George Will

WASHINGTON -- Washington's first major league baseball team, the Senators, was owned by Clark Griffith, who, in the democratic, give-the-people-what-they-want spirit of the city, said: "Fans like home runs -- and we have assembled a pitching staff to please our fans." Today, Washington's third team, the Nationals, opens a new ballpark near the Capitol, an appropriate setting for the national pastime. Remember, Lincoln's last words, whispered to Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday, were: "Don't ... let ... baseball ... die."

Or so said a solemn Bill Stern to a radio audience of millions. Stern, who died in 1971, was a famous sportscaster whose commitment to fact was episodic. A wit responded that if Lincoln had said that to Doubleday (who was not there), Doubleday might have replied, "What's baseball?" Baseball's creation myth is that young Doubleday invented the sport one summer day in 1839 in farmer Phinney's pasture near Cooperstown. Actually, Doubleday spent that summer at West Point. The only thing he ever started, sort of, was the Civil War: He was an artillery captain at Fort Sumter. When he died in 1893, his New York Times obituary did not mention baseball.

Today, baseball arrives in the nick of time to serve an urgent national need. It gives Americans something to think about other than superdelegates. Think instead about:

1. Who are the four players with 10 or more letters in their last names who hit 40 home runs in a season?

2. Who are the 11 players who have four or fewer letters in their last names and hit 40 home runs in a season?

3. Which two players who hit back-to-back home runs have the most combined letters in their last names?

For you who wasted the winter by not studying such stuff, the answers are below. The rest of you probably are SABRmetricians. Tim Kurkjian of ESPN (do you know that more than 10 American children have been named Espn?) recalls a convention of the Society for American Baseball Research:

"'Who from SABR might know where I can find the all-time list of pinch-hit, extra-inning grand slams?' I asked the very first man I saw at the convention. The man smiled and -- I am not making this up -- pulled the list from his breast pocket. 'I have it right here,' he said."

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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