing this even amid the young season’s first losing streak.

That’s a team to watch.

That’s a team to enjoy.

That’s a team that may do something special with the 42.

Do you have a Padres or Clairemont question for Major? Send us an email to: AskMajor@ClairemontTimes.com

Major Garrett was born and raised in Clairemont, is Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News, host of “The Takeout” podcast and author of the book “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride: The Thrills, Chills, Screams and Occasional Blackouts of His Extraordinary First Year in Office.”