Baseball is Ye Olde American Pastime, old enough to have developed its own language and customs and conventions. For example, everyone who follows baseball knows that “7.1 innings” should be understood to mean “seven-and-a-third innings,” even though that’s not at all how decimals work. You could reject that shorthand and demand a more faithful, mathematically coherent decimal system for communicating portions of innings, but then you would find yourself losing hours of your life to incredibly dumb internet wars like this one here, waged between baseball knowers in the Effectively Wild Facebook group, about the completely silly and unimportant meaning of the term “games above .500.”
Where a normal, balanced person might respond to a probing question about the meaning of the term “games above .500” by aiming a can of pepper spray directly into the eyes of the asker, these true baseball knowers elect instead to stake out positions and defend them with all the intensity of a World War I trench. It starts with a straightforward-seeming question:
Sidney here seems to articulate the view held by a majority of sports fans, as reflected by the overwhelming results of Dan Mancini’s poll:
This is a satisfyingly elegant way of thinking this through—the teams are 10 games above .500 because they would have to drop 10 games in order to hit .500—but it is, as you will soon see, not the only way. Here’s Bill with an answer that will set your teeth on edge, a preview of the headache to come:
Where Bill’s math major mind says five, my Facebook avoider mind says that way lies utter madness. You see, for the true baseball knowers, “games above .500” can be viewed from different angles, and even through different lenses, and Facebook, as we all know, is exactly the place to explore any sort of disagreement, ever:
So the baseball knowers have established two ways of thinking about this, which, it turns out, is at least two too many: “games above .500” can either mean how many more wins the sample teams have than a .500 team that has played the same number of total games (five), or it can mean how many games it would take for the sample teams to fall to .500 if they lost every game (10 games). It’s not quite a Laurel/Yanny breakdown, but there is a certain amount of brain-warping that is required in order to toggle between the two possible definitions, because they aren’t attempting to accomplish the same thing. This should be fine and perfectly non-controversial, so long as you are not determined to lay claim to the term “games above .500” as the only possible combination of words and letters and numbers that can describe the condition of a baseball team’s record relative to average. And yet here we are!
Perhaps you still think this is very simple! Perhaps you are even thinking boy this is sure not something that adult humans should be arguing about. It turns out “this is very simple” is a belief that is shared even by folks with exactly opposite ideas of what “games above .500” should mean:
Round about here is where you will get your first dizzying glimpse into the void, which I am fascinated to find has the look of an infinite baseball season:
And that was before we added frightening concepts like fractions!
Fractions take us in some wildly unexpected directions, here:
Ah yes, the always reliable “missing the urinal” test, known for adding clarity to any discussion. This will not surprise you, but the inclusion of the piss test did not keep this discussion from going in absurd directions:
This is only the very edge of the rabbit hole, I’m afraid:
A useful tip for arguing about insanely stupid things on the internet: using an example from some other field that in no way augments or illuminates anything new in your argument will get you no closer to resolution. Taking it from games to degrees actually accomplishes nothing! But, hey, why not try height while we’re here?
I regret to inform you that this argument went on for something like 300 replies. There were no survivors.