This post originally appeared here: http://www.gazettextra.com/weblogs/peace-and-glove/2011/sep/01/ma-and-the-magic-number/
When I decided to begin “Peace & Glove” one of my goals was to use common-knowledge terms in a common-knowledge way. I think a lot of fans take for granted the terminology that is used and assume everyone knows the meaning behind a word.
My mom, whom I simply refer to as Ma, is one of the biggest Brewers fans I know. She knows the players and their stats. She knows the players of years gone by. She can retell all of the franchise’s major historical events and can summarize the successful/lousy seasons the team has had. Whether at work or at home, if the Crew is playing, she is tuned in to either to Uke on the radio or “Rock” (TV color analyst Bill Schroeder) on the tube. Unlike myself, Ma may not catch all 162 games in a season … but I know she comes close.
Recently I posted a Facebook status that said “Magic Number=23.” Ma promptly emailed me and stated, “I’m sure it has to do with the Brewers, but what is a magic number?” That email pretty much summed up my thoughts from before I started writing “Peace & Glove.” There is terminology in baseball — and in all sports, really — used on a regular basis whose meanings elude even the die-hard fans.
What is a magic number? It’s a term that only applies to the team that sits in first place and is used to demonstrate what must happen before that team secures a playoff berth. The magic number is the sum of the number of wins by the first-place team and losses by the second-place team needed before the first-place team clinches a postseason berth.
Technically, if just one team in a division wins on opening day, they have a magic number. Keeping track of this number before August is ridiculous and irrelevant so you generally won’t hear the term used until the season begins to wind down or when one team has taken a commanding division lead. The division lead can change dozens of times during the season, so there is no point in calculating the magic number until the very end.
I recently learned the easiest way to calculate a magic number and was amazed that I didn’t already know how. For the first time in my adult life I’m almost disappointed in my public education. How is calculating a magic number not crucial to a student’s development?
As of this post, “Runnin’ Ron” had his team in first place in the National League Central with a record of 81-56. The St. Louis Cardinals sit in second place with a record of 72-64 with 26 games left to play. If the Cardinals go on a tear and win all 26, they would finish with 98 wins. That means the Crew would need to win 99 games to secure the N.L. Central crown. They are 18 wins away from that number; hence, the magic number is 18.
I believe I’m a bit late to the game because I just learned how to calculate the magic number, but I take solace in the fact that I at least knew what the magic number was — no offense, Ma!! Did you know what a magic number was and how it was calculated? Are there other sports terms whose definitions you don’t completely understand?