Striking out on memory lane

March 31, 1998|By James H. Bready

PLAYERS of the game, down south of course, have been toning their sinews for the new season. A few students of the game, correspondingly, will have been bending and stretching the old mind muscles. In baseball, you gotta remember. The players in the field hold a finger aloft, or two fingers, reminding one another of how many outs there are. As for the students, -- what team was it that last year gave the regular-season Orioles the hardest time?

Memory!

When I was small and new

Facts stuck to it like glue

Now it's dim and slow

Sometimes batting oh-oh-oh

Yet you can deliberately sharpen memory. For calisthenics, there are always phone numbers. It should be possible to stamp the numbers of five known, listed persons onto your cortex in five minutes. Let 20 minutes go by; then write them out, in order.

Next time, use areas that aren't all 410.

No minor-league issue

For remembering, all baseball is divided into three parts. First, static memory: The nearly 15,000 individuals and the nearly 2,000 teams (i.e., yearly sets of players) that have made up the majors so far (plus lots of minor leaguers, if you like) and their documented performance. No one could remember it all. But, a further truism: Someone out there can outdo you in a test of recall.

This world gone by, wholly computerized, lives on in three competing baseball encyclopedias -- in the "Society for American Baseball Research," and its members who whoop for joy on sighting some small, indubitable encyclopedia mistake, and in the Orioles' annual "Media Guide," except that the 1998 title is "Information and Record Book."

(The book appeared last week: John Maroon, Bill Stetka, Stephanie Parrillo and the warehouse whiz kids beat their deadline. It's still $10 plus shipping and handling for one of the 15,000 copies, cover art by Tom Mosser, 372 pages.

In sum, static memory grows slowly, doesn't shrink, and must have constant exercise. The year Babe Ruth batted .393, his highest ever, was -- yes! -- 1923. With 170 walks, 106 singles, 99 extra-base hits and 151 runs scored, which I had to look up.

Memory's second aspect is dynamic: tonight's game, tomorrow's published box score and standings. Secondary, that Bill Ripken's batting average was higher than Cal's last year (Bill had far fewer at-bats); what matters now is their 1998 comparison. Hang loose, mind. Save me the sports pages, sweetie.

Third and last, off-the-wall memory, which is largely anecdotal. Just as a ball in ricochet is hard to anticipate, the course of such a story may vary from telling to telling. Off-the-wall baseball is for socializers and has a bad name from detail trouble. If two rememberers turn out to have watched the same triple play, they may now disagree on the base runners.

A device used by students of the game is the specialty category, a field of inquiry carried to lengths both wonderful and silly. Would that I had been keeping a record, all along, of most foul balls in a single at-bat. The encyclopedias don't say, and the tavern arguers couldn't.

In degrees Fahrenheit, what was the hottest modern-Orioles home opener so far? Dang it, I used to know.

James H. Bready was a reporter, book review editor and editorial writer for The Evening Sun for many years.

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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