September 22nd, 2008

They'll take you to Australia!

I'm feeling very nervous about a bit of know-it-all-ism I deployed recently in alt.fan.cecil-adams. The question started out with how magic numbers work --- the combination of the leading team's wins and the trailing team's losses which would clinch first place for the leading team --- and I'm confident that I explained that competently enough. (I worked out the formula for myself back in middle school and was excessively proud for it.)

The thing is, the original poster asked a hypothetical: at the moment of questioning, the White Sox had 85 wins and 68 losses, and the Twins 83 wins with 68 losses. The White Sox magic number was seven (from which we can conclude they had nine games left to play), and were leading the Twins by two and a half games. Suppose, went the hypothetical, the White Sox lose all their remaining games, while all the remaining Twins games are rained out (and let's hope they aren't playing each other the rest of the season). Who wins, and how does the magic number affect things?

As I make it out, this situation would leave the White Sox at the end of the season with an 85-77 record, and the Twins with an 83-71 record. I think that would give the Twins the pennant, as they'd be be on top in percentages and the White Sox would be two games behind in the standings. But that leaves me really, really uncomfortable. It has happened that teams have had the same number of wins and the pennant goes to the one with fewer losses, in the old days when there were more tied and never-completed games, but giving it to the one with fewer wins leaves me very nervous. It feels like the Twins would be forced to make up at least enough games to clinch in their own right. I've got to figure this out before I go mad.

(Say, how long do you suppose it's going to take for there to be a legend of the Yankees being cursed by leaving Real Yankee Stadium? If it didn't start seven years ago, I mean.)

Trivia: The referee at the Dempsey-Tunney 22 September 1927 ``fight of the century'', with the infamous long count, was named Dave Barry. Source: 1927: High Tide of the 1920s, Gerald Leinwand.

Currently Reading: The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History, Molly Caldwell Crosby. You know, science fiction plagues never seem to have the ... quirky accidental nature of the real ones.