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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

wezen-ball.com: Have Two Baseball Games Ever Played Out Identically?

I believe it was Lindsay Nelson Eddy that said…“Every single day I come to the ballpark I see nothing new”

Well, a few months back, while pondering how spoiled we are to live in a world of Baseball Reference & Retrosheet, it occurred to me that, with the decades of baseball games under our belts, there might be two games that played out identically. In other words, are there any two games in baseball history that, if I were to pick up the scorecards for each, they would be indistinguishable? Granted, one century of baseball games (and only 50 years of Retrosheet data) is not quite the same as the five centuries of worldwide recreational play that chess as seen, but it still seemed at least possible to find a pair of identical ballgames among all those seasons. And since the Retrosheet data is all there, ready to be queried, it just seemed irresponsible not to go digging.

...Anyhow, with the Retrosheet database installed and ready to go on my computer, I decided to take some time this weekend to explore this question. The short answer to the question is, of course, no, there are not two games in the Retrosheet era of baseball history that played out identically. If you think about the numbers involved, it’s not surprising in the least: with at least a dozen possible standard outcomes available for each plate appearance (and another dozen or more possible, but highly unlikely outcomes), and with 60 or 70 or even 80 plate appearances per game, the odds become fantastic that two games would be identical. Since there’s only 100,000 or so games in the Retrosheet era, it is by no means surprising that I couldn’t find any matching games. Below, I describe the methods that I took to come to this (non-)conclusion and explore some of the results. I know the answer may be slightly dull, but the journey there was still pretty interesting.

Repoz Posted: March 31, 2009 at 12:22 PM | 40 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: March 31, 2009 at 01:08 PM (#3119684)
I believe it was Lindsay Nelson Eddy that said..."Every single day I come to the ballpark I see nothing new”

no--he's the one who said "with the tempo the same, we move to further verses"
   2. billyjack Posted: March 31, 2009 at 01:36 PM (#3119709)
I wonder how often just the linescore only repeats? In World Series play, I can only find one linescore, 1-0 games, that match: BAL 1, LA 0 in Game 4 '66; and NYG 1, PHI A's 0 in Game 4 of '05. But with multiple run games, I can't think of any matches.

The Don Larsen game matches the '55 Game 7, but one team was home and the other away. Actually, the Don Larsen game matches Game 1 of '61.
   3. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: March 31, 2009 at 01:44 PM (#3119714)
I suspect there may be some number of games with matching line scores combined with the same number of hits and errors. I would be impressed with somebody finding that similarity. The kicker would be how long each game took to play.

EDIT: just RTFA, I see this has been done, 3479 'pairs of games' with same 'line score' including runners LOB. nice.
   4. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: March 31, 2009 at 01:52 PM (#3119719)
So what two games were the closest?

And in what game did the two teams have the closest lines?

He who answers these questions, rules the world.
   5. alkeiper Posted: March 31, 2009 at 01:56 PM (#3119723)
Without RTFA, this is a really, really cool question. I'm a little surprised I never thought of it.
   6. 3Com Park Posted: March 31, 2009 at 02:00 PM (#3119726)
I watched almost every Giants game last year and they all seemed pretty much the same.
   7. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: March 31, 2009 at 02:02 PM (#3119731)
After RTFA, he narrowed those pairs further to about 600 in which those with matching line scores + LOB, had the same number of 'events' i.e. plate appearances, but no match. I too wish to see which games were closest.
   8. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: March 31, 2009 at 02:11 PM (#3119742)
My favorite Jake Ruppert quote of all time was when he said that his idea of a "perfect" day at the ballpark was when the Yankees "scored nine runs in the first inning, and then slowly pulled away."

Sounds good to me, but has such a game ever happened?
   9. AndrewJ Posted: March 31, 2009 at 02:17 PM (#3119754)
This is not quite the same thing, but the question reminded me of this game in 1910:

On August 13th, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Dodgers played in perhaps, the most evenly matched game ever. Both teams finished the 8-8 tie (called on darkness) with exactly eight runs, thirteen hits, thirty-eight at bats, five strikeouts, three walks, one hit batter, one passed ball, thirteen assists, twenty-seven putouts and two errors with two pitchers used.
   10. Home Run Teal & Black Black Black Gone! Posted: March 31, 2009 at 02:19 PM (#3119762)
I always wondered about this.

WCWAGA, very funny.
   11. GGC for Sale Posted: March 31, 2009 at 02:23 PM (#3119769)
Speaking of chess, is there a way to do retrograde analysis of a boxscore to figure out the play-by-play?
   12. scareduck Posted: March 31, 2009 at 02:45 PM (#3119799)
Speaking of chess, is there a way to do retrograde analysis of a boxscore to figure out the play-by-play?

The obvious and correct answer is "no", or else there would be a way to piece together, for example, this.
   13. lar @ wezen-ball Posted: March 31, 2009 at 04:09 PM (#3119942)
Currently, the two most similar games are Philly @ Cincinnati on Apr 29, 1998, and Cleveland @ Detroit on Oct 1, 1970. Predicitably, this was a 1-0 game in which the visiting team had 0 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, and 3 LOB, and the home team had 1 run, 5 hits, 0 errors, and 3 LOB. Making them even more similar, but completely coincidental to this exercise, is that the lone run was scored in the bottom of the first inning. Of the 57 events in this game, 10 of them (or 18%) are identical. (This game, and the nine next "most-similar" games are listed in the article.)

I think I'm definitely going to run this list a couple of more times, though. First off, the "hit" data (ie, single, double, etc) in the retrosheet file is very specific ("S9" means single to right, "D8" means double to center, etc), so when I'm matching the hits, they have to be perfectly identical to match. I think that's a little more precise than I need to be.

And that may also go for the outs. Does a 6-3 putout need to match another 6-3 putout to be considered identical, or can I just lump it as a "groundout" and have it match any other "groundout"? I mentioned that at the end of the article, but I think I definitely need to explore it. Plus, I need to sanitize the event data a little, too, to get rid of remarks like "63!".

Finally, somebody commented on the piece that it might be interesting to see the games that have identical line scores across the 9 innings of play. I might run that too, just to see what it finds.

Still, for this level of precision (which is admittedly a little too high), it's pretty obvious that there aren't a whole lot of games that played out very similarly. I'm sure I'll find a larger number of similar games as I lower the precision, but I doubt I'll find anything as identical as I was hoping.
   14. Toby Posted: March 31, 2009 at 04:58 PM (#3120015)
It would be interesting to find the pair of games that remained identical (play by play) the deepest into the game. For example, it may be that no two games are identical, but that some pair of games remained identical until the second out of the seventh inning, or something.
   15. GGC for Sale Posted: March 31, 2009 at 05:09 PM (#3120027)
The obvious and correct answer is "no", or else there would be a way to piece together, for example, this.


I can figure out part of the 21st. Alou scored the winning run. I'm guessing that a Jestadt error was involved. Dennis Menke made the last out for the Stros. Dave Roberts led off the last inning for San Diego, there were two hits, and Levi Stahl made the last out.

Edit: Make that only one hit in the bottom of the 21st.
   16. GGC for Sale Posted: March 31, 2009 at 05:49 PM (#3120101)
Jestadt led off the bottom of the 20th and made out. Barton struck out. Hernandez walked and Gaston made out.

Edit: Take that back. Jestadt got a hit, but was caught stealing.
   17. GGC for Sale Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:01 PM (#3120127)
M Martinez led off the top of the 20th with a hit. This may've been when Busse sacrificed, I'm not sure.
   18. Craig in MN Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:06 PM (#3120132)
This is a great angle to research. Toby's suggestion in 14 is solid as well, but the idea that games could even get through a couple of innings and be identical is pretty remote.

The idea of identical games would be a good hook for a story. Some baseball geek at a game starts to realize the game he is watching is mirroring a great historical game....maybe a key playoff game that he had memorized as a kid. His dad was teaching him to keep score around then, so he had his own record of the game that he re-read for his entire childhood, inflating run-of-the-mill players and fluke plays into heros and critical turning points. And now he relives that game, and his childhood, while watching a present day game, trying to remember how each upcoming at bat plays out. Lots of sappy flashbacks of time with his father. After the game, he goes to see his dad in the nursing home who has Alzheimer's but he doesn't remember who his son is. The guy then goes home, throws out his own young son's baseball glove and bat and teaches him how to play soccer instead. Memory's a #####, and all soccer games are the same and no one cares.

Well, perhaps a story like that without the cynical turn at the end.
   19. cardsfanboy Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:10 PM (#3120140)
And that may also go for the outs. Does a 6-3 putout need to match another 6-3 putout to be considered identical, or can I just lump it as a "groundout" and have it match any other "groundout"? I mentioned that at the end of the article, but I think I definitely need to explore it. Plus, I need to sanitize the event data a little, too, to get rid of remarks like "63!".

to me, I think groundout, fly outs, foul out, strikeout, force out, and caught stealing is all the differences you need for the most common outs.
   20. GGC for Sale Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:15 PM (#3120153)
Either Metzger or Busse got a hit in the 20th. The top of the 19th was 1-2-3; as was the top of the 18th, it appears.
   21. Gaelan Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:17 PM (#3120157)
The idea of identical games would be a good hook for a story. Some baseball geek at a game starts to realize the game he is watching is mirroring a great historical game....maybe a key playoff game that he had memorized as a kid. His dad was teaching him to keep score around then, so he had his own record of the game that he re-read for his entire childhood, inflating run-of-the-mill players and fluke plays into heros and critical turning points. And now he relives that game, and his childhood, while watching a present day game, trying to remember how each upcoming at bat plays out. Lots of sappy flashbacks of time with his father. After the game, he goes to see his dad in the nursing home who has Alzheimer's but he doesn't remember who his son is. The guy then goes home, throws out his own young son's baseball glove and bat and teaches him how to play soccer instead. Memory's a #####, and all soccer games are the same and no one cares.


This is the best post in BTF history. I love, love, love, this idea.
   22. Athletic Supporter was shiny, now he's all rusted Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:37 PM (#3120193)
18 is brilliant. Also the initial article is brilliant.

Stupid question: Are there identical games if the only thing you notate in your scorebook is which runners were out and which runners advanced, perhaps also with a hit/walk distinction? As in, all outs with the same baserunner advancement are created equal, all hits of a given type with the same baserunner advancement are created equal, etc..
   23. Craig in MN Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:43 PM (#3120204)
This is the best post in BTF history. I love, love, love, this idea.

Wow....thanks....but that's all I got. It honestly seems pretty over-the-top on the sap-factor to me. And the target market for this story is probably about 1000 BTFers who have already read this synopsis and agree that it's too sappy, or would nit-pick historical inaccuracies in the story while ignoring the greater themes. Pass. If anyone else wants to run with it, though, all I ask is a piece of the royalties.
   24. GGC for Sale Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:48 PM (#3120212)
The game that scareduck linked was part of a doubleheader. I looked at the wire service report. This is the nitecap. See if you can figure out who had the GWRBI.
   25. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:50 PM (#3120214)
The idea of the baseball game uncannily replicating the baseball game of the past would work without all the sappy Alzheimer's and soccer stuff. I'm imagining it as a Ray Bradbury story.
   26. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:52 PM (#3120220)
Interesting test, #24. I think it was O. Brown who had the GWRBI.
   27. GotowarMissAgnes Posted: March 31, 2009 at 06:56 PM (#3120226)
Time for a baseball fiction contest...lots of different ways you could morph Craig's idea. See who can come up with the best story.
   28. lar @ wezen-ball Posted: March 31, 2009 at 07:03 PM (#3120235)
@18: I love it. Great idea for a story. I actually see it playing out as a movie. Very "For Love of the Game"-esque. You spend 20 minutes at the beginning of the movie introducing the characters and the main guy's love for keeping score (by having him teach it to a child or class or something - that way the moviewatcher can understand the scorer's notation too). Then, as the action unfolds on the field, the camera can slowly pan down to his scorecard and dissolve into his scorecard from 30 years ago, with the two scorecards looking identical. Slowly, you're told about his marriage/family/work/etc problems in the present day and, as he remembers more and more of that day in the past (and as the past is shown in flashbacks), he realizes that his dad was going through the same problems at the time. But, in the past, the game ended with a strikeout in the bottom of the ninth and then we learn that his dad wasn't able to overcome the "problems". In the present day, we build to the climax as the game enters the ninth in the exact same way as the past game. However, this time someone proves a hero, hitting that grand slam to win the game (it's a "Natural" ending) and the main character ends up realizing what he needs to do and getting through his problem.

You can explain how he remembers the old game so vividly because of the way it begins: back-to-back home runs or something. He can tell his son how this one really important game that he went to as a kid on this one really important day "began just like this game" etc...

It has to work as well as "For Love of the Game", right? (In fact, why couldn't Costner do this? Kind of "Field of Dream 2")
   29. GGC for Sale Posted: March 31, 2009 at 07:03 PM (#3120238)
Yeah, Crispix. You can tell that he made the last plate appearance. There were three hits and no walks in that 1/3rd of an inning. You can see that Brown had one and Mason had one of them and he scored. Jeter or Colbert had the other one. You can also tell that Bob Watson made the last out of the top of the 9th. This is more interesting than work, but I need to finish a couple of things this hour.
   30. Gaelan Posted: March 31, 2009 at 07:12 PM (#3120253)
It has to work as well as "For Love of the Game", right? (In fact, why couldn't Costner do this? Kind of "Field of Dream 2")


Because the version I like is the tragic element. Alzheimer's isn't sappy it's tragic. I also like the absurdist ending. Which is to say this is the anti-Costner movie. No earnestness allowed except that the main character should be named Earnest.
   31. Craig in MN Posted: March 31, 2009 at 07:49 PM (#3120306)
The idea of the baseball game uncannily replicating the baseball game of the past would work without all the sappy Alzheimer's and soccer stuff. I'm imagining it as a Ray Bradbury story.

Actually, Bradbury-esque could be a better angle. It would definitely have to have some supernatural feel to it. It just didn't seem like it had enough of a major plot twist with just the baseball-geek details, so my mind naturally filled in all of the standard baseball cliches and saccharine flashbacks. Just imagine the pitcher gutting his way through fatigue, the warning-track catches, the questionable ump calls, the aggressive baserunning, the plays at the plate, the dad playing catching with his son, etc. The same things that have been in every baseball movie ever. There was much more sap in my mental version than I wrote.

The baseball geek parts could be really cool, though. The guy knows that someone's going to steal a base, so he can key in on that...watch the guy take his lead, etc. Watch the fielders position themselves rightly or wrongly for an upcoming play. Watch pitchers set up a hitter a certain way in a big at-bat. There could be a lot of inside baseball minutia there that would show why baseball is such a fascinating game and why each game really is so different.


You can explain how he remembers the old game so vividly because of the way it begins: back-to-back home runs or something. He can tell his son how this one really important game that he went to as a kid on this one really important day "began just like this game" etc...

Actually, that's about right, but I would envision him not figuring it out in until the middle-innings. There's something rare, like back-to-back triples, in the 6th inning, and the guys says to himself..."hey, just like back in '68. Wait a minute. The score's the same too. Let me look at my score card for today's game.....yeah, that's the same, it's all the same! Holy Cow! Which means that this next guy will get thrown out trying to stretch a double into another triple." And with the crack of the bat, he knows that he's caught in his own baseball deja vu. I can't imagine filling a whole story with remembering what is going to happen on each play. Three innings is probably more than enough. Maybe add in a few flashbacks to more unique parts of the early innings to verify that the games are identical. But the story could go overboard doing a whole game.


Because the version I like is the tragic element. Alzheimer's isn't sappy it's tragic. I also like the absurdist ending. Which is to say this is the anti-Costner movie.

That's amazing...my last minute attempt to anti-sap the original idea worked perfectly. I just didn't think anyone would take that part seriously....I didn't really take it seriously.
   32. Howie Menckel Posted: March 31, 2009 at 07:58 PM (#3120329)
"The idea of identical games would be a good hook for a story."

The book/movie would be called "The Baseball Notebook."

Sell it to ladies as an offshoot of "The Notebook" - which I admit having seen only for the purposes of this joke....
   33. Gaelan Posted: March 31, 2009 at 08:16 PM (#3120368)
That's amazing...my last minute attempt to anti-sap the original idea worked perfectly. I just didn't think anyone would take that part seriously....I didn't really take it seriously.


Well then you've unintentionally tapped into a real philosophical angle. It would be the baseball version of Nietzsche's thought of the eternal recurrence of the same directed by Terance Malick.
   34. altavista Posted: March 31, 2009 at 08:31 PM (#3120389)
I'm sure this has occured to most of you and I haven't RTFA (but I will, as this is cool) but even identical need not be identical.


Say two games were identical: each PA went exactly the same, same count, etc. They could diverge with pickoff attempts, foul balls on two strike counts or, at a deeper level, pitch selection. Called strikes vs. swinging strikes. The mind boggles at how long it would take to have two really, compltely identical games and even then were the IF placed the same?


Anyway, really cool ideas in the article and thread. I, too, like the tragic possibilities. I like a manager who realizes game 7 of the WS he's managing mirrors a game he learned to score and, using this knowledge, captains his team to within an out of the title - he remembers the game ends on a 4-3 groundout, stranding the tying and winning runs on base. He smiles confidently as his reliever gets in a jam - men on 2nd and 3rd his, visiting, team up one. And then the opposition hits a game winning double of the LF wall.
   35. Babe Adams Posted: March 31, 2009 at 09:41 PM (#3120490)
I'd be curious to know the most similar pair in a doubleheader. The Mets beat the Pirates a pair of 1-0 games on September 12, 1969. The Mets went 1-6-1-8 and 1-7-0-7. The Pirates went 0-3-1-4 and 0-5-1-4.
   36. Gamingboy Posted: April 01, 2009 at 02:56 AM (#3120685)
Frequency is sort of similar to your idea. Sort of.
   37. Craig in MN Posted: April 01, 2009 at 11:52 AM (#3120782)
Thanks, Gamingboy. I had a vague memory of some movie that had something about knowing what would happen in a baseball game, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I kept thinking of that Michael Keaton movie which kind of felt that way if you were the viewer and you knew what was going to happen.
   38. billyjack Posted: April 01, 2009 at 02:40 PM (#3120921)
Movie Idea:
The story of the Pittsburgh pitcher that gives up Roy Hobbs' winning HR. Show him growing up in some steel town, replacing bobbins in some grimy industrial mill, etc, a really heartwarming story, supporting his family on his meager baseball/steel mill salary (shades of Flashdance too), then with his family in attendance in the final game, having traveled TO New York to see this culmination of his inspiring career, he becomes the goat.
   39. Gamingboy Posted: April 01, 2009 at 03:11 PM (#3120955)
For those of you unfamiliar with Frequency, it's a Science-Fiction/Fantasy movie in which this NY guy in the late 90s finds an old CB or Shortwave radio. He uses it and for some reason (I think it had something to do with the Aurora Borealis being abnormally south), He speaks to somebody on it who has the same name as his father, a firefighter who died in October 1969. Then the guy over the radio mentions that the Mets and Orioles are about to play in the world series, and the guy in the 90s realizes he is literally talking to his father Circa 1969.

To prove it, of course, he starts reciting exact details of the 1969 World Series, which of course happen, and he tries to save his father but it also gets all complicated due to consequences of certain things in 1969 never happening or happening differently. The '69 Series is sort of a subplot, mainly just from the 90's guy saying such-and-such will happen and his father not believing him.

It's been awhile since I saw it, so maybe I'm not remembering it entirely correct.

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