It never fails. Every year, the season starts in early April, and at some point around the middle of May people start writing about “the quarter pole” of the baseball season. The early-season hot streaks, where somebody is hitting .450, have cooled of by then, and the season starts to take shape as far as division races and individual player performances are concerned.
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Since 162 games divided by four equals about 40 games, the “quarter pole” analogy seems apt. But, like many things in life, it’s a case of people misunderstanding what the truth really is.
The quarter pole is a term used in thoroughbred horse racing. At the racetrack I go to, on the very rare occasion that I go out to the track, there’s literally a pole with the fraction “1/4” painted on it. It’s an important indicator for the jockeys, and perhaps for the crowd, too.
But here’s the thing: that “1/4” fraction indicates there is a quarter of a mile left to go in the race. Since it’s located at the beginning of the backstretch, the horses reach it right around the time that each race is won or lost, based on the skill of the jockey and the speed of the horse. It has nothing to do with the initial part of the race, where the horses are released from the starting gate and then make the first turn before settling into a long gallop on the back straightaway of the course.
Some horses are well out of the race at the last turn and when the quarter pole comes into view. I’m looking at the Philadelphia Phillies on that front. Other horses in the lead pack are hoping they can maintain a lead until the finish line arrives. The Dodgers and Yankees both have teams hot on their tails, and they wish the season would just end today so they could be declared the winners. The Astros, Mets and Cardinals have a bit of a cushion in their division races, but they can’t afford to get complacent, either. And the Royals, with a 12.5-game lead in the AL Central, can probably coast on in at this point. But that may come back to haunt them in October, when the playoffs begin.
It’s all about jockeying at this time of year, and which team has the September call-ups that can help them the most. We’re at baseball’s quarter pole right now. Let’s all enjoy the stretch run as it unfolds over the next six weeks.