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Extracting Baseball Wisdom from Olympic Curling

While Jim’s in Scotland, let’s learn wisdom from a game that originated in Scotland.

Curling in Beijing.
Curling in Beijing.
Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images

Perhaps the second most exciting game in the world is curling. Curling is played on ice. Players push heavy granite stones across the ice. Friction is low because contact between the stone and ice is small (each stone’s bottom is convex and the ice is pebbled). Friction is reduced further because the stone is so heavy that a micro-layer of water forms on the ice pebbles. As the stone travels, the shooting team can sweep the ice in front of the stone which changes how the stone travels.

“The first written evidence [of curling] appeared in Latin, when in 1540, John McQuhin, a notary in Paisley, Scotland, recorded in his protocol book a challenge between John Sclater, a monk in Paisley Abbey and Gavin Hamilton, a representative of the Abbot. The report indicated that Sclater threw a stone along the ice three times and asserted that he was ready for the agreed contest.” — World Curling Federation website

Last week I watched the USA’s mixed doubles team compete in the Olympics. I watched their first four matches, each about 2 hours long. Let’s look at two areas:

  • similarities between curling and baseball.
  • wisdom in curling applied to baseball.

Curling and baseball have similarities.

Strategy (taking into consideration your opponents’ capabilities and their next moves) can change the outcome of the game.

The mental game is important because both games involve a high rate of failures. Significant surprises happen, too. Both games require mental discipline and strength to be successful.

Both games are relatively slow paced. In 2021, the time per pitch was about 1.3 minutes (total game time divided by total pitches, data from Baseball Reference). The time per stone pushed down the ice was 1.5 minutes (480 minutes for four mixed doubles curling matches with 329 stones). Caveat – I watched a replay and possibly time between ends was edited out. The pace of curling is slightly slower than baseball. As an exclamation point to the slow pace of shots, the curling stones move at a glacial speed compared to a pitched baseball.

The pitcher must release the ball before he steps off the rubber, while the curler must release the stone before it passes the hog line.

When a curling team declares a power play, it’s similar to a baseball player swinging for the fences. During play, stones can be stacked in the scoring area, similar to baseball where runners can be added to the bases.

The mixed doubles matches had 8 ends. This is similar to baseball games which normally have 9 innings. And there are exceptions like 7 inning doubleheaders. In case of ties in curling, extra ends are played which is similar to extra innings in baseball.

Curling wisdom can apply to baseball.

In curling, players who know the angles have an advantage in bumping stones. In baseball, players with bat speed and who know the best swing angles can hit the baseball farther. Outfielders who run the right direction have the shortest distance to travel to the ball. The wisdom applied to baseball is know the importance of angles.

Curling teams who constantly exchanged information during the shot (remember the glacial speed of the stones) seemed to execute their shots better. I’m less certain about the Italians who seemed to constantly bicker. Perhaps it was just the nature of the Italian language. The wisdom applied to baseball is that exchanging information during the game contributes to team success.

Curling teams pushed their stone with perfect technique, except the Italians who lost a stone by crossing the hog line without letting go of the stone’s handle. Then they used their athletic ability to sweep to correct when the ice did not play as expected. Similarly, baseball players often swing with perfect technique and then use their athletic ability to adjust during the swing because the pitch did not move as expected. The wisdom applied to baseball is that athleticism and technique are equally important.

In curling, statistics can be deceptive because scoring happens after the last shot in each end. Stones in scoring position before the last shot either remained in scoring position, influenced the final position, or were swept away before the last shot was completed. In curling every shot is influenced by both the stones in scoring position and consideration of the opponents next shot. Similarly, in baseball statistics can be deceptive because scoring only happens when runners cross home plate. If the runner does not score before the end of the inning, that scoring opportunity is lost. The wisdom applied to baseball is that every pitch is influenced by runners on base and by the next batter.

Once per curling match, players can call time out to talk with their coach. The coach and players are microphoned so fans get a feel for how they think in a critical situation. Perhaps during baseball mound visits, the participants in the mound visits should be microphoned so fan can enjoy what is often a boring minute. The wisdom applied to baseball is that fans enjoy hearing the manager and players talk about strategy during each game.

In summary, five pieces of wisdom from curling can be applied to baseball.

  • Know the importance of angles.
  • Exchanging information during the game contributes to team success.
  • Athleticism and technique are equally important.
  • Every pitch is influenced by runners on base and by the next batter.
  • Fans enjoy hearing the manager and players talk about strategy during each game.