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3.01.2007

People Play Baseball. Numbers Don't. 

Since people are finally playing baseball today, the first day of spring-training games, I thought I'd start off by quoting the New York Times resident curmudgeon Murray Chass, who railed two days ago against "new-age" things such as certain baseball statistics with funny names. He really doesn't like VORP.

I admit, VORP does sound funny. VORP VORP VORP! Snicker-snack, it's so Jabberwockian! But "ERA" sounds funny, too, especially when you think about baseball pitchers who chew tabacky and rub liniment on their arms getting confused with pissed-off women burning their bras on the streets of Washington.

I caricature because I love. As do the fellows at Fire Joe Morgan, who eviscerate Murray Chass here. I'll let them carry most of the water in making the argument, but dammit, why do people like Chass bury their head in the sand when it comes to new statistics? Batting average is a statistic, ERA is a statistic, saves is a statistic. Chass (and others like him, some who read this site) feel quite comfortable quoting those stats.

And they're not even good stats. Certainly batting average: it's a terrible way to make a strong, precise evaluation of a player's worth. Why the resistance to newer, perhaps better stats? When you were eight, you spent a few minutes learning how to calculate batting average. Why not take a few minutes now, in the adult phase of your development cycle, to understand VORP? It's a pretty handy concept.

I end with a full quote from Chass's column: "I suppose that if stats mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, that’s their prerogative. But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein. People play baseball. Numbers don’t."

Threat? Undermine? Substitute "Communism" for "new-age statistics" and you have a McCarthyite rant. Swap in "atheism" for "new-age statistics" and you have paranoid Bible-thumping. And if you think I'm trying to knock down a strawman, consider that beyond whoever writes about baseball for USA Today, Chass may be the most widely-read baseball scribe in the land.

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