When is it okay to leave a baseball game as a fan? Whenever you want for any reason. End article.
Earlier today, one of my favorite tweets of all time came to life. Back in 2012, @AndyMoney69 on Twitter parodied lovers of Sabermetrics, writing [edited for language], “i can’t wait to take my kid to a baseball game ‘daddy what’s going on’ shut the f— up im calculating win probability …”
Five Thirty Eight today published an article by Kaiser Fung that attempted to statistically find the moment during a baseball game fans can justify leaving. The methodology relies on run differential, essentially answering the question, “Is the result of the game a foregone conclusion?” In the “cheat sheet” provided within the article, Fung says fans can leave after the first or second inning if a team is up by six or more runs, the third and fourth innings if a team is up by five or more, the fifth and sixth if up four or more, the seventh inning if three runs, and the eighth inning if up two runs. It’s not quite win probability, but pretty darn close. Close enough that I’ll say that tweet came to life.
Fung addresses my major point of contention, which is that if you leave early, you will potentially miss a dramatic comeback. He writes, “Take the 2016 season as an example. The impatient fan who took our advice would have left early in 1,750 games, but in 61 of those games, the eventual winner came from behind to win, and so the fan missed out on some later-inning excitement.” But, Fung notes, the model still had an accuracy rate of 97 percent. Fair enough.
Fung’s article was mocked on social media a bit, but I take issue with some of the responses to it as well. Some responses were along the lines of, “If you’re a real fan, you never leave a game until it’s over.” This is gatekeeping. You’re a real fan whether you — for example — stayed for all 16 innings of last Tuesday’s 16-inning game between the Dodgers and the Phillies, or you left after the top of the first inning. There are all kinds of legitimate reasons someone would want to leave a baseball game very early even after having shelled out money for the tickets. One of those reasons could be, “Because I wanted to.” But, putting on our empathy glasses for a minute, other reasons could include, “Too hot,” “Too cold,” “Didn’t feel well,” “My kids are acting up,” “Other fans nearby were annoying,” “Forgot I left the stove on,” and “Chase Utley isn’t starting in this game.”
A while ago, I bought a pair of tickets to a Phillies game for myself and a friend. They were up in the 400 level in right field, which is pretty high up. My friend sometimes gets vertigo symptoms from great heights. We walked to our seats. He took a look out on the field from our seats and immediately started feeling sick, so we walked back and watched the game from the concourse level standing. Because we both at the time had this “real fan” bravado about ourselves, we stood for all nine innings. We were physical wrecks when the game ended. Our feet were sore and my back ached. Not worth it. What we should have done was leave the stadium immediately, then go across the street to Xfinity Live to watch the game on TV in an air conditioned bar. We already paid for the tickets — they’re a sunk cost. And we’re still “real fans” whether we stood for all nine innings, watched it at a bar, or didn’t watch it at all.