Watching the Giants game today – good lord, are they awful – the folks I was watching with were struck by the announcers’ use of the concepts of momentum and confidence. Both are extremely elastic term in the hands of sports commentators. They appear to be present, by definition, whenever a team is playing well and and absent when a team is not. In both cases the question is how one gets them *back* when we’re typically told that you can’t really play well without them. At some point, you have to have played well without confidence or momentum, at least during a transitional period between bad and good play. But I’ve never heard an announcer say that a player or team did something good without one or both properties.
Frank Deford explored some of the mysterious qualities of momentum back in 1971.
Here’s some of his discussion of how it managed to ping back and forth between the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates during that year’s World Series:
Q. But wait. I thought you said that it was agreed that the Pirates were also being carried by Momentum coming into the Series.
A. They lost their Momentum in Baltimore.
A. Absolutely, everybody agreed.
Q. What was Pittsburgh‘s aim at this point?
A. To regain Momentum.
Q. Did they?
A. Yes. They turned the Momentum around.
Q. But then, what happened to all that well-documented Oriole Momentum?
A. It was sidetracked.
Q. For how long?
A. Not long. In the very first inning of the next game, Baltimore scored three runs and recovered its Momentum.
Q. And Pittsburgh lost its?
A. Young Bruce Kison came in to check the Oriole Momentum.
Q. Of course. And what happened then?
A. Then the Pirates stole the Oriole Momentum.
A. You bet. They hoped to pick up the same Momentum they had exhibited before.
Q. And the Pirates?
A. Well, of course, everybody knew the big question was whether or not they could retain the Momentum that they had uncovered in Pittsburgh.
Q. Well, what happened?
A. Frank Robinson’s base running picked up the Oriole Momentum.
Q. Then the Orioles obviously had a big edge going into the last game?
A. No, remember that Steve Blass came into the game with Momentum too.
Q. You mean both teams were blessed with Momentum?
A. They were until Roberto Clemente hit a home run and blunted the Oriole Momentum.
And so on…Unfortunately, we’ve seen relatively little progress in the past four decades in terms of real analysis of the games on the field.