Christmas is just around the corner and at my house that means we’ve been making candy for three days…yes, even while it’s raining cats and dogs. What can I say? We’re brave and we’ve been getting more than passable results by adjusting the times and temperatures slightly. Anyway, watching and swirling pot after napalm like pot of boiling sugar and butter, waiting for that magic second when it achieves optimum caramel color and that heavenly smell begins to permeate the room, a mere second and a half at most before it begins to burn, gives one a lot of time to think…Maybe it’s just the sugar rush talking, but it occurs to me that building a winning baseball team, one that can make it to the postseason and win the World Series, bears some resemblance to the process I have just repeated many times in the last several days.
Candy making is both an exact and an inexact science. You have a set list of ingredients, precise ratios for those ingredients and highly specific directions to follow with regards to cooking times, stirring procedures and temperatures. Follow the recipe exactly and you get a winning result every single time…except when you don’t. Slight changes in humidity, the freshness of the ingredients, water quality, a nick in your pan, all can lead to bad results – poor consistency, candy that won’t harden or goes straight to the burned stage. And Lord help you if a sugar crystal drops into the mix at the wrong moment! And the best part? You can’t predict the degree to which any of these things will matter or even if they will matter at all until the moment you are making the candy. Sometimes cooking it longer will combat the high humidity of a heavy rainstorm. Other times, even slightly raised humidity is impossible to overcome.
Everyone knows the ingredients needed for a winning baseball team – a great starting rotation, a reliable bullpen complete with an effective closer, hot bats, a high OPS and fantastic gloves and arms on defense. But what is the perfect ratio? Theories abound – great starters that go deep make a reliable bullpen less necessary, you can have adequate pitching as long as you have a team of hitters, you can have low OPS as long as you have a killer starting rotation, and so on. But for every theory you will find plenty of World Series Winning examples to contradict it. I would argue that team chemistry can play a huge rule in determining which teams make it to the postseason, but others would disagree and teams with lousy chemistry have certainly managed to achieve that feat before (the 2002 Giants, for example).
And this is before you even get to all of the external factors – the other teams’ abilities, ownership/financial issues, heck, even the weather. Apparently rain affects everything! And what about injuries, that greatest and most hated of all equalizers? Sometimes injuries have little effect (In 2010? The Rangers.), other times there is no hope for team recovery without the injured player (In 2010? The Angels.) or in light of a cascade of injuries (In 2010? The Red Sox.).
My point is simply this, we can guess predict the outcome of a season all we want but it is impossible to really know until we get there. There are just entirely too many variables. In light of recent acquisitions, the prevailing theory is that the Phillies and the Red Sox are certain to meet up in the World Series. I’m not saying it’s not possible. Both have the makings of frightening opponents next year and some years the more popular predictions do come to pass. Other years, you have a World Series matchup between the Giants and the Rangers. And who were some of the favored predictions last year? Well, the Philllies and the Mariners come to mind…With an off season that’s already been full of surprises, the one prediction I feel certain of is that the 2011 season will be anything but dull.
Meanwhile, I sit here nibbling on a piece of near perfect pine nut brittle that should, by all rights, have failed to become brittle…purely for quality control purposes I assure you ;)