The Temporality of Rain and the Outcome: A Philosophical Meander



Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the play-by-play man for the Lansing Lugnuts posted that tweet yesterday and it really got me thinking philosophically.


When did the Lansing Lugnuts actually lose the game (2-0 to the South Bend Silver Hawks in an abbreviated five innings)? When does a win become a win and a loss become a loss? In a regular game, the answer is simple: the game is won and lost when the final out is recorded or when the home team takes the lead in the ninth inning or later.


Simple, right? Because the Lugnuts’ Thursday night game was interrupted by a downpour, the game was suspended after the fifth inning with the Silver Hawks ahead by a score of 2-0. The final out obviously hadn’t been recorded and, for a while, both teams still held out hope that the game would be resumed.


At this point, the Lugnuts hadn’t lost yet but the game stopped and was held up. It’s almost like the suspended game was like a baseball version of Schroedinger’s Cat. The popular physics thought experiment puts a cat into a closed box with a flask of poison and a radioactive source. Upon the detection of radioactivity (the decay of one atom of the substance), the poison is released and the cat dies. Radioactive substances decay randomly (although each substance has an already determined “half-life”) and so it is impossible to predict exactly when one atom of the substance decays. Therefore, as long as you don’t look into the box, the cat is both dead and alive and both possible results exist simultaneously.


In the case of the suspended baseball game, both possibilities (winning and losing) exist simultaneously as long as the game doesn’t resume. After playing five complete innings, however, the game was now long enough to be an official game which, at this point in the season, is enough to encourage the teams involved (as well as the umpires who have the final say) to end the game and not have to make it up or resume it at a later date. The Lugnuts aren’t out of a race for a playoff spot and it was in manager John Tamargo Jr.’s best interests to resume the game in order to give Lansing a chance to win. Obviously, in this suspended state, Lugnuts fans have a chance to win the game if it resumes but on the other hand, it’s in the Silver Hawks’ best interests not to resume the game in order to secure a win without the chance of the Lugnuts coming back to win it.


In this state of suspended animation, both teams can still win, much like the beginning of a baseball season in which every team has the possibility to win the World Series. In this case, there are fewer possible outcomes, giving even more hope to each side.


So when did the Lugnuts lose the game? In the end, it was when the umpires decided that the field conditions were unplayable (which they were) and called the game. So, in the case of Jesse Goldberg-Strassler’s tweet, it rained and then the Lugnuts lost, despite the fact that they were losing at the time the rain started.