STRANGE BUT TRUE
Q. Fact or not: In 1920, Babe Ruth hit more home runs by himself than everybody else in the Major League put together.
A. Not quite factual but pretty close. Actually, according to howstuffworks.com, the Babe’s “final tally of 54 home runs for that year was higher than the total of 14 of 15 other major league teams.” Only the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Bambino with their 64 homers.
All told, the Sultan of Swing stroked one of every seven homers hit in the American League. AL runner-up George Sisler had just 19 homers, while National League champ Cy Williams hit a mere 15. In fact, only 15 major leaguers hit as many as 10 homers that season. As the website puts it, “Babe had set power standards the likes of which baseball had never seen.”
Q: When does pain bring on subtle waves of joy?
A: When the pain is not yours but that of another person you have long envied, says Richard H. Smith in “The Joy of Pain.” Few people will readily admit to taking pleasure in the misfortune of others, but the truth is that joy in someone else’s pain — known by the German word “schadenfreude” — permeates our society. As novelist Gore Vidal once confessed, “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.” Or Smith offers this counterpoint, “Every time a friend fails, I am more alive.”
Mark Twain, in his autobiography “Life on the Mississippi,” recalls growing up in Hannibal, Mo., where every boy wanted to be a riverboat pilot. One talented boy had the job, eliciting in Twain and friends a hostile envy. After the boy suffered a misfortune on his riverboat, Twain described their reaction: “When his boat blew up at last, it diffused a tranquil contentment among us such as we had not known for months.”
Though envy is a universal emotion, “admitting envy, even in our private thoughts, is to concede inferiority,” which most of us resist, Smith adds. In fact, we are well equipped and well practiced with defenses against such assaults on our self-image — which is why most of us can believe that we are better than average even though this is a mathematical impossibility.
“Admitting to envy would be demeaning and unbecoming. Other people may be plagued by this petty emotion, but we are not,” Smith said.
Q. Human history has been marked by numerous hoaxes. What’s the first hoax you (unknowingly) perpetrated and what have been a few of society’s more whimsical ones?
A. Surprisingly, your first hoax was as a fetus, when you tricked your mother into giving you more food by releasing vast quantities of hormones that her body believed were her own, says Jonathon Keats in Discover magazine.
As for the funny business, one infamous April Fool’s prank was in 1957, when the BBC showed spaghetti being harvested from trees. Taken in by this, many viewers inquired where to buy a spaghetti plant.
Then consider those straight-faced editors of Science magazine who submitted a “spoof research paper” about a cancer cure to 304 open-access journals in 2013. Despite its numerous intentional errors, 157 journals accepted the paper for publication.
In 1999, National Geographic magazine was duped into announcing the discovery of “a true missing link” between dinosaurs and birds. Further research showed that “Archaeoraptor” was the tail of a dino glued to the body of an extinct bird.
Sillier still was “Piltdown Man” (1912), heralded as the “missing link” between apes and Homo sapiens, that turned out to be the cranium of a modern human linked to the jaw of an orangutan.
Moral: Don’t believe everything you read but do keep up your good sense of humor.
Send questions to brothers Bill and Rich Sones at email@example.com.